Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
Mike Corey is not fearless.
But you wouldn’t know that from watching his YouTube videos.
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As a kid, he spent his time exploring the forests and beaches of his home province, New Brunswick, and after graduating with a degree in biology, he decided to funnel that passion for animals into traveling the world.
Then something great happened: he got MRSA.
OK, that doesn’t sound great. But Corey says the infection that interrupted his travel plans and had him couch-ridden for months was one of the best things that ever happened to him, because it pushed him toward video competitions held by brands and tourism boards looking for people to make videos for them. Corey was terrified of being on camera, but with no other way to make money and a whole lot of footage saved up from his pre-MRSA travels, he took a shot, made a YouTube channel (which was often required for submission), and started sending in videos. To his surprise, he ended up winning a competition. Then another. Then another.
Winning got him steady work traveling the world and making videos for clients. After a few years, though, he realized that while the money was good, the work was starting to feel “soulless,” he says.
So he walked away from that career, rebranded his YouTube channel to Fearless & Far, and has spent the past couple of years making exactly what he wants to make: videos that chronicle the people, places, and traditons whose beauty often goes unexplored and underappreciated.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Tell us about you. Where are you from, how did you get started traveling, and how did you end up on YouTube?
Mike Corey: My name’s Mike Corey, I’m a Canadian adventure travel YouTuber and television host, and it all started with an interest in animals.
I grew up here in far east Canada, in a province called New Brunswick where there’s lots of forests and the North Atlantic ocean, and I used to go look at tide pools and flip over rocks. That’s how I got my curiosity originally. Then I went and did a degree in biology at a university also here in New Brunswick.
And then from there, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to be a full-time biologist. I just like animals a lot and wanted to go see them. So I started traveling and making small little videos of coconut crabs and geckos and whatever else I found. And then eventually I turned the camera on myself. Ten years ago or something, there were all these travel video competitions where it’s like, “submit a video of why you travel and show us your footage, and we’ll maybe hire you to travel the world.”
I had no background in making videos, speaking on camera, or public speaking. Actually it was the opposite of that: I had a phobia of all that kind of stuff. Bone-shaking, terrified to speak on camera, to speak in public, all of that. But I did like to travel and I was coming back from a trip. I had quite a bad infection on my foot where I couldn’t walk and I had to go see a doctor and they almost had to amputate a couple of my toes.
It was really bad, but I was on a couch for four months and a friend of mine convinced me to make a video about myself for this competition. And I said, “No way, I don’t do that stuff.” I mean, secretly I was just scared to, but because I was in a point of desperation, this world traveler now stuck on a couple for months as his foot failed to heal, I tried.
So I fumbled around and made a video of the existing footage I had, sitting down in my room, and that one did okay. I kept on applying, applying, applying, and faking my way through making these videos and doing 50 takes of my name or whatever and Frankensteining the best scenes together.
Eventually I ended up winning one of these things, and my toe ended up healing finally after months.
Tubefilter: Very good to hear.
MC: Yeah, it was actually a flesh-eating disease. MRSA.
Tubefilter: Oh, that’s rough.
MC: It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, honestly, because otherwise I never would’ve made a video.
From there I traveled and entered all of these competitions. I probably entered 10, 15 of them. Won a few. I was able to get a camera that way, and see a bit more of the world that way, and work with some brands and build up a reputation.
It was a long time of refining the style, of finding my message and my brand. That’s actually where the name Fearless & Far came from. The name of my channel is because I was very fearful of a lot of things, and I realized that fearfulness is a choice you make. You can choose to be fearless—and travel taught me that. So I don’t say that I am because I’m definitely not. I was born a scaredy-cat, if anything, but through travel and through chasing my fears, I’ve been able to find my dream life and grow the channel to over a million.
Tubefilter: What was the point where you decided to launch a channel? Like actually put these videos you were making for contests somewhere online?
MC: Well, for these competitions, I had to submit them on a YouTube channel.
Tubefilter: Ah, got it.
MC: Also, yeah, the videos I made on the trips themselves…This was early days and you probably wouldn’t get away with this now, but these brands let me post these videos on my own YouTube channel, which was great. So I was being paid or had free trips to go to some places, and then I was allowed to put them on the channel.
So I won that original [contest], but the one that kind of defined my career and how I started to make my video style was “Travel the World in 80 Days,” put on by Cathay Pacific, the airway based out of Hong Kong. They gave me unlimited flights on their network for three months—or 80 days—and from there they let me shoot what I wanted to shoot.
So I went to La Tomatina, the tomato fight festival in Spain. I went to get snake venom monk tattoos in Thailand, scuba dive with sharks in South Africa…I did all of those things I wanted to do. And that was the genesis of my channel as this kind of more intimate adventure style. At that point, the channel was called Kick the Grind. I just rebranded it to Fearless & Far a couple years ago. Three or four years ago now. But before that, it was called Kick the Grind.
Tubefilter: Your channel name is what caught my eye, really. It’s an interesting philosophy.
MC: Well, you have to deliver on the promise. I try to. You can’t be “Fearless & Far” and then do the top five beaches of Mexico.
Tubefilter: When did your channel start gathering an audience? When did making videos for YouTube outside of contests become a thing?
MC: I won a couple competitions, but that didn’t mean I could make a full-time job out of it. Most of my gigs were free, that I would just be sent somewhere and make a video, but I was able to get some small body of work and also some contacts in Toronto through winning these competitions, because one of them was based in Toronto.
