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SenyaiGrubs thinks a good garlic bread is better than getting babes.
And you know what? He’s absolutely right.
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This brand of wisdom–and humor–is a hallmark of his YouTube channel, where, for the past eight months, he’s been chronicling the culinary delights (and occasional disappointments) of living in Thailand and traveling in Japan.
Senyai, aka Joe, is a 23-year-old with an ecology degree he doesn’t use, a passion for “unfussy” foods, and an accidental 400,000 subscribers on YouTube. Back when he graduated college, he decided he wanted to try something that didn’t involve his degree–and, since he already had a passion for video editing, that seemed like a natural direction to go in. Unfortunately for his burgeoning business, there weren’t many video editing clients in Traverse City, Mich. (population: about 15,000 people), so he decided to pack up and head to Bangkok, where he’d spent time with family growing up.
In Bangkok, clients were easier to find, but like with basically all freelance work, there were ebbs and flows. Joe found himself with a lot of free time right around the beginning of the pandemic, when short-form content viewership shot to record highs. He didn’t watch too much of it aside from foodie creators like Senpai Kai, Lisa Nguyen, and Jeanelle Eats, but he figured he’d try his hand at making some just because it was likely his clients would want to catch the vertical wave, and he wanted to be ready to edit short-form when the opportunity arose.
Just like getting into video felt natural, and moving to Bangkok felt natural, making a video about food felt natural, too. He started posting videos in May 2022, just “as a hobby,” he says. By July, he had a hit: a video about two-ingredient mango mochi was his first Short to cross 10,000 views.
To date, Joe has posted almost 300 videos, taking his channel from zero subscribers to 398,000 and from just a few thousand views a month to 12.5 million in September, 35.7 million in October, 29.9 million in November, and around 10 million so far this month.
He never intended to really establish a channel, or to get this many subscribers, but now that he’s here, becoming a full-time creator is not in the back of his mind, nor the front, but “in the middle of my mind,” he says. He’s not sure whether he’ll make a go of it yet–but he’s also not sure what he’ll get up to next month, let alone for the rest of his future.
Check out our chat with him below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: For somebody who is reading this and hasn’t seen your content, can you tell me a little bit about you and your background?
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. My name is Joe, I am 23, and I have a YouTube channel called Senyai Grubs. I’m from metro Detroit, that’s in Michigan, and currently, I live in Bangkok. I went to college at Grand Valley, which is a midsize school in Michigan. I studied ecology and that’s got nothing to do with what I ended up doing, because now I’m a freelance colorist and video editor. That’s what I do for work now.
Tubefilter: How did you go from ecology to video coloring?
SenyaiGrubs: I thought ecology was interesting. I enjoyed what I studied, but I wanted to try something different before settling into a long-term career, I suppose. I don’t know how you felt after college. I feel it’s maybe a common theme. You question what you’re doing a little bit and so you try something different, maybe.
Tubefilter: I feel with this particular industry, it’s funny the variety of people that fall into it.
SenyaiGrubs: From the folks I’ve talked to too, I don’t know how you feel, but it seems a lot of people got in here on accident. A happy accident, I suppose.
Tubefilter: Especially lately, especially during the pandemic, a lot of people just started filming their job or they were stuck at home and they were bored, and then now this is their job.
SenyaiGrubs: Oh, wow.
Tubefilter: When did you start uploading videos?
Senyai Grubs: I think it was in May or June, around that time.
Tubefilter: Were you doing video editing for other people before you started making your own videos?
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. I’d been making videos for clients, doing freelance paid work for a little less than a year prior to posting on YouTube.
Tubefilter: What made you want to start? Your first video that you uploaded to YouTube is really polished and really practiced. It comes off like it’s your hundredth video that you’ve done for YouTube, not your first. What was the catalyst for you to start making your own videos?
SenyaiGrubs: Moving to Bangkok. I moved here in February, and building up a client base takes some time. I had a lot of free time, and I wanted to, I don’t know, I guess I found short-form interesting because it just became so much more popular during the pandemic, like in the last two or three years, though I didn’t really watch much. I had never made any short-form content, but I wanted to get some practice, because there’s good work in editing, like short-form content for businesses and things of this sort. I figured I’d just get some practice while I had free time, just as a little hobby, just for something for fun.
