Editor’s note: New in KC is an ongoing profile series that highlights newly relocated members of the Kansas City startup community, their reasons for a change of scenery, and what they’ve found so far in KC. This series is sponsored by C2FO, a Leawood-based, global financial services company. Click here to read more New in KC profiles.
Lisa Nguyen was five years into her work as a paralegal when she realized she wasn’t getting what she wanted out of life, she shared.
“I started dabbling in other things. I’ve always been a foodie and grew up recording all the time; so naturally, I combined videography and food,” said Nguyen, founder of the videography company and brand Telehue Food.
Click here to check out Telehue Food.
With the rise of legitimate business opportunities on social media around 2017, Nguyen noticed that local restaurants in her hometown, Wichita, were not taking full advantage of the growing platforms, she recalled.
“I started doing social media for a couple of restaurants — taking pictures and updating their statues,” she said. “Then one day, I bought this DSLR camera and asked the restaurants if I could shoot a video for fun. I posted a video of them cooking the food with an interview of the owner, and it got a really good response.”
Beginning with little-to-no videography experience, Nguyen had an aha moment in the shower: offer free feature videos to small businesses while building her portfolio, she said.
Telehue Food was officially dished out in January 2018.
“I was creating 2-to-3 restaurant videos a week, and working my full-time job as a paralegal while doing this. I did that for a year before going full-time with Telehue,” Nguyen said.
“It was rough in the beginning,” she admitted. “I would reach out to 100 restaurants and maybe five would respond. I don’t blame them because it’s their business’ reputation on the line, and I didn’t have many videos at the time.”
As Nguyen’s portfolio grew, so did her response rate. Although her skills, demand and platform have grown significantly since she first started, Nguyen still doesn’t charge any fees for her promotional videos, she noted.
“I feature small, family-owned restaurants that don’t have the marketing budget to hire a videographer,” Nguyen shared. “I want them to be able to tell their story without worrying about the cost to do so. … People have said that I am naive for not charging, but at first I was still building my audience. Now, I have ad revenue coming in [from social media sites] and I don’t have to charge them. When I am reaching out to these restaurants, I just make sure that they’re a good, family-owned business.”
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From camera operator to cook
When restaurants across the nation closed their doors to the public in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nguyen found her videography company with no subjects to film.
With about 67,000 followers on Facebook, Nguyen decided to trade her tripod for cookbooks to continue making content for her followers.
“The only thing I knew how to cook was instant ramen,” Nguyen said, laughing. “I was dabbling in TikTok — so I started to experiment with different ways to make [ramen noodles], and the videos would take off on the app. People wanted to follow along on my cooking journey.”
In September 2020, Nguyen committed to posting once a day on TikTok after noticing that quantity was more important than quality on the short video platform. Through consistent posting, she also learned more about what users enjoyed, she added.
Telehue Foods — which has since been rebranded to “itslisanguyen” — hit the 1 million follower milestone in February 2021. Now, Nguyen’s personal brand boasts more than 2.2 million followers on TikTok and 2.3 million on YouTube.
“It’s really surreal, waking up and seeing those numbers,” Nguyen said. “I struggle with imposter syndrome a lot. But at the end of the day, I’m really very grateful that so many people enjoy what I’m creating.”
Click here to follow Lisa Nguyen on YouTube
Treasure chest of stories
By posting every single day, Nguyen admitted that she has to be conscious of not getting burnt out. Thankfully, she works with something she loves.
“I enjoy food, and I know my boundaries as well,” she shared. “I record most of my meals because even if I can’t think of a story or idea at that time, I have that footage for later. Also, I switched from my DSLR [camera] to my phone because it’s 10 times easier to whip out your phone and send that footage to a computer.”
Nguyen also switched up her scenery at the end of summer 2021 with her move to Kansas City — leading her to explore many more local, family-owned restaurants, she said, excitedly. But with Nguyen cooking more, she cutback her promotional videos to about two or three a month.
“The fact that I was able to start this all in Wichita proves that you don’t need to be from a big city or the coasts to succeed on social media,” she added.
It was a risk to quit her job and pursue a career in a brand new film, Nguyen acknowledged, but it was an uncertain outcome worth exploring.
“This all feels validating,” she said. “In the beginning, there are so many people who doubt you. For me, it’s a motivator when people tell me that I’m not going to be able to accomplish much.”
Her favorite part of the job relates to why she got started in the first place: connecting with small restaurant owners to get a taste of their stories and share those experiences.
“Everyone has a different story — whether that’s immigrating to the U.S. or being born here and following their dream — to getting to their brick and mortar,” Nguyen shared. “Each time they tell me their story, I feel like I’m getting to put that into this little treasure chest. And the fact that I have an audience and platform to share that with — I’m just so fortunate.”