Building Up a Youtube Channel From Inside China with Winston Sterzel, SerpentZA

Michael MicheliniBusiness, Ecommerce, Podcast0 Comments

We are interviewing SerpentZA (Winston Sterzel) – China’s first vlogger and an all around amazing guy. He has been keeping up consistent video creation dating back to 2006 in China, riding the filtered Chinese internet enough to keep his subscribers happy and growing his fan base. We get him on the Global From Asia TV show (and audio podcast) to share his journey making a top Youtube Channel. We had some fun run ins with Chinese mall security and had to move our recording position – keeping this guerrilla style shooting on the Chinese streets at a bus stop! If you want to hear our first podcast with Winston, check out episode 78 of Global From Asia podcast.

If you haven’t found his channel (hard to believe) then check it out here – and consider supporting his Patreon as well to keep this amazing content coming.

Thank you Winston for coming on the show today! We had you on our podcast back in episode 78 *please confirm this is correct number* and it has been a popular show indeed. There you shared about your earlier China business days and experiences with partnering with Chinese.

You are China’s first Youtube, and been a regular blogger since 2008 – as a content creator myself, I know how much of a challenge- and on top of that you are doing it from within the Chinese Great Firewall! So thank you Winston for “staying awesome” and making it happen.

Topics Covered in this Episode

  • Why did you think to even start uploading videos?

  • What are some of the unexpected results that have happened?

    I mean, your Conquring North China campaign was awesome, Southern China, USA trip – as I learned in your talk at the Shenzhen marketing meetup – you have been reaching and helping so many people.

  • Since we are a business focused channel - how do you think an entrepreneur can learn from what you’re doing?

    To apply to growing their business, say in e-commerce

  • Personal vs Company brand

    Should someone put their face to it? Here at the Global From Asia youtube channel – for now it “just me” but I hope to make it so that I can have different hosts, different guests, different styles of content. But I do feel personal brand, personal face is probably more effective?

  • Gear vs Story

    I love how you say gear doesn’t matter and on your USA trip you did all your vlogs there on your iPhone. But I have to say, sometimes I get comments about lack of focus in my video shots – there is a line in the quality of the show right?

  • Making a story

    This seems like the hardest thing, the real creative part. Not the gear, not the other fluff of editing, etc. So of course you pick a main topic, how do you formulate a story for each of your videos?

  • Negative effects

    For me – my wife’s mom begs us to be careful – that the kids may get kidnapped, etc. I know you have … lets say haters… on your channel. It is really sad, because you are working so hard to create this amazing and free content for the world. Any stories you’d like to share on these haters and dealing with them

  • Monetization

    So you’re a full time youtuber, very awesome! So you have a Patreon, and you have Youtube ads, and you have done your Conquering series of trips. How about the revenue and the percentage breakdown – and then some tips for those who want to follow in your footsteps. Would you consider sponsors?

  • Finding and supporting you

    So how can people find you – SerpentZA

People / Companies / Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Show Sponsors:

Today’s podcast is brought to you by Aurelia Pay. I use them for sending money to my Chinese supplier from Hong Kong – it is a cross border payment solution between China, Hong Kong and South East Asia. So when I need to make a payment to a Chinese supplier, I just hop in to place a remittance, pay to their HK bank account, and Aurelia Pay settle RMB within the same business day! Check them out

Episode Length 25:05

Thanks so much Winston for your support and I look forward to having you at our next Cross Border Summit in April as well.

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Podcast Transcription

“If your video is about tea, start with tea and talk about tea. Don't start with "hey guys, I'm on my way to a bus to a different part of cities where I'm gonna go meet some friends and then later get into the, Oh, I'm gonna have some tea".

Welcome to the Global From Asia podcast where the daunting process of running an international business is broken down into straight up actionable advice and now your host, Michael Michelini.

