Wong Fu Productions is an independent digital production company co-founded by Philip Wang, Wesley Chan and Ted Fu. Their YouTube channel features original comedy sketches, dramas and romantic short films, a weekly talk show, and several multi-episode series.
You may have seen some of their most popular films, like “Asian Bachelorette,” “Single By 30” and their first Netflix release, “Everything Before Us.” In the 15 years that Wong Fu Productions has been creating videos, they have not only launched a successful business but also become a voice for Asian-Americans in media.
More recently, their work has also allowed them to become role models for entrepreneurs and business owners. Through their entrepreneurial endeavors, they serve as shining examples that it is possible to find success by challenging what is accepted in popular media and putting their audience first.
Invited by the Business Inter-Club Council, Philip Wang and Wesley Chan from Wong Fu Productions were the keynote speakers for Business Madness week activities in March, for which this year’s theme was “Be Your Own Boss”. The Wong Fu Productions co-founders discussed the realities of being business owners, finding success in digital media, and their advice for students looking to start their own businesses.
The Launch of Wong Fu Productions
It all started out in 2003 among three friends in college. “Starting Wong Fu Productions was really a lot of fun,” said Chan. “And that’s how a lot of great things start. It’s because you’re not doing it for any gain, you’re doing it because you’re enjoying doing it.”
Their fun videos eventually became an immensely popular brand with more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube and a raving fan base. When they began making videos they had no idea how popular their YouTube channel would become. In fact, they had no expectations at all.
“Because when we started … there was no YouTube,” said Wang, triggering a dramatic gasp from the audience. The team had to build a website for viewers to download their videos. “We gradually built up a following of mainly students. Little by little, we started getting people to watch our stuff. But at the time, even the words ‘online video’ were not even a normal thing.”
Their timing was excellent, because just two years after they started posting their videos online, YouTube was born. “We had no idea it would turn into what it is now,” said Wang. “And as YouTube grew, so did we. People had easier access to our stuff, and it was easier to share.”
Throughout the years, the mission of Wong Fu Productions has stayed the same. “We just wanted to make good work, get better at what we’re doing, and make an impact on people ‒ and that’s always been the main focus of the stories we write and the videos that we make. Staying focused on that has helped us stay consistent.”
Making Money With An Online Film Business
Wang and Chan discussed the company’s four methods of generating revenue: YouTube advertisements, brand integrations and sponsorships, merchandise, and speaking engagements.
Through YouTube advertising, they admitted that they don’t earn much. “We’re not some super popular daily blogger that gets millions of views in a day, so we actually make very little on that,” said Wang. Regardless, this combination of income streams has created a sustainable business model that allowed the team to continue working on the content that they currently produce. Now, they are looking to grow their business without compromising on the quality of their work.
The Challenge: Growing the Business While Staying True To Their Mission
In years past, Wang and Chan have attempted to grow their business beyond short sketches on their channel by partnering with companies like Youtube Red and Netflix.
“We did a YouTube Red series a couple of years ago,” said Wang. “We made this huge series for them, and it was great – it was a great learning experience. But it was owned by YouTube Red, so they put it behind their paywall.” Wang and Chan struggled with the idea that some of their fans weren’t able to watch it without purchasing a YouTube Red subscription.
On other occasions, Wang met with television studios to pitch stories. But all too often, the studios did not see the value in creating shows for the Asian-American audience. “We had some great meetings, but ultimately a lot of people said ‘we don’t get it.’ It sucked that they didn’t see the value in this. But we realized that, if we believed in it, the only way to make this happen is to do it ourselves. We want our fans to be the ones who are in direct control of what we can create and what we can’t.”
Discovering Patreon: A New Funding Platform for Creative Entrepreneurs
The team recently started a page on Patreon and called it “Wong Fu Forward.” Patreon is an online membership platform for artists and creators like Wong Fu Productions to build a subscription service, where fans can support their favorite creators by making monetary contributions to the work they create. In return, fans who contribute may gain access to special features and exclusive content. This tool has become popular among YouTube content creators, artists, writers, musicians and other creative entrepreneurs who share their work online.
For Wang and Chan, this means that the Wong Fu Productions team can start working on new projects with the direct support of their fans. These future projects include creating new multi-episode series throughout the year, discovering new talent and promoting the next generation of creatives, and developing community outreach programs to teach students about the arts and digital media.
We want our fans to be the ones who are in direct control of what we can create and what we can’t.”
The news of Wong Fu starting a Patreon page had concerned fans wondering if there was a catch. “In terms of what changes for you guys? Nothing,” said Chan. “Wong Fu is going to keep producing content like it has, but the Patreon page is what’s really allowing us to create more content on our own terms and get it out to you guys exclusively.”
Advice For Students and Young Entrepreneurs
When asked about what skills and values is takes for a person to start a business, the pair did not hold back. They offered three important points of advice:
Love what you are doing, because it’s going to be hard work.
“You have to work. Really. Hard,” said Wang, generating a laugh from the audience. As with any entrepreneur, people often mistakenly think that it’s all fun and games. “There’s an image of what people think being a YouTuber or any kind of business owner is, but there’s so much behind the scenes work that no one sees and no one’s going to care about. And you have to really love what you’re doing – the project, the people, the mission – to get through the hard times. You have to really know that this is what you want to do, and the sooner you figure out that it is or isn’t, the better. Because it’s going to be a lot of hard work.”
Appreciate your failures.
According to Chan, an important skill that every entrepreneur should have is the ability to learn from failure. He said, “Whether you meet your goals or you fall short of them, whether you feel like you failed or succeeded … every experience is an opportunity to learn. The best way to learn is from failure, so when you feel like you failed – I know, it’s hard – think about why that happened and see how you can do better. And that’s very basic, but it comes in handy if you fail a lot.”
Find the balance between adapting, and staying true to your mission.
“One thing that has allowed us to last this long is our ability to adapt, while also still knowing who we are,” said Wang. He emphasizes the importance of being able to “pivot” without changing the entire business and its mission. “As the business grows, you’re going to have to be very fluid. We’ve seen how the world around us has changed, and we’ve done our best to keep up, not be stubborn, and adapt to all the change. That’s definitely helped us.”
Students and Staff React To Meeting Wong Fu Productions
Towards the end of the event, several students had the opportunity to ask the co-founders questions, ranging from entrepreneurial advice, story-telling techniques, and more.
Students also expressed their gratitude to Wong Fu Productions for their efforts to represent Asian-Americans in pop culture. One student, Jordan Au ’19, said, “They are my childhood heroes. Honestly, watching them and other Asian-American YouTubers trying to make it in the entertainment world is inspiring. It made me believe that it was possible.”
Several members of the audience were also faculty and staff from Mihaylo College, who expressed their delight in having the Wong Fu Productions team speak about their entrepreneurial journey. “The theme for this year’s Business Madness was ‘Be Your Own Boss,’” says Emeline Yong, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and advisor to the Business Inter-Club Council. “The Wong Fu Productions duo is the epitome of this idea. They built their own business in the digital media industry and continue to innovate as they grow.”