Tubefilter: Now you have almost 400,000 people watching your stuff.
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. I feel very lucky.
Tubefilter: Obviously the other component here is that you love food, which is great. Food is awesome. Do you have any story about that? Were family recipes handed down? What inspires you to be so passionate about food?
SenyaiGrubs: I think I started cooking a lot in my teens because I was in Boy Scouts and cooking for yourself when you’re camping is something we’re taught, and it was really fun. I just enjoyed providing for myself and making food I enjoyed. Most of it was burnt for the first two years and not very good, or edible…
Tubefilter: Well, look, it is campfire cooking, so…
SenyaiGrubs: Yes, it won’t kill you, but it didn’t taste very good. That was just really fun. Then I just started cooking for myself more at home and I watched a lot of cooking YouTube. The majority of the media I’ve ever consumed on YouTube has been cooking and food-related or travel food stuff, stuff like that.
Tubefilter: I find your content really personable. I feel a lot of people try really hard to nail the casual and very funny tone that you have naturally. It’s hard to manufacture.
SenyaiGrubs: Thank you. It is totally manufactured. I’m glad it comes across as genuine. I’m joking.
Tubefilter: All this workshopping with your secret team of comedy writers.
SenyaiGrubs: I’ve got 15 people. They’re over here right now. [laughs]
Tubefilter: Do you script at all or do you just sit down and do it?
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. I usually write a script for a video and then I’ll film and edit. I can’t just shoot stuff off the dome very well. Everything’s quite scripted. I’m glad you think it comes off as sounding natural, though. I don’t want to sound too robotic.
Tubefilter: Wait, so you script before you film?
Tubefilter: Oh, you’re like the first Shorts creator I’ve had say that to me.
SenyaiGrubs: Really? Is everyone saying the opposite?
Tubefilter: Most people I’ve talked to film and then do voiceover afterward.
SenyaiGrubs: Oh, what the heck. That’s really, really, really hard. They do a voiceover while they’re watching the finished video?
Tubefilter: Well, as an example, I talked to a guy last week who runs a sealcoating company. He does sealcoating on driveways.
SenyaiGrubs: Oh yes! You interviewed that guy?
Tubefilter: Yes, I interviewed that guy! So if you’ve seen his stuff, he takes his camera out on his jobs during the day, so he’ll film their eight- or 12-hour workday and then come home that night, cut the video together, and then do a voiceover about this particular job, or he’ll answer questions from people, but it’s all done afterward.
SenyaiGrubs: Dang. Oh, maybe I need to reevaluate.
Tubefilter: No, no, no, no. It’s clearly working for you.
SenyaiGrubs: Thanks. The folks I’ve talked to, I guess seem like 50/50 with the other Shorts creators I’ve been able to chat with, but interesting.
Tubefilter: How does your concepting work for videos, then? Walk me through your process for coming up with ideas for videos.
SenyaiGrubs: I guess for the things that aren’t cooking-related, like if I’m trying food, I’ll buy food and then think of jokes I can write about a bag of chips, I guess. Saying that out loud, it sounds lame, but most videos, I’ll have some idea for a few jokes ahead of time and then I’ll try to structure whatever’s actually going on visually around that. If it’s a cooking video, I try to make whatever anecdote I’m telling relate to the food, but sometimes that doesn’t work. I think people often don’t really care what they’re watching or they only care about what they’re watching, so as long as I can have a decently entertaining voiceover, I think that works.
Tubefilter: You’ve posted almost 300 videos since May, which is a huge amount of videos. Are you filming and producing every day? Is that intentional where you’re like, “I’m going to do one video each day,” or how does that work for you?
SenyaiGrubs: When I first started posting Shorts, I was watching…It was like pretty much exclusively Senpai Kai, Lisa Nguyen, and Jeanelle Eats, and they were all posting three to five times a day. I was like, “Oh, we can do it then. I’ll just start cranking them out,” because I had a lot of free time too. It is a ton of quick videos, even if they’re only 30 seconds each. After that became a bit too much, and I then had paid work to do, so I started dialing it back, but it was just really fun.