Today's podcast is brought to you by Aureliapay. I use it personally for sending money to my Chinese suppliers from Hong Kong. It's a cross border payment solution between China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. So, if I need to make a payment to a Chinese supplier, I just hop online to place the remittance, pay to the Aureliapay Hong Kong based big account and Aureliapay will settle RMB within the same business day. So, check them out online at  A U R E L I A P A Y .com or check them on their link at our show notes.

Mike: Thank you everybody for tuning in to another Global From Asia podcast number 206. We are almost at Christmas Boba my editor was asked some Christmas jingle to this one. I know it's not politically correct in today's crazy world this day, Christmas and Happy Holidays. But I have friends from all around the world and I think Christmas is more about more than religion, I think it's about being with your loved ones and your friends on this special time. And I advised people I'll go back to the States, I'll be here in China for Christmas. Maybe another hotpot like Thanksgiving. But it's more about the people you're with. Of course I miss my families, especially my parents and my sister back in America. But I have agreed with my family here and very fortunate and I hope you are also fortunate. We should all be. I mean we're living, we're able enough to listen to audio podcast and some amazing technology device. So let's be appreciative and also its year-end. Reflect on what we've done this year. Think about next year. Also, I would be back to the States. I haven't been back since October 2015. But, I've mentioned a bit earlier on other shows, coming back into Florida on February 8. February 1st til like 19th or so, depending on time zones. And we're hosting the China Business Workshop for a day and a half in Miami. You wanna check that out for all that details and it is an intensive hands on training. We have Claudia, working on me with that in Florida. I'm excited for that and others. So, I'm also be going down to Colombia with Esteban. We're working on special project down in Colombia. Stay tune for more. It's very early stages but Global From Asia is growing and I appreciate everybody listening and supporting and engaging. So I hope we can all do what we want in our life in 2018, it's gonna be a fresh new slate. Okay and enough for this intro, let's get into this week's show. It's a fun one, actually it's done on video. I'm trying to get more video content. So it's already on YouTube, if you want we embedded it into show notes. I hope it works on your podcast player. It's a second time we're bringing him back, Winston Sterzel or Serpent ZA or ZA for South Africa. He is a South African media mogul here in China. China's first blogger and not just first but also very consistent with great content on YouTube and video format about China and travels, and culture. And I was fortunate to catch him in Shenzhen and we did a little interview about how he has grown such a YouTube following here in China especially since YouTube is blocked. I think this podcast is also blocked. But we gotta enjoy what we're doing and he definitely enjoys it. If you want to watch in a video format you can do that as well. We have run in security, we had to make some moves. So there's cuts in the middle of this. But enjoy and it's time for dinner over here, family is calling and again Happy Holidays. Let's tune in to the show.

Mike: We're here in MixC Shenzhen with China's first blogger Winston, Serpent ZA.

Winston: Yeah, that's me.

Mike: Welcome man, thanks for coming on the show.

Winston: Cool, absolute pleasure. It's really nice to meet you again.

Mike: Yeah, you're one of our popular shows on episode 78 of the podcast.

Winston: Right I remember that was on Skype.

Mike: Yeah, we do the Skype one and we're talking about business partners in China and open up quite a bit some. I always appreciate you sharing.

Winston: Yeah, no problem.

Mike: So you're like China's first blogger or video blog and 2008, was the one it started?

Winston: Yeah, actually I started my channel in 2006. But I uploaded my first video on my channel in 2008. But I actually had a channel before that for the PSP traveller where I started with 2 other friends of mine. I started and they just joined me and we would kind of make, similar videos to what I do now, but on filming on PSP cameras, the places go to spend and interesting. So I've been to that before. But yeah it came to quite a surprise to me that as somebody just brought to my attention. And they left a comment and saying, you know you're the first guy, the first English language blogger out on China. It was like, really? That can't be true and I went online and I searched and I searched, yeah it's true. It's kind of a surprise.

Mike: Yeah, it's great man and you've been at and I think that's the hardest thing is, being first is important, too. But you are not just first but you're like consistent, you're at in. In 2006 that was like how many years now, almost 12 years.

