Steven Lim, owner of Watcher Entertainment, and the creator/host of the YouTube series “Worth It,” joined me to talk about second-guessing himself, taking risks when he wanted to play it safe, and rejecting – then accepting – a job offer that would ultimately open the door to his viral online success.
I didn’t start making videos because I wanted to make cat videos… I came here because I wanted to make really meaningful, impactful videos about culture, identity, and food.” – Steven Lim
On his wildly popular Buzzfeed YouTube series “Worth It” – gearing up for Season 9 – Steven tastes pricey food from all over the world. A long way from his hometown in Ohio, he now impacts millions with his work and world travel, including Japan, where he ate the best meal of his life.
Watcher Entertainment was launched in January 2020 by Steven Lim, Ryan Bergara, and Shane Madej. Their production studio created the viral shows Worth It and BuzzFeed Unsolved, “… and is focused on creating television-caliber, unscripted series in the digital space.”
Note: Due to technical difficulties this interview was recorded on Zoom.
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In this episode Michael and Steven talked about:
- How a career in chemical engineering took an about-face
- Why he started making YouTube videos on his phone
- Making an impact with your platform for a greater purpose
- Why his vision and values validated his intuition as a content creator
- How to get syndicated on Hulu and Amazon
- Why “taste is the language everyone speaks”
- And more!
- Watcher Entertainment
- Watcher Entertainment on YouTube
- Steven Lim on Twitter
- Steven Lim on Instagram
- Michael Redd on Instagram
Steven Lim: And then also I looked into it and also BuzzFeed, I never heard of them before at that point. I thought, well, I started making videos because I wanted to make CAD videos because that's all I could find on the internet. I came here because I wanted to make really meaningful, impactful videos about culture, identity and food.
Audio: Hey everybody, this is Michael Redd and welcome to the Betting On Yourself podcast, where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands and bet on themselves. This episode is with Steven Lim, owner of Watcher Entertainment and the creator and host of the wildly popular show, Worth It, a YouTube series where Steven tastes pricey food from all around the world. Steven's story involves second guessing, taking risks when he wanted to play safe, and rejecting and accepting a job offer that would ultimately open the door to his viral online success. He's a long way from his hometown of Ohio impacting millions with his work and traveling the world, including to Japan, where he ate the best meal of his life. All that and more is coming up in my conversation with Steven Lim. Let's dive in.
Michael Redd: Steven, again thank you. It's an honor and pleasure to have you on the show, but... And more impressively than anything you are at Ohio State Buckeyes.
Steven Lim: Yes. And for you as well, you had a lot of accomplishments, but being at Buckeye is the most important thing that I can say that you've ever done in your life as well. So now, I appreciate it.
Michael Redd: Yes.
Steven Lim: Born and raised in Ohio, so I believe it's God engraved. My parents also went there, so our entire family is all big Buckeye fans. Last night was not the best night for us that that was the championship game.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Steven Lim: But we're recovering right now.
Michael Redd: Absolutely, last night was very hard. For those who are listening to this later on, our beloved Buckeyes lost to Alabama the National Championship Game, but it was a great season in spite of all the adversity that the team had to go through.
Steven Lim: Absolutely.
Michael Redd: So that's the one thing that means you are connected on for life that we're bad guys, man.
Steven Lim: Yep.
Michael Redd: Yes. And speaking about Ohio State, people know you from BuzzFeed and Worth It and all those incredible successes, which we'll get to later in the podcast, but you are a grad of Ohio State, and you're from Ohio and you actually went to school for chemical engineering.
Steven Lim: Yeah, for sure. My dad actually he was an engineer or he is an engineer and so when I was choosing a major, I thought, "Wow, I want to be like my dad." He's a mechanical engineer, so I said, "Well, I want to be a little bit different." And I did well in chemistry in school so I just said, "Well, why don't I become a chemical engineer?" At the time those were the highest paid engineers. Obviously that has changed a lot till now. All the computer science and the programming is becoming a big deal. But yeah, I thought, "Why not just do it?" I wasn't very passionate about it, and as you can see, I am no longer in the field, but I was good at it, and so I thought, "Why don't I just try being an engineer, see if it works."
Steven Lim: And honestly the one skill that I did learn from school was that I learned how to problem solve, and that in itself was the most valuable thing I could learn from Ohio State. So yeah, I have no regrets going to school for engineering, it taught me a lot, but it ended up not being the career for me.
Michael Redd: Which leads to taking a bet on yourself, right? So what does it mean, or what has it meant to you to bet on yourself?
Steven Lim: Yeah. And I guess I'll just dive deeper into that story about engineering. So after I graduated from the Ohio State University I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I felt like I should just follow that path that was kind of set out for me. So I ended up working at Procter & Gamble for a few years on the innovative tide pods. I was there when they launched it. And I was part of that team that got to put it together, go to the plants and launch it. And it was a blast. I mean, I enjoyed learning about how to make soap and how to put it in a little pod, but at the end of the day I just felt like I wasn't... I think the passion wasn't there.
