- Cody Ko makes a living as a social media star with 5.5 million YouTube subscribers and 2.3 million TikTok followers.
- He attributes his success as a creator in part to his past as a Duke-educated developer.
- Ko’s background in software engineering helped him realize “I can make anything I want to make.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Over the past seven years, Cody Ko has captivated a huge following of bored young people online with his often-crude videos involving silly bits with friends, sexual innuendo, and jokes about internet culture.
After first becoming a viral sensation on the now-defunct short-form video site Vine, the 30-year-old has racked up 5.5 million subscribers on YouTube, nearly 1 million subscribers for his podcast, and 2.3 million followers on TikTok.
But before he became a full-time social media star, he started his career in the tech world — and now attributes his success in entertainment in part to his first career as an app engineer.
“One of the things that software engineering taught me is to look under the hood and figure out how things work,” Ko — whose real name is Cody Kolodziejzyk — told Insider. “As a creator, I feel like that’s done wonders for me.”
Here’s how the mega-star’s developer chops helped him become a full-time creator:
How Cody Ko first launched in tech — and on Vine
Ko’s first tech success came in 2012 when he launched “I’d Cap That,” an iPhone app that generated random photo captions. It hooked more than 4 million users and even became the top free app in Apple’s App Store just as he was graduating from Duke University with a computer science major.
“I would get drunk and just make like a thousand captions that were just really inappropriate,” Ko told Insider.
Mobile software company Iddiction bought his app that year for a “low six-figures” amount, Ko said — “half in equity and half in cash” — and he worked there running the app for about two years before taking off on an 8-month backpacking trip through Asia in May 2014 with his friend Devon Townsend.
To make money, the pair started a few side projects that pulled in ad revenue — including a service to send physical greeting cards and Weather Candy, which gave users the forecast along with a picture of a “dog, hot girl, or hot guy” according to Ko.
At that point, Ko only had experience with programming iOS apps, but wanted to learn how to build web-based apps with Node.JS, as well as more backend technologies.
“That’s kind of why we did these projects: So that when we returned to the States, we could get jobs as full-stack engineers instead of just front-end engineers,” Ko said.
Meanwhile, the duo also posted dozens of Vines (most of which involved Ko making fun of Townsend) which garnered millions of views.
Ko met one of his closest YouTube collaborators at his tech job
After returning to the states in January 2015, he and Townsend traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles looking for software gigs, continuing to make videos together throughout.
After landing some app-building odd-jobs that helped pay rent, Ko scored a developer gig at online media platform Victorious, but only stayed eight months before bouncing to entertainment company Fullscreen in 2016. He worked there as an iOS engineer and was a client of the firm as well as an employee. At that point, he and Townsend had started a YouTube channel in addition to a Vine account and Ko was working with a Fullscreen agent to help him scale that budding social media career.
“There were a couple of times where my manager — ’cause she also worked for Fullscreen — had to email my boss and be like, ‘Hey, he has to be off this day because he has this thing that he has to go to for YouTube,'” Ko said.
He also quickly became close with his cubicle companion, Noel Miller, a web designer for the marketing team who would end up being his closest social media collaborator. The pair came together on their lunch breaks to shoot around ideas, workshop skits, and create content for YouTube. They even filmed sketches during work, Ko recalled.
By August 2016, Ko decided that he was making enough money from social media sponsorships and ads that he should quit engineering to pursue a creator career full-time.
He and former coworker Miller really hit their stride in spring 2017 with a wildly successful series called “That’s Cringe” where the duo ruthlessly make fun things like YouTube star Jake Paul, a tweet from the rapper Russ, or a song called “Hot Problems” by Double Take.
He and Miller dubbed themselves the “Tiny Meat Gang” and launched a
-funded podcast in October 2017 featuring discussions from Charlie Puth to Bitcoin to “The Bachelor” that won a ‘Best Podcast’ Shorty award. Ko also starred in a comedy series on YouTube created by American Vandal’s Jimmy Tatro and signed with Sony Music’s Arista Records for a rap album.
Ko declined to share how much he makes from his various media properties, but the Patreon for Tiny Meat Gang has 17,980 patrons, which translates to about $85,000 a month in contributions, and Credit Karma, Bud Light, and Honey have all recently sponsored him. In a hint that he’s doing well, Ko purchased a $3.8 million home in Los Angeles with his partner late last year.
“I don’t want to say too much about how I make or how much I make right now,” Ko said. “I want to put it eloquently without seeming like I’m flexing, but I make more now than I ever thought I could make doing content.”
He does, however, still miss the software engineering field and may not be done with it forever, he hints: “Who knows? I might start a tech company again one day.”
How Ko’s computer science background made him a better creator
Ko’s background in software engineering helped him in both his podcasting and his music, he said, because it made the learning curve “less intense” when he’d use technology to bring his ideas to life. Those skills have also allowed the podcast to remain independent.
“We’ve produced our podcasts from the ground up and now we own everything — we don’t work with any companies — and I could produce the s*** out of anyone else’s podcast ’cause I know exactly how all the tech works, I know what all the problems are,” Ko said. “I started producing my own music on the side and now I know how to make a great beat and I know what it takes to record somebody. And I think that all comes from software engineering.”
Right now, he’s thinking about producing shows for other creators, turning the Tiny Meat Gang into more of “a media company than just an independent show.”
After all, his forays into app development proved to him that he could be entrepreneurially self-sufficient.
“It made me realize that I can make anything I want to make,” Ko said. “Like, no matter what it is, I alone can make it happen.”
In that vein, Ko advocates for working on as many side projects as possible and always reaching out to people in the field for opportunities — even if that means cold-emailing them out of the blue.
“Whatever ideas you have, spend time trying to make them come to life and that’ll open doors for you,” Ko said. “Always try to flex your own creative muscles.”
He also thinks his young fans should give engineering a shot:
“Learn how to code,” he said. “It’s fun.”