Winston: It's ridiculous. It's actually like you've said that's the most difficult to keep going especially YouTube didn't pay any money. If you start now, brand new account you have the options to monetized on videos. You may only make 10 cents a month but you can still get money but that wasn't even an option when I started and wasn't an option for 5 years of making videos. So the motivation was purely other people, people leaving comments. I was enjoying the feedback and so I'd make videos for the people leaving comments and that was it. Just basically that was drove me for the whole time.

Mike: Okay, great.

Winston: Basically the Serpent's about and what happens is that, don't lie people reporting around you. It's kind of a little weird and they say you can't have to go get from it's the film which is strange. Because you don't actually need them. But technically because.

Mike: We'll keep some of the sins.

Winston: Yeah we should keep it in there. Anyway, I'm totally up for moving, because we just seem to move down there.

Mike: Yeah, we'll just, we'll just take another segment anyway. So?

Winston: So, keep us all in guys. This is China, this is what happens in China, we'll be with you right back. Alright, it's really difficult to find a motivation at one point because you're not getting paid, you have to go out and film. It's as you know, very uncomfortable to film in China. Because everybody takes noticed and all of a sudden you does curiosity. People will come and look at you and come and bother you and if you're very self conscious. So you have to go through all of that and you have to edit it and then find the way to upload it and YouTube being blocked. Makes it really difficult especially years ago when you didn't have pay for VPN's like Astro, Express and all those ones. You couldn't get that. I used have to find difficult ways around the myself. So, there were a little gaps where I didn't upload for like a month or so. But for some other reason I just get back and kept doing it and then one day, not that long ago about 3 or 4 years ago. YouTube said okay everybody can monetize. So I could start monetizing a little bit some money start to trickling in, so you know what let me just go further.

Mike: Awesome, it's great. And then you just got your silver play button and pick it up in Hong Kong, remember.

Winston: Yeah it's incredibly, I'm incredibly happy that I got it. For me it's a big achievement to think that people are actually that interested in my life and in China.

Mike: It's awesome.

Winston: It's very humbling.

Mike: And, you've definitely some unexpected results from doing it like you're taking this trips, China North and South China and the US.

Winston: Yes absolutely amazing and none of it would have been possible without my YouTube channel. And of course the support of big community out there that watches my videos and in fact our new documentary Conquering Northern China actually just release this morning.

Mike: Well, congrats.

Winston: And that's the common issue pretty much of everything into this massive, huge adventure were, hoping people can get to see passive China. I know it will, passive China. They didn't even know it existed. Like white Russian, ethnic Russians that are Chinese, right? And of course the North Korean border and all the food and all the culture and the step in between which you never get to see. 'Coz everytime you watch a documentary about  China, it's about the Great Wall or some non-sense like that. You don't get to see like the real countryside, you know.

Mike: I agree man, I mean and you do your podcast on the bikes, it's awesome.

Winston: Yeah, it's super fun.

Mike: So then for the business side, you're monetizing through the ads, what are some ways I mean I think a lot of people start thinking they can make money on YouTube or videos, I think it's really hard.

Winston: People thinks it's easy. Like you said but you get very quickly disheartened because you can be getting thousands of views and literally you can get tens and thousands of views and at the end of the month, you get like 40 dollars or 30 dollars or something. Then you think like why I'm putting all these time and effort promoting myself, putting myself out there. Editing, buying this expensive equipment because even entry levels of cameras are expensive, right? And so people get disheartened and they usually give up. Especially if they done it for a year and they still only have like less than a thousand subscribers. But to those people I say, you either in it for the long hold or you just not in it. So if you think you've gonna be given up 'coz just you know you're not making a way you want to make it, just don't start.

Mike: Yes, it's true.

Winston: Get in there, get stuck in there, make it part of your routine, make it your hobby. 'Coz you'll never get let down when it doesn't work. It's still fun.

