Our Guest Today: Oz du Soleil
Oz du Soleil is the host of the YouTube channel, Excel on Fire where Oz bring a fun, dramatic and humorous approach to teaching Excel.
Oz is the author of several books and has presented Excel topics and master classes at conferences in Amsterdam; Sofia, Bulgaria; São Paulo, Brazil; Toronto, Canada; and cities around the United States and Australia.
When Oz isn’t elbows-deep in the guts of a spreadsheet, he does storytelling around Portland, Oregon. He has told stories onstage for Risk!, Pants on Fire, Seven Deadly Sins, Pickathon, The Moth, and other storytelling shows.
Watch Our Interview
Live with Oz du Soleil: Entrepreneur (Microsoft Excel MVP), Teacher, Content Creator – powered by Happy Scribe
Hi everyone. This is Fei from FeisWorld Media and I’m here with Oz Du Soleil. So good to have you here. Let me give everyone a brief introduction. We’re going to hop right into today’s juicy conversation. Alright, so first of all, Oz is the host of YouTube channel called Excel on Fire, where Oz brings a fun, dramatic, humorous approach to teaching Excel. Oz is the author of several books and has presented Excel topics and master classes at conferences in Amsterdam, sophie, Bulgaria, sao Paulo, Brazil, toronto, Canada, and cities around the United States and Australia. When Oz is an elbows deep in the guts of a spreadsheet, he does storytelling around Portland, Oregon, where he resides, and he has told stories on stage for Risk, Pants on Fire, Seven Deadly Sins, Pickathon the Moth and the other storytelling shows. And today I’m just so excited to be talking about a variety of topics with Oz. Including. But not limited to Excel on Fire. Excel. MVP. What it’s like to be a YouTuber. And struggles with the algorithms. Creating courses on LinkedIn and specifically authors developed really this body of knowledge and has been making a living on not just Excel.
But this is like a very important element of it. But last but not least, storytelling. The interesting is I’ve spoken with a lot of technologists and, you know, people who are really good with tech in general and that just doesn’t seem to drive very well with storytelling, which I think is such an important element of running a business and the influence of Seth Godin, someone we both love and adore. And so please, if you’re watching this, wherever you are on social media, where YouTube, please leave us any questions you have. And here we go. As welcome.
Right? Thank you. Thank you. That’s a lot. And yeah, a lot of good topics that I’m looking forward to talking with you about.
Let’s talk about let’s talk about Excel. NDP. That was my first question. I didn’t know what it was, so I don’t understand.
Right, well, I think the MVP program with Microsoft is nearly 30 years old or somewhere like that, but what it is, is most valuable professional. Okay. Every Microsoft product has a contingent of MVPs, azure, Power, Bi, Word PowerPoint, and we’re chosen for skill, but also our community contributions is what it’s called. Like having these conversations, my YouTube channel blogging, helping people on forums, speaking at meet up groups. And that winds up being a big deal because a lot of people have the skill, but not everybody is out sharing the knowledge and helping evangelize for the program. But then the evangelizing for the program is not like being a yes person because we criticize the hell out of these things. Sometimes a person has to be nominated to be an MVP and then there’s this black box. We don’t know who or how they decide to accept somebody as an MVP. And there’s about 75 Excel MVPs in the world. And what that means for me is having direct access to the engineers that make the product and have an influence on its future. Okay? I’ve had people ask me to nominate them, and then I want to know, why do you want to be an MVP?
Well, because it can help my career. Well, first of all, that’s really self serving. And the second thing is a lot of people don’t know what the hell an MVP is. Right? So it’s not helped my career directly. But to be able to talk with the engineers and see a lot of NDA kind of stuff what they’re planning to come out in the next month or in the next five years and then us. MVPs get to say that’s ridiculous. Why are you doing that? Or whoa. You’ve got to hurry up and get that out because I can see immediate use for that. And bringing up something in these sessions with the engineers. You know what? If there was this little small thing, it would be so beautiful because of the situation I had here. Situation here. Situation here. And they listen. So I can point to things where I’ve had direct influence. In what’s? In Excel. Today. The engineers know me. I was surprised to find out that they watch my videos on YouTube.
Where do they watch them?
On YouTube. Yes.
And then they contact me and they ask me questions. They asked me do I have other kind of use cases for what I showed in a video? And then being on little teams where one of the engineers is thinking about doing something in Excel and they need more input, and they don’t tell us over and over again we’re here in Redmond making the thing. You all are out there in the streets, seeing what’s going on. And we need you.
You make excel sounds so fun. Even the way you talk about it. I think people hop on I’m not sure exactly what we’re talking about. It’s like, are they talking about an ice cream chain or, like, the next seafood restaurant? We’re not so sure. Like people on the street. What are they talking about?
How long have you had this passion for Excel? I know you’ve written numerous books. Collaborations. And you’ve been at this for a little while. How did you even stumble upon this? What was that moment where you realize this is something and for people who are watching, you have developed a full time career on your own, living anywhere you want, work anywhere you want. That is not trivial. That is work of a lifetime for our job.
And I’m very appreciative of that. I do not take that for granted. And I do realize the rarity of this situation, this life that I get to live. But the passion there’s different phases to that. So, first of all, I was working in a call center and hating life. I hated the job, and I hated when I would get up and go to the bathroom and I come back and my supervisor is put on my chair, this report saying that my calls were too long. I was taking too much time between calls. And it was constant. And then I’m sitting here thinking how hard I’m working. But you know, my supervisor, the director of the department, they are going to want to hear, but I’m working. They’ve got data. I need some data. So then I figured, I know that I was being an asshole when I did this. I said, okay, I’m going to write down every doggone thing I do for a week, and then we all see where my time is going. And then I was writing it in a notebook. Then I started patterns. And then I had this thing called Excel with all these sales in it that I could sort.
