This week, I’d like to share with you the conversation I had recently with Ninong Ry. I had the chance to connect with him at the same event where I interviewed Joel on his management and leadership insights.
With Ninong Ry, we talked about his journey to success.
He now has 1.8 million subscribers—can you imagine? And that growth, he said, only started during the pandemic. July 20, 2020. That was the day he started his page and channel. And when he did, he decided to go all in on it.
But how did it spark?
It started pretty similarly to every pandemic-era venture. Ninong Ry’s family business—as panlengke vendors—was shut down by the local government. He’d been working in that part of their family business since his father passed. Their store, he says, was pretty popular up until their closure.
And he loved working. He wouldn’t describe himself as a workaholic, per se, but he did enjoy working at his family business (and working in general), so he felt restless without a business to run.
So he turned to cooking. As a culinary graduate, it was something that came naturally to him and something he really enjoyed doing. He was even in the culinary field for a while and worked as a head chef at one point.
When I asked him why he didn’t continue on that career, why it didn’t pan out, he replied that he basically couldn’t get along with his business partners at the time, and those relationships with those people didn’t prosper the way he expected. Ninong Ry also admitted that, at the time, he was pretty inexperienced and stubborn, and not up to the challenge of running a business. And a month after that, his father died, and he had to take over in his stead.
So, cooking. That’s where he started channeling all that excess energy in him. He just cooked and cooked. And, he took videos of what he was making.
It wasn’t the first time he picked up a camera for that purpose—he told me he used to have a WordPress blog at one point for his cooking content. He used to take videos back then to supplement the recipes he was writing. Though they weren’t the full vlogs he takes today.
Even if a lot of the stuff he was posting was raw, unedited recipes and content, there were still people looking at his work. Some people, he said, even reached out to him for more recipes.
And, now that he had gone back to cooking and videoing his work, an idea sparked. He invested in a gaming PC—the very day they were told they needed to close their business, in fact—in a year-to-pay plan, complete with a gaming chair, from a nearby computer shop.
Using that, he went back to his old content, edited it, fixed it up, and started posting on the old food groups he used to go to.
Eventually, he hit it big with his recipe video of sizzling kare kare. That video currently has 613 million views. That’s almost 6 times the population of the Philippines.
And at the time, the channel gained 8 million views from that one video, in just a week. A huge number.
When the views started to rack up, that’s when his friends started chiming in, in support. They told him they always felt that he had the skills, the personality, and the know-how to continue vlogging. And now that he had no job, he had no excuse to not try pursuing something he was naturally inclined to.
And the rest is history. Because of that series of events, we now know the internet personality, Ninong Ry.
But the journey getting to where he is now wasn’t easy, either. He studied that kare kare video, frame-by-frame, to try and replicate it. To try and repeat the success that one video had with every video he was creating after.
He analyzed it every day until he memorized the video from start to finish. He’d constantly wonder why this video, in particular, made it so big, all of a sudden.
But honestly, you can only speculate. You can only guess at what factors of the ever-changing Youtube algorithm deemed that one video as “the one,” and made it go viral.
He realized it when he tried to duplicate that success with other videos, to no avail. After some trial and error, he began to understand that the algorithm is like a person who is learning, and what might have worked one day won’t necessarily work the next—because the algorithm has learned and moved on to the next thing.
In the end, he accepted that kare kare video’s status for what it was—a unicorn. And its status was based on several factors, such as food being the hot topic at the time, the fact that it was posted on Facebook and not on Youtube, and that it had way more viewers than just Filipinos.
All of those things coming together to create this unicorn of a video was serendipitous. Nothing was forced—it just happened at the right place, and at the right time.
That’s where his advice to fellow vloggers comes from. He said, though many people give up and it would be so easy to just tell them to keep trying, to follow their dreams, he understood that it’s not as simple as it seems.
It boils down to what advantages you, as an aspiring vlogger or entrepreneur, have. Similar to how some people have money given to them by their family to start a business, Ninong Ry also had a good advantage to leverage—that he was jobless at the time.