From there, there was a travel conference where I went with my small body of work and that was the speed dating where I got to go. So you sit down and you meet a bunch of different brands for like three or four minutes each. And you talk and you see if you can work together.
I was able to meet with the German National Tourism Board. I showed them some of my work, and I’ve always, I guess I have an eye for finding things? Maybe it’s because I like finding bugs and creatures so much that my eye’s always looking for things, patterns in nature. And so when it came to filming the natural world, seeing how the light went through leaves or finding angles just came very natural to me. So I was able to get quite cinematic content without having any proper training. I just learned by doing YouTube tutorials online. So I had some nice stuff. I didn’t have a nice camera, but I had some nice stuff. With that, the woman who ran the marketing for the German National Tourism Board invited me over for a small project where I was gonna make some backpacker guides, and I was gonna be hosting.
That was my first ever international project and I was super excited. The money wasn’t great, there was incredible opportunity. So I went over and did some of those, and I really studied hard to be able to do the best job possible. The videos did okay, not super well. They went on the German National Tourism Board’s website, their YouTube channel.
Then they came back and offered me a 25-video project where I was going to be producing 25 different videos telling 25 different stories across Germany for the 25th anniversary of the reunification of the country after the Berlin Wall fell down. And that was money. That was real money. That was the first time they sadi, “How much do you want?” And I had no idea. I had to consult all my friends to be able to find a number that was just silliness in my opinion at the time, but I’m sure they were getting a great deal.
MC: I was just some guy and they’re probably used to working with the giant production companies, but they saw I had potential. So from there the next five years, six years of my career, I still had the YouTube channel, but I was mostly focused on travel filmmaking. I wasn’t the host; I was helping a brand. That could be Skype, that could be different tourism boards…My local tourism board here in New Brunswick as well. I was helping tourism boards make cinematic, fun content with fun transitions and just more energy and good storytelling for many years because the money was there. There was great money and that kind of stuff.
But after about a half decade of that, I felt that it was getting more and more hollow. That the money was good and the money keeps you going for a bit once you have it, but it doesn’t fill you up inside. It doesn’t give you purpose, you know. Getting money in the beginning when you’re not making enough, you’re like, “Oh hell yeah.” That’s good enough fuel in the fire. But at a certain point for most of us, especially people who are truly creative at the core, money doesn’t fill that. Some people love money and they can make all the money in the world and would be happy. Maybe, I don’t know. But creatives, once you have enough to be able to do what you want to do, which is my case…I’m not buying sports cars here. I take trips and maybe eat out. That’s all I make money for.
I guess it wasn’t fulfilling for me. So I made the second risky choice of my life. The first was trying to follow this path originally as a filmmaker. And the second was quitting all of that, ditching all of my clients, and stepping away from that world, which was quite lucrative, and then going back to the roots where I’m talking in front of the camera with a message.
So everything bottomed out and I lost myself for a bit. I was trying to make this content that I thought people would like. “Top five beaches of Mexico,” you know, “Top 10 countries for backpackers,” whatever. And I just felt soulless. I couldn’t motivate myself to go film, and I just wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. I knew that my journey was interesting, and whenever I spoke about it to people while just having a couple beers at the bar or whatever, about getting over this thing that I was afraid of, which was, again, putting myself out there and speaking, everyone was very inspired by that story.
And the more I found myself in this world, meeting people, the more books I read, the more I understood just how our minds work and how society works, the more I realized that everyone fears what they don’t understand. I mean, it’s to say I’m scared of flying or I’m scared of heights. Those are big fears, but there’s lots of little fears like performance anxiety or being a hothead. All these little personality traits that we have, these are all things that are fears. Like insecurity, jealousy. This is all fear, just different. When you’re a kid, you’re afraid of monsters. You grow up and you realize there’s no monster, but that manifests itself in very adult ways. So I started seeing how fear was infecting my life and I saw it in everybody else as well.
I realized, “Hmm, what if I have a travel style that encourages people to get out there and push themselves and question why they feel certain ways about things?” That’s when I changed the channel name from Kick the Grind to Fearless & Far.
That’s when my channel started to find its place, because I’ve been in this game for 10 years. And just in the past two years, I went from maybe 200,000 to a million. And 100,000 of those were from the Philippines.
So yeah, I decided that I want to be bold with my message. I want to be unapologetic with how I see the world, because I really do feel that it’s right. And I realized that, yeah, I had developed storytelling techniques from doing travel filmmaking for so long for brands that I knew, I could tell stories that no one else could. I knew that I was deeply curious about the world and how it worked. I knew that many other people in this industry just want to do the best tacos, best street foods. I was willing to go scuba dive shipwrecks in the bottom of the ocean. I was willing to go baboon hunting and sleep on the ground and get parasites and all this. I’m happy doing that because I really love adventure and showing the world how beautiful it is in the places that you don’t want to look.
I pieced this all together recently that when I was a kid, I told you, I used to flip over rocks, looking in the places people didn’t wanna look, knowing that there were treasures there. Bugs, salamanders, snakes, misunderstood things that I thought were beautiful, that are beautiful, but people don’t give them a chance. That’s gone full circle now. And I still flip over the rocks, but really what I flip over now is countries, places, festivals, and people, finding the beauty where people don’t wanna look. And that’s when my channel started to take off, because I love that stuff. And the world does too, but they’re all sometimes too afraid to look. They think they don’t want to see. And so my job has been to show people.