Steven Lim: And I remember the first week that I was at Procter & Gamble, somebody was celebrating their 25th year with the company. And I had one of those moments where I was like flashing forward to my life, and I said, "Can I be kind of really see myself working on soap for the next 25 years?" And no offense to anybody who does, and especially that person who was celebrating 25 years, but I just could not see myself doing that. I felt like it's not the purpose that God put me on this earth for. And so at that moment of time, I wanted to try something else. And so I honestly just had a realization where this is not what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, I'm going to try other hobbies. So I actually bought a drum set because I love music and did not get very good at that.
Steven Lim: I started doing some more running. I started playing some more sports that I wasn't the greatest at that. And then I started making videos on my iPhone. And back then YouTube was not as big as it is now, but there was a definitely a budding community from it. And when I made these videos, it was just for fun. It wasn't to get famous or anything, but my friends liked them, I enjoyed making them, I love the entire process of it, and I realized, "Wow, this is so incredible and there are people out there who make a living off through this." And so, yeah, at that point of time, I was working at Procter & Gamble and then making videos at night. And I believe it was about a year in, I was making a video and I never thought it would be a career to be honest. Early on I never thought it would be career. I made a video about the cultural differences between Asian Americans and Asians that come from Asia, Asians that are immigrants here, not first generation, second generation.
Steven Lim: And that video actually had an impact on some people from my old youth group. And they were talking about this video and how it helped them see the world and see how things are different, even though we come from the same group, we're so different, we're all people in the end. And then my mom is actually a counselor in the youth group and she's somebody who I never thought would support my career because they were always like, "Yeah, you should be an engineer. And that's a great job." My dad's an engineer, my brother and my sister they're engineers, but she saw that the media I was making had an impact on the youth group.
Steven Lim: And so she told me, "You seem to love doing this. Why don't you try making more of it?" And so I really gave it some thought and at that point I prayed about it as much as I could. And I was on my knees one day because I was like, "I really feel like this is the right way to go, but I don't know if I can support myself. I don't have that many views or subscribers or I don't have a business plan."
Steven Lim: And then the next morning I got accepted into this video program fellowship. It's a channel that I had been following. I applied to a fellowship it's called Jubilee Project and now called Jubilee Media. They make really great videos on just human good. And they actually accepted me in this program. And I said, "Well, I prayed about this last night at 3:00 AM, it's 7:00 AM right now and I got in. I think this is a sign. So yeah, why don't I just take leap and bet on myself, so to speak, and try to just make this career?" So that week I decided to quit my job. I just told my boss, "Hey, I think I'm done with this." And he said, "Well, before you say anything else, we actually were planning giving you a raise." And looking at money, it's hard to say no to money. In fact, I called my mom and I said, "Hey, I think they want to keep me at my job." And she said, "Well, what do you think that is?" I said "Well, they're offering me a lot of money." And she said, "Well..."
Steven Lim: She actually told me, and that changed my life, and I wanted her to convince me to stay actually, I wanted her to tell me, "Pick the money, stay, have a safe life, Ohio is a great place to raise a family. You can buy a house for under $200,000. It's great real estate there." But she said, "You really love making videos and I think you should do what you love." So she gave me the courage. I felt like God gave me the sign and it was time for me to bet on myself and quit my job and start making videos full-time. So that was the decision, and obviously it wasn't all nice after that. There was a lot of struggles following that, but yeah, it was monumental moment to just go for it all there.
Michael Redd: Your fate sounds like to me it was really impactful on your [inaudible 00:09:23], taking bets on yourself and taking risks. Talk about that for a moment, how big your faith was and did you launch out into taking more risks.
Steven Lim: For sure, yeah. Now, thanks for asking about that. I actually grew up in a Christian family. In the youth group was always part of the church and I loved Jesus, loved God. And I actually wanted to become a youth pastor when I was in high school. And I thought maybe it's out there where I could join the church and feel like my life has purpose in a very tangible way. But I never got that calling from God, and I was always a little bit disappointed that God didn't call me into ministry. And I always felt like, "If I want to live my life, I have one life. However many years here on this earth, I want to make the most of it. It's not about money, it's not about success or fame, it's really about for me bringing glory to God." And so, yeah, at that point going into engineering, into video-making, it didn't feel like I was living my life for God. It felt like I was living a life for this earth.
Steven Lim: But then after praying about it and deciding to go into videos and making YouTube content and shows and amazing stuff that people consume, I realized that the reason that God didn't send me into ministry, until like full-time church ministry, it's because God wanted me to be in a ministry in my career. And that is something that I think he saw that I was capable of doing because I grew up always in two different worlds, always feeling like I was in this world, but didn't belong in it.