And so I started taking stuff off of the notebook, putting it in Excel, and then I noticed patterns. Somebody called to ask about a class. Somebody called up, knew what they wanted and placed an order. Somebody else called and they’ve got a whole lot of questions about books. Keep me on the phone for about ten minutes, ask me all these questions, and then they’ll buy anything. I’ll think about it and maybe I’ll call back later type of stuff. Then I even wrote it down. If somebody wound up in the wrong place, I did securities and insurance. Somebody starts asking me for about real estate, so you’re in the wrong queue. So I got afford them to that queue. I wrote that down. And the surprise was how much tech support calls I was taking. And those calls were long. And once I had all of that stuff in there, and then I had them in some crude categories, and then I made some ugly pie charts and some counts of these things. I said, okay, what do I do now? I sent it to the president of the company. I skipped over my supervisor, the director, vice president, went straight company.
And it’s one of those things, okay, am I willing to die in this ditch? The answer to this one was yes. If I get walked down to HR for this, then fine. But I was fed up. But the response people didn’t know how much tech support was coming into the center. They saw every call as here, take my money. And no, no, maybe not even a quarter of the calls with that. So many calls were about. I took this course with Al, and I need to retake the course. Where is Al? Teaching again? In Southern California? He’s not teaching for a long time. What about Arizona? So those were the types of calls that were coming in. And when I showed that to the president of the company, he took that seriously. And there were some changes made eventually tech support calls were outsourced to a whole different call center. That was not us. They realigned how the call center worked. There were so many changes happening, and so that showed me the power of data.
Wow. When you were this by the way.
We’Re going back to like, 2004 five, somewhere around there.
Wow. You were working at a call center in 2004 or five.
Wow. I remember. But you wrote a book in 99. I think it’s a data management I actually saw that. So I have thought that this conversation, what you just experienced, would have to come before then. But you were already pretty well experienced with Excel, sounds like.
Well, when I did that in 20 04 20 05. That was the first real thing I did with Excel. Solid any type of building a graph or something. Prior to that, I had done data entry into Excel. Yeah, I did a temp job at a yoyo company, and it was just typing stuff into Excel and then eventually just doing some basic stuff, some if statements and sums and stuff. But when I got mad about my performance, that’s when I started to see, okay, I can put things into categories, and I can do account if. And I didn’t know about pivot tables at that point. I didn’t know about the no no of doing pie charts that have like, nine slices in them. Okay, I know that now. But it was the response that really got me was like, people listen to data. People are going to listen. Oh, don’t it. Why do you keep bothering me with these papers? I’m sick of them.
Yeah, isn’t that interesting? I think you reminded me when I was still at the very beginning of my career, I’m gonna give a shout out to Dwight Blass, and he sort of for us to argue about, like, how we spend our time. And I remember, like, salary, negotiation, all of these things. He always used data. We’re both like 23 at the time, and he will pull data and it will immediately shut up anyone. And they look at it like, oh, I guess you are working overtime. Oh, I guess the other departments, or, oh, I remember it was promotions of people in California somehow getting promoted much more frequently. I never realized the power of even sometimes simple data, how much more easily it could actually convince people. So with that said, I think what I really find your story to be super compelling to me is I love for my podcast for Phase World to be discovering not just people constantly being talked about in newspaper. We’re hot news and we’re newsjacking in general. I’m just fascinated after speaking with you then that night, after it was late for us to join Paul’s event. I think it was a personal assistant conference.
I forgot the name exactly, but yes, exactly, the PA conference. And it was 1130 my time. It was really, like, 830 where you were. And I remember you said, oh, you know, I teach courses on LinkedIn. And after we talked, I went to LinkedIn. I was blown away by the sheer volume of courses that you have created and gosh, how many people registered and are currently attending the courses? And then the positive reviews. So which means people there are tens of thousands of people in your courses, and they give you these, like, five star reviews, and I will conclude with this. I watch one of the, you know, promo real, like, before you commit to a course, and then you can actually interact with it. I seriously I laughed. I just thought to myself, like, how interesting could you make an Excel course be? I mean, just like, you got to be God or something. And then in your introduction, you’re very sincere. At one point, you said, you know, when they data coming at you nasty, I cracked out so bad because every time you’re so sincere. And the moment you set that, that’s the relationship I’ve always had with Excel is that the date is always coming at us really nasty.
What is happening now, it’s like a car accident. It is not a good feeling, jokes aside, that a lot of people interact with, whether frankly, it doesn’t matter it’s Excel or lately, Zoom or Google Drive that people just have these things they can overcome. It is a negative feeling, like, a feeling your gut about Excel, but then you’re there to help them out, and then it changes their primary modality. Like, just incredible.
All right, I’m done. Yeah, thank you for that, because that’s important to me, to empower people, getting people alive and see that there is possibility and give people permission to do things a long, crude way. Don’t look at somebody’s really concise formula with an obscure function and say, oh, why am I not doing that stuff? It’s a slow evolution. Take time. But develop a persona where you can beat this thing. You can flip it. You say, okay, crap data, okay, you’re full of all these duplicates. I’m going to find you. I’m going to find you, and you’re going to be sorry. That’s how I feel, and that’s how the passion because you asked me about where I started and then where the passion come from. The passion. When I started solving problems in Excel, long standing problems, my reports in Excel were more accurate than the ones coming out of the company database with all the It teams and the sequel code and stuff. My stuff was more accurate. And this lady, she was an administrator for a company that was a major client of ours. She was always mad because stuff was wrong, because we would have to look at who completed these certifications in the previous month and send out this fancy certificate and this gold pin, and she would always call up, you resent me.