Mike: When I think of it, I have kids now, so I just think of them, hopefully they'll like to watch it some of them. Some of the videos.

Winston: But that's not stop making watching all videos.

Mike: I’m the dad with the clicker. That’s me like Dad has lots of videos. It's great and then yes especially help people see inside China 'coz it's like you're not showing them the typical China, you're taking them deep inside inside China and then so monetizing. You're purely monetizing, well you have patron and patron.

Winston: Like basically the YouTube ad money and the patron which, the patron money that I get is very often more than what I get out of YouTube. But it gives me a stability and it's what allowed make it actually start in this full time. Because the money I was getting from YouTube just wasn't enough. I wouldn't able to support myself and my wife, because I pay for everything. Although there are people out there that have this conspiracy theory that my wife is a doctor and she's supporting me. But, the thing in China actually doctors are paid very little. They paid less than the English Teachers and it's about 6,000 RMB a month, basic. They do get bit of extra but they don't earn a lot.

Mike: Yeah, I can get into a little bit here but well I have 2 children in China so my wife is always like we have to give a hongbao to the doctor. And I feel like that's so strange.

Winston: It is weird. My wife just actually just had to go through some surgery recently and even she's a doctor, she have to give a hongbao to the doctor. It's just kind of a weird. Many good doctor to do a good job.

Mike: Isn't it like, she was crying like, I was trying to convince her we don't have to do that, she's like, No we have to do it, the healthcare.

Winston: Yeah I mean that's the harsh reality that what goes on here.

Mike: That's insane.

Winston: So yeah like I said patron has allowed me to support myself and my wife. And then anything that comes in from YouTube ad revenue, just ads to that and allows me to put more time and effort to make a better equipment, maybe travelling somewhere to do videos and a lot of things.

Mike: Sure. Nice. And then you do some crowdfunding campaign as well for your corporate documentary.

Winston: We needed that. We used all of that money and put some of our money at the end.

Mike: Okay. But it's cool I mean, well I think it's the key is the community, right. The people that, your subscribers, your viewers, and people supporting you. I think that's the best way of anything about business. Not just advertising but actually the people that consume the content, actually support the content.

Winston: Correct, I mean I loved the way things are going these days. Because in the past people didn't really have much of it's way over what they got to see on TV. Yeah you like the show, so you like McGyver, you watch McGyver all the 80’s whatever it is, I’m give out my age here but you just watch it and comes on a Friday night to whatever and that's it. There's no interaction but these days as a consumer you almost get to pick and choose what you see. So I get suggestions from my patrons which I take seriously. If they say "hey, can you do a video about this?". Because they support me will say to myself yeah I'm definitely gonna find a way to answer these questions for them and make a video and like we say hey, we want to do an adventure series through the whole note of China, do you guys wanna see it? If you want to see it, just fund it and it's kind of like paying upfront, it's like a pre-order because you're not give back on kick study you get it for free anyway. So it's not like your paying someone to have a holiday. You're paying for a service. You're paying for a show.

Mike: Nice.

Winston: And I love the way that this is going. Because people now are really interacting with creators and the content that they wanted to see and they get it at the end of the day.

Mike: It's really great. So some other questions, I'm moving out of my element. Normally I'm doing audio. But my thinking is personal brand, business brand like, actually I have a couple of channels, Global From Asia's the business channel. Do you think the face, especially on videos, I've heard people say if you switch to host on the videos. Some channels I've heard they have a new host come one. And then the views drop.

Winston: Yeah, of course, I mean especially YouTube. It's called YouTube for reasons. It's not called corporate tube, tv channel tube. I mean it's all about the personality. That's why if you're good enough host, people connect with you. They're interested in you. That's why people actually will bother to pay me on patron or support me on patronage. Because you can look at some bigger channels in mind, much bigger channels. If you go to look at the patron pages, they are earning like 2 dollars or 0 dollars. Because people enjoy consuming the content but they have no connection or real connection with the actual channel. 'Coz maybe it's a prank channel or it's some kind of variety shows something. They don't really connect with the actors. So it's all about you, bringing yourself out there. So you branding yourself at the end of the day and building a community that connects with you and knows you as a person.

