Exclusive Interview: How Cody Ko went from software engineer to YouTube comedy millionaireView transcript
If there was a poster boy for what it means to be “internet famous,” Cody Ko would be it. With 8.25 million subscribers across several YouTube channels, 3.1 million followers on TikTok, 2 million followers on Instagram, over 1.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and sold out shows across the world, Ko isn’t just one of the most popular and influential creators on YouTube — he and comedic partner Noel Miller have transcended platforms and screens and removed the “internet” qualifier that precedes “celebrity.”
Over the years, the backdrop of Ko’s videos have gone from a mid-sized apartment to a dedicated recording room to a breezy $3.8 million Venice Beach compound. But the tone of his videos has remained the same, often featuring himself and either Miller or girlfriend Kelsey Kreppel in front of a webcam riffing on a video together.
Now, Ko and Miller are breathing new life into their projects. Their podcast “Tiny Meat Gang” makes $103,164 monthly on Patreon, has grown an audience on TikTok, and has moved into a set styled as a spaceship. Now, the duo are setting their sights on growing a podcast network. For the first time, Ko says, he’s treating his content as a business. Ko spoke about his history as a creator, testing the waters of angel investing, and how his new business approach has changed his content.
Calling out crypto scams and finding a voice on YouTube00:00:00
Business of Business: I want to start with these two recent videos you made about influencer scams. I really enjoyed those videos. So can you start by walking me through the decision making process behind that first video, how the idea came to you, and why you decided to talk about it?
Ko: Yeah, so the crypto videos. The way I really started building an audience on Youtube is by doing these kinds of narrative commentary pieces where I shed light on something that people hadn't otherwise profiled or maybe paid attention to before. I think one of my most famous videos ever was the “Blue-ass Water” video where I talked about travel influencers and people that are taking pictures in Greece all the time. People [see those posts] and are like, “Do you have a job? I don't understand how you pay for this,” and it just drives people crazy. But no one had really done a a video essay about that yet.
And crypto was like — I started seeing these influencers promoting these coins. And every single day, there was a new one and some new influencer that had never talked about crypto before was promoting it. And it's such an obvious scam to me. And so this was kind of the next thing, or at least something that I felt like I could write another short video essay about and shed light on the fact that people are doing this, because I think a lot of fans had no idea. You know, they see these coins and they just want to get in on the next one. The scams and the coins feed off that, you know? Half of the websites say “Get in now!” Like, “This could be the next Bitcoin!” it's just like, if that's the language they're using, it's pretty obviously a scam. But people are so desperate to make a shit ton of money in a short period of time that it preys on that get rich quick — What's the word I'm looking for? The mentality that people have?
They kind of have FOMO.
Yeah, exactly. It just felt like no one was really talking about it yet. And I felt like I needed to say something.
So then something interesting happened that prompted you to upload that second video, right?
Yeah, so after I did the first one, one of the coins that I referenced — which was called “Elon Sperm” — I doubled the value of the coin just by mentioning it. Accidentally — I didn't mean to do that. I didn't buy it beforehand and then purposely mention that coin, I just thought it was a funnily-named coin. So that just proves how easy it is now to manipulate these markets, right? Because there's so many coins, and it's so small, but the impact can still be huge. If you put $10,000 into Elon Sperm, and then the next day they shut down the project, it's gone. But for some of these influencers, they can put 10 grand into it, tweet about it once, double their money, and get out.
I wanted to start with that because I think it really gets to the core of a lot of your content. You talked about the Blue-ass Water video, and I think that's a good example. A lot of what I've seen you do is criticizing the craziness that happens in the world of influencers, brand partnerships or things like the scam coins — or even other content creators like the Paul brothers, for example — and you do it by using the same kind of language or humor or style [that they use]. So I'm wondering how you settled on that sort of approach, or if you just feel like that's just naturally how you think?
I think I used to do that a lot more. At least on YouTube, that was when I realized commentary was a genre that suited me and my voice. That kind of format came naturally. I liked writing videos about stuff that I saw online, and I felt like a voice of reason, almost.
