8-year-old Ryan Kaji is the world's top-earning YouTube star. His parents took us inside his business, which had over $200 million in retail sales last year and employs a 30-person production team.

  • 8-year-old Ryan Kaji is the highest-paid YouTube star in the world, making an estimated $26 million in yearly income reviewing toys, according to Forbes.
  • His main YouTube channel, Ryan's World, has 26 million subscribers and billions of views.
  • The Ryan's World business spans across YouTube, TV, and the shelves of major retailers like Target and Walmart. The brand generated more than $200 million in retail sales in 2019, a spokesperson said.
  • Business Insider spoke with Ryan's parents, Shion and Loann, about the family's rise to fame online and how they built their business.
  • Subscribe to Business Insider's influencer newsletter: Insider Influencers.

Kaji and his parents are featured in Business Insider's annual list, 100 People Transforming Business. Check out the full list for 2020 here.

The 8-year-old YouTuber Ryan Kaji has transformed the future of kids entertainment by becoming a new model of cross-platform child star.

Kaji now earns millions each year from his lucrative business empire across YouTube, TV, and the shelves of major retailers like Target and Walmart. 

But his rise to fame started on YouTube in 2015, with videos of him unboxing toys. 

"Viewership doubled and tripled each month after that point," Ryan's father, Shion, told Business Insider. "More than just in the US, we see that growth globally. At first, I was very confused and surprised to see our homemade-quality videos being watched by so many kids around the world." 

With the help of his business-savvy parents and Pocket.Watch, a studio that represents the family, Kaji has expanded beyond YouTube by starring in shows on Nickelodeon and Roku, and selling branded products in stores.

In 2019, Ryan's family renamed the YouTube channel to "Ryan's World," a franchise they started that has continued to grow, earning more than $20 million a year in advertising revenue from YouTube, and generating more than $200 million in retail sales from branded products that year, according to a family spokesperson.

Business Insider spoke with Ryan's father, Shion, and mother, Loann, about their business and how they manage Ryan's personal life and YouTube fame.

Building a 30-person production company and filming shows for Nickelodeon and Roku

Ryan's channel started with videos of him opening and reviewing toys. In July 2015, one of his early "unboxing videos" went viral. The video, which now has more than 1 billion views, featured Ryan opening and reviewing a box containing more than 100 toys from Pixar's "Cars" series.

Shortly after, Ryan grew a name for himself online as the boy on YouTube who reviews toys, and throughout the years his videos have shifted from toys to challenges and educational videos, like DIY science experiments.

"I feel like Ryan's relationship with his fans is very unique and different from talent on TV," Shion said. "His relationship with his fans is more of a friendship where every time we meet Ryan's fans and their family, they always mention, 'Oh, my son or daughter thinks they are Ryan's best friend.'"

In 2017, the family signed with the full-service entertainment studio for internet creators, Pocket.Watch. The company acts as an agent for Ryan's brand, Ryan's World, and has invested in building an empire around the YouTube star.

But as Ryan's fame grew, his parents recognized the need to create a larger team around him and make the filming process more efficient for Ryan.

"So he can still enjoy the life of a normal kid," Shion said. 

Now the family manages a 30-person production company, Sunlight Entertainment, in their home state of Texas. 

"What we thought is best for him, would be starting out a production company to help streamline the workflow on the channel and also minimize Ryan's participation in the videos," Shion said. "The main thing is Ryan's privacy and his childhood. And we also wanted to prioritize Ryan's education over anything else."

When Ryan is attending school during the day, Shion and Loann will usually head to their office and work with their team of editors, animators, and voice actors to produce content. The team works on developing live-action and animated content across the company's nine multilingual YouTube channels: Ryan's World, Ryan's World Español, Ryan's World in Japanese, EK Doodles, Ryan's Family Review, VTubers, Combo Panda, Gus the Gummy Gator and The Studio Space. (Since the coronavirus outbreak the family has been working from home, they said.)

"When we started our own company, the first thing we did was make sure Ryan was always the central part of the brand," Shion said. "We tried to create a universe around Ryan but within that universe there are animated characters that are friends of Ryan and their personalities are based on Ryan's basic attributes. When [fans] watch the content through those characters they still feel the connection they have with Ryan."

There is a universe of products around Ryan, as well.

Pocket.Watch brought the Ryan's World brand to Colgate, Nickelodeon, Roku, and Walmart. Pocket.Watch has developed over 100 licensees, from launching an entire line of Ryan's World consumer products with toy-manufacturing company Bonkers, to creating and producing "Ryan's Mystery Playdate," which airs on Nickelodeon. The company recently launched an ad-supported channel called "Ryan and Friends," available to stream on The Roku Channel.

Managing Ryan's personal life, YouTube, and TV show

Typically, Shion said they will film content with Ryan for about one hour during the weekday (some weeks Ryan doesn't film at all during the week), and about three hours on the weekend.

"With traditional media, kids are on set all day," Loann said. "What we are trying to do is give him a normal childhood. He has plenty of time to do and explore other interests." 

"We felt like that really helped us not burn out – not just Ryan but Loann and myself too were able to balance out our personal lives and work," Shion added. 

Before stay-at-home orders, Ryan was involved in several after-school activities – like swimming, computer coding, and taekwondo – Loann said.

"Whatever Ryan wants to film we always make sure we can accomplish it," Shion said. "The second thing is, Loann used to teach high school chemistry and her passion has always been teaching children. After some time, we felt like that was a very important component on YouTube: education. Over time, we've changed our brand focusing more and more on educational content." 

Shion also said the family's goal is to expand their reach into new places like Japan (Ryan is half Japanese), as well as Spanish-speaking countries. 

"We want to make sure Ryan understands and learns the history of his background too," Shion said. "So, we are trying to get more and more projects in Japan as well." 

For more on the business of Ryan's World, read these interviews on Business Insider:

  • Meet the company that turned YouTube's Ryan ToysReview into a business empire making tens of millions per year
  • Inside the toy business of YouTube star Ryan ToysReview
  • The financial adviser to the world's top-earning YouTube star shares the tips he gives clients to kick-start their businesses

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