Before I gained any traction, I thought that I should just stick to one a day because it was enjoyable and just because it was really fun. I was doing one a day for a while, and then I started doing every other day because I had less time due to work, and just recently work picked up again. I think I took two days off for the first time, which made me anxious. Now that work’s tapering off through the beginning of next year, I think I’ll keep it to one a day with Shorts for as long as I can.
Tubefilter: So YouTube is not your full-time thing. I mean, it is, you’re doing the same amount of work as a full-time job, but you’re still doing client work as well.
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. Shorts can pay a little bit. I’m sure that you’ve talked to a lot of people, so you’re aware of [the dismal pay]. Unfortunately, it’s like it’s a hobby that pays a little bit of money, which is totally cool, but yes, it’s not my main source of income.
Tubefilter: Not surprising, especially with Shorts. Shorts really doesn’t pay very well.
SenyaiGrubs: Yes, pretty much.
Tubefilter: Have you gotten any sponsorship offers or anything? I’m just curious if you’ve been able to find other avenues to make money from this.
SenyaiGrubs: Right now, the only way I’ve made money through Shorts was the Shorts bonus, but yes, I have gotten a few…Not really that many, maybe ten offers, like brand deals, but none of them have been food-related. Well, actually one, beef jerky, but I don’t like beef jerky. The rest have been questionable, like mobile games and things that I’m just not interested in. I haven’t bothered reaching out because I’m fortunate I don’t have to rely on this, so I can just actually enjoy everything I’m doing and then if I want to in the future, we’ll see about reaching out. I don’t know.
Tubefilter: That’s interesting. I’m glad that you’re selective with deals.
SenyaiGrubs: Well, thanks. Yes. It’s enticing, though, they offer a surprising amount of money.
SenyaiGrubs: Yeah, I got the first one when I had maybe 10,000 subscribers. I was offered, for a 30-second Shorts, $2,000 flat, which seemed absurd. That was the beef jerky. I won’t say which beef jerky. [laughs]
Tubefilter: I usually hear a lot of lowball offers. That is actually fairly well-paid.
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. I don’t know if they were desperate or maybe it was just a scam, but yes. The thought of that just…A 30-second Short takes effort, but I’m sure there’s a surprising amount of money to be made on the social media.
Tubefilter: Are you intending to live in Bangkok full-time or are you there for a specific amount of time? How did you end up moving there in the first place?
SenyaiGrubs: I moved in February because I’m a citizen of Thailand as well. I grew up in the States, but my mom is Thai and we visited a lot when I was a kid, but I never lived here. I was never here for more than a month at a time. I always wanted to live here and I wanted to try and pursue editing and filmmaking in some capacity as a career.
I was living in a pretty small town in Michigan, Traverse City, I don’t know if you know where that is, but being there, there wasn’t a whole lot of work to be had in video production. Tthere were just a lot of reasons to move here. I think I’ll be here for maybe just a couple of years. I enjoy it a lot, but I don’t quite know what my plan is for the next five years. I don’t really know what I’m doing next month. [laughs] We’ll see.
Tubefilter: That was going to be my next question. When you’re done with Bangkok, do you want to pick up and move to another country, or do you want to come back to the States…? You may not know the answer, which is cool.
SenyaiGrubs: It’d be really cool to move to another place, but I don’t know, there’s a certain comfort to the Midwest. I don’t know if you feel that way.
Tubefilter: I do. Yes.
SenyaiGrubs: It’s familiar and predictable and I miss the friends I have there too. I’d like to learn Spanish, like moving to Barcelona or Mexico City would be cool.
Tubefilter: I did want to ask, was there a video that took off, the first one that started gathering people to your channel?
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. What was it? Oh, it was something that I threw together at 11:30 one night after getting back from a shoot. It was the mango mochi video. I don’t know why that got so many views. I tell a joke in it, but besides that, it doesn’t seem particularly interesting, not to pass judgment on people’s viewership or anything. That was the first one that really got more than 10,000 views, and now it’s the most-viewed video on my channel. Two or three months ago, there was a video about why I use a low-quality knife, and then that pushed the channel to 100,000 subscribers. I made a video complaining about having 100,000 subscribers. Both of those gained a lot more views than average for my channel.
Tubefilter: Has the subscriber growth been steady since then?
