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DNQ Ep. 20: TJ Lee on Building a YouTube Brand

For the 20th episode of the DNQ Interview Series, I’d like to introduce my friend TJ Lee, who will be imparting her knowledge on building a YouTube brand!

I first reached out to TJ on Facebook a loooong time ago before I started my nomad journey. I saw that she was doing what I was planning to do and that we had a few mutual friends, so I wanted to connect. After that, we became friends, and we’ve met up twice in Taiwan on separate occasions!


TJ is in the middle!

TJ is KILLING it right now. With over 63,000 subscribers and counting on YouTube in about 2 years time, she’s become a huge travel influencer! I was so fascinated by the quality of her videos and her amazing work ethic. She spends an average of 14 hours on EACH video! I had experience with this when I was pushing out music covers, but was getting burnt out merely publishing videos once a week. Seeing her do it every day just blew my mind, and watching her subscribers go up exponentially shows that her work ethic and talents pay off.

Without further ado, check out our DNQ interview below. 🙂

TJ Lee on Building a YouTube Brand

Sharon: Tell us about yourself!

TJ: Hey you! I’m a solo female travel vlogger who eats way too much for my size. Prior to becoming a nomad I was working as a program manager at Mozilla and attempting to cofound a career development startup. Funny how things worked because after consulting people about climbing the corporate ladder…I decided to step off it and become a freelancer.

CupofTJ YouTube

Sharon: I know that feeling. How did you think of the name “Cup of TJ”? (Cup of TJ is TJ’s YouTube Channel username.)

TJ: You know one of those usernames you have for a long time? Like from AIM or AOL? Hahah, this was an username I had from ages ago! And it just stuck with me. It can mean cup of tea or cup of joe – your preference 🙂

Sharon: What is your YouTube channel’s focus? For example – travel, digital nomad life, chasing dreams, or all of the above?

TJ: Having the courage to pursue an unconventional lifestyle, especially one that’s true to you. At the end of the day I just want someone to watch my videos and think, “gees if this derpy girl can do it then I can too.”

Salt Flats Dinosaur Perspective Photo CupofTJ

Sharon: Ah, that’s perfect. What sparked your interest in producing YouTube videos?

TJ: Gosh I don’t know where it all started but when I was younger I used to create lipsync webcam videos with my friend. And I used to have a weekly webcam show on this platform (I forgotten the name) where I talk about life and nerd about TV shows. I guess I was always an internet child. I also loved theatre. I love being in front of an audience.

When I got a GoPro as a present my junior year in college, I started using it to document trips I take with my friends. It’s a really slow progression into actually having my own channel but now that I do, I look back and realized weird pieces of my past all fell in line. I went back to my roots.

Sharon: What have been your proudest accomplishments with what you’re doing so far?

TJ: In terms of publicity, one of my videos went viral in Peru, broadcasting across news channels! It was just a video where I went to a catpark and had the time of my life. Screenshots and clips of my videos appeared all over Peru news both on TV and online. Important takeaway from this? Be unapologetically yourself and the world will start to embrace you unexpected ways. Also being interviewed on Elle  and having the interview appear on Snapchat Discover under Cosmopolitan for a whole 24 hours. I never expected I’d be on a social platform like that!

In terms of something that really matters…every so often I get messages from viewers thanking me for creating videos that help them cope with depression or spark the courage to pursue travel. It’s a powerful thing. And those connections I cherish the most.

Bolivia Salt Flats CupofTJ

Sharon: It blows my mind how much you’ve accomplished in one year or so and how hard you work. How often do you produce videos? How long does each video take?

TJ: I spend an average of 14 hours for one video. Some can take three full days. Fastest I’ve done was 8.

Sharon: GEEZ that is crazy. But what’s crazier is your editing game! Did you always know how to video edit? How’d you teach yourself? Do you have any resources you recommend?

TJ: Ooo thanks girl! Your blogging game is craaaaaazy :).

When you first start out you really just need to learn to to drag, slice, and add music/text. That’s it! That’s a video. From there when you run into things you want to do but don’t know, just type it into search “adding animation title final cut pro video” or “color grading with adobe premiere video”. There’s nothing I didn’t know how to do that couldn’t be found online, for free. The internet is filled with useful resources. There’s no more excuse to not learn anything anymore. I want everyone reading this to know they’re not just a student, they’re their own teacher.