Steven Lim: I grew up as an Asian American in Ohio where in many classes I was the only Asian person. And so I always felt like I was an outsider. But because of that, that gave me the empathy to be able to relate to people who do feel like they're on the outside. And so with my career, in my job making videos, I realized that God wanted me to make content, to help people not feel so alone. Early on, I made videos about being Asian American in the Midwest, being Asian American in the South. It wasn't easy, but the people who were impacted really felt like it was meaningful to them, and I felt like, "If I could have an impact on them, that's why God gave me this platform." And so that gave me a renewed purpose in what I'm doing, and that's for the last eight, nine years now. That's why I'm making videos, because I want to share God's love and God's grace with people, even if it's not so overtly Christian.
Michael Redd: I think that's so powerful because when you grow up in church you incubate to thinking that one day you'll be a pastor, or youth pastor or worship leader, one in Ohio. But it sounds like to me that you were solidified in your identity, right? And talking about that for creatives and entrepreneurs, the first thing that you have to almost establish is your identity.
Steven Lim: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, that's it right there. My identity growing up was, "Oh, hey, I'm Asian American and that's who I am. I'm good at math and science and I love basketball and I love football, and these are parts of who I am." But then I think when I realized the most and it's kind of coming 2020 with the pandemic hitting is that, God can so easily strip those away from you, all the accolades that I've received, all the money that I have, all of them can be taken away in an instant and what is at the core of my identity, and that is the personality and the soul that God has given me. And so, for me, my identity lies in Christ and my identity lies in fulfilling my purpose on earth. So yeah, I think that's something that we struggle with all the time, and I always wondered, "What if God took it all away?" And in a lot of ways he did for a lot of people. And that's been a learning experience, especially here in last year.
Michael Redd: With all your successes, you've obviously dealt with some adversity along the way. And so you made this jump into making content, and then I read something where you got a knock on the door from BuzzFeed, but you were resistance at first of it, but then you found yourself cleaning tables and waiting tables, right?
Steven Lim: Yup. [crosstalk 00:13:50].
Michael Redd: And so talk about that journey, as far as you making the leap to take a risk on yourself, is not working out the way you thought it will initially, when you start to dry up a little bit, and then you find yourself humbly waiting tables. And talk about that mindset in the midst of knowing where you're supposed to be going, but still dealing with adversity.
Steven Lim: For sure. When I first quit my job, I didn't really have a plan. I had saved enough money to last like six months. And I thought, "Okay, six months is more than enough time to make it big on YouTube, grow to a million subscribers and have enough money to pay rent." Turns out that it's very difficult to be in social media and to be in the entertainment industry. And I learned that very quickly. I learned that when my bank account ran dry and I realized I needed to get a job to support my life. And so, yeah, I started waiting tables at night, and that was exhausting. I mean, I really want to give credit to people who do live and have to take multiple jobs and they're making ends meet. And yeah, it was really tough, I was just doing my best to stay alive.
Steven Lim: This was about three years into my career, I was still struggling, still financially, not doing too well and still waiting tables, I made a video that went viral on Reddit, actually. The video was called Asian Parents React To I Love You. And it's a video where I got a few of my friends, we called our parents and we said, "I love you." Now, to people listening, they may think, "Wow, that sounds so normal." But in Asian American culture, there's a lot of people actually that have never said that to their parents, and their parents never say that to them. And that's not to say that there's no love there, but love is expressed differently. Love is expressed through actions instead of words.
Steven Lim: And so when my mom tells me dinner is ready, that is I love you to me. And so it was a very meaningful, awkward, heartwarming conversation, very wholesome, people loved it, it went viral on Reddit, and then that's when BuzzFeed found me. And what's funny is actually, and it's really funny how God works is, the week before that video went viral, I was just praying like, "God, I don't know what I'm doing here, but I just trust you, and any amount of success I dedicate it to you." And I think that, for me and for God, my relationship with him was... I think that's the concession I needed to make, that this wasn't for me and that's where the success came.
Steven Lim: And so yeah, the video went viral on Reddit and then BuzzFeed found it and they all were watching it there apparently. And they were like, "Oh, this is a great video. This content creator seems like he knows what he is doing." And they reached out to me and said, "Hey, would you want a job here?" And my initial reaction, and I'm coming from Ohio, very corporate background. So emails have proper punctuation, spelling is correct, very formal, right? Procter & Gamble, it's a wonderful company. But the email I got seemed like it was spam because it was like, "Yo Steven what's up." And it was like, no punctuation. The guy signed off with like a -H. I was like, "I don't even know this person. And they're treating it very casually."
Steven Lim: And so I did think, "Well, this isn't a real offer. It seems fake." And then also, I looked into it and looked the BuzzFeed and I never heard of them before at that point. I thought, "Well, I didn't start making videos because I wanted to make CAD videos because that's all I could find on the internet. I came here because I wanted to make really meaningful, impactful videos about culture and identity and food."
Steven Lim: But yeah, that was not what God wanted for me. I rejected the offer and a few months later I was still struggling and my friends were saying, "Hey, remember that offer you had, you should maybe take that." And so I really needed the people that got around me to tell me like, "Hey, Steven, you're being prideful. You're being dumb. Just take it and see what happens." So I took the job actually. I emailed back and said, "Hey, remember when I said no, would you be interested in trying something out?" And they said, "Well, actually we have an opening starting Monday of next week." So I packed my bags, flew to LA, and I'm a Midwest boy from Cincinnati, Ohio. And so this was a very drastic change for me, moving to LA.