These two, and you didn’t send me this one, and I asked you for a replacement, and you didn’t send me that replacement. What are you people doing? It took me about a month or a couple of months to get her on my side when I took over that role. And what I noticed was that there was problems with the source data. The report was not set up to deal with people taking these four courses out of order. Okay. The report couldn’t catch people if they started the four courses with one employer and then finished with another. The report would get tripped up if, say, a person has a maximum of three years to take these courses. So they started five years ago and stopped and started all over again two years ago and completed the report. Didn’t see that. The report saw you went over three years. So I said, Stop sending me that monthly report. I just am going to take every dog on thing out of the database in a data dump, and I’m going to peel down what I need and then look at it certain ways so that I can see, oh, yes, this person did all four courses.
They actually did six. And I can draw a ring, a two year ring around these last four. Okay? Boom. So when I was able to start doing that and this lady, one day, she called me a friend. Wow. We were all rotten a few months ago, but that started to give me a passion. It’s like, I can figure this stuff out. Yeah, all right. And I’m not going to go kiss the DBA’s ring in order for him to get me a report tomorrow. No, no, because then the thing is, he gets me a report that’s wrong, and I can’t unkiss his ring. See? No, the damage is done. So, yeah, it’s this passion of fighting 40 people.
That’s the thing.
It’s not the Excel tricks. When she calls me a friend, when people stop calling with all kinds of hassles. There was a lady that I worked with. She was an insurance agent in Maryland. We screwed something up because the data was a mess. Maybe she had six profiles in the system, and the reports couldn’t handle that, but I was able to handle that and straighten things out for her. That’s what it was. That’s where my passion comes from. When she could stop having to call me daily because I straighten the problem out. That’s what this is about.
Yeah. This is really interesting about the origin stories. And you remind me also, when I created these Zoom courses, it wasn’t about, oh, I’m number one in Zoom, where this is my one and only calling and passion. It’s I stepped in on YouTube, for instance, and saw something very specific for Zoom, for dance instructors and fitness instructors, of coordinating movements versus sound and video. And I did it for my friends and my friends who are Zoom instructors. And then the video took off and gave me all these ideas. So I think it’s just a really important reminder for people to realize that it doesn’t have to be difficult necessarily, even though sometimes it can be, to figure out what the solution is. But it’s about providing value to other people, and internally, it’s really a reward that keeps on giving to yourself as a creator. So I would love we have so many places and areas to go to. So next I want to kind of explore now you have developed something. You realize you have this gift, you figure something else out. How did you land on LinkedIn? I mean, creating courses on LinkedIn is not trivial.
We have audiences. We have people who will be watching this now or later want to know, how do I even get in? Could you maybe talk about that process? Whatever you’re willing.
Well, there is so much there, and so let me see if I can summarize it as best I can. All right, so there was a layoff in eight. The company laid off all 300 of us in Chicago, and they moved to La Cross, Wisconsin.
I had a really nice severance package, so I didn’t have to hurry up and find a job so I could try this and try that and explore this. And I thought about getting a project management certification, risk management. I thought about all kinds of things, but people start calling and wanting me to do little trainings for Excel. They got excel questions. Little Excel projects. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the challenge of, okay, I’ve never done that in Excel, but I can kind of see how to put some pieces together. Okay, so now Excel is becoming its own thing and not inside of customer service or the commissions analyst. Now. It’s excel. And then there was this thing called Dabble that came up in Chicago where they said, okay, there are people who know things and people who want to know things. How about we let the public post courses, and people can sign up for them, and they’ll be inexpensive? And for people who want to Dabble, like, if you want to do wine making but you don’t want to pay for some $600 course, maybe you want to take a $20. Like, here’s what you’re getting into.
If you go ahead and pay the $600 course for somebody else, and then maybe you said you don’t want to do it, that’s good enough for you. It was fun. So I did a few excel courses for Dabble.
I just found the site discovering local courses. Wow.
Yup, yup, yup. All kinds of things people post on there, and people like my Excel courses. And now I’m starting to borrow from when I played bass. I liked being on stage. I was an okay bassist. Not a good basis, but I brought stage presence because I would dance and I would move and I would come down off the stage. The base brought out a performer in me. And then when I started doing these courses, people liked the energy that I brought. And then there were times where I would try for a laugh and didn’t get it or people are laughing in the wrong situations. And then I found out that Second City in Chicago, they’re not just for Tina Fey and Chris Farley and stuff. The public can take courses at Second City. So I took four levels of improv storytelling workshop and two stand up classes at Second City. And that helped me to kind of refine what I do. And one thing they said at Second City, as soon as you show up is, don’t come here and try to be funny. Force funny. Funny will come. And sometimes you got to find out where you are.
Are you the one that’s being funny in a scene? Are you supporting? Are you the one who’s got to steer a scene off of a cliche direction? So you got to look at all of that stuff and not try to force some laughs. So that was a huge help. And then when I started doing a YouTube channel, my early videos are really dry, just straightforward. I’m going to show you some product, okay? I showed you some product, okay? That was not fun for me. And then I talked with the people who said they’re sick of boring Excel stuff. So then I started thinking, what can I do to make this sustainable for me as a creator? Okay? Because I don’t believe this stuff about it’s not about you. Well, if I’m the one who’s got to do it, it’s partially about me, then there’s a difference between that and like, self indulgence. And that’s what I’ve learned from the storytelling that I’ve continued to do on stage, is when I get lost in planning my story for a show, I kind of pull back and say, why do I want to be in front of an audience telling this story?