But now that I'm getting older, it's like, I don't really feel like I want to be that anymore. You know, I want to just make videos that I like making and stuff that I like watching. So I'm making more videos. But anytime I see something like this where it's like, “Oh, this is an obvious one and nobody's seeing it,” then I'll do the more narrative, written pieces — more an essay style. But yeah, I agree. I used to do that a lot more. But I'm starting to move away from that now.
Because you started with that, I feel like you have a lot of trust with your audience. You know, you could have probably pulled off one of these Elon Sperm scams — and you talked about it in your video, how you said you wish you’d invested in it because it doubled in value — But I think it's interesting that you've chosen to take a different route when there are so many people out there that go down the bad path, I think.
Well, let me say this, though: it took a bit of thinking for me to realize that. I said before that it was obvious, but I guess it's not that obvious because I almost fell for it, too. I did. Like, I had people hitting me up in Instagram DMs being like, “Hey, do you want to get on this coin early? All you gotta do is tweet about it a couple times.” And the first part of my brain was like, “Oh, this is a money-making opportunity.” And then I had to sit back and think about what this actually is and what it's doing. And once I saw other people doing it, I was like, “Oh, no.” So you kind of get blinded sometimes about opportunities. And especially with crypto, no one knows what's right and what's wrong. It's a huge gray area right now. There's no regulation. So, you know, it took a second, I think. Just thinking about things for longer than five seconds helps, in most cases. There's a life lesson for ya.
From software engineer to internet star00:00:02
That's a perfect opportunity to transition to the next thing I want to talk about, which is your early days as a content creator. I read the great Business Insider profile of you that talked about your experience selling I’d Cap That and everything that happened after that. I thought it was really interesting that you ended up working at Fullscreen where you were doing engineering and content creation at the same time. What was it like balancing those things?
Yeah, that was an interesting time for sure. Basically, [after selling I’d Cap That], I traveled the world. Then I moved to San Francisco out of college because I was working for a startup, doing software engineering. And then that's where I started to build an audience. And then, like on Vine, and then I went traveling with my friend. And we really grew the audience, just while we were backpacking.
And then when we moved back to the States, I was like, “I think LA is where I want to be, just in case this takes off. LA is the place that you want to be.” So I got an engineering job in LA for another startup. And my boss there and the whole engineering structure came from Google. So it was really intense — a lot of writing code, a lot of code reviews — the whole thing was extremely structured. You couldn't slack off, so I didn't really have a lot of time to make content. For example, my manager was getting me auditions and stuff, so I'd have to leave mid-day to go audition for something. And like, that wasn't really cool with that company. So my manager was working for Fullscreen, and she said, “I can get you a job here on the engineering team. You'll have to still engineer obviously, but they’ll be more relaxed about you leaving midday to do what you need to do as a content creator, because our business is fueled by content creators.” It totally made sense. I got the job. It was awesome. I loved my team. I got to help make the Apple TV app for Fullscreen — it used to have its own little Netflix-like app, and I wrote a lot of the code for it, which is really cool. So that [role] honestly made it easier to do content and engineering stuff full-time.
"That's the biggest source of my anxiety — not really understanding what I should be focusing on because I'm trying to think of everything that I could possibly do."
I remember I did a Ford commercial — I left mid day to go do this commercial that paid me, like, half of my annual salary as an engineer. I was literally on set for like two hours, and then I came back after lunch and kept programming just being like, “What am I doing? I should really focus on one or the other of these.” So it took me like another six months before I decided, “Okay, I'm gonna try and do this content thing full time.”
I was going to ask — what was the moment where you realized, “Oh, the content thing can make enough for me that I don't have to do the engineering thing.” Was it that commercial?
It was around that time. That was one of the things that made me realize that, because it was the biggest single payday I had probably ever had. And then I actually also got a show with Fullscreen on the Fullscreen app. So not only did I help write that app, but I had a show on it. So that was a good payday, too. It was a real production; it was the first time I'd had a showrunner and a producer and a writer. So it was the first time that I had something that my name was on that was like a real production. So that was really cool. And then also I did my first commentary video ever on Instagram comedians. That one blew up. It got over a million views, or something like that. So that was my first real YouTube video with a lot of traction — the kind of traction that would warrant doing this full time. Back then I wasn't making enough money to really support myself on YouTube. So it was like a combination of those three things where I was like, “Oh, this is good. As long as I'm getting close to my engineering salary, I feel fine leaving.” And those three things were what really made me make that decision.
