We live in a world obsessed with sharing. Nothing is off-limits—from photos of what you’re eating to videos of your cat acting like, well, a cat. Every week there’s a new YouTube, Vine, Snapchat or Instagram “star” hoping to cash in. And though most of these “stars” are just trying to make you laugh or serve as a distraction, some are building a career by giving viewers insight into their passion.
Minneapolis YouTuber Christina Tia has over 4,000 subscribers on her Lao cooking channel, House of X Tia. Right now, she’s earning her income solely from ad revenue and partnerships with brands. But before pursuing YouTube full-time, Christina worked in corporate finance. The stability of the corporate world was all she knew for about nine years—it was secure, but her heart wasn’t in it.
“I became a zombie, drifting through life purely on routine,” she recalls. “I had to decide between staying in corporate finance or really pursuing what I wanted to do. So I decided to put everything into YouTube and not look back.”
But making a living on YouTube is not easy, predictable, or assured. “I didn’t start making money until about 10 months in,” she admits. “But I took everything that I had and invested in my equipment and buying the ingredients. I knew I had to make it work—I didn’t give myself a plan B.”
Christina first got her start on YouTube in 2013. Living on her own, she realized that the food she grew up eating wasn’t as easy to make as her mom made it seem. “I was calling home like a hundred times a week, asking my mom how to make things, and I was going online looking for recipes and there wasn’t anything out there,” she says. “No cookbooks, nothing.”
She’d invite friends over to enjoy the bounty of Lao cuisine she’d cook using her mom’s recipes and post pictures to Facebook. When friends began asking her for recipes, the idea came to her. “I’m a visual learner and I was getting tired of answering the same questions,” she says. “So I decided to make a few YouTube videos, mostly as a reference for myself and friends to go back to, of the most popular Laotian dishes.”
About a year after posting the videos, she received an email from a fellow Lao YouTuber, praising the recipes and asking why she had stopped. That email, combined with her growing unhappiness in corporate finance and passion for Lao cuisine, pushed her over the edge and into YouTube full-time.
Now, almost three years later, Christina reflects on what she has gained from taking the plunge into something so unpredictable. “Through YouTube, I have received some opportunities that I would never have imagined,” she says. She has formed relationships with brands she loves as well as her subscribers (many of whom she’s met with while traveling), visits to restaurants around the country, and, most importantly, sees others learn from her journey. “YouTube has pretty much put the world at my fingertips,” she says. “I’ve connected with people from all over the world that have made my recipes. That’s the most rewarding thing about doing this.”
While YouTube has served as a great platform for Christina to get her name out there and start making connections, opportunities outside of the video-sharing site may pull her away in the future. Recently, she traveled to learn from a prominent Lao chef. After their conversations, she foresees working alongside this chef to distinguish Lao cuisine from Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.
Although YouTube isn’t the most lucrative way to make a living, Christina wouldn’t have been able to network the way she is now without it. But YouTube isn’t the end of the line for her—it’s only the beginning.