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.
If a fitness routine has ever made you cry, Hafu Go wants to try it.
These days, Go’s channel is chock full of challenges that push him to physical and mental extremes–endeavours like surviving 24 hours under the thumb of a shaolin master, spending a week training in iron fist kung fu, committing to the workout that gave Chris Hemsworth his Asgard-worthy Thor muscles, and learning krav maga, bo staff spinning, and that he’s probably not cut out for the FBI.
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With all that in mind, it’s very important to know Go’s first YouTube video was a Taylor Swift lip-sync when he was 12 years old.
OK, yes, we’re poking just a little fun–but we’re also making a point. Because some twelve-year-olds out there lip-syncing to Taylor Swift might figure out that they really, really enjoy making YouTube videos. And when they end up in college, they might pick up a $300 camera and decide to start vlogging about their lives. And, when those videos start to take off, they might graduate and decide to make YouTube their full-time career.
That’s what happened to Go. And, thanks to the spark seeded by that very first video, he’s now an official YouTube Millionaire.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: If somebody’s reading this and has never seen your content, give me a bit about you and your background and how you ended up on YouTube.
Hafu Go: How far back do you want me to go?
Tubefilter: It’s up to you!
Hafu Go: Well, my name’s Hafu Go. My content is fitness challenges. That’s how I would define it. I started on YouTube. Well, there’s two answers to this. My first video ever made was actually a Taylor Swift lip-sync video when I was…how old was I? I don’t know. Maybe 12.
Hafu Go: Yes. Like 10 or something like that, when I barely spoke English. But that channel, obviously, never took off.
Tubefilter: A shame.
Hafu Go: For good reasons, too. Otherwise, my career would be a lot different today. With this current channel, I started when I was in university. After first year of university, I was really confused on what I wanted to do with my life. I was just trying different things to find my passion. I just so happened to buy a used $300 camera off Craigslist, and I made my first video. After that, I really enjoyed making videos. It was like, you can go from an idea to a finished product within a week. After that, I just continued doing it. That’s how I started.
Tubefilter: What were you in university for?
Hafu Go: I was studying marketing, business.
Tubefilter: Did you end up finishing university, or did you go into creating?
Hafu Go: Yes, I did finish university. When I was in university, I would remember vividly, everyone was studying for their final exams, and I was in the library with them, but I was on my computer editing YouTube videos. It was a struggle balancing the two.
Tubefilter: That’s what I was going to ask next. Obviously you didn’t expect your channel to be that big of a thing, so how did you end up balancing?
Hafu Go: I think, obviously, in the beginning, it’s hard, because in the beginning stages of starting a YouTube channel, you do not feel rewarded for the amount of effort you put into your videos. There were a lot of times where it felt almost hopeless. I was spending like 50 hours on a video, and I would get 200 views. Those were the times that it’s like…self-talk is really big. It was just like digging really deep into myself. It’s like, “I believe in this. I believe I’m learning. I believe that someday I can make a video that hits a million views.” It was just about digging deep into your willpower reserves. There were a lot of days where it felt hopeless.
Tubefilter: Understandably. Do you remember what the first video that took off was?
Hafu Go: Yes. The first video that took off for me was actually a day in the life vlog. Before I transitioned into fitness challenges, I was making college-based content. The first video that took off was themed around my life at UBC, which was my university, and that got 50,000 views within two days.
Tubefilter: Oh, nice.
Hafu Go: That was huge. Before that, the most viewed video I had was 30,000 views, and that was over the course of two years, so this was huge.
Tubefilter: What prompted your shift into fitness challenges?
Hafu Go: Well, it was a couple things. One is I graduated. I didn’t want to be 30 years old and still doing college content. The other thing is, the basis of my channel is, I always wanted to, one, inspire people. When I was making college content, I was inspiring people to study, to work hard, to get into their dream university or whatever. Ater I graduated, I took an interest in fitness space stuff. Now I’m inspiring people to take care of their health, to get out there, explore the world more, because I don’t just do fitness challenges. I view my content as learning from the greats.
I did a series called Training 30 Days with a Shaolin Kung Fu Master. It’s a monk who trains kung fu as a part of his meditation practice. I did that series with him, and that was the series that really, really blew up my channel. There was a six-part series, and one of the videos got 11 million views. This was the series that defined my channel for a period of time, and I just continued down that path.
Tubefilter: Have things changed from then to now? Do you feel like you’re still on that path, or have things shifted a little bit?
