Rachel Fong ’21 spends her weekdays as a computer science student and her weekends working from home as a YouTuber on the channel Kawaii Sweet World, which translated from Japanese means “Cute Sweet World.” Fong started her channel in 2011, and continues to upload crafting and baking tutorials to this day. As of this article’s release, the channel has more than 1.1 million subscribers. In September, Fong secured a cookbook deal with Clarkson Potter, a subsidiary of Crown Publishing, which also publishes the cookbooks of celebrity chef Bobby Flay and television personality Martha Stewart. The Daily spoke with Fong about Kawaii Sweet World and her future career plans.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What inspired you to create a YouTube channel?
Rachel Fong (RF): It all started with a crafting contest [I entered] when I was 12 years old, and it required a video entry. So, I made the video and entered the contest, and I didn’t win the contest, but it’s okay, because then I just had a YouTube channel. Then I got some requests on how to make the things that I entered, so I filmed some tutorials on those crafts and posted those and got a lot of positive feedback. From then on I just kept making more and more videos and getting good feedback and building the small community, and I was having a lot of fun doing it too, so I just kept running with it.
TSD: Is the original video still on your channel?
RF: It is. I mean, it makes me cringe to watch my first video, but I still leave it up there as a reminder of how far I’ve come.
TSD: When you were 12 years old, did you create your videos all by yourself?
RF: It was just me filming and editing just for fun. I had way too much free time in middle school, I guess, so I was just filming and editing videos. I still film and edit all of my own videos.
TSD: Where did your passions for crafting and cooking come from?
RF: My mom is really, really into baking and crafting, and she’s kind of like the Martha Stewart of our family. She taught me everything she knows about baking and crafting, and I fell in love with it, so it just felt like a natural step for me to start doing my own crafts and recipes and then sharing them online too.
TSD: When did your YouTube channel turn into a business?
RF: After my senior year of high school, I decided to take a gap year because I wanted to see what it would be like to be a YouTuber full-time and if that’s really a viable career option. At the end of [the gap year] I decided I really, really love YouTube but that I’m also interested in computer science. But that’s when I started taking [YouTube] more seriously, during my gap year, and that’s when I got my manager. That’s when I got the cookbook deal and essentially when I started treating [Youtube] more like a business.
TSD: Do you think there is a start-up culture behind being a YouTuber?
RF: YouTube today is way different from when I first started. There’s a bigger culture of social media influencers to the extent where being a social media influencer is an actual career, and a lot of YouTubers are going about essentially a traditional Hollywood career, where they have a team and they have a manager. So you definitely see a huge [YouTuber] community, especially in Los Angeles.
TSD: How do you balance your YouTube career with being a student?
RF: The hardest aspect of my life right now is figuring out how to balance YouTube and school. My goal is to work on school from Monday to Friday and then YouTube from Friday night to Sunday night because I can be at home every single weekend to film and work on the cookbook and work on videos. It’s not ideal, but at the same time I’m really passionate about what I’m studying, and I’m [also] really passionate about YouTube. That makes it a lot easier, the fact that I enjoy doing those two things. It does get stressful, but it’s always worth it in the end to me.
TSD: How do you work from home while at Stanford?
RF: I’m from Oakland, California. It’s a four-hour commute every weekend, and it’s not the best, but it’s not the worst. I get to see my family.
TSD: How does having a fanbase of more than one million people affect your interactions with other Stanford students?
RF: Whenever I met people here for the first time, I wouldn’t tell them about YouTube unless it came up somehow organically, because I think that really shifts the friendship dynamic. I share a lot on my YouTube channel, so I think it’s just more natural to get to know somebody through face-to-face interactions, versus them watching a bunch of my videos and getting to know me really well [through there]. Then I don’t know them that well. I like it to be more organic, so I don’t tell them right away, [but] I don’t hide it either.
TSD: What will a Stanford degree add to your YouTube career?
RF: I was really interested in computer science in high school, and I also love doing my YouTube channel, but I didn’t want to let the computer science part go. I wanted to explore it, and then especially after I got into Stanford I knew that I wanted to see where computer science could take me. Since I’m still young, I want to have multiple career options and explore before I decide and commit to just YouTube, and there’s also the volatility of being a social media influencer, since it’s really difficult to stay relevant as a social media personality. So, the computer science is just something that I’m interested in and that I think is a really good career option.
TSD: How did the cookbook deal come about?
RF: It’s always been a dream of mine to have a cookbook, and then my manager suggested during my gap year that we could actually go for it and see if we could get it. I put together the proposal for the book, submitted that to all of the different publishing houses with the help of my literary agent, and then took meetings with publishers. [I] got a lot more interest than I thought was even possible and eventually decided on Clarkson Potter, and that’s how it came about. I didn’t know at all that it would be possible to have a cookbook, but [it’s a] dream come true.
TSD: When is the cookbook set to release?
RF: The book comes out summer 2019, after my sophomore year. The manuscript is due this summer. I’m hustling extra hard this year to be a student and keep up with YouTube videos and write the book.
TSD: Where do you see your career(s) taking you in the future?
RF: I always see Kawaii Sweet World as a part of my future. I think I’ll have more clarity after the cookbook deal about where I want to take it and especially after doing my computer science classes too. I couldn’t see letting go of Kawaii Sweet World entirely ever because I love my fanbase, I love my community, and I love making videos too and I like baking and crafting, so I always see [myself] continuing it in some fashion. I think [that during] these next few years of college [I’ll decide] how much computer science is also going to be a part of my life.
TSD: What has been the most formative moment of your Youtube career?
RF: I can think of two really formative moments. One was meeting subscribers for the first time ever. It was at Los Angeles Cooking Convention, and I was a guest presenter there, and I got to have a meet up afterwards where I met a whole bunch of fans. That was so surreal because you see the usernames online, but you never connect them to faces, and so getting to meet subscribers in person was just amazing, and getting to hug them and getting to know them was really cool. The second formative moment was getting the cookbook deal. When we started actually getting interest I was like, ‘Woah, this is so surreal.’ I thought back to starting my channel when I was 12 years old, and I never thought it would grow to something where I could have over a million subscribers and a cookbook deal on the way. It’s just been absolutely surreal overall.
Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.