B&H Creator of the Week: Local Adventurers Esther JuLee + Jacob Fu

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Esther JuLee and Jacob Fu started Local Adventurer with the goal of moving to a new city each year and sharing their discoveries in a visual feast, while engaging a dedicated audience in the process. In fewer than 10 years, their creative efforts have expanded into a veritable cottage industry of content, earning them more than 350,000 unique visitors monthly, 99K YouTube followers, a stellar list of brand partnerships, and more. Given these stats and their super-informative bucket lists, we’re excited to invite them onboard as a B&H Creator of the Week.

In our conversation below, JuLee and Fu share their respective trajectories from pursuing academic studies to building a unique and vibrant creative career, elaborate on the challenges of keeping a work/life balance as a married couple, and tell of their philanthropic goal to donate half of their income to organizations they love. Keep your eyes on B&H’s social media channels in the week ahead for more of their colorful content. And for a strong foundation when transforming your own creative talents into a full-time gig, consider Fu’s guidance to, “Show up to work and put in the hours, regardless of how inspired you feel.”

Where are you currently based? Las Vegas, NV

What are your most important social feeds/networks?

Esther’s Instagram, Jacob’s Instagram, Facebook, YouTube

How long have you been creating content, and what inspired you to start the Local Adventurer blog?

Esther has been shooting since high school. After college, she started her own wedding photography business in Atlanta, which I helped with after we met. In 2012, my brother and I started uploading videos on YouTube and, after gaining a bit of traction, all three of us decided to move to Los Angeles. That’s when we left the wedding photography industry and I focused on YouTube. While doing that, Esther started a travel blog to share all the personal photos that she never got around to editing. Within a year the blog started growing an organic following, which is when I decided to shift full time to help her with the blog. We haven’t turned back since.

Local Adventurer was inspired from our initial move to Los Angeles in 2012. We realized that we left so much unexplored in Atlanta because, as a local, it’s easy to get lazy and say we’ll eventually get around to it. We didn’t want to live like that anymore and decided we wouldn’t take our backyard for granted. We hoped that our journey would inspire others to appreciate and explore their greater backyards too, whether it’s their city, state, or country.

What is your educational background, both photo/video and other studies, and how have you applied these studies to your current business?

We both graduated from Georgia Tech. I majored in business management and Esther majored in chemistry. She was initially on a pre-med track, although her love was always in the arts. Eventually, she found a photography mentor (Scott Robert Lim) and started up a wedding and portrait photography business. Needless to say, she doesn’t use much of her chemistry background in our day-to-day work, but I do use my management background and corporate sales experience in our business.

Did you have a role model or someone who inspired your vision early on, and what’s the most important thing you learned from them?

Not specifically from travel blogging, but as mentioned above, Esther had a mentor when she was shooting weddings. It helped her learn and push her craft. In turn, she has taught me everything I know about photography.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned about creating content since starting Local Adventurer?

If you want to do this as your job, you need to treat it that way. You need to show up to work and put in the hours, regardless of how inspired you feel. That’s not to say that inspiration doesn’t drive us to create, but even on days we don’t feel inspired, we still show up and work.

You and your wife are collaborators in your business. Please describe how you work together and divide up business tasks. Do either of you have strengths that make you best suited to specific tasks, or do you both share all tasks equally?

Esther is very much the mastermind behind everything we do. She’s the creative force and editor-in-chief. She focuses on everything that you see front-facing on the blog, from the writing to the photography. I focus on video content and the business side of things. I’m typically the one talking to clients, and I’ve also mastered the art of being a human tripod.

How has working together affected your personal relationship? Do you have any advice or useful tips for work/life balance to offer other couples who work together in photo/video or other types of creative partnerships?

We’ve been working together for more than 10 years, pretty much the entirety of our relationship. At first it was through the wedding photography business and now through the blog. I’ll be the first to admit that we’re not always great about work/life balance, and that still ebbs and flows. We’ve had to learn how we each work differently. For example, I don’t have trouble switching work on and off, whereas Esther has a tougher time winding down. So, if something comes to mind late at night, I can’t (or rather I shouldn’t) just bring it up. We’ve also learned that having a dedicated workspace at home and trying to keep a regular schedule has helped. We’re both naturally workaholics, so unless we make it a point to plan an activity in the evening or to get off at a certain time, we’ll keep putting in hours in front of our screens.