Hafu Go: I feel like I’m still on that path. That was fitness a little bit, and then now, I’m doing more fitness challenges, learning from more masters of different sorts of things. It’s not kung fu, but it’s more general fitness.
Tubefilter: What makes you so passionate about inspiring other people?
Hafu Go: What makes me passionate? It’s just an innate drive that I cannot explain. It’s just something that I feel. I don’t know where it comes from, necessarily, but it’s just something I feel deep down within my heart. Also, I feel like I’ve gone through many of the same struggles. When I was a kid, I was an immigrant from China. I came to Canada, which is where I live right now, when I was nine. That was a really hard transition, because the only word of English I knew when I came here was “hello” and “elephant.” I remembered that word from an English class. It was really hard for me, too. I was bullied a lot in school. People were a little bit racist where I lived.
Tubefilter: Just a little bit, I’m sure. Yes.
Hafu Go: Yes, because it was all Western people, and there was one or two Asian kids in school. A lot of times, I would turn to YouTube when I went back home, as a sense of escape, and as a sense of…How would you say? A little bit of inspiration. I looked at Nigahiga and I was like, “These people live a life that I want to live,” and that’s what brought me up. It’s like a full circle. Now I’m trying to be the role model that other kids can look up to.
Tubefilter: I find your content interesting in that you push yourself, but also your focus is always on pushing other people, too.
Hafu Go: I was really into personal development. I read over 100 personal development books, so I think that’s deeply ingraining. I felt really lost after the first year of university. The goal for me, growing up as an Asian kid, my parents were like, “Get into university. That’s all that matters.” My whole life centered around that. Once I got into university, I was like, “What do I do now?” My life’s mission has been completed. Now I have to find something for me to look forward to.
I feel like there were many parts of myself that were neglected, growing up, because I was so focused on studying in the Asian household. That’s why I turned to personal development books as a source of inspiration, as a source of new perspective. I feel like that’s the sentiment and that’s a message I want to push through my videos as well. Like a gateway into personal development.
Tubefilter: How has being on YouTube helped change you personally?
Hafu Go: There are many types of channels, but for me, I think my channel is very attached to me as a person. For me to make better content, I have to become a better person. I feel like YouTube has helped push me to grow as a person. For example, just being able to talk in front of a camera better. I was a really shy kid, and talking in front of a camera did not come natural to me. There was a period of three years where every day I would just talk to myself on a camera for 5 to 10 minutes a day. I would review that footage, and I would make notes on how I can speak better and how I can articulate thoughts better.
Now, my ambition is not to just have a personal channel. I want to grow this into a big media company. Now I’m learning how to be a leader, how to hire people, how to create systems within the business that allow us to create better content, for example, like implementing a review process before publishing the videos. All these things. As the channel grows, I’ll have to grow as a person in order to catch up.
Tubefilter: When did it start transitioning from you just doing the channel, to you wanting to build a media company? When did that ambition kick in?
Hafu Go: As a kid, I always wanted to be two things. One was an actor, but my parents were always telling me, and relatives and family friends, it was like, “That’s unrealistic. You can’t do that,” so I gave up on that dream. The second dream is to be a businessman. I don’t know what a businessman meant, but I just wanted to be a businessman, like a CEO. As a kid, I just knew the word CEO. I don’t know what CEO meant. As I grew up, I actually found out that the CEO doesn’t always own the company. I always thought the CEO owned the company. Anyway, that’s a whole different story. I always wanted to be a CEO as a kid, so I feel like YouTube combines both of that. One is acting, one is this business side. It’s a perfect career for me.
When I had the thought of transitioning from a personal side project to building a business with YouTube was when I felt like I could make a living off of it. Making a living off of YouTube gave me the confidence to believe in my own vision. I think I’ve always had the vision, but I didn’t always have the confidence to pursue that vision.
Tubefilter: How big is your team right now?
Hafu Go: Right now, we’re still quite tight. We’re a small team of people. I have two videographers, and then I have a producer, and then I have two editors, and then a manager.
Tubefilter: What are your plans for the next six months or so to keep growing your channel?
Hafu Go: Well, the most important thing for me is to make better videos. For me to do that, I have to hire more people and better people. I want A-plus players on my team, so I’m just looking to hire editors, and scriptwriters, and maybe a creative director. Basically, the next year is quantity and quality. Whereas now it’s like we have the quality, but we don’t have the quantity.
