How LaurDIY Went From Dorm Room Blogger to YouTube Star With 8.4 Million Subscribers
In this series, YouTube Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular YouTube channels to find out the secrets of their success.
Lauren Riihimaki didn’t grow up watching YouTube videos, as many of her young millennial peers did. But she did love crafting and DIY. When she got to college, she started a blog focused on her dorm room creations, but soon, the process of writing out instructions got tedious.
“I had the realization that certain tutorials would be so much easier to show through video versus through photos with text blurbs,” Riihimaki, a.k.a. LaurDIY, told Entrepreneur.
Before long, she transitioned her focus from her website to her social media accounts -- especially YouTube, where she’s amassed more than 8.4 million subscribers, whom she calls her #prettylittlelaurs. Devoted fans tune in Sundays and Wednesdays for her videos, which still feature plenty of tutorials on how to make everything from iPhone cases to blankets to home-grown crystals. In 2017, she won a Streamy award in the Lifestyle category.
She also regularly posts vlogs, as part of a larger trend on the platform toward behind-the-scenes, personality-based videos. Her videos have touched on everything from mental health to her ongoing battle with acne. This past weekend, she and fellow YouTube star Alex Wasabi announced via her YouTube channel that they were breaking up after three years of dating. Riihimaki explained that she plans to take a “little break” from YouTube.
In the meantime, she’s still active on other social media, including Instagram, where she has 4.6 million followers. The 25-year-old “millennial Martha Stewart” (a label she’s embraced) is in the process of “The LaurDIY Drop,” during which she’s rolling out various LaurDIY-branded products. This fall, she’s debuting collections of apparel, sleepwear, jewelry, stationary, DIY crafting kits and tech accessories, available through retailers such as Target, Michael’s, Walmart, Joann Fabrics and Amazon.
Entrepreneur spoke with Riihimaki about the thinking and process behind her YouTube videos and series, which aspects of building her growing business she delegates to her team and what she’s focusing on in the near-term in terms of content and products.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start with YouTube?
I was in my first year of university, and the program I had enrolled into was totally not what I thought it was going to be. I was feeling creatively stifled, and I was looking for an escape and an outlet.
I originally started a lifestyle and DIY blog. Obviously, blogging has kind of been taken over by YouTube in recent years, so I transitioned over to YouTube six or seven years ago, when my channel started taking off.
DIY has been something that I’ve always been interested in and been good at. I’ve been a crafter my entire life. My parents have a whole collection of the progression of what my DIY stuff looked like from my first few months of life until now, so DIY has been a really natural topic for me to gravitate towards.
How quickly did you decide to focus on the YouTube channel itself and optimize everything for that?
It was pretty immediate. I did a few posts where I embedded videos into the blog, but I realized the videos had started growing, and that there was a community on YouTube.
I didn’t grow up watching YouTube, and I didn’t really know too much about it, so it was a major learning curve for me, as a creator and a viewer, all at the same time. I think a lot of people watched YouTube forever and then were like, I wanna do this, but I didn’t have that experience.
A lot of people talk about the progression of YouTube from tutorials to lifestyle videos. You still have both, but you seem to be incorporating more and more behind-the-scenes glimpses into your life. At what point did that become part of your content, and what was the decision behind that?
About three years ago, when Casey Neistat had gotten into daily vlogging, I was starting to realize that people were there, on people’s channels, for their personalities. Anyone can make a DIY tutorial or a cooking channel, but it’s the personality that you bring to it that sets you apart. So I started incorporating vlogs and trying to blend together DIYs and entertainment. I started new series called The DIY Challenge and DIY Master to bring it to more of an entertainment level while staying true to the DIY focus.
How much time do you spend on a YouTube video and what does that entail?
A sit-down, chatty video (like the autocomplete video) is probably like 30 minutes of filming, and then some editors help me out with editing. I have a team that helps me be able to focus on where my creative efforts should be spent. It got to the point where I was overworked, and I was like, “OK, I need to start handing off a part of the process that someone else can do better than me.”
But for a chatty video, it’s probably three or four hours total for the whole process of filming, editing and thumbnail, and when you put it onto YouTube, optimizing it. But a DIY video is a longer process -- upwards of 10 hours. It’s brainstorming, it’s buying supplies for each DIY. I always try to incorporate three to five DIYs in each video. Then there’s filming the DIYs, the b-roll, the sit-down part, possibly recording a voiceover, cutting that down, editing the video and then the thumbnail and the optimization.
When it comes to your team, what aspects do you still like to have a hand in, and what’s something you totally defer to others on?
My main efforts are focused on design and production, in terms of what the actual content of the video is and the shooting of it. Things that other people can do much better than me are, obviously, everything on the accounting side. That was the first thing that I was like, “I need someone else to do this, because I have no experience in this.”
Once you have the means to be able to afford higher production quality -- obviously, I want my videos to be the best I can, so I’ve hired someone who can edit better than I can, and I’ve hired a graphic designer to do the little intro graphics that play before a video.
What is the video brainstorming process like?
It’s around the editorial calendar. Back-to-school was just huge. With Halloween coming up, the content will be all around Halloween costumes. And then following that is holiday. So it’s a combination of the editorial calendar, what the fans are requesting in terms of DIYs and trends that are taking off.
What is your content strategy?
Consistency is a major, major rule that I’ve stuck to since day one of uploading. Every Wednesday, I upload a weekly vlog, and then Sundays are the more produced -- either a sit-down or DIY -- that’s the main upload. That’s what it’s been like for the last couple of years with my channel. DIYs have been on Sundays for my entire YouTube career, but I added in a second upload about a year and a half ago, on Wednesdays.
It’s really important that people can be hyped about an upload if they know it’s going to come out at 9 a.m. every Sunday. It keeps fans coming back. In past years, my strategy has also been about integrating DIY and creativity into a more personality and entertainment-based video.
How do you leverage your YouTube channel, and to what extent do you monetize it?
A lot of people just want to upload drama-based videos and cash in a big AdSense check, and that’s not been my goal, ever, on YouTube. It’s to grow a brand. I’ve been using Instagram, Twitter and all of the social media to build a brand, but also posting to YouTube, which increases your AdSense and increases exposure for my product lines, which I talk about on all of the platforms.
Licensing is definitely the biggest goal that we’ve been moving forward with. A lot of these licensing deals are pretty long term, about three years. With a typical YouTube brand deal, you maybe have one video that you post and it’s done, so a three-year commitment on YouTube is a really long time. We’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t for products, what my fans like and where it sells best.
What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on YouTube?
Make sure you take time to figure out what makes sense for you what will make you happy to wake up to and work on every day. If it doesn’t blow up, are you still enjoying it? And if it does blow up, will you be miserable continuing that content every day? I know a lot of people have cornered themselves into a certain genre or they feel like they can’t explore other topics on YouTube. And not to say that you can’t grow and progress -- YouTube viewers are totally open to that. But if I hated DIY and my name was LaurDIY, I’d be in a bit of a pickle.
Also, it’s not being afraid to show your bloopers and your personality. For so long, I edited out my bloopers, and I looked like a literal robot, watching back. Luckily, the craft part of it is what had people coming back, but the actual personality and the delivery was so terrible.
Going from the curated, edited to sharing more of your personality with your followers -- what is that balance like?
Every time I’m questioning whether I want to share something -- because I’ve struggled with anxiety, and I’ve struggled with acne -- it ends up being an extremely pleasant experience when I do. People are really excited that someone who they may look up to has the same struggles that they do. It breaks down that wall that you’re someone that’s unattainable or unrealistic. And obviously, I’m not a doctor, but I think people just like hearing another experience, as you would hear it from a friend who recommends a product or a process.
What’s a misconception people have about YouTube?
One of the biggest things that I hear often is that being an influencer is super easy. When you see people on Instagram and on their vlogs, and they’re just on vacation all the time, if they’re a travel vlogger, viewers only see the highlights. Couples don’t vlog their fights. You don’t vlog a lot of the meetings or struggles. It’s just the positive and exciting things that you know will be entertaining, so it’s not a realistic portrayal of what our day-to-day lives are like.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so blessed. I work the best job in the entire world. I will never have a better job. But I’ve worked so hard for this. Being your own boss is a really interesting aspect. A lot of YouTubers didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into once their YouTube channel becomes more of a brand, and you’re taking on all of these roles of owning this massive company with no experience. You get thrown into it, trying to figure it out and navigate it.
There’s also the emotional and physical toll that YouTube, and being your own boss and being in the public eye, can take on someone, especially if they’re struggling with any kind of mental disorder offline, as lots of people are. It’s a business that’s built on a personality, and sometimes, when videos do poorly, people take that really personally, as a personal attack on who they are. You have to learn how to be mentally strong and figure out how to balance what this is as a business, hobby and passion while also remaining healthy.
See below for LaurDIY's picks of her five favorite YouTube videos.
"This is an episode from my series called DIY Master, where I tackle bigger, more intense DIY projects that I’ve never done on my channel before -- really putting my DIY skills to the test."
"In this satirical music video, I dub myself the 'DIY Queen.' Fans love to see you do something outside of your comfort zone, and they’ve been so welcoming towards new content like this. Also, this is one of my top-viewed videos."
"In this vlog, I opened up to my viewers about my skin troubles, confided in them about my options and asked them to share their input and experiences with different skin treatments. I received so many encouraging and helpful comments from viewers who related to my struggles."
"This more classic DIY tutorial video is based on thrifted items. Fans love affordability and making trends for less."
"In this vlog, I documented a major life event and milestone when I got a new puppy. Fans love to be right there with you for important moments."