Steven Lim: I had never really lived in LA, never really experienced that lifestyle. I came out here and it was crazy. I immediately fell in love with the work I was doing even more, because I suddenly had this community of people, my coworkers, teaching me and learning and all growing together and making videos that were inspirational for people. So that was interesting because my dream job was never to work at BuzzFeed, but it became my dream job and that was something where God opened the door, revealed it to me as it was happening. That's something I always tell people too is like, "You don't know what your dream job is until you get it." And sometimes when you do get the thing that you were hoping for, it's not what you think it is. So I've always tried to live my life with more of an open hand and being open to experiences.
Michael Redd: I think one of the incredible things that you've been able to do as well is to shift your content and going beyond just Asian specific issues to actually creating universal and relatable content, which has been incredible as well. So talk about that transition.
Steven Lim: Yeah. Now, I mean, that's something that I think about a lot because when I first went to BuzzFeed I said, "Okay, I'm going to stay hardcore, Asian American all the way, this is my identity, nobody's going to change me. I'm not making any dumb CAD videos." But then what's funny is it's very humbling. This world is very humbling and it teaches you a lot. And I'm grateful that I had people around me to open my eyes because I realized I can make a really hardcore video and it can get, let's say in BuzzFeed terms, like a 100,000 views to 200,000 views, which is a lot. I mean, that's a lot of people it's impacting. But I can make a food video, a video where I'm going on and trying a $1,000 donut and that will get 15 million views, 20 million views, 40 million views. And that blew my mind. I thought, "Why am I here making silly videos where I'm trying different price point foods?"
Steven Lim: And I realized that actually, there's more of an impact that I can have by being an Asian American in a universal concept than me just making specifically Asian American content for Asian Americans. And that is something that I've taken away from my time at BuzzFeed, my time working at Worth It is that, it's important just to have a person of color as a host in a food show. That's something that I take a lot of pride in. I think food network, a lot of food content in entertainment has been dominated by White, male, privileged people.
Michael Redd: Sure.
Steven Lim: And I have nothing against Anthony Bourdain, who I love so dearly, nothing against Guy Fieri, who I enjoyed every once in a while. But there are people whose perspectives have been very centralized to one worldview, people who grew up in America, people who grew up in a Western society and oftentimes from a place of privilege. And so me providing my background, coming from my parents who grew up in Malaysia and immigrated this country for a better life, and me and growing up eating Malaysian food at home and White people food at school, and going back to Malaysia and loving that food even more than when I'm at school, that's something that I want to share with people. And also the fact that I get to live in different worlds, this perspective that I bring is so unique and so different, and I take a lot of pride in that. I may not be the most knowledgeable person on food, but at least I can provide my perspective and hopefully help people gain a little more empathy by watching my content.
Michael Redd: Who was your biggest advocate in this whole journey?
Steven Lim: It's hard to nail it down to one person. But if I were to really try, it's funny, and this is not the answer I thought I was going to say, but it's probably my brother.
Michael Redd: Okay.
Steven Lim: My brother and I have had a funny relationship. He's actually a bigger Buckeye fan than I am. And he and I grew up very close to each other, and then he got to the age where he was too cool for a little bro so he stopped hanging out with me. Then we go to college and I've always been like Alvin little brother. In school I've been Alvin little brother. In youth group, Alvin little brother. And so I kind of resented that actually for a while. Not like I hated him, but I was like, "I'm Steven, I'm my own person, I'm my identity." But in college we got close through again. And after college, especially, I just stopped taking my family for granted. And he's somebody who, when I first started making videos, always shared them on Facebook, on Twitter, just to be a good big brother. And he never really texted me saying, "Hey, good job on the video." It was always like, "Hey, everybody check out my brother's video." And for the first time I was proud to be Alvin little brother at that point.
Steven Lim: And then when I left to start making videos, left my company, he doubled down. He supported me by always helping me with ideas, always helping me with encouraging me and continuing to share with his friends. And I think that I've always looked up to him. I've always wanted to be like him. And without his blessing into this, I don't think I would be where I am right now. And it's funny. I feel like my brother is more of an entertainer than I am, but we have flipped roles. He's still an engineer and he loves it so much, but yeah, it's something that I think I would have loved to him to join me in this journey, but now I... he's always just been there in the back supporting. So I really appreciate that.
Michael Redd: That's so awesome. You need a support system as you continue to ascend to your success and achievements. And so BuzzFeed, and now you have Worth It with Andrew and Adam.
Steven Lim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Redd: And this thing takes off.
Steven Lim: I'm glad, yes.
Michael Redd: And takes off this whole ideology or thought of eating your way around the world, right? Talk about the sensation that is worth it.