You talked earlier about the scam coins, and how when you got hit up for those you thought of it as a money-making opportunity. But then you had to stop and think about it. I imagine that instinct took a long time to hone and listen to.
I watched this clip from Anthony Bourdain the other day where he talked about how after his first big break, he started getting all these offers that were worth more money than he'd ever had put in front of him in his life. He was in a really bad situation, but said he chose to be really picky because he didn't want to be associated with one of those things forever. I think you've managed to choose brand partnerships well and filter out the bad ones, but in those early days, how did you choose which ones to partner with? And which ones to say no to?
It's interesting — I feel like that sort of scenario happens when you have a “big break” and all of a sudden, you have offers laying in front of you on the table. For me, it's never really been like that, and I feel like that's kind of bizarre, especially in the social media world where most of the graphs [shoot straight up], right? It's like something hits big and you hockey stick. With me, it's never really been like that. It's been an incremental growth for as long as I've been doing this. I've just been growing steadily and slowly. I never really had that pop — aside from when the whole Jake Paul thing happened. I saw a lot of growth from that. — But another thing is that I've always been explicit in my videos. I've never censored swear words or anything like that. So I think it took a while for brands to want to work with me.
You know, I think the biggest “oh my God” moment in terms of [realizing that] people are really, really meshing with the stuff that we've done was when we put the tickets for the first TMG tour that we did on sale. They sold out immediately. And we were like, “Wait, we're going to be in a room with like, 300 people that want to see us and bought tickets to see us live.” Then we proceeded to do six tours over the next two years or something like that, and we ended up touring the world. That was this big “oh shit” moment where [we realized that] whatever we’re doing, it's working. So that was cool.
I guess the only real scenario that I can remember [saying no to] was this loot box company I didn't really like called Loot Crate. It was like, why are all these YouTubers promoting these? Like, you just order this box and you don't know what's gonna be in it. They offered me the most money that I've ever been offered for a brand deal. I mean, it was egregious. When I saw the number on the screen, I was like, “What?!” Then I went and looked into it a little bit and I was like, “Oh my God, this is so sketchy.” Part of my brain was still like, “Just do it. Like, you could pay off whatever you want.” But I didn't end up doing it. Because I thought it was too sketchy.
It was interesting to hear you talk about TMG and the first concert tour as this moment where you realized how well it was going. I can imagine it must have been crazy, with it being the first time that you kind of existed off the internet, in a way.
Yeah. Something that Noel used to say on stage at the beginning of our shows was — We do That's Cringe. And we had by that point we had done like five or six and they were all at like five to 10 million views. But that's just a number on a screen. We don't know how many people are actually resonating with this video or what it does for them emotionally, right? People say they love this series, but this was proof sitting in front of us. We're standing in front of 2,000 people in a theater, and all of them are screaming the memes from the videos. It's like, this really had an effect on people. And you don't realize that until you're actually in that moment.
Building a comedic and business partnership with Noel Miller00:00:03
Let's talk about how you met Noel. You met at Fullscreen, is that right?
Yep. We were both engineers at Fullscreen. We had talked before briefly via DMs on Vine. We were planning on doing a video together or something like that. I was always impressed by the production quality of his Vines. Like, he'd shoot them with crazy lenses and they were all directed really well. Then I got a job at Fullscreen, and my desk just happened to be attached to his, face to face. So on the first day of work, I was staring at him. We were like, “What the fuck? This is weird.”
From there, you guys have gone on to have a pretty successful partnership, to say the least. How did that get started? You said you wanted to collaborate, but how did it develop? What was it like going from your own personal brand to partnering with Noel and really sharing the stage?