What is the audience getting out of this? Okay, so there’s that dance, there’s that consideration. And when my channel was like 750 subscribers small, and when YouTube changed their monetization, we had to have, I think, at least 1000 subscribers, right? Yeah, I was under that. And that’s when I got contacted by LinkedIn. And the person who contacted me was like, wow, I really love your channel. I love the passion, I love the humor. I love that you’re teaching Excel and not in a way that we already have it on the platform.
When you’re with this Oz, do you remember? I remember roughly that’s when YouTube 2016 to 17 is when they remove when they added the 1000th subscriber count 2016. So, quick recap, you had only a 750 subscribers on YouTube, but the channel gave you such visibility so that someone at LinkedIn Learning contacted you and said, why don’t you create courses? Do you remember that person offered one? Two courses were like, let’s wait and see. You why don’t you create something? Let’s see if even six or even works.
It was more that it was more let’s think of a course that’ll be a short one because there are maybe six hour courses on the platform, but we didn’t want to come out of the box with 6 hours. So what is like an hour and a half, maybe two hour course. Yeah, but then also what’s not already there. Right, okay. Because that’s one thing I’ve liked about the relationship with LinkedIn is, yeah, you’ll have multiple Excel courses, but they’re not going to be the same thing. Beginner pivot tables and then there’s five people with their beginner pivot tables. No. So I like that.
So what did you do? What was the course you did? Do you remember?
It was power query.
Okay, how did you decide on that?
Because I was very passionate about that, because most of what I’ve done with data has been data cleansing or merging data or appending data. And so many of my videos up to that point were on that topic. And so there hadn’t been a course that’s kind of an immersion Power Query. And so that’s what I put together, where I go through all six joins, how to append, split columns. Yeah, a lot of things. But yeah, that was the first course and that came out, I think August 2017.
Wow, August 2017. And since then I have found, I mean, I don’t have it in front of me. You have created a series of courses covering a variety of topics. So I want to kind of go back into, say, and also that when you look at LinkedIn and YouTube for people who are watching, what have you learned about these two platforms? They’re obviously very, very different in terms of the audience, maybe the algorithms and how they’re being promoted. And I would love to get your take on what you’ve learned back then versus today and how to choose our focus, the productivity and focus for a greater it’s always tough because we have life and time is limited.
Right, so a lot of things so let me talk about YouTube because there’s a few things I had to get focused on. What am I doing here? Am I trying to make a living off of ad revenue? Am I trying to leverage it into people buying my courses? What am I doing? And this is important for people who have asked me, okay, how do I start a channel? Well, what do you want it for? And this is one frustration I have. A lot of the advice around YouTube is for people who want to grow a huge audience and make money off of ad revenue or get brand deals and stuff. But there are people who use YouTube, like, here is my sizzle reel. I’m a speaker. I want to get gigs as a speaker. Go to my YouTube channel and you can see five videos of what I do as a speaker. That’s what they want to do on YouTube. And then I had to get clear that I want to provide a body of knowledge on YouTube. Yes. I’m not trying to get rich on YouTube. It only brings me about $120 a month.
But what is allowed has been huge. That is my primary community contribution for remaining an MVP. It was so touching when I was in Bulgaria, where there was a guy who found out that morning that I was going to be teaching in Sofia. He signed up and he came and he quoted something from one of my Owen video. Like, man a true fan. Somebody who knows me. That is the kind of stuff that doesn’t show up in the stats, right? Look at my number of subscribers. Relatively low.
No, not that low, right. At this point. Right? But when I was contacted by LinkedIn, when I had 750 subscribers, it was the power of what else is going on? What doesn’t show up in the analytics? And one thing that I know you want to talk about is the analytics. And I don’t look at my YouTube stats. Well, I mean, I look at them, but with my last video, okay, I posted and I go look. I look to see which comments I haven’t responded to, but I see the analytics. And there’s an analytics that says something like, this video is performing eight out of the last ten videos after 15 hours. Yeah, after 10 hours. Last ten videos over 15 hours. And now it becomes this, like, pull, this emotional pull of, why isn’t it number one or two? And I have to say shut up. Shut up.
I am not in that race right now. Excel put out 14 new functions. It’s more important for me to share the knowledge about those 14 new functions than to be chasing these analytics.
And yes, my channel grows slowly. I don’t do keyword searches. I do things where somebody emails me something. And I think this, I think, is something that other people could learn from. Let me make a video about it.
Right. Very organic.
Right? And I’ve been okay with that. And there was one year where I came into the year saying, I’m going to end the year with 100,000 subscribers and that Silver Play button. And I hired somebody to help me do that because I watched him do it in a very short time. And he’s got me doing keyword searches and all kinds of stuff that had me feeling slimy. I want to be very clear that I’m not knocking people who approach it that way. I don’t like marketing. I don’t like marketers. I don’t like being marketed, too. I like genuine interaction. And yes, I would take it if I. Could do things my way and have 100,000 subscribers. Sure, but I’m not chasing the subscribers. I’m like, okay, there’s 14 new functions in Excel. Let me get those out and get them out in my style, the style that my followers have come to expect.
When you said it’s true marketing marketers. And the funny thing is, I think my parents or most people in my family, my friends would have the exact same thing. But over the years, when I look back to my career in consulting and advertising, now, marketing has been part of my title at least. People kind of see me as someone who is in digital marketing. And so I thought to myself with that versus, both of us are somewhat heavily influenced by Seth Godin’s work. And Seth is one of the most genius marketers out there. So I think there is truly that good versus bad marketing, a bad marketing. I just want to clarify that we all get tons of emails, messages through LinkedIn. People are like, would you like to up your subscriber count? Would you like to sell your $20,000 coaching package? I’m like, if you just look, I’m not even a coach, right? Tons of emails coming in, promises, everything, pictures of them with some famous person. Oh, it’s just so irritating. I want to take this moment and say, I know that Seth Godin has influenced part of your work. I want to maybe share, I want you to share what that is and how you have learned maybe the good marketing or something that works for you and your brand.