Mike: Yeah, it's true. So then it goes back into deciding the long term. But you can probably bring a co-host, I mean your wife is getting more active. She's starting her own channel even.

Winston: Yeah kind of pushing her to do that because it's a, I kind of wonder to get into the whole video thing. So it's testing the waters there. But you're absolutely right. Bringing on a co-host is a good idea and it worked very well actually with myself and my friends teamwork. Because we have a separate channel which is the ATV China were we get again to make videos to get it there. And which ever on separate channels. Because there are certain people that can't stand me and certain people can't stand him. But they like it when we get together. Because we balance each other on and making just go watch those one.

Mike: Alright. That's a good way. I have actually on another podcast China Business Cast which Slomo and might do that together and then I have, I guess it makes sense on different type of content for different people with different host. So we talked about gear a little bit, I'm kind of getting too much gear. But yeah I think when you say gear doesn't matter really, right.

Winston: Yeah quite honestly and I've got a fantastic example of this. I have a couple of videos that I shot when I was actually up on my trip. And because I didn't have a computer with me, I didn't have my fancy work, I didn't have a handy cam with me and go for those stuff. But there's no way for me to get the footage of those and edit them. So I basically shot and edit the 3 videos entirely on my cell phone. So on my phone, I shot the videos, I edit it on the phone, I took the thumbnail photo on the phone. I have loaded it from the phone and those 3 videos did incredibly well. I mean, one of them got 600,000 views. And compared to like a video that I done just before the trip which I put a lot of time and effort into shut with really nice gear, lots of veeroll, spent days editing, and I just got like 60,000 views. So, it's really all about the content.

Mike: Which is the next question is the story. How do you, I think we're just chat before, how do you think of the story or how do you build the story and your, I mean that's the biggest job, right?

Winston: Yeah, it's kind of a bit of evolutionary process. Because if I look at my older videos, I mean I cringe.

Mike: I remember your Chinese toilet  one. You have a barbecue.

Winston: I mean, some of us at least when you start you tend to just throw a crap out there and expect people to care. And people don't care. So the key is actually keep it interesting, you gotta keep it short. You have to be brutal. These days when I edit my videos, I might have recorded something that I think is very important. So I'll talk and talk and talk like a video, I'm releasing tomorrow. I made a video all about Chinese Carson bikes. But I realized that most of it was about cars and the bike spot didn't really fit. So although I put in a lot of evidence of filming that product, I just got the whole bike product. So it's all about making it shorter, easier to consume, and you have to be to the point. This is the biggest advice that I can give you. If your video is about tea, start with tea, and talk about tea. Don't start with hey guys, so I'm on my way on the bus to different part of the city where I'm gonna go meet some friends and then later get in to the Oh, I'm gonna have some tea. No. so it's like cut out all the crap, people don't care about you in the beginning anyway of the videos, they care about the subject. So the thumbnail and the title says Chinese tea when  it start you better be sipping that cup and saying I'm gonna be talking about Chinese tea.

Mike: Okay, it's true, I think I've made a mistake, I can think of some videos where I had seemed people told me that I had too much of like some other topic in the video.

Winston: You gotta be very and it's fine to throw a little bit of something but it's still got to stay on point, you know.

Mike: Alright, so what's, everytime we talk about New Year, we're getting into 2018, time is flying. What's next? What's on your radar?