Local Adventurer involves several other collaborators besides you and your wife. Who are they and how long have you worked together? Are there any specialties or resources these collaborators bring to the table that enhance your brand?

We’ve had a handful of contributors to our site over the years. Some are friends, others are family (my brother and his fiancée), but they are essentially people we trust to bring the same quality of content to our readers. Since we want to get a local perspective, it helps that they live in different regions of the US.

Your YouTube channel includes 23 different playlists. Do you have a favorite type of video to create? If so, why? Is there any one playlist that’s most popular with viewers?

That’s a tough question! I don’t know that I have a particular favorite type of video I like to create. I just enjoy dabbling in different types of content. The channel itself was originally a music channel where my brother and I used to do covers and originals. Since then, we’ve shifted to gear reviews, vlogs, and more cinematic pieces. We’ve even created a kids puppet show called The FuZees that lives on a separate channel.

The concept behind Local Adventurer is that you move to a different city every year. How long do you spend planning your move to a new city, and what are the most important factors you consider in making a move?

When we moved to Los Angeles, we weren’t sure how much we’d like it there, so we decided to give ourselves a year. That eventually evolved to moving to a new city every year. We found that it gives us enough time to get to know a city while having some urgency to push us to explore. It also made sense from a logistical standpoint, since it’s easy to get a year-long lease at an apartment.

When deciding on a new city, it’s been a mix of our own desires on where we wanted to live and what made sense from a business standpoint (i.e., is there enough bloggable content in the city, how much are people searching for the content, and will it be easy to travel from that airport?).

Since the pandemic, we decided to take a break from moving and make Las Vegas our home base for the foreseeable future. We love exploring the southwest and this is the perfect launching point.

How widely do you travel during the year that you’re based in a given city/state? For example, you spent three months traveling in an Airstream; was that in between cities or combined with one of your yearly stays?

When we’re living in any given city, we still travel anywhere from 30-50% of the time. Ideally, we want to keep this closer to 25-30%, to spend the rest of the time exploring locally (within a reasonable driving distance). But as the blog grew, we would get clients from all over the world. We typically limited our international travel to two to three times a year and spent the rest of the time in the US.

We did spend three months living in an Airstream, covering more than 16,000 miles. That happened in-between two cities, San Diego, California, and Portland, Oregon. We really enjoyed it, and we’re planning to get our own RV again so that we can spend a few months out of the year living on the road.

How long have you been living in your current city of Las Vegas and what’s the most surprising thing you discovered about it after moving there?

When thinking of Las Vegas, most people only think of the Strip, but we’ve decided to make it our home for so many other reasons. The main reason is its access to the Southwest. There are seven amazing National Parks within a five-and-a-half hour drive from the city, not to mention a ton of other amazing climbing and hiking spots. Plus, did you know that there’s amazing Hawaiian food here? It’s considered the ninth island.

Has the fact that your travel has been limited due to COVID changed your approach to content creation and/or your overall business?

Yes and no. We’ve definitely been hit hard by the pandemic, but we know that travel will eventually come back. Although we shifted some of our content to be lifestyle, travel is still our main bread and butter. Besides that, we’re doing business as usual, and focusing on what people are searching for now.

Has the increased isolation of the past year led you to discover or invent any new creative solutions or subject matter to incorporate in your blog or videos?

We try to incorporate some of our other passions into the travel blog. Esther loves puzzling and did a ton of them over the past year, including a whopping 18,000-piece puzzle that took over our living room. Besides that, it has given us time to work on some other projects we’ve always wanted to do, like a food blog based on Esther’s mom’s recipes, and I’m working on a new YouTube channel with a friend of mine.

Looking to the future, have you identified the next city you’d like to move to? If so, do you have any idea when you’ll do this?

For now, we’re going to stay put! We’ll still travel, primarily focused on road trips, but we’ve enjoyed knowing we have a home base for a while.

It seems like all the cities you’ve lived in so far have been in the United States. Do you have any future plans to move to an international city? If so, which cities are at the top of your list?

We can’t say never, but nothing in our plans so far. Part of why we started the blog is to encourage people to explore our greater backyards. We live in an amazing country and still know a lot of people who haven’t explored much of it.

