About James Le and Mark Lee
James Le and Mark Lee met in college while studying biology and history while undergrads at the University of California. After joining the same fraternity, they got acquainted, dated, and later married in 2018.
In 2016, they decided to start a YouTube channel after watching the popular mukbang niche explode in South Korea. James and Mark began filming themselves cooking meals at home, growing their foodie community to over 25,000 followers on YouTube. Recently, they’ve introduced more travel vlogs into their content.
Today, they continue working full-time jobs in non-profits and pursuing YouTube as a passion project.
James shares, “Since we first met, that [making food] was always something that we both enjoyed together. That’s how we like to spend our free time – checking out new restaurants, trying new foods, so it was very natural for us to share that as we were doing it. We love hearing that people try the recipes that we attempt.”
Growing on YouTube
James and Mark noticed a lot of growth on their YouTube channel after starting a weekly live show. During the weekly live show, their audience can engage directly with them, ask questions, and even join in on the live at times.
James shares, “I think because of COVID, there was a period of time when everyone was at home, and so because we were able to offer that weekly live stream, people were coming in, and it was just like a hangout. It was similar to going to happy hour with friends, but virtually.”
During the live streams, James and Mark will play fun games with their audience or promote donations by doing something funny on camera every time someone donates to a charity. They add that these interactive elements create heightened engagement with their audience.
One of their most viral posts is a YouTube short featuring food from a Brazilian barbeque restaurant, which received over one hundred thousand views.
Mark shares, “Earlier on in our YouTube journey, a lot of seafood, like crabs, was really popular.”
The popularity of seafood at the time may have contributed to this viral YouTube short’s success. It was also posted when restaurants were beginning to open up again, especially buffets, so there may have been an increased interest in buffet content due to this timing.
So, what is the key to their success?
James explains, “I feel like we have a different approach to things like we’re not just any other food channel. I think people really enjoy us as a couple… Sometimes, we get a little sassy when we drink a bit on camera when we’re eating. We don’t have any problem expressing how we feel.”
He adds that the food is the star, but it’s secondary to them as a couple.
Mark notes, “I feel like that’s the factor for us even lasting as long as we do because we’re not putting up a facade. This doesn’t feel like work for us. We’re just being ourselves. There’s no other character or role that we’re playing in front of the camera.”
Being in The Disney Creators Lab
James and Mark are part of the Disney Creators Lab, a program for developing creators that offers education and different opportunities to increase engagement.
Recently, they returned from a three-day in-person meetup at the Disneyland Resort.
James shares, “We spent three days at the Disneyland Resort, and it was amazing. They curated a weekend opportunity to connect with all the other members of the group, which was already a huge plus because we haven’t, up to this point, really had many close connections with other content creators, let alone outside of our niche.”
Disney also offered access to industry experts, providing James and Mark with substantial benefits and inspiration for improving their social media presence.
Mark adds, “Disney is really great because when they do something, I could tell that they put a lot of effort into whatever program that they are hosting, so it’s not just a bland program. They put a lot of energy behind it, and I could feel that as a participant.”
James and Mark take on brand sponsorships when the partnerships make sense for their channel, and they feel good about what they are promoting.
James explains, “I think near the beginning [of our channel], we were just like many creators accepting whoever was taking us in, but now after understanding who’s actually watching us and knowing that our names are attached to whatever we’re putting out there we’re a little more specific about what we’re pushing out.”
Some brand partnerships that have fit well with their content include Liquid I.V., an electrolyte drink mix that promotes hydration after drinking or during illness, and a small kitchen appliances brand, which fit naturally into their cooking content.
One recent brand campaign featured James and Mark eating raw marinated crab from South Korea. After their viral video, there was a noticeable uptake in sales for this unique dish, and they had many comments from viewers sharing their thoughts on the taste.
Mark shares, “Through that partnership, they [the viewers] were able to click on our video to order that raw marinated crab for themselves, and people were telling us it was good or it wasn’t good… That was fun.”
Content Creation Challenges
Being a content creator isn’t always easy, especially when juggling a full-time job.
James notes, “I think sometimes it’s balancing the fact that we have our full-time jobs and then also really dedicating and putting effort into our channel has been quite a balancing act.”
Another challenge is settling any differences in opinion on what content to create together.
Mark explains, “Like with any relationship, we go through arguments, and we have differences of opinions… When we have different ideas on what kind of videos we create, that creates tension and conflict, but it’s our ability to work out those differences, like in any other relationship.”
Something James and Mark would both love to see in the future is more representation and diversity among content creators in the mainstream. They share that sometimes they even have individuals comment about how they were looking to find another gay Asian couple to follow.
Mark adds, “We both [work] in non-profits, so maybe our mind is also thinking about what value are we adding to our society through our channel. What good are we doing?”
Much of their content brings value and comfort, especially to demographics who may feel isolated, which is a huge brand value for them.
James shares that they have a trip planned to South Africa, which will be their first international trip outside of Japan.
James shares, “We’re super excited about getting to capture some of our memories on that trip.”