Winston: Well, actually January I'm flying to America and I'm gonna be my corvette is still there. Purple corvette which is which is awesome and it's waiting for me in Arizona. I'm gonna go fly there. I'm gonna meet up my friend Synon and we're gonna drive up the West Coast. And we're going to go to all the Chinatowns and we're actually in search of the best Chinese in America. So what we're gonna do is go find the best Chinese restaurants, the most authentic Chinese restaurants and go film the food there and then compare it to the real Chinese restaurants here. So  we'll be able to say, hey you live in California, you live in L.A. where can you get the best Sze Chuan food and then we'll be able to tell them where. Where can you get the best dimsum.

Mike: Yeah so subscribers back home can back in the US can experience. We are surrounded by it but they want it.

Winston: Yeah, I think a lot of people are maybe too afraid to try maybe in the middle of Chinatown, some strange restaurants they never heard of. They might not wanna just go wonder and explore. But if you can show it to them and hey this is really good and tell them what to order and stuff, I'm sure they'll be more at to do it.

Mike: I know when you're back in the States, I've been back and I, I asked for another menu. I didn't know that but they have another menu sometimes with the real Chinese. Because it's true the American Chinese is really not good.

Winston: And that's how we're gonna ended this. We gonna end up with Vegas at the Chinese buffet to show what Americans really can Chinese to do this. So it's gonna be fun.

Mike: Yeah deep fried.

Winston: Yeah like orange kung pao. Awesome. Sweet and sour fish, whatever.

Mike: Great. I'm sure people on YouTube know how to find you but for those, we have this on audio and text, too. What is the best way to find you.

Winston: Oh, it's pretty easy. Nowadays, you can just go into YouTube and search China pop up somewhere but by channel name is Serpent ZA so serpent like the snake and ZA and that's actually the country code with South Africa where I'm actually originally from.

Mike: Which is cool, very good.

Winston: So yeah, guys feel free to look me up if you're interested in seeing some rather interesting videos about China anyway.

Mike: It's great man. You got a huge collection and doing great work.

Winston: Thank you very much.

Mike: Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Winston: Oh it's an absolute pleasure. And I just want to personally say that thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to come on to the show, thank you. You are a great guy and I like what you're doing. This guy is organizing all these events. I went to his Cross Border Summit.

Mike: Yeah, thanks.

Winston: I appreciate it. You're do a lot of talk there and you do a lot of talk here in China. So I appreciate people like yourself. So thank you please keep going and enjoy.

Mike: Yeah we're trying next Cross Border Summit already in April plans. April 20 and 21.

Winston: Oh, I'll be there.

Mike Yeah you should make it. We'll be happy to have you there.

Winston: Excellent. Cheers.

Mike: Okay, great, cheers.

Winston: Thanks guys and stay awesome.

Mike: Stay awesome, definitely. Cheers.

Mike: Stay awesome. That is Winston's tagline there in his videos. And hope you guys are staying awesome. And again this is a shorter one. Some of them longer, some of them are shorter. I'm always getting feedback year end and I do have an email newsletter. I've been getting some great feedback and the surveys we do there and some small, little giveaways. So if you're not on the email list already, I suggest you check it out. There's a little e-book gift as well working on and we have some getting started videos and emails included, I. You can get that at and getting on the polls. I decided to call the polls the newsletter GFA polls. We're over a 150 weekly newsletters now. Content machine for sure may have the domain in a book. But man, we have tons of content here I hope you guys are enjoying this content. And it's just me and this microphone, we have an amazing team helping us here. Honey bell is doing great, Boban is doing great editing. We got Sheryl helping get the post  Mindy. It's an amazing team. Actually I know Pat Flint an inspiration for this podcast, one of the guys help, got me inspired to do this. He's on some podcast with his team, I should probably get something like that. But we got so much content already recorded. I got some funny ones for the holidays that are little bit off the cup I'm almost nervous about publishing one of them. But we're gonna let it going through the holiday season. So we'll keep the schedule going and thanks again for listening. Have a great day. Bye bye.

To get more info, on running international business please visit our website at Global From Asia  that’s Global From Asia . Also, be sure to subscribe to our iTunes feed. Thanks for tuning in.

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