Well, I like Chef golden because he’s not like this straight marketer that’s going to tell you about AB testing and stuff. He talks about like human things, about burnout and fairness and integrity and stuff. I like that. But really his influence on me was when I decided to leave Chicago and move to Portland. And I kept talking about I’m moving to Portland, and I was even throwing out old clothes and stuff. And then one of his daily things that he did, emails, and I still get those, it said something like, a dream is not real until there’s a date. And that told me, okay, if I’m moving to Portland for real, I need a date. And I was talking with my friend Charlie and figured, okay, my last course at sicken city ends on this date. And then two weeks after that date is when I’m getting in my car and I’m moving to Portland. And things just like, started falling into place in the most beautiful way. Clients started showing up. Clients just had been putting stuff off. They were finally ready to act and all kinds of things, great things. I had to get my car together to make a drive from Chicago to Portland.
How did that happen? Oz, say a bit more about how the clients started to show up, how your business started to bloom in a way as a result of making that decision to move or something else you did.
I don’t know what happened, but I know that I know that what happened with me was rather than this nebulous kind of, yeah, I’ll sell you this chair for $10 cause I don’t need it, I’m moving to Portland. This clothes that I’m taking to the garbage. But then when I said August 15, now everything was focused on August 15. Now I can tell people, okay, if you want to do this project, I don’t know where I’m going to be after August 15 because I’m going to make a road trip out of it. I’m going to see friends in Utah and Idaho and Colorado along the way. I don’t know when I’m going to show up in Portland. So it could be mid to late September.
And I was being truthful. I was not trying to do some kind of creating false urgency. No, this was real. Also. What do I need to do today that I don’t have to stick around after August 15?
Interesting. What needs to be done in Chicago?
Yeah, what do I need to do? Start getting my car together, take it to the mechanic, give me a list of all the stuff I need to be out on the road like this. And there was one time I only had the money to get two tires changed. And then I’m sitting in the lobby of the mechanic when a client calls and says, okay, they’re ready to do something, and they PayPal me to deposit. And then I go tell the mechanic, okay, all four. And I don’t know about mystical stuff, if it’s true or not, but there was something that was way more intentional about me where, you know, without seeing that from Seth, and without a true date, I might have booked something that would have had me in Chicago into September and then into October. Things got very focused and deliberate when I set that date. And it was approval.
Yes, please finish what you were thinking. I was going to say when that.
Was yeah, well, I made a decision to move. That was November 2013. Then I think it was February 2014 when I set the date, and I set it in concrete. That was not a date. That was movable.
And even the day that I got up, I had been told, okay, you want to leave like, around 10:00 a.m.. So that the traffic okay, get up that morning. And one thing after another happens. The place, I had a whole bunch of stuff that needed to be shredded. The place that I knew to take stuff to, it wasn’t open on Wednesdays or whatever it was. I didn’t know that I did places. So all kinds of stuff is going wrong. And then around 01:00, my roommate says, you are about to hit rush hour traffic. You can stay another day if you need to and leave tomorrow morning.
Yeah. And you said no. Right. I love it. By the way, why Portland, oregon not only like it’s one of my top three cities. What’s about Portland that drew you in?
Well, first of all, let me tell you is that I got on the road at two, and then two blocks away is the entrance to the freeway, and I hit it.
Did it rush hour traffic. It took 2 hours to get outside of Chicago Metro when it would be like maybe 20 to 30 minutes.
Let me imagine I was going, yeah.
Yes, I made good on a date. So why Portland? Well, I realized that I didn’t need the intensity of Chicago or Manhattan anymore. I’ve lived in Manhattan as well.
Wow. Yeah. That is intense.
Yeah, and I loved it in my thirty s and living in a five story walk up. Just boom, boom, zoom, boom, just up the stairs and down. And today, no, I don’t want to live in no five story walk up. Elevated. No. But yeah, I’ve loved intensity, but then I got to a place to where I want a slower life. I want to be able to talk to strangers, go to restaurants and start talking with people, ask people for directions and not have them worry if I’m trying to suck them into a scam. So Portland has been perfect. I’ve lived a lot of places. Charleston, South Carolina. Orlando, Florida. Orange County, California. San Diego. Cambridge.
Oh, yeah, you were here, right? Massachusetts. Right.
So I didn’t like to sprawl in Orlando and in Southern California, it felt like Boston had this grudge against New York, and I didn’t need New York’s intensity anymore.
So, conceptually, Portland looked like my next home. And so I committed pretty much sight unseen and took 16 days to drive here. And that was August 31, 2014. And I’m so happy here.
Oh, my goodness, I’m so glad to hear that. And I think one key takeaway for people who are still thinking about still thinking about starting something. And I was watching a video by Ali Abdull on YouTube just now. He has this brand new Vlog channel, which is great. And there are people going to these video VidCon conferences talking about, oh, I’ve been thinking about starting a YouTube channel in three, four, three years. I’ve been thinking about starting a podcast for five years. So just do it. Just as I love what you shared, just like, whatever it is, put a date on it and just commit to it. It doesn’t matter if that episode is crap or audio didn’t work out, just publish. I don’t know why we kind of got into this ditch. We dug ourselves to say, like, something has to be perfect, or I’m not good enough. Other people’s voices are what I’m worried about. Let’s not start. Nobody cares, really.
Right. And I heard something years ago that crickets never hurt anybody look at that? Yeah. So you post stuff when you’re first getting started, and a couple of your friends will watch it. Your uncle will watch it and say, I don’t know what you’re talking about there, but, hey, you did it.
