Fast-forward to today, and her popular how-to tutorials and vlogs have been viewed more than 1.1 billion times on YouTube. LaurDIY has blossomed into a multifaceted business, encompassing a team of about a dozen people supporting her content production, advertising, lines of merchandise and partnerships.
Next week, Riihimaki is heading to VidCon in Anaheim, Calif., where she’s one of the featured creators at the 10th annual fan and industry confab. She’ll do the usual meet-and-greet with fans and participate in panel discussions, including a session in a new track, IAB Brand Storytellers @ VidCon, discussing how online video creators are their own direct-to-consumer brands and what that means for the marketers that want to tap into her brand.
“I think most YouTubers don’t realize they’re building brands as they establish engagement with fans,” said Riihimaki. “I have an entrepreneurial mindset and have grown into this opportunity.”
Riihimaki has merchandise partnerships with a range of retailers, including Walmart, Target, Arden, Amazon and Hobby Lobby. The portfolio includes everything from LaurDIY-branded crafting kits to jewelry, and from plushies to apparel like hoodies and T-shirts. For Riihimaki, the key is in developing products that appeal both to core fans as well as the general public.
Retailers like Target and Walmart “have a massive consumer base, and they don’t know who you are,” she said. “You have to make things that are generic enough that people would see it on the shelf and be interested in it even if they don’t know who I am, but also cater to people who are fans… It’s all trial and error.” Her advice for other creators expanding into merch: Focus on stuff you think your fans will like and “start with 100 T-shirts before ordering 25,000!”
Her biggest challenge as an internet star, she said, is balancing her public and private life. Last fall, she went through a very public breakup with fellow YouTuber Alex Wassabi; the couple had earned the nickname “Laurex.” She’s now dating again but isn’t revealing nearly as much about her new boyfriend, Jeremy Lewis.
“I had to take a step back then figure out how to have that balance of public-private,” she said. Riihimaki took a break from vlogging on YouTube and is being careful about how much of her romantic life she shares (though her miniature bull terrier, Moose, makes regular guest appearances).
YouTube is always “home base” as her content platform, she said, but she’s more likely to use Instagram to document her new relationship. “An Instagram photo is so much less intimate than a 20-minute vlog,” she said.
Riihimaki said the risk of burnout is an occupational hazard of a career YouTuber and something she’s careful to keep an eye on. “Burnout is absolutely so real. It’s so tempting to choose editing over a healthy night of sleep,” she said.
“When you go on vacation it’s tempting to vlog the whole vacation,” Riihimaki continued. “We want to bring the fans along — they’re the reason we’re in this career — but it’s about finding time to put the camera down, be present and enjoy the moment.”
The 25-year-old has a huge fanbase, with 9 million YouTube subscribers, 6 million Twitter followers and 5.1 million on Instagram. During her workday, she sets aside time to connect with her fans, whom she refers to as “#prettylittlelaurs.” “When a video goes live, in the first hour you try to be active in responding to comments. That’s when people are most active,” she said.
Riihimaki added that it can be tough “when the relationship on the viewer side goes too far.”
“People think they know you,” she said. “They think they’re entitled to your phone number or address. There’s a boundary: ‘No, you can’t have my phone number!'”
Riihimaki shoots video almost every day, for either her vlog or main production videos, which are posted once per week. In addition to tutorials, she produces “haul” videos (shopping recaps) and segments on room decor, clothing, product testing, and life hacks. She has a regular series called “DIY Master” in which she tries new things; most recently, she learned how to use a tattoo gun — and she tattooed one of her friends.
As her fans grow older, LaurDIY said, she’s less focused on back-to-school videos and more on personality-driven content. She’s done collab videos with her friend Josh Peck (of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh”) and recently played piano alongside seven-sister singing group Cimorelli, who performed a cover of a Billie Eilish song (“the most unique collaboration I’ve done,” Riihimaki said).
In running the business, Riihimaki works with her management team at Select Management, along with an assistant, publicist, camera operator, a couple of video editors, a lawyer and licensing agent. She also is affiliated with Kin Community, a female-focused multichannel network and media company that sells premium ad inventory for her YouTube channel.
Riihimaki, who currently lives in L.A, grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (near Niagara Falls), the only child of her Japanese mother and Ukranian-Finnish father. She credits her mom with encouraging her early interest in arts and crafts to put her on the path to becoming LaurDIY: “I was a toddler with crayons and paper, and I’ve been able turn it into this whole career and brand,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Neither of my parents are crafty themselves.”
She claims she’s not a natural performer and has had to develop that muscle for her YouTube videos. “I’m like an introvert. I have no performance background,” she said. “You start by sitting with yourself and talking into a camera — most extroverted teenagers aren’t doing that.”
At the end of the day, Riihimaki said, “Everything is a learning experience. There’s nothing I wish I hadn’t done.”