We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.
This week, we caught up with Michael McBride, aka Idea Soup, via email. McBride is known online for his popular videos on interesting science, history, and technology facts. McBride’s “fun facts to help you sound smart at parties” have earned him over 1,193,000 followers across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.
The interview below has been condensed and edited.
What’s the first thing you do to start your day online?
Generally speaking, I like to wake up, make a cup of coffee, and journal before getting online. I try to avoid social media for the first half hour of the day or so (I don’t always succeed though).
What do you wish you knew when you were first starting out as a creator?
Just how much work it takes to actually become successful and maintain that success. Most of the successful creators I’ve met are absurdly hard-working, often spending as much as 16 hours a day creating content.
When did you realize you’d broken through and become a successful creator?
I think one of the most challenging things for creators who are getting early traction is that there are so many moments where you feel like “you’ve made it”, but then it turns out that you haven’t!
I’m an avid mountaineer, and they call it a “false summit”– something that looks like the top of the mountain but isn’t. In mountaineering and in content creation, moments where you reach these false summits are intensely demotivating.
I think one of the most underappreciated aspects of building a career as a content creator is that success is never owned– it’s leased, and rent is due every day. Creators are only as good as their last at-bat; there are creators who were MASSIVE five years ago who now can’t get 500 views on a video. Sure, certain types of content are more evergreen than others, but I think that it’s important to dismiss the idea of ever having “made it”. Better to just focus on making instead.
If you hadn’t become a creator, what would you be doing right now?
The realistic, boring answer? Probably data analytics, which is what I was doing before! Although I did have plans to start digital nomading, so maybe I’d be writing SQL code from the beach in Da Nang or something.
What’s one thing you do to manage your relationship with your fans?
I’m probably more accessible than other creators. I really try to respond to every message I get on Instagram, for example. Attention is our most valuable resource these days, and I’m endlessly grateful to anyone who chooses to give me theirs. But every creator has to choose their own boundaries. When I started, I responded to every comment on TikTok, but that just became impossible after a point.
What do you think of the idea of cancel culture?
Cancel culture is what I like to call a “suitcase term.” It’s a catch-all for us to put so many different ideas and ideologies into. So when two people are talking about “cancel culture”, they can each have wildly different concepts in their heads. I don’t find such conversations useful — better to unpack the suitcase and discuss specifics.
How much of your true self do you show online?
I think “true self” is quite tough to define from a philosophical perspective! But I will say this — Idea Soup definitely came from my personality, and not the other way around. I’ve been ranting about facts I find interesting forever, and when my friends got tired of it, I put it online. I do yell a bit less in person though!
What’s one of the best interactions you’ve ever had with someone who follows you?
I’ve had some incredible interactions. The followers that have been with me since the early days will always hold a special place in my heart. One of them is an artist and I bought a piece of her art that hangs in my room, for example.
But more than that, I think my favorite comments I get are: “I was never interested in history/science in high school, but now I want to learn more”. If there’s any kind of “mission” behind what I do, it’s certainly that — to just get people curious about how wild and bizarre this world truly is.
What is your most treasured tool?
A good pen. I like Marvy Le Pens. I think better with pen and paper than anything digital. Oh, and a good light for filming. I use the GVM G100W light with a lantern box. When I only filmed with natural light my filming hours were really constricted. Now I actually film most of my TikToks after midnight!
What holds you accountable?
That’s the toughest thing about this business. It’s you vs. you. At 2am, when you still need to get that video out, there’s no one there to hold you accountable. So you have to really care deeply about the work and about your audience. And sometimes you just have to find that discipline to muscle through it.
Caffeine also helps!
Thank you, Michael, for talking with us!
We’ll be featuring a new Q&A with a creator every week, so shoot an email to [email protected] for a chance to be included.