You did it. We did it. And I loved seeing so many YouTubers who were truly they talk about themselves, that they were underdogs in school, in a social situation, they were shy, and they never thought they will make anything into anything, and then they did it. And then you look at not just their subscriber count, not just the stats, but what you’re able to do once you put yourself out there is phenomenal. So as I know I can talk to you forever. I don’t know how many thousands of miles apart right now, but I really want to take the last portion of our conversation to talk about your origin stories, because I could have easily started there, but I wanted people to hear the business insights first. But one of the videos that I saw of you, I believe it was Seven Deadly Sins’it, was on YouTube where you’re wearing something. I think you’re wearing something like there are a couple of videos where you’re wearing all white. But there was one of the first videos, maybe data back 20, 1516 or earlier, where you talked about your upbringing and the videos about 15 minutes long.
I couldn’t believe I ended up watching the whole thing and definitely cried a few times. And there was a true connection because sometimes I don’t want to kind of steal the story. But one of the things for me to watch it is realize that a lot of us, maybe not all of us had could be let me just like a more traumatic or childhood of something where it was just hard growing up. And I definitely fall into that category. And a lot of people don’t realize they’re really shocked to be like, really? Your parents were perfect. Well, no, my grandparents were not, and I grew up with them, which most people don’t know, but I would just watch that. I watched that video throughout. I realized, you’re such a storyteller, and there’s so much truth in that. And there are just moments you describe like you were 15, living in lease in between and kind of in your father’s house, what you said to your mom, how you came around. I’m just like, oh, my God, I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know you. But there’s so much about that story.
Wow. Yeah. So that was the story about the two months I went to go live with my father. Yeah. You can ask me any questions about it. Don’t worry about any kind of spoiler alerts or anything. That story has been up for a long time. But, yeah, I’ve liked storytelling more than improv. Improv tends to Intersee with other people, and you’ve got to be ready for it to move any kind of direction. I like storytelling and spending weeks preparing a story and trying to remember, okay, why am I going to be on a stage in front of people who paid upwards of $50 a ticket to see this and to think about the stakes in a story, the honesty? How was that changed? Yeah, I like storytelling so much, and yet there’s this terms of phrases and stuff and weaving a story together. I really like that art form versus, like, stand up where you got to get laughs. People are there to laugh, right? But yeah. What did you get out of that story? Do you have any questions about that story?
Yeah, I mean, there’s just that story. Somehow I feel like if people don’t know anything about you and this was the first thing they interacted with, and I think you develop true fans very quickly that way, because rarely do we number one. I think we all come with stories. Every single one of us. No matter how boring you think your stories, your life is or your stories are, there is a way of telling a story. And I think you executed with the timing choices, your words. And the moment that you’ve selected for that particular story is really powerful. Almost becomes like I know that we’re not here to talk about the anatomy, but I’m kind of interested in how you constructed that story to begin with. But reminds me of friends become enemies and enemies become friends, and there’s collision. There are a lot of conflicts, and there are moments where it made me realize, why did you the moment, like, for instance, when your mom, you said, I took my money and I work so hard picking up trash and all these things. Why would she take the money away from me? And I deserve this.
And then I think makes all of us. Doesn’t matter where teenagers or late 30s or 50s or 60s realize we’ve all shared those moments of feeling completely misunderstood, especially hurts by our loved ones. Why shouldn’t they know better? Then you think you cross over to the brighter side and people with really good intentions, you’re like your dad, your siblings, but that just sometimes doesn’t work out. And then as we get older, we realize that it’s not that simple.
I don’t know.
Those are kind of and that is a big thing that came to mind recently about storytelling, is everybody gets their humanity. There isn’t some cartoon villain in a story. My father could have easily been a villain, but then in telling the story, I can’t get up in front of people that say, asshole, follow of mine right now. I’m ranting. But in pulling the story together, I had to look back and realize he was 39 years old. He worked at a boys prison, and he hated that job. He hated the things that he saw every day at his job and his shifts would change. Now he’s got the regular shift that starts at 08:00 in the morning. Oh, now he’s got the shift that starts at 11:00 at night. I didn’t realize that when I was 15.
Right? You witnessed that.
It’s just scary.
But to tell the story now, I can say, yes, he did some things that scared me and they still scare me, but they were coming from this guy who was hating life. Does it make it okay? No, it doesn’t. But it’s like it just adds another layer where I can have some empathy.
And there’s a lot of multi. What I also learned is that I think what makes a story interesting, and particularly yours interesting, is that everybody’s actually very multi dimensional. I think we are so used to in condition to something, whether it’s an item or a person or a situation where decision either all good or all bad, but it’s not the case. And it’s sometimes for the audience to decide that after hearing, let’s say, in your new and next in your household, leaving your mom and your mom saying, Never come back. And I’ve heard those words for both my mom, my grandma’s like, don’t you I will never I’ll disown you. This will never happen. And they accept you back. It’s like nothing ever happened. But we took us so freaking seriously at that age. I will honor your decision, the choice. And, you know, and I think also realistically, we don’t think about, like, the challenge of parenthood, of your father working at a boy’s prison, the stories, the things that he had seen. Frankly, you will never there are things that you will never know as his child coming back home with so many siblings.
Like, realistically, we put ourselves even on our best day in those situations, I don’t know how I would react and how will I be judged by it. But it’s like something so juicy and rich about that is the everyday situation.
All that complexity.