Much of the travel information published on your blog involves making and keeping lists. What methods do you use to keep all these details organized? Do you spend any time updating or adding new resources to published content?

Esther loves her lists! Whether it’s her daily to-do list, goals for the year, or places we want to see in each location, she has a list for everything. It makes it easy for us to plan our trips and we keep the blog updated as we go. This year, we spent a lot more time updating old content, and we always appreciate it when readers give us ideas on what we need to add.

Besides the photos and videos published on your blog and videos, do you earn income from image sales or offering photo or video services? If so, what are your primary outlets for this (i.e., editorial, image licensing, weddings, advertising, etc.) and, generally speaking, what percentage of your earnings does this represent?

Not any significant amount. After being a wedding photographer for more than eight years, Esther wanted a break from selling photography. We still have clients, but for the most part, they do not dictate our photography and video. From time to time, we have clients reach out to us who want to license our photos, but we only do this case-by-case.

In 2018, you developed a course on how to make money as a blogger. In the promo video, you mention things you wish someone had told you early on. What’s the most essential thing you wish someone had told you that you had to learn for yourself?

When we had just started, there weren’t many people doing this full time. I had the benefit of having a sales and account managing background but still needed to learn the ropes of this space. I wish I had a better idea of how to monetize early on, since we were rather late in the game. Otherwise, I always recommend that people spend time building other skills like sales and negotiating if they want to build their business. As backward as it may sound, Esther’s photography mentor always said that in order to have a successful photography business, you have to focus more on the business than the photography.

What methods do you use for connecting with and/or cultivating sponsors for your Youtube videos?

Focus on creating good content. Once you have that, learn where you can connect with potential clients, whether that’s creator marketplaces or connecting with PR companies.

What’s the most successful vehicle you’ve used for promoting your brand to date?

I wouldn’t say there’s any one thing. Our growth has been slow and steady over the years. Our main sources of traffic are Google and Pinterest but, since the algorithms are always changing, we constantly have to adjust how we approach this.

How tightly scripted are the videos you create, and what goes into your pre-production process? Do you have any advice for aspiring YouTubers in terms of production values and screen presence?

It depends on the video! With some videos, I have a complete script written out, although I rarely follow it word for word, while in other videos I wing it in front of the camera. My advice is just to shoot. A LOT. The more time you spend in front of the camera, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and you’ll find your own voice. Also, if you do use a monitor or flip screen, please don’t stare at yourself when talking to the camera—a pet peeve of mine. Look into the lens if you want to talk to your audience.

Tell us about your post-production workflow. Generally speaking, how long does it take you to assemble your footage and post a final video?

I am by no means an amazing video editor. I work in Adobe Premiere and typically take a first stab at my edits by culling through all the footage and clipping down to what I want to use. Then I tend to edit to music. I like to pick my song and cut to the beat. I usually spend no longer than a day on most of my videos.

Local Adventurer partners with several non-profits and organizations to give back to the community. When and why did you institute this practice, and how do you select the organizations with which you partner?

We have some personal connection with all the organizations we work with. It has always been our goal to support people doing amazing work with our business, and we’ve met so many amazing people over the years. Some organizations work in their local communities, making an impact through personal relationships, and others work on a huge global scale. One of our goals is to live off of 50% of our income and use the rest to support the people we love.

What’s the extent of these philanthropic efforts to date?

In the past three years, we have funded four wells with Thirst Project and we continue to support a neighborhood-based tutoring, mentoring, and leadership development program in Atlanta’s immigrant community. Plus, we also support the largest cage-free no-kill shelter in the Southeast where we adopted our two cats.

Do you have any upcoming projects or future plans on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?

We’ve been decorating our new home during the pandemic and exploring the Korean recipes Esther learns from her mom. As it gets safer to travel, we have a huge bucket list of places we want to visit in surrounding states.

Esther and Jacob share their favorite places, travel bucket list, photography gear, Jacob’s love of backpacks, Esther’s new food blog, and more, in this 21 Questions video.

Do you have any questions for our B&H Creator of the Week? Please ask them in the Comments section, below. And, to view all our B&H Creator of the Week Q&As on Explora, click here.

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