That surprised me, so he explained how being jobless was an advantage. And it was simple. Being jobless meant that he could focus 100% on the content he was making. Being jobless was an opportunity for him.
And it was even more of an advantage because being jobless didn’t mean he was stressed about money or food, either—his family was still doing okay, even after their business was shut down. He even knew for a fact that that business would eventually open again.
He was able to eat, without needing to earn money first. And not a lot of people can have that luxury.
He used that advantage. He told himself he’d throw himself into this cooking project of his for a month. Until their business opened again, just so that he’d have something to do in the meantime.
But then he started earning. His first profitable video was one on Pancit Canton, posted on his personal profile. When he uploaded this video, which was way before his viral kare kare video, he was practically an unknown personality online. No one knew who he was, or that he could cook.
The initial reaction to that video wasn’t that great either, Ninong Ry told me one person told him it looked like cat puke (which he said was pretty accurate). But what was good about this video was that he added chili flakes. So when Ninong Ry slurped the noodles, he ended up coughing from the spice, so hard he almost threw up.
When he edited that video, that part made him laugh, so he decided to keep it in and upload the video anyway.
That video now has 200 million views.
That takes a lot of guts to do, but he could do it because he doesn’t mind making people laugh with the things he does. He’s secure in himself.
But think about that guys. You don’t even need to save up millions of pesos to start a business or venture. Ninong Ry started it with just 30 thousand (on a year-to-pay plan to boot) some humor, and a camera.
What’s important here isn’t the money you have, but the formula you use. Ninong Ry’s formula was this: hustle, plus full support, plus some creativity.
It might seem too simple, but he swears by it. Not to undersell himself, or anything, but he simply gave it his all. Just like an indie game developer would do for their game—despite their smaller budget. He just gave it his all, and the result was remarkable.
That’s the root of it all. Aside from being blessed with the right timing, Ninong Ry is an extremely hardworking person. This trait stems, firstly, from his family and their business. Being a vendor at the palengke means long, hard hours of labor, starting very early in the morning and ending very late at night.
Secondly, it comes from his experience working in a commercial kitchen. Working in this environment, 20 hours per shift, was like putting yourself in a forge—and molded you as if you were an ingot being made into a sword. It showed him what he was made of.
Out of curiosity, I asked Ninong Ry, what if someone approached you today and offered you five times what you make now from Youtube and Facebook, to open up another restaurant?
His response was, though he felt he’d manage it better this time around, he wouldn’t accept. Why? “Because people don’t need much.”
To further drive his point, he told me about the time he heard a batchmate of his was making around 600,000 a month. When he heard that, he couldn’t fathom what this person would need that much money for. Was it for generational wealth? It was, in his opinion, just too much.
The truth is, you really don’t need that much. Yes, you might want that much money, but is it really worth the stress it takes just to make that much?
Ninong Ry wouldn’t trade the fun he has shooting with his friends, creating great food, and making content he wants to make, just for the chance to make more money than he needs.
And I agree with his point. I wish more businesses operated the way he runs his.
My next question for him was how he knew he needed help with his business. Of course, he had to know, even early on, that he couldn’t do it all. So when did he know he needed to hire people for the videos he was making? How did he know who to hire if he didn’t have an HR professional helping him out?
The answer he had shocked me. He said he knew when he made $3 on Facebook.
It shocked me because he somehow knew, that early, that his channel would continue to grow. It wasn’t confidence in his channel. But it was the meaning behind the $3, the views that he was gaining on his channel (and would continue to gain).
From there, he started thinking about the possibilities. The first was, what if he didn’t have to edit all his videos? Then he would have so much more time planning his content.
“I can do so much more.” That was the thought on his mind. And then he started thinking about how much of his work he could let go and delegate to other people.
By September 2020, he had an editor. By October that same year, he had an assistant and cameraman.