It’S a lot. And thank you for bringing that up. That storytelling. Yes, that’s origin story. And part of that story was because there’s a show called Seven Deadly Sins and occasionally they will have a sin based topic. And that show was wrath. And it got up to that point where my father said, do you realize because he has studied kung fu, he says, you realize I can hit you seven times before you can get up to move? And he went and slammed his bedroom door. So yes, so that was the raft. But then it was a story about me trying to have a father, but he had all this other stuff going on. He had started a new family. I had these half siblings, and they’re great and we love each other and we were in regular communication with each other. But living there was just a whole different life that I couldn’t deal with. And yeah, it only lasted two months. Yeah, you mentioned this diversity topic.
Yeah. The reason I want to set some context here, and I think it is part of storytelling. And frankly, it didn’t hit me until recent years. I’m in my late 30s already, but it didn’t occur to me how much influence that being an Asian immigrant and my most mundane lives back in Beijing where I grew up, the things I did had anything to do with what I do today. You feel like I’ve transformed in a way. I don’t say like the butterfly situation, but it’s like, oh, I’m a different person now. And I’ve left that life behind. I’ve blocked certain things off. But then recently people said, well, Fay, why did you start your YouTube channel? Why do people find certain your content compelling? I said, well, you know, I think I create content with a lot of empathy because I came here not understanding some American people when they talk super fast. And I was really embarrassed. I was so sick in my gut when I wasn’t able to say something, pronounce something. I was just like, oh, I need to represent, I need to be better, I need to just constantly since I got here as a 16 year old.
So because of that, I think it was actually kind of that feeling and empathy permeates my content. I made it into something different. But this is again, a very single dimensional way of describing something. So I want to invite you to chat about like what diversity of your upbringing and perhaps how it influences who you are and your past, how your past influences the way you create content today.
See, this is a touchy subject for me cause I grew up in a very diverse place. It was a suburb of Chicago. Blue collar school system isn’t very good, but there’s a Navy base there. And the Navy kids went to school with us. And so I grew up around people from the Philippines. And there was a Scottish oh, I didn’t know that. Family that came through. Native Americans, german kids. And there was this brother and sister from Iran.
So that’s what I grew up with. And then we had a set of encyclopedias and I would pull an encyclopedia and I would look, and the world was just so fascinating. So eventually I joined a Navy that took me to Singapore and Pakistan, France, I went to Bonaire in the Caribbean. So I’ve seen a lot and I have felt like a citizen of the world. And it’s been hard because I get diversity and I get racism. But then there are some movements that I can’t identify with, like these diversity and inclusion folks running around. And yes, I’m black, but I’m also I’m only five four, and that’s made Dayton weird. I’m left handed, I’m a veteran, I suffer a lot, even though I wasn’t a combat veteran, having been a veteran. That’s a source of a lot of problems for me. And so I just feel like individuals are getting lost in a lot of this stuff. But yes, it bothered me when I finally got to the world of work, and I’m hearing all about the diversity, racial diversity. We love our veterans. I’m hearing all this stuff. But what happens when I walk past the conference zoom?
Who’s in there? Attractive white people. In spite of all the talk, who’s got the offices and who versus who’s in cubicles? White people. So I get that there is a problem. But then I am not part of some cartoonish group called Black, okay? Because I am not from rural Mississippi. I’m not from Harlem. I am not from Oxnard, California. When I first moved to Portland, I hadn’t even been here a full seven days when I met up with some folks, and there was a couple of ladies who were talking about, you know what? We hate it when people from Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, come here and talk about black people in Portland don’t have problems. No, our problems might not look like Philadelphia black people’s problems, but yet we got problems. It was like, listen to us. Let us tell our stories. We don’t need some spokesperson who’s going to try. They mean well. But what they do, I feel, is they reduces down to cartoons.
I see. And then I say storytelling. Sorry, Oz. I just realized storytelling kind of breaks that barrier.
When I watched your story, I wasn’t thinking about, I’m watching a black person telling his story. I’m watching a person telling his story. And those struggles, I started to see, like, oh, you know, some of my Hispanic friends also mentioned something similar, but it was different for them. And it was exactly it was very multi dimensional, as. Whereas some of the current di initiatives, even with many with very good intentions, it does seem to reduce down to a very single dimension approach or, frankly, without any instructions or manuals.
Like, what are we doing with this exactlytelling? Is a storyteller, tells their own story. And I have to separate this from because there’s the storytelling that we hear about, like on LinkedIn, storytelling with data, blah, blah, blah, that’s kind of getting into maybe Persuasion or let me paint a picture because these graphs and stuff might be overwhelming. That’s a different thing. What I do is I take the audience on a journey. Here’s how life started. Here’s how life ended up. Here’s what was at stake. Did I get what I wanted? Did I not? And I have to tell my story. I can’t tell the story of my father working at a boys prison and hating life. I can only say from my perspective in what I saw, okay, I’m not in somebody else’s head. I’m not in black people’s heads or lefthanded people’s heads.
I was just curious. Right? I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time right now.
That sounds good.
I do wonder, what are some of the things that we could share with people who are maybe in charge of di, diversity, equity, inclusion? What are some of the things, maybe outside of their menu, if there is one, to encourage people to know more about each other? What would it be? A workshop to invite people to share more of their stories? What can they organize? What can they actually do with that to encourage even people from within the organization to learn more about each other? I don’t know. Like, I’m not against hiring a consultant to come certain things. I just think that needs to be the one and only solution to someone to drop in and leave. And you’re all on your own after, right? So just brainstorming ideas. There’s no good or bad things right now, right?