Tubefilter: How many videos are you publishing now a month?
Hafu Go: Around two to three.
Tubefilter: Where do you want to be?
Hafu Go: I want to push that to four to six per month.
Tubefilter: How long does the average video take you to produce right now?
Hafu Go: It depends. What do you consider as produce?
Tubefilter: Well, I would say from conception to upload.
Hafu Go: I have an idea bank. There are many ideas that just stay in the idea bank and they just brew in there. They’re not ready yet. They’re just like at initial scene, but they might stay in there for a couple months. If we’re talking about like, we have an idea to the finished video uploading, it would usually take around two to three weeks.
Tubefilter: Got it. How do you want to change your production overall?
Hafu Go: How I want to change things is, obviously, if we hire more editors, that will speed up the process. Right now, we have more videos filmed than we have edited. That means we need extra editing capacity. Additionally, if we have a scriptwriter/creative director, that means we’ll have videos ready to be filmed. My bottleneck is not filming. My bottleneck is editing and scriptwriting. If I can solve those two bottlenecks, we can produce more videos at once and also more videos in general.
I don’t script word for word what happens in my videos. Scripting is more like planning out the concept and researching what we’re going to do in the videos. For example, if I do “I Trained Seven Days like Steph Curry,” we have to know what Steph Curry’s training routine is. That research process and also outlining the day by day what we’re going to do.
Tubefilter: Where do you come up with your ideas for videos? I know you said you have an idea bank, so is it just you’re constantly picking up things that you iterate on or…
Hafu Go: It’s two sources right now. One is the shower. That’s half joking. On my iPhone, I do have a notes just for video ideas. That is just my own video ideas that come from any time of the day. I might be walking, I take some notes, or I may be showering, which is actually a really good place for me to come up with ideas. After I come out the shower, I immediately write it down. These are just basically titles of the video concept. That’s one source. It’s just like, whenever inspiration strikes me, I write it down. The second source is research. We do have an extensive research process of coming up with ideas as well.
Tubefilter: Is that you working with your team, or is that just you?
Hafu Go: It’s me and me working with my team.
Tubefilter: Got it. Interesting. What was it like for you to hit a million subscribers? That’s a huge milestone.
Hafu Go: I was actually watching the live count when I hit a million subscribers, with one–
Tubefilter: Oh, really?
Hafu Go: Yes, I was, with one of my team members who’s been working with me ever since 200,000.
Tubefilter: That’s so cool, so clearly anticipating it.
Hafu Go: Exactly. I felt a sense of accomplishment and achievement when YouTube gave me an extra comma in my sub count. Literally, it went from 999,999, and then there was only one comma. Then it added one more comma, and it was like…that felt different. That hit different.
We were filming that day, and then we were at 997,000. Then we’re like, “I don’t want to miss this moment.” We just took an hour break and then we just watched that live count.
Tubefilter: Has being at a million changed anything for you?
Hafu Go: No, it has not changed anything at all. I don’t think it makes any difference to how I feel, to what I still want to accomplish, to what happens in the day-to-day. It’s more of a milestone that I think every YouTuber has. Hitting the milestones is important because I think it gives you more confidence and belief in yourself. That belief allows you to go after bigger goals, just like when I made my first sponsorship money, or during my second year of YouTube, I made $30,000 from YouTube. I was like, “Oh, this is actually a decent amount of money that I can live off of fully.” That gave me the confidence to pursue YouTube full-time.
Hitting a million is basically validating that what I want to bring into this world, people actually find valuable. It’s giving me the confidence to go for 10 million, to go for bigger than just a YouTube channel, building this into a media company, and then building a side businesses off the media company like Disney. Disney doesn’t just make movies, they have Disney theme parks, they have everything.
Tubefilter: Is there anything else you feel like readers should know about you? I know that’s a broad question.
Hafu Go: Yes. I think me doing YouTube was probably the most unlikely thing to happen, but I still was able to make it happen. The reason is because I was an immigrant to Canada. English was my second language. I had to learn English from scratch. I was a shy kid, and my parents didn’t want me to do anything in the arts. I had all the odds stacked against me, but I was still able to make it happen because of my belief in myself. Although, at times, that belief did wane and I had many nights of self-doubt, but I was able to persevere through that. I feel like if people pursue their own goals and dreams or whatever they want to do with that same amount of belief, I believe they can make it happen.