I think it's rare to be in that situation where you have two software engineers that are writing code all day, but really want to do creative stuff outside of work. So immediately, we were like, “This is natural, let's just do shit together.” He lived right by the office, so we started going to his place and shooting sketches after work, and just working on stuff. He ended up being in my videos and vice versa. Eventually we just created this stupid name Tiny Meat Gang for a stupid song that we did to make fun of Jake Paul, basically, and everything just kind of spiraled from that point. It's rare to find someone that you really vibe with comedically, you know? On-camera, chemistry especially I think is a pretty rare thing. And once we realized we had that it was like, “Alright, let's just crank out these videos together.” And they were fun, too. It was fun filming, and we were always proud of the end product. From there, it's just been a natural partnership. And we've been able to do some great things.
I mean, you guys have a huge presence now everywhere, right? You have millions of subscribers across YouTube channels, hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok, millions of streams and monthly listeners on Spotify. It's kind of become this huge, sort of media empire that you guys have built.
Huh, alright. Cool!
Yeah, there you go.
I’ll take that! A media empire.
You've kept the personal aspect of the content [intact] — even right now, you're sitting there in front of your desk in the set that you’re in for all the videos that you upload. But now it branches across all these platforms, so I think people would be really interested to hear what a day in your life is like, from the “job” perspective. What does an average day of work look like for you?
I don't really have a super structured week, honestly. Part of the reason why I started doing this is so that I could just do whatever I want. And I feel like now, maybe the older I get and the more… I guess the way to put it would be that I am only now starting to treat this more like a job, whereas before it was purely creative for me, and it was great that I was making a lot of money off of it. But like, I did all the editing myself and I did all the writing for my videos myself. I edited all the That's Cringe episodes — pretty much all of them. Only now have I started to really realize that content is more than just a strictly “right brain” thing. Especially now with the way that media is and with TikTok, it's like... you're fighting for attention so much on YouTube that posting once a week or once a month isn't really enough anymore. So now I'm finally, you know, really honing in on my production process.
"The podcast is very lucrative for us — if you can establish a successful podcast, you can make a lot of money doing it."
So a typical week: I meet on Monday with this guy who is basically my production manager for my channel, and we go through ideas and beat sheets and stuff like that for new videos. And we plan out what I'm going to film that week, and whatever brand deals I have to do. We also meet on Monday with my production team for the TMG podcast, and we go through the same thing. What time we're going to record, if we're gonna have a guest, everything. So Monday is like the planning day.
On Tuesday, we normally film the podcast. We’ll do the free episode, we’ll take a little break, and we'll do the bonus episode, and we'll film the ads and everything. We're starting, I think next week, to film another video on a new set that we built after that, so that we can do like a weekly video as well. Basically on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I'm posting and editing and writing for my own channel. Between all that, I try to surf as much as I can and go for runs as much as I can, and try to make music as much as I can. But now, I'm starting to post three videos a week on my main channel. So it's like, I'm just focused on that and the podcast, basically.
It seems like a lot of moving parts. You sort of answered my next question, which was “What’s on your mind throughout a week, if you don't have a day-to-day schedule?” What sort of things are you weighing and thinking about throughout a given work week?
I'm such a scatterbrain. To this day, that's the biggest source of my anxiety — not really understanding what I should be focusing on because I'm trying to think of everything that I could possibly do. Like, if I have a free hour, it’s the worst thing for my brain because I'm like, “I should be making music right now for my next video.” And then I'm like, “Oh, maybe I should go surfing. You should be relaxing and not thinking about things.” But then if I do that, then I'm falling behind on work. It's the biggest pain in my ass right now. I go crazy daily because of that feeling.
I imagine it's pretty hard, right? Having so much of your personal life be a part of your business and your content.
Yeah. You know, my lifestyle was almost better when I had a nine-to-five, because from nine to five, you're working. And then when you're not, you’re relaxing or you're doing whatever you want to do. Now, everything blends together and I don't know which is which. I'm always working, I'm always trying to relax — I have no idea how to structure my time, which is the reason why I've started to prioritize working on something that's bigger than myself.