Steven Lim: Yeah, eating my way around the world is definitely the best way to put it. So when I first created Worth It, I actually, and this is interesting backstory that I don't really share too often because I think it can be taken out of context, and often people are going for headlines, like "Steven [inaudible 00:25:25] BuzzFeed and doesn't like who they are and blah- blah-blah." That's not it at all. I actually really love BuzzFeed and support them and they've always supported me and my journey.
Steven Lim: But there was this one instance where I did not feel completely supported and I'm not putting the blame on them at all, but I had the idea for Worth It maybe a year before I launched. This idea of creating a food show where I go around and try foods at three price points, cheap, medium, expensive, and see which one is the most worth it and its price. But I was in a development meeting and people were pitching their ideas, and I pitched the idea and it got very little positive reception, actually. I mean, and to be fair, this idea seems so obvious now because it's so successful but back then it was like, "Well, people don't really watch videos on YouTube that are longer than five minutes. I feel like we've done extensive cheap stuff before, they don't do that well, yada yada."
Steven Lim: And then there was one executive in that room, and I'm not going to name her obviously, and she actually is a friend of mine and has supported me too, but she said, "Well, this is an okay idea, Steven, but why don't you actually cast Zach and Keith from the try guys? They're a lot more popular, they're people who can draw a bigger audience, they're 'blockbuster'." And I couldn't believe it to be honest. I couldn't believe it because here I was wanting to share my perspective through food, my unique Asian-American perspective, and here was this executive saying, "Why don't we strip that away and feature two White guys?" And at that point I shut down, I turned it off and I said, "Okay, you know what? Let's just not move forward with this idea, I think it's okay." And fast forward to a few months later, I was working on some other projects and I just had the sense like, "I got to make this show. I think it's really good idea. It's going to do well, why don't I just try it?"
Steven Lim: And so I asked my boss, "Hey, I have some free time right now, I've finished my work, can I do this on the side? I work on the weekend, yada, yada." I even actually paid for the food myself out of my own budget, which they didn't ask me to do, but I just did because I felt bad for doing it myself. Well, little did they know though that I was... I finished the video, ready to go up, and I also didn't know, but it goes up, and the very first day it goes up, it hits 3 million views on YouTube. It just goes gangbusters, like it's crazy. YouTube had this, they just launched their trending feature and it was number one on that trending feature like all day. And I was even shocked. I thought it was going to do well, but it was outperforming other videos by like five, 10 times other than must-see videos.
Steven Lim: And yeah, that suddenly gave me a lot of confidence, like, "Oh my God, this is an idea that people want." And the coolest thing was, in the comments people were like, "Hey, this is a great idea, great host, I want to see more of it." And that validated the decision for me to do it. Not only finish it there, but then continue to making the show and BuzzFeed saw it and they were like, "Okay, you know what? How fast can you make the next episode?" And so by the next Sunday I had shot and edited completely another episode. And yeah, I think looking back now, I'm glad I stuck to my guns and ended up casting myself. I love the try guys who were the one that this person had pitched. But I just wanted to put myself out there and this is also betting on myself, and I felt like this was more important. Even if it didn't do that well, it was more important that I stand by my values and stand by the reason I was there, and it was to give into what executives were saying.
Steven Lim: I don't blame BuzzFeed at all because it is human nature to follow what has worked before. And these two gentlemen that they were suggesting are amazing content creators. I respect the hell out of them. And I also have learned so much from them. One of them was my mentor, one of them is still my life coach. But I really just wanted to stick to my guns and say, "Hey, I think this can do well. And I think more importantly, I want to provide a different perspective to food." And so, yeah, I kept myself in the show and it was very validating to see that it was doing really well. And so after that, the rest is history.
Steven Lim: We at Buzzfeed pride ourselves in following what works, listening to our audience, so from there, it was like, BuzzFeed just kept asking me to make it, and I said, "No problem I find it fun anyways." So when our incentives aligned, I made... We're now on our eighth or ninth season and each episode that airs always goes trending on YouTube, always does really well. The first season itself has like... On YouTube alone, each episode I think has like 30 or 40 million views, and even successful that they did send to get it on Hulu and Amazon as well. And that has been really cool. It's been cool to see this success and ultimately I'm just happy that I can be a God-fearing man who happens to be Asian American sharing my own perspective on content that's seen by people all over the world. People who have never met an Asian American person. People who don't know what it's like to go to Taiwan or Australia, or even Canada and try different foods. I'm glad I can share that experience and share a little bit of that curiosity with other people.
Michael Redd: It's so incredible. Are you surprised by the success of the show?
Steven Lim: I constantly am surprised, yes. I don't have a chip on my shoulder for this, so I'm not trying to say it in that way, but nobody has really bet on me to be a host of a show before. And so, yeah, I don't think I ever really see the validation from other people that were like, "Wow, you're so talented. You should be on camera. You're the funniest person in the world." That was never what I had received, right? Nobody was like, "Oh, hey Stephen, you're the best looking person, you should totally be a model." That's absolutely not true. I can say that for a fact. But yeah. So it is surprising, but I do know that the success completely, the idea completely all comes from God. I'm a 1000% confident. There's no way it's going to happen without God leading me here.