Wow. This is an area where I don’t want to get in trouble. Right. But like, I talked with one person who described itself as a diversity and inclusion consultant, and it felt like she had this chip on her shoulder. It felt like she was on this mission to wag her finger at white people. I want to tell my own story. I don’t want to have it filtered through with some finger wagger. And I’m sure that they don’t see themselves that way, and I’m sure that they see themselves as really helping. And yes, there is a need for diversity, but I don’t know, in a lot of these conversations, I don’t feel seen other than just like some cartoonish black guy, but I don’t feel seen as or I get dismissed as, oh, you’re different. No. There are a lot of black people who are doing well in life, and we aren’t diabetic. Because I lost a friend here recently because he felt like I wasn’t anti Trump enough. Now, I don’t want to get political or anything, but the thing is, he called me something that was just too far out. A house in my position at the time was, I think Donald Trump is awful, but I am not going to wrap my identity up in being black and hating Trump.
I have a life to live over here. I got courses to record. I feel like the news media continues to do harm in a way with the clickbait and whatnot. I don’t like how marketers have entitled themselves to so much data about us and we can’t do anything about it. So there’s a lot of stuff on my mind, and then I’m driving around and then I see BLM spray painted on a wall. Life is complicated. It is. A lot of stuff going on, and.
I know our experiences are very different. There’s a lot of Asian hate crime going on right now, and it’s very, very serious. And I think I’m not trying to say that podcasting and YouTube are the only solutions or ultimate solutions for people of color to end racism, really. But I started to see the trends of an. Apologize in advance for the background noise. And there is a microphone. Now there’s a camera that doesn’t have to be fancy. Compete your phone where you can share your words, just like the way you did. Ozzy had a stage, but frankly, I would have watched that video if you were recording it in your living room. That didn’t really matter. You don’t really need a stage. You don’t need to be invited.
I think you can actually share your voice. And sure, not everybody will love that story, watch it all the way through, or agree with you. But I think it’s time for us to actually exercise that. Yes, right?
How many people have not shared a story in a small gathering in a big group? And when I invite people to join me on my podcast, especially the early years, I didn’t invite famous people. And some people say, I’m really sorry, I’m struggling to piece together this information. Nobody asked me those questions. I never try to answer them. And then after a 1 hour recording, they go, wow, I just realized something else about my life I never really thought about before. And over here, this black box started to all light up. It started to make sense. And I think that is really powerful. And I also say this because I’m part of these. Finally, years later, I joined an Asian creator group. At the beginning, I was like, which is creators. Why do we have to call ourselves Asian? And I noticed that there are a lot of more hesitations with, for instance, not just Asian creators, but creators of colored. To say English is not my first language. I don’t know if the algorithm is going to favor us. I don’t know if my parents gonna like it. My parents not going to like it when I have a YouTube channel and they did it, and their parents are very proud of where they didn’t really care, but they learned so much from that experience.
So I don’t mean that I think we can empower ourselves to a degree or at least get out of the way.
And, you know, you give me thinking now about how, like, I am so appreciative of my audience because they have accepted me when I decided to start expressing myself and telling stories and being genuine in my videos now, okay, I’m making a video now. I want to put some music. Okay. So I go on to this library and start listening to clips. I’m looking for funky disco stuff that I grew up with, stuff that truly expresses me. And so there’s the black me from the housing projects that grew up. You’re listening to James Brown and the Spinners and Cameo Brothers Johnson. Okay? And then there is the performer in me with the deadpan humor that’s going to find. Drama where there’s no drama. Okay. So another aspect of personality that I love to express and so it turns into, you know, like, alright, you know what happens when the VLOOKUP breaks? You can’t panic. You have got to straighten up and deal with this stuff. Right?
It’s fun. Yeah.
So there’s all the layers of what makes and the expression and truly deeply appreciative of the audience that demands that they’ve come to love it and they demand it. And when I don’t do something, they let me know what happened to the such and such. Okay. And so we do this dance together. And I do appreciate it when I get messages from other black people who say, you know, I really appreciate it. Learn and excel from a brother. Yes, there’s that too. There’s all of that. Wow. And I’m living a really nice life and I’m so appreciative and I really.
Appreciate you for chatting with me. Oz, we literally just met and I welcome you to the stage. And I know there was a little risky for us both to step into the dei conversation. I never ever talk about politics and religion really on the show, but I think now into nearly an hour and a half, I realized in the past year, I decided that I invited three of my dear friends who identify with a disability. All of them have visible disability. There were, you know, four of us on Zoom watching. And I was a little nervous because other I was little worried of some people would say, well, you’re not someone with a visible disability. How do you even have the right to start a conversation with them? How do you ever know? So it was such a fruitful, it was such a helpful conversation to open that up. I really think it’s I’m against the socalled able body people and people versus people who are disabled. I really hate the concept of putting people in categories. And if we could encourage each other to share the conversation, be civil and just hear each other out and then you make me feel like I’m less afraid of starting the conversation and not know where it’s going to go or making things worse, even.
So, this has been really helpful. I’m so glad we ended up.
Thank you for saying that about the nervousness and what possibly could face some kind of backlash or something and going forward and having the conversations and yes, and it frustrates me to hear why people don’t ask your black friend, blah, blah, blah. You know what, I’m Oz speaking for Oz. Ask me, have conversations with me, please. That’s the only way we can get somewhere conversation.
We’re here. We definitely were doing this. I would absolutely encourage other creators to start these conversations. We are obviously going live. If you’re not comfortable going live with these conversations, just record them and then release them so more people can hear. Just different perspectives so thank you so much. The campaign. You’re in Portland, Oregon. I’m here in Grafton, Massachusetts, and we’re sharing these moments together and I look forward to continuing our conversation. And for anybody who’s watching, please, please check out Oz’s creative work on YouTube, on LinkedIn and let him know. Is there anything else I left out, AZ, before we conclude?
No, there’s a lot.
Yes. Thank you for this. I really, really, really like this.
Thank you. I’m going to take us offline now, so I’m going to say goodbye to the live audience. Take us offline.
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