He moved that fast because, based on his past business experience, he knew he couldn’t do it all alone. So he moved fast to hire the people he needed for his channel.
And again, he brought up his biggest advantage at the time—the fact that all the money his channel made was money he could reinvest in his channel. It wasn’t money he was making to survive. He could do fine without it. But he didn’t want to take that money for granted, so he decided to use it wisely.
It’s an advantage that he cannot stress enough. The freedom to use whatever money you’re earning as you want because you have your family still supporting you and feeding you.
He credits a lot of his success to that advantage because he says he is not a remarkable person. Ninong Ry said that, if his channel never took off in the way he did, he’d just be another 30-something living with his family, with nothing to show.
But what about his cooking? Isn’t that skill something that makes him remarkable? Well, in Ninong Ry’s eyes, it doesn’t. He compares himself to another chef in our group and says if that guy is a 10 out of 10, then he’s only a 3. And he knows this for a fact, because he’s worked in the food industry, and he knows what he’s capable of, and how he measures up against other chefs. If anything, Ninong Ry says might be funnier, and more entertaining on camera. But that’s it.
And he’s thankful for that advantage he was given, and the success that followed.
“You don’t have to be remarkable to be successful,” he told me. Being remarkable isn’t a gateway to being successful. Even if you think you’re a plain person, that doesn’t mean you won’t find success at all.
However, I think that whenever you look at someone, you’ll always find a characteristic or skill in them that we can consider to be remarkable.
But then again, you don’t need to be the best, the richest, or the brightest to achieve success.
And also, it all depends on how you personally define success. Ninong Ry tells me he doesn’t consider himself to be successful just yet, since his definition means not being a slave to time. Success, to him, is having time and money.
Right now, he might have the money, but he doesn’t have the time. He still spends a lot of time on his channel. If he just stopped working on his content, sure he won’t go hungry immediately, but he will eventually. And because of that, he doesn’t consider himself to be successful just yet.
To achieve his definition of success, you need passive income, and that’s one of the hardest things to establish. Being able to make money without doing anything is hard to do—it’s somewhat like cheating, like using GameShark but for real life. Passive income is like using cheat codes in real life.
With running bigger companies, getting to that point is possible. You see it a lot. The head honchos sit back and do less work after delegating it to their trusted top and middle-management.
But with Ninong Ry’s thing, it’s difficult. As the main talent, how can he step back and regain his time? As it stands, he barely has time to spend with his family. Just recently, they managed to achieve two days off of operations per week, each Saturday and Sunday.
His answer was to diversify his investments into other industries. He’s not quite there yet, as he needs to make time to have time in the future. This is one of the hardest obstacles he’s facing today.
The last thing I asked him was this: “What’s next for you?”
The first was to continue steadily growing. The hype for his channel hit its peak in 2020, so his target now is to achieve sustainable growth. To make sure the people following him would still want to follow him—which meant content, content, content.
To do this, he knows he has to maintain the work ethic he’s had for the last few years, while also looking for new ways to level up his content slowly. It’s part of why he joined this event in the first place, to try outdoor cooking.
And he invests in these new content ideas. This might not necessarily give him a good ROI in terms of video revenue, but it does help with his brand equity, which he considers just as important, just as valuable.
This brings us to his second goal: better content, less time spent making it.
Aside from pursuing new ideas, and investing in events and equipment, he knows he needs to expand his team. He needs more people by his side to achieve this goal.
The next target is to use that extra manpower to cut down everyone’s work hours to just eight hours a day. Setting that limitation wasn’t just to regain his time, but also to help his people regain theirs. There’s the added benefit, too, of limited hours pushing his team to be more creative in their work.
Once they optimize their workflows, he’ll have more time to learn more about passive income—what he can invest in, and what he should invest in.
So there you have it. The formula for success, according to Ninong Ry. Hustle, plus full support, plus some creativity, and a game plan. If you can see what you need to do, find a way to do it. If you’re still on that journey—like he and I are—then keep that in mind.