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Jubilee Media founder and CEO Jason Y. Lee lives on $97,000 in LA

This story is part of CNBC Make It Millennium money a series that describes how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.

When Jason Y. Lee was a child growing up in Kansas, he thought earning $ 100,000 a year would make him rich. His parents immigrated from South Korea to the U.S. to attend city school and were still students earning very little for Lee’s childhood.

So when Lee graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 and started earning six figures as a consultant at Bain & Company in New York City right after college, he wasn’t ready to be shocked by the feeling of immediately running out of cash.

“Surprise so much that the 21-year-old earned,” says Lee, who is 33 years old. Although he calls the experience an immense privilege, especially since his parents repaid his student loans, he also realized that earning and spending so much money didn’t fulfill him the way he thought.

In the decade after that, Lee went from earning six digits to leaving everything behind in 2012 and with his brother and friend, called the Jubilee Project, started a non-profit organization with zero pay to take away. When the company evolved and the founding members disbanded, Lee started a new for-profit company called Jubilee Media in 2017

As Lee raised capital for a new venture, he slowly redrawn his salary – first $ 30,000 and then $ 60,000. Now, after four years of building his start-up, the CEO pays himself $ 97,000 a year. As he gradually increased his salary, he took into account how much he was able to pay on his own without negatively affecting the company’s finances.

Jason Y. Lee, 33, is the founder and CEO of Jubilee Media in LA

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The non-profit years that started him helped Lee to live and work with purpose, while he was realistic about using money to grow his business, invest in his future and pay for it in advance. Personally, it also put him on a more financially stable footing to start a family with his wife Melody.

Here’s how Lee manages his money as a startup founder and newcomer to LA


Six digits to zero income

In 2010, Lee began his high-earning career when, on his 22nd birthday, an earthquake in Haiti killed and displaced millions of people. Feeling the need to do something, Lee went to the New York subway station and filmed to raise money for charity.

Lee raised just $ 85 – he admits he’s not much of a singer – but after he posted the video to YouTube and asked for additional support, he eventually raised a total of $ 700 for charity. On the same subject : Retirement expert: 'The Roth IRA is like the golden egg' – Yahoo Money.

Lee took the opportunity to create videos for the social good and spent nights and weekends building his Jubilee Project with his older brother Eddie and friend Eric Lu. After two years of treating it as a side crowd, the trio has left work and the school plans to focus on that full-time job.

Although the mission felt good, Lee says the transition from six digits to zero income was a big stress. “The truth was that there was no great business plan when we started Jubilee as a non-profit organization,” Lee says. “There was no such great investor or philanthropist to support us. I was lucky to save a good amount during my counseling.”

Still, Lee says he felt happier working for a nonprofit than he did as a counselor: “I felt like I was learning and growing every day.” Trading high salaries for a job he considered significant “really changed the way I thought about money and success.”

In 2012, the group moved the Jubilee Project from New York to LA for the digital creator scene. What Jubilee lacked in a robust financial plan, he made up for in the newly discovered community. At one point, the founders were able to live without rent by placing bunk beds in a friend’s spare bedroom. Lee says he lived off his savings for three years when he didn’t take his salary and invested his earnings back in a nonprofit.

Jason grew up in Kansas with his older brother Eddie and parents Chi Hyun and Yugyung.

Courtesy of Jason Y. Lee

At first, Lee’s parents weren’t thrilled to hear that their sons educated in the Ivy League were leaving jobs at Bain and the White House to record videos on YouTube. But in the meantime, they decided to decide their sons.

When Jubilee started selling clothes, Lee’s mom was packing orders. She would leave small notes in packages saying, “Thank you so much for supporting the Jubilee,” Lee recalls.To this day, Lee’s father will call with video ideas.

“These are little ways I know and understand that they love and support me,” Lee says. “And they loved me throughout the trip, even though I made decisions they didn’t really understand.”

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Become a boss

Five years after starting a nonprofit, Lee was at a crossroads. His brother and Lu left the Jubilee Project to pursue the next phase of their careers, and the remaining founder had to figure out for himself what came next.

After going through what he considers a “really dark season” learning to separate his identity from his job, Lee focused on the things that matter most to him: his faith, belonging to the community, and using his skills to help other people. On the same subject : 42% of Retirees Have Made This Huge Planning Mistake, a Survey Says.

In 2017, Lee closed a non-profit organization and launched a new for-profit entity called Jubilee Media. He started giving it to investors and got dozens of rejections before he got a first yes Laura Huang, a former professor at Wharton who helped Lee get into the start-up world.

With her help, Lee stood up $ 650,000 into venture capital to take Jubilee Media off the ground.

It is not lost on him that some of his strongest supporters are other Asian-American business leaders, including Andrew Chau of Bob Guys i Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin – an underrepresented group Lee never imagined he would be a part. Investments by NBA star Jeremy Lin and actor Simo Liu have pushed Lee’s reach even further.

Jubilee Media creates videos for its own YouTube channel and through partnerships with brands.

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Lee recognized the impact he could have as an Asian American leader. Through the Jubilee, he set out to build a company of diverse and talented individuals in which people from marginalized communities like him could thrive. In an attempt to pay for it in advance, Lee began advising and investing in other Asian-led startups, including a sparkling water company. Sanzo, a brand of tailor-made clothing Year and a social media platform Outside.

Today, Jubilee Media produces short and long interviews, shows and feature videos about entertainment and culture for its channel and through partnerships with brands. The company has recently expanded to include film and TV. The start-up employs about 30 people and reaches more than 6 million subscribers on YouTube.

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As his company grew, Lee also saw himself taking root in his personal life. This may interest you : Tax Time Guide: Get credit for IRA contributions made by April 15.

Lee started dating his now-wife Melody in 2016. They met online, but not in the way a lot of couples do today – he saw her video on Facebook, a financial reporter, interviewing an CEO. He tweeted to her saying he was a fan of her work. The only problem? She was thousands of miles away working in New York.

Jason and Melody started dating in 2016 when he lived in LA and she in New York.

Courtesy of Jason Y. Lee

But during a subsequent visit to the East Coast, Lee met her over coffee and they established a dueling relationship that would end with the engagement in 2019, moving in just before the coronavirus pandemic and tying the knot in a small family of ceremonies in October 2020.

Going from great distance to spending every moment together in quarantine was an adjustment, but luckily, money isn’t a big source of tension, Lee says. Still, they had to cope with the differences in earning power, with the proviso that she was certainly employed and he was the boss of his own start-up.

“I think one thing I’m really proud of is actually that my wife makes more money than I do,” Lee says, adding that his wife’s support “allows me to dream bigger, save more, and believe that the money and time we might have sacrificed because the start will one day pay off. “

Jason and Melody had a wedding ceremony with a close family in October 2020.

Kay Choi

The stress of the founders can put pressure on their relationship, especially when it comes to separating work and life because they both work from home during a pandemic. But Lee is working to set stronger boundaries between professional and