How I found purpose and success, one video at a time
Growing up the son of Chinese immigrants, I had a sense of what it meant to “make it in America.” It meant becoming a doctor, engineer or some other professional on a shortlist of culturally acceptable careers. Success to me meant devoting your life to one of these career paths so you could provide a comfortable life for your family. Sometimes, but rarely, was finding passion in your work part of the equation.
That’s how I found myself years later making a life as an engineer. Inwardly, I had always been drawn to a concept in Japanese culture called Ikigai, or your “reason for being.” To experience Ikigai means to feel motivated and fulfilled in the pursuit of something that gives your life purpose. But outwardly, even though engineering didn’t spark inspiration, I still wanted a safe and reliable career that would make my parents proud.
I first came up with the idea for my YouTube channel in 2020 to document my dad’s amazing cooking... I worried my own children would one day lose out on that experience if I didn’t do something to preserve it.” Randy Lau
And yet, I couldn’t ignore the awakening I’d experienced in college that brought me to the things that mattered most to me, like my Chinese identity and culture or a drive for entrepreneurship. So after a few years as an engineer, I struck out on my own. Over the next seven years, I also founded a series of tech startups that married my personal interests with my skills as a programmer. I created a translating messaging service to help people across different languages connect — a challenge that resonated from my own struggles communicating with my dad, who never learned English. It became clear that strengthening my connections to my parents, heritage and culture was my Ikigai.
I first came up with the idea for my YouTube channel in 2020 to document my dad’s amazing cooking. Many of my favorite memories growing up were made around the dinner table. In spite of our verbal language barrier, our love language has always been food. My wife was six months pregnant at the time and I worried my own children would one day lose out on that experience if I didn’t do something to preserve it. I then set out to video document my dad’s chinese recipes for my family’s sake, and for anyone else who might benefit from it.
It would be another six months before I launched our YouTube channel, Made With Lau. I spent those months developing the style and format for our content. Our family spent hundreds of hours shooting and reshooting videos, learning together and growing closer in the process.
My dad was a natural in front of the camera, and I found myself captivated watching him and my mom answer increasingly personal questions about their lives. By the time we launched, we had five weeks’ worth of videos ready to publish.
I never imagined our YouTube channel would grow as quickly as it did. Our channel currently has over 960,000 subscribers and generates over $50,000 of revenue each month. We now employ 10 people and started expanding into other ventures – a recipe blog, Chinese cookware line and an online cooking course. My parents were horrified when I first told them I was going to make videos for a living, but they quickly came around after realizing I was making two to three times as much as I could as an engineer.
Still, far beyond any financial validation, what I love most is seeing how our videos impact so many people on a deep personal level. I set out to find connection, but I never anticipated that my family’s videos would serve as a source of connection for millions of people around the world. My father’s lessons not only serve myself and my children, but an entire global community. We regularly hear from viewers who find comfort through our videos after losing a parent, and my whole family finds it incredibly meaningful each and every time.
The creator economy allows anyone with a passion and a unique value proposition to build a community and thriving business, without many of the restrictions of traditional careers. Success in industries like computer engineering or finance often requires narrow skills and relocation to cities like San Francisco or New York. Content creators do it all — producing, filming, marketing, product development — and work from places as diverse as a farm in Missouri to a craft studio in Oregon, to their own living room.
Success on social media and video sharing platforms no longer means a viral video or the breakout success on a global scale seen with stars like Justin Bieber. Instead, it looks more like my family.” Randy Lau
Success on social media and video sharing platforms no longer means a viral video or the breakout success on a global scale seen with stars like Justin Bieber. Instead, it looks more like my family. We’re part of a vast ecosystem of creative entrepreneurs building growing businesses by sharing their passion with the billions of people who log onto these services each day in search of connection, comfort, and community.
Being a creative entrepreneur is no shortcut to success. It requires the work ethic and drive that fuels any successful business. What the creative ecosystem has offered me and so many others is freedom and opportunity. So pick up a camera and go chase your Ikigai.