Film something short on your phone, put the clips together in free editing program like iMovie and then release it into the world. Then repeat. Soon enough you’re holding a camera, you’re editing on a professional software, and you’re creating more than you ever thought you would.

After you make your first video, follow these people on Youtube to up your editing skills and get inspiration:

For Film:
Matthew Pearce
Taylor Cut

I get a ton of my editing inspiration from…beauty vloggers! Yes, surprise 🙂
My favorite channels for inspiration:

I have a video on How to Travel Vlog incase anyone is interested in starting.

Sharon: What editing software do you use, and what camera gear do you use?

TJ:  I use Final Cut Pro and my camera gear -insert affiliate links- hahah just kidding! My main vlogging camera is Sony RX100 IV (my full compact vlogging setup here). I also use my Canon 70D, mainly for shooting portraits and client work.

Greece Santorini CupofTJ

Sharon: Do you notice a trend in your videos around which types get more views?

TJ: Absolutely! People love food, especially street food. Viewers are very curious about what people eat in other parts of the world. I mean, who doesn’t love food right?

Sharon: What are some good pieces of advice for YouTubers that others may not be aware of?

TJ: Learn video SEO as soon as you can. When you first start out, it doesn’t matter how good your videos are. If your videos are not showing up in Youtube search or people are not able to find it – you’re going to grow slow. Optimize your title with keywords. Clickbait titles work great for youtubers with big followings but if you are just starting – aim for searchable titles.

Resource: follow for growing your channel! Also Backlinko for amazing SEO tricks.

Second advice, if you want to do Youtube, toughen up. You’ll get ridiculous hate comments from strangers all over the internet. They’ll comment on your race, your gender, your appearance, your voice, your clothes, the way you move, everything little thing. I’ve been called all sorts of terrible words and told to die. You got to experience the sting, twerk it off, and use that energy to fuel better things. Living and doing well is the best revenge.

Jaipur CupofTJ

Sharon: How much are you earning now with YouTube if you don’t mind me asking? How much of it is from affiliates and how much of it is from ads?

TJ: Of course! Transparency is so important in the creative industry. Community over competition.

As of November, I’m making around $1000 to $1300 a month from ads. From affiliates about $400 a month. Some months it is less depending on viewership. There were several brand partnerships I did this year that ranged from $600 to $2200.

Youtube is not exactly the route to go if you’re looking to make bank. If each video takes three days of work and you only get 5,000 views from it…guess what? You only made $5 from the video. It sucks.

You got to be passionate about the work and patient with the process. To sustain it all, I am also a part time Brand & Social Media Manager.

Sharon: Are you planning to create any digital products or courses that your followers may be interested in?

TJ: Yes, but much later down the line and it’ll be extremely niche.

Indonesia cupoftj youtube

Sharon: Do you plan on making YouTube your main source of income? What is your ultimate goal, financially/dream-wise/life-wise?

TJ: Making Youtube my main source of income is absolutely a goal. I’m working on new travel series to amp up viewership and developing alternative income streams.

To be honest traveling for almost two years has muddled the significance of money for me. It’s weird because I’m a digital nomad but I don’t have a heavy focus on making an incredible amounts of money. I’ve seen people living on a dollar a day. Traveling to different parts of the world experiencing the gap between rich and poor has affected the way I look at finance.

And dream-wise/life-wise…you know I joke with my friends about this but I think it’s going to come true. I’m going to be a mommy vlogger one day. Should probably subscribe now to see if that happens.

HAH, I totally laughed out loud typing that!


WOW! What an informative, interesting interview with TJ :). I found this very insightful, and I hope the readers will take away a lot of as well. Thank you so much!

As readers of this digital nomad blog, I think you guys will all be very interested in following along TJ’s travels. It will also be great for you guys to see how investing in your passion and tons of hard work can really pay off.

Follow TJ here:
CupofTJ YouTube
CupofTJ Instagram (TJ is also an Instagram influencer! Check out her photography)


  1. aw, LOVE TJ!! it was so fun to see her in action in indonesia too. great interview!!

    • digitalnomadquest digitalnomadquest

      Thank you! 😀

  2. Jorge M Franco Jorge M Franco

    I’m from Peru, and I came across her while reading El Comercio when I was living in USA (yep, about the video at Parque Kennedy)… I immediately followed her social networks because I love to travel and her videos are funny and amazing!

    • digitalnomadquest digitalnomadquest

      Awesome! 😀

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