One of our initiatives with TMG is that we're turning into more of a media house — a podcast network that lives independently. We'll have other shows that we're launching with other creators that don't need us. They have their own teams and their own house that can live under our umbrella, but independently. And I think like adding a living, breathing entity like that where we're contributing to it, but it's not solely harnessed on us making YouTube videos, for example, would be nice. It’s on my mind, I guess.
I remember a video way back when, where you talked about how you were hiring a video editor for the first time. I remember you were asking the audience for feedback and saying, “This is my first time hiring an outside editor, let me know how it was.” What were those first moments of letting go of a little bit of creative control like?
Oh, they sucked. It sucked. My videos now are not purely mine. It's me and someone else. And I think my editor is great. He's got a great creative voice, and he injects a lot of great creativity into the videos. But now, the videos are a collaboration. And I have to live with them being a collab until I decide to edit on my own again, which might never happen. I don't know. But that was something that was a big mental hurdle that I had to jump over. I felt like the videos felt more “mine” when I was editing them, obviously, because now I'm seeing the changes and the edits that I would have made. And now they don't feel entirely mine, but that's totally okay. You have to put trust in and find great people as well. Like, find someone who has this exact same sense of humor as me, or find someone who can inject their own creativity — finding people to lean on that you trust with their creative vision as well, I think is important. And I think I'm Starting to get that and I'm moving more in that direction. I already hired another editor, and now I’m hiring another one. It's about figuring out how to find the right people now, I think.
Cody's angel investments and the future of Tiny Meat Gang00:00:04
Can you talk a little bit more about the media network initiative for TMG and what your vision for that is?
Yeah. We realized that we want to build, like... a little world within the TMG umbrella. We’re inspired by Your Mom's House Studios, which is Tom Segura’s podcast that turned into a podcast network. Now he has a show with Bert Kreischer, they have Dr. Drew on there too, and a couple other comedians, and we just think that's really cool. As I said before I want to create something that's bigger than just myself. And I think Noel does, too. You know, I'm older now, and I've always been interested in business. I've always felt like I have that entrepreneurial streak. My parents are both entrepreneurs, so I've always wanted to do something like this.
The podcast is very lucrative for us — if you can establish a successful podcast, you can make a lot of money doing it. And until this point, it's always just been revenue for us. It was like, whatever we make, we split that at the end of the year and take it as revenue. And this year, we've made a conscious decision of “Now, let's treat this like a business. Let's try to grow this thing way bigger than we could ever do ourselves.” We’ve gotta hire people, we’ve gotta trust that they understand our vision, and trust them when we delegate. It's just a learning process. I've never run a business before like this. And so it's fun. It feels fulfilling. And if it works, then we will have something that's more valuable than it could have been just us doing our podcast and splitting the revenue every year.
I think you can see the shift. I can tell you that as a viewer, this season of the podcast with the whole spaceship aesthetic and the big studio, I think you can tell that the change is happening. But it feels like a natural one.
That's good. That's good. Yeah, I mean, first things first, we were like, “We want to reinvest back into our own show.” Like, we’ve gotta give the viewers what we've been promising for so long. During that whole period through COVID where we were doing the podcast remote, it just felt like we were pulling teeth a little. We both weren’t giving it enough energy. That's why we flipped that switch come the new year. We were like, “We’ve gotta put some serious money back into the show, just to have fun with it again. It's so much fun doing the show now on the new ship. It feels like we're doing the podcast for the first time again.
You've started — at least publicly — talking about becoming an investor in companies yourself. You guys talk a lot about crypto on the show, and it's clear you're really interested in and excited about it. You’re an investor in Lolli with a whole host of big names like Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams and Casey Neistat. Are there any other companies that you're invested in at the moment?
I'm invested in a bunch of companies now, actually. One of them is JuneShine Hard Kombucha. It's the best drink on the market right now, I love it. So personally, I'm invested in [Lolli and JuneShine], I'm investing in Stir, the creator payments system. And then I started an investment vehicle with my friend Devin Townsend, who is the co-founder of Cameo, so we've made some investments together. The investment vehicle is called Dumb Money Capital. We invested in Liquid Death, which I'm super excited about. That's one where I just reached out to the founder one day because I was drinking it so much on the podcast and I was wearing the hat and I was like, “I fucking love this water. Can I invest?” He just so happened to be raising money and they made some space for us. So that was really cool. And then we invested in Moment House, which is a live streaming platform that we're going to use probably to do ticketed livestream events for our podcast. Hold on. I don't know them all, but I have a spreadsheet. Let me see. We also invested in Autograph, which is the NFT platform that Tom Brady is involved in.