SenyaiGrubs: Yes, it definitely tapered off, but it leveled off at a thousand a day while I was posting consistently, or 1,000 to 1,500 a day. Then some ebbs and flows until the last few days, where I’ve taken some more time off.
Tubefilter: Got it. Usually here my questions skews to, do you have any future plans? But I feel like we’ve already addressed the fact that, no, you’re not super into that. [laughs]
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. [laughs]
Tubefilter: Do you have a trajectory?
SenyaiGrubs: Yes, I got to speak to a couple of creators who came to Thailand who are doing this full-time, and they gave me a lot of great advice that makes doing this as a job seem a lot more reasonable, because they are, and they’re very down-to-earth people. It’s not in the back of my mind, it’s in the middle of my mind, considering this as a job, and it’s really enjoyable, though I am a bit leery about making a job out of a hobby, because that’s what I did with coloring and editing videos. It makes it slightly less fun. If the opportunity is there, and it becomes perhaps more lucrative than what I’m doing now, or it gives me more flexibility, then I’ll totally go for it.
Tubefilter: For what it’s worth, I think you could 100% make this a job and be successful.
SenyaiGrubs: Aw, right, thank you. It seems very fickle, though, with the way income for short-form works, and you have to be extremely self-sufficient, which is also worrying.
Tubefilter: It’s definitely a challenge for sure. I feel like a lot of people who are in your situation are really looking at trying to do a balance of long-form and short-form, because the money that comes in from long-form is ridiculous compared to Shorts. I don’t know if that’s something you’re interested in, but either way, I feel like you’ve got a solid handle on all the things that make people successful.
SenyaiGrubs: Thank you. I started posting long-form two days ago actually. I went to Japan. I have some– I’m going to finish editing up a blog for a few minutes after we’re done speaking. I’m trying to work in long form as well. There’s a little bit of thought about the money for sure, but it’s also fun.
Tubefilter: I didn’t know that, but that’s incredibly interesting. I’m very curious to see how that does for you.
SenyaiGrubs: Oh, thanks.
Tubefilter: Interesting. Is long-form something that’s interested you in general? I know that you seem to have the cadence for short form down really well, but are you interested in long-form as well, or what draws you to do both?
Tubefilter: It’s just the money, I’m sure.
SenyaiGrubs: Yes. It’s just the money, dude. I’m trying to stack those forms. I like the restriction that short-form gives, especially, with the vertical format. I don’t know, it makes me think a lot differently. It’s only having 60 seconds to do something entertaining and engage people, and maybe try to say something meaningful, is a fun challenge, but long-form gives a lot more freedom.
I also just enjoy making longer videos, trying to entertain for longer, and just do different stuff, because you can do a lot with Shorts for sure. I think it’s totally good, fair media, and deserving of respect, but I don’t know, man. I just like horizontal stuff, I guess.
Tubefilter: Is there anything else you want to touch on? Anything you feel people should know about you, about your content?
SenyaiGrubs: I’m trying to think. There’s probably something important I could say, but, no. I’m flattered that so many people enjoy watching the videos I’m making and I hope I can continue to crank out stuff they find somewhat amusing and stuff. Thanks for the interview. I’m very flattered that you wanted to do this.
Tubefilter: Yes, of course! Oh, one more question: I was drawn to your channel because you cover a lot of street food and snack and stuff, food that’s accessible to the everyday person. You’re not doing like $8 million truffles. I wanted to ask, why focus on that?
SenyaiGrubs: I don’t know. All the food in Thailand is very unfussy, and I grew up eating it. It’s unfussy and very simple to prepare. I think growing up in a Thai-American household, I find the really expensive stuff with gold foil and like wagyu and everything, like, I don’t want to spend money on that stuff. I just enjoy cooking things. Stuff I can keep around for a long time, too, stuff that is shelf-stable. I really enjoy eating street food and the things that, just like regular everyday stuff.
If I continue to upload for a long period of time, maybe I’ll cave and do like a Parmesan wheel video or wagyu in space or something with gold foil, I don’t know. I just don’t like to spend a ton of money on food, and I think you can have really great stuff for a reasonable price. It’s also nice to interact with the people who are making food for your community.
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