Steven Lim: All the decisions I've made, all the prayer that I had led me to this point, to be able to make this show. To me it doesn't make sense that I would be this successful. I stutter on camera, I don't have a good background on food, I'm not a chef. But it was a confluence of things that all came together and truly I'm very lucky and privileged to be in a position where I get to eat food. But I know that, yes it is to my hard work as well, but I have to credit God for this completely.
Michael Redd: I've often said that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. And you flow in such a humility, man, just talking to you on this cast. I'm just so happy for you and proud of you, man. Being a fellow Ohioan and Buckeye with you, let me ask you this question. What's your favorite episode that you can think of?
Steven Lim: Oh man. Oh, this is so hard, you're killing me right now. I would have to say Sushi in Japan. The show idea started because I thought, "If I want to take somebody out, should I do cheap sushi or expensive sushi?" And so we did that episode, Sushi in America, in California, and it was the best food I've had in my life. I never grew up eating this kind of food, I grew up in Ohio, the home of Wendy's and home White Castle, right? I was eating $200 sushi. Incredible. And then the fact that the whole show can continue going so far that we can actually do a sushi episode in Japan, where Barack Obama and Steven Spielberg go to eat sushi for... in ordered amounts of money that I would never want to pay myself, but from a chef that his great grandfather had invented one kind of sushi it's insane that I had the opportunity to try that. And yeah, it was like the most delicious meal of my life.
Steven Lim: The chef goes every morning to the fish market and works with the vendors to see what's the freshest. And then he served it to you one by one by one, and he's adjusting the menu as you're eating it. He's watching your facial expression, then your reactions to see what you liked the most, and it's such a tailored and personalized experience that I will never forget. And the chef wasn't like a stuck-up chef, he was just like a dad, just like somebody that you'd want to hang out with, somebody that was just making food pro, just shooting the S-H-I-T, I don't know if you can curse on this podcast.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Steven Lim: But yeah, it was just so much fun. And the fact that he made an expensive meal feel cheap. It felt like, not in a bad way, but [inaudible 00:35:18] like in the whole meal, "I'm so comfortable here," kind of way. That was such a delight, I would highly recommend. The restaurant is called Cube by the way, and it's just... Even people in Japan when they talk about sushi some of them will say that sushi [inaudible 00:35:37] Jiro movie. They are like, "Oh, that's a little overrated, but Cube is actually where it's at. And so highly recommend. You have to put a reservation in like months in advance though. So...
Michael Redd: Wow. You know what? Goal of mine would be to travel with you one time and choose different places. That's it. And if you've been all around the world, we should get place. I mean, you've been in Australia, I've been Australia as well, but what some other places that you've been? What's your favorite place?
Steven Lim: Oh man. So, yeah, I love Japan. And Japan is like the Mecca for food, especially in Asia. It's like people consider Italy or France, the Meccas of Europe, but my favorite place still to this day is Malaysia. Maybe it's nostalgia for me and it's not fair, but when you go to Malaysia, there's not really much sites to see. There are sites to see, and there's not much to do, it's so hot outside. Literally Malaysia's on the equator. It can't be any hotter than that. It's so huge. It's an Island. But you go there to eat. And so people dedicate their life to making food, and the food is just so good. I love eating Malaysian cuisine, it's very coconut based, it's very tropical. There's a fruit called durian. Have you heard of durian before?
Michael Redd: No.
Steven Lim: It is a spiky fruit that smells like trash or poop, but it's the most delicious, custardy, sweet, bitter, salty thing that you can eat. It's definitely an acquired taste but you have to chop it open with a giant knife because otherwise the thing will... it's like the top of a pineapple but all over the whole body. So it's protecting all the fruit, and it's just... The food there is incredible. I think I actually want to open a cafe one day and promote Malaysian cuisine in America because I think it's so underrated and people [inaudible 00:37:37] know about it.
Michael Redd: I would love to partake.
Steven Lim: Yes.
Michael Redd: And let me ask you some question [crosstalk 00:37:43].
Steven Lim: I'll send the send the first one right your way. So yeah.
Michael Redd: Yes, I'm coming Steven and I think you guys have experienced $2,000 pizza. So with all the expensive food that you try, is it fair to say that all of it was worth it or?
Steven Lim: I'm sure you've had your fare of expensive meals in your day, and the answer is yes and no.
Michael Redd: Okay.
Steven Lim: So the show premise is that everything we eat is worth it to somebody.
Michael Redd: Right.
Steven Lim: And so let me give you an example, we had, I believe it was a $1,000 coffee in Japan. We actually flew there, took a train to the countryside, drove a little further, and this guy had forgotten that he left coffee in his fridge for a few months, tasted it, he was like, "Oh, this tastes good." So we decided to barrel coffee like you do with wine, and let it age for years. So this was like a 25 year old aged coffee.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Steven Lim: Insane, you think. Okay, maybe it'll be good just like wine, for coffee yada yada.
Michael Redd: Sure.
Steven Lim: He pulls out this barrel from his back house, it's tiny, it's so cute. But then he's like... and we're watching it drip for hours. It's crazy. And also by the way, we're getting bitten by mosquitoes waiting for this experience. I'm like, "Okay, I hope this is the most incredible coffee in the world. It just gives me the biggest caffeine boost or like taste the [inaudible 00:39:22] or something, it gives me something." I take a sip of it, and lo and behold it tastes like somebody tased my mouth with chocolate or some... I don't know, it was like painful. It was not that delicious, but it was very interesting and very unique.
Steven Lim: And so I like to say that that experience was worth it for me to try because I can tell you, you don't need to do that. Don't age your coffee, don't leave it in your fridge for more than a day. But when I say, "Go and buy this $1,000 coffee," don't do it. I would not recommend it. It's not worth it to probably most people, but it was certainly a very fun, unique experience that I get to tell this story to you, and I get to share with the world, with the show. So yeah, it's worth it in a way, but probably not in the way that most people would think.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Steven Lim: What is the best pricey meal that you've had?
Michael Redd: Great question. My wife's, probably.
Steven Lim: Wow. Okay.
Michael Redd: My wife is a phenomenal cook. I traveled to Australia and to Beijing and those parts of the world, I think the food in Australia can be pretty pricey, yeah. And it's delicious.
Steven Lim: Yeah.
Michael Redd: As well as Sydney. Yeah. I hope I answered your question, but...
Steven Lim: [inaudible 00:40:49]. I mean, [crosstalk 00:40:50]. The seafood there is amazing. They got amazing steaks there as well.
Michael Redd: Yes.
Steven Lim: I mean everything there is so... Their wine is good. It's like all wine country because it's perfect [crosstalk 00:40:59] weather for that. They love [crosstalk 00:41:02] food.
Michael Redd: Israel, [crosstalk 00:41:04] unbelievable food in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some of the best in the world.
Steven Lim: Well, I had never been there. I would love to visit one day.
Michael Redd: I go all the time and you can go with me actually. [crosstalk 00:41:22].
Steven Lim: Oh, [crosstalk 00:41:22].
Michael Redd: Yeah, it will change your life. I got to ask you a basketball question. I know you love basketball.
Steven Lim: Yes.
Michael Redd: Who do you root for these days and who's your favorite player and all that?
Steven Lim: Okay. I grew up in Ohio Columbus, so I'm a huge Cavs fan. Actually in my hometown, people either root for the Pacers or the Cavs.
Michael Redd: Okay.
Steven Lim: Because the Pacers are actually closer by distance. But as an Ohio fan, I grew up in Columbus too, just a big Cavs fan. So my favorite player since he was in high school was LeBron James. And even when he left Cleveland to go to Miami, I rooted for him because I felt like he needed that college experience and he never got to leave home and be himself and do something fun. And I know that the world hit on him for the decision and everything yada yada, but I actually just rooted for him in Miami and I am glad he pulled in championship there.
Steven Lim: Then he came back to Ohio, pulled one together for us here. And I don't blame him for leaving Ohio because I did the same as well. We're both out here in LA. And so LeBron, I get it, I get your desire to check out the LA lifestyle, it's a fun time out here. And yeah, he's obviously doing very well in LA. I don't root for the Lakers, but I'm happy that they won last year, with that being the year where Kobe passed and it's just a tough year and they really deserved it.
Michael Redd: Sure.
Steven Lim: It's coming together.
Michael Redd: And he's amazing. I know LeBron and played with LeBron on the Olympic team and he's one of a kind.
Steven Lim: Yeah.
Michael Redd: No question about it.
Steven Lim: And in his philanthropy is something that... What is under Ohio it's absurd. Using his platform [inaudible 00:43:11] money. But I was going to say, are you a Cavs fan or are you Bucks fan now or?
Michael Redd: I mean, I'm a Bucks for life. [inaudible 00:43:20].
Steven Lim: Okay.
Michael Redd: I grew up a Lakers fan and then once I got drafted to the Milwaukee Bucks, I became a Buck for life and still root for them and wishing them well, and hopefully they'll won a championship next year or two. So yeah I'm a Buck.
Steven Lim: Was there any doubt in your mind that Yana isn't coming back or was it [crosstalk 00:43:42] given?
Michael Redd: No, not really. I think he's a loyal guy. And the City of Milwaukee has embraced him as a son. I had been there for 11 years and I know that feeling and he is a lifer, I believe. I think he's committed to seeing that city win a championship, that organization win a championship. So it really did surprise me that he stayed. It probably more surprised me until he left.
Steven Lim: Oh, interesting.
Michael Redd: Yeah. So he's just a committed loyal guy and I think it worked out for both parties, for sure.
Steven Lim: I'm a big fan of the Bucks after the Bubble when they came out and forfeited the game or ended up postponing it, but I thought that was huge and so important and you can really tell the type of organization that Bucks are and the culture that they have there. So yeah, I'm a huge fan now and I root for them. Out there and you said it's not going to be the Cavs, which is probably won't be this year, I hope the Bucks go through.
Michael Redd: Let me ask you a question more about advice. What advice do you have for leaders, entrepreneurs, people in general, during this COVID time, social unrest time, all of the things that we're experiencing here in America? What's your advice to those people who are dealing with challenging times?
Steven Lim: For sure. I think my advice that I would give people has changed over the years, with me growing up a little bit. I would say the first thing that the way that I followed my life early on was doing what I love, and I would say do what you love.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Steven Lim: Time is too short on this earth to chase money. And there's no guarantees, but I think if you love what you're doing and you love the process of what you're doing, you'll never feel like you're working. And then secondly, right now I think it's important for people to get educated. I hope people will take some time and to learn about the world that they live in. I grew up in a household that didn't talk about politics. We didn't talk about what was going on with our neighbors. We didn't really talk about social issues or awareness, but I think that's really important now for people who are growing up to take a second and to look around them, because we're more than ever connected to each other through social media, through entertainment, just through the internet, the world that we live in. And it's so easy for us to get in these fights online about things that are very important, but ultimately within a day we're all human. And I think that there is a middle ground that can be found with anybody.
Steven Lim: And that's kind of the anthem that I've had with Worth It, all of the content that I make is that, food is this one equilibrium, this one thing that we can all come together and we can all have the same experience, right? Like taste is the language that everybody speaks. And food is often a way to break down barriers, break down cultural barriers, or language barriers, or political differences. And I think if we can grow a little bit more empathetic toward each other, learn about each other, for me I've been just trying to learn about other people's experiences and it's not going to happen overnight. And I definitely still don't know what it's like to grow up as somebody who's Black in this country. That's something that I will never totally understand. But something that I can at least grow a little more empathetic toward, and at least be educated on so that this world can be a little bit of a better place to live in.
Michael Redd: What's next for Steven Lim? I know you're on season nine of Worth It, working on that. I know you had [inaudible 00:47:43] tour sometime ago. What's next for you going forward?
Steven Lim: Last year myself and two of my friends from BuzzFeed actually launched our own digital media studio. It's called Watcher Entertainment. And we launched in 2020, not the best year to launch companies, but it's actually been going really well. We hit a million subscribers on YouTube on Thanksgiving Day, last year. So it's been really wonderful to be able to pull some of our audience in. And what I want to do with this company is I want to create content that's going to bring joy to our followers, our viewers, but also educate them and bring curiosity to them and teach them to have more empathy, understanding and love for each other. And so that's what I'm doing right now. I'm making my own show on that called Dish Granted, it's a show where I take all of the things I've learned about eating expensive food around the world, and now I'm in the kitchen, on the other side of it, having to make expensive dishes.
Steven Lim: So the first episode just aired actually, I make a $300 mac and cheese for one of my co-founders. And it was quite a process, very insane, but super fun. But the goal with that company is not just for me to make my own shows, which I do still love doing, but also to bring other creators and other voices and to amplify those, use our platform to hopefully create a safe space for people. So that's the goal right now, make content, expand it and... Yeah, we had a good year and we're looking to grow in year two now.
Michael Redd: What do you tell your 16 year old self, if you had to go back in time?
Steven Lim: It's so funny because the thing I would say is what my mom put me every day, but I just didn't listen. And she said to me, "The world doesn't revolve around you." I think it's so easy for me to think that I'm the center of the universe and I'm the most important person in the world, but yeah, I wasn't or I acted like it. And so, yeah, "16 old Steven, please grow up a little bit and realize that there's more important things in the world than you and hope that you can share the love and grace of God with those people."
Michael Redd: Steven, it's been an honor, man. Thank you so much for being on the podcast, sharing your story, sharing your faith. I'm sure it's going to inspire a lot of people out there and you've already been inspiring people for the last decade or so. So thank you again, buddy, it has been an honor.
Steven Lim: No problem. Thank you as well for having me. I was a little bit nervous, but you're a great host and you made me feel comfortable. So I appreciate it, and thanks for talking about basketball as well.
Michael Redd: Absolutely buddy.
Steven Lim: I know it's something that you probably talk about every day. So not every day I get to talk about basketball with an ex NBA player. So cool experience for me as well.
Michael Redd: Absolutely. Well, listen, you are the secret to your success. Thank you for listening.
Audio: What a pleasure it was to talk with Steven. I love his humility, I'm blown away by how much he has accomplished in his life already. He's reaching millions of people now. But it never would have happened if he hadn't bettered himself. His story is an inspiration to everyone who doubts their creativity and ideas to stick to your gut. Keep going and don't give up. I can't wait to see what he does next. You can follow Steven on Instagram at S-T-E-V-E-N-K-W-L-I-M and watch his BuzzFeed series, Worth It on YouTube. As of this recording, they're gearing up for season nine. Thanks for listening, and until next time I'm Michael Redd. And remember you are the secret to your success.
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