I don't want to make you list all of them. But I'm curious — to be in a position financially to be an angel investor must be really interesting and new for you. I'm curious what that's been like, and also how you choose the projects you invest in.
Getting into investing has been awesome. It's been really fun. I feel like I'm spread a little bit thin right now because I'm trying to help these companies as much as I can, but I also have to do my day job. It’s interesting because I don't really have “Fuck You” money, you know what I'm saying? So you're still putting in a huge risk, basically, as opposed to putting [money] in a mutual fund or throwing money in an investment account where it just collects interest every year. You're throwing into something where you could see big returns or you could see nothing. Your money could just go away. So being aware of that is something that's a little bit stressful.
But again, I have this entrepreneurial side of me. That's why I worked for startups right out of college. I love working with a small team trying to make things happen. This is kind of my way back into that without actually having to, you know, be involved in the company at all. It's like, “I'll help out how I can and I'll give you money, but I want to be along for the ride.” So it's been super fun. I like picking brands that I just think are cool, right? I need it to be like a mutual thing where they need my help, but if I'm involved it makes us both look better.
Like, Liquid Death is amazing. People really love that branding. I think it's incredible, so I'm honored to be involved with that. I like to align with brands like that. Same with JuneShine — you know, Diplo was another investor in JuneShine, and Whitney Cummings, too. To even be in a press release with them, and to be involved with something that they and the founders — who, by the way, are awesome. They're all surfers and super cool guys — makes me feel cool. So yeah, stuff that we can use, stuff we can help with, or cool brands. That's what I like to look for. That was a really long-winded answer. I’ve been doing this for less than a year, so I'm still learning what it takes.
I can tell you're really passionate about it. I think people will be interested to hear about it. I think it can be really hard for the average person to even understand what angel investing entails, and I think hearing it from a creator that they watch and like will help them bridge that gap.
Yeah. I came from the startup world. Like, my first job out of college was for a really small startup, so I got to know the investors of that startup and I got to learn what it took to go to Sand Hill Road and raise money for your company. So VC isn't something that's super foreign to me. Coming from the tech startup world, the most talked about thing is who you're raising money from, how much money you're raising, and what the valuation is. So it wasn't that it wasn't that foreign to me to get into that world. That's why we did it.
I don't want to take up too much more of your time since I know we're gone a little bit over here. But I have a lot of friends who are big fans, and I did a little bit of outsourcing to ask them, “What would you want to ask Cody, if you could?” And I have three answers here that I'll read. I got a lot of them, but I think you’ll notice a trend with these. I'll just read all three of them:
“Do you feel like your current brand is frictionless?” “How are you able to live a frictionless life?” and “And have you read your frictionless book yet?” It seems like they all have one thing on their minds.
It's funny because over quarantine I would do these Zooms for colleges — and before that I would actually go to colleges and speak and do Q&A's and stuff like that — and the most frequently submitted question always was something to do with “frictionless.”
It was cracking me up how everybody had the same question or is just wanting to make the same joke. You talked about people yelling memes from videos back to you when you're on stage. They seem to really identify with it. When you hear things like what I just read out, what does it make you think? How does it make you feel?
It’s annoying for the most part, to be honest. It's funny, because you work on content all day, every day, all week long, and once every four months you’ll hit on a meme like that where people are like, “Oh my God, this is the funniest thing I've ever seen in my entire life.” So it can be frustrating. But at the same time, it's cool because it's really hard to create something like that. And it's like, we don’t even really “make” it. Half the memes are from other videos that we just bring to people's attention. So it can be really hard to make something that people genuinely resonate with so much that they want to repeat it all day every day — “Fair Enough,” for example. People still say that to me all the time. So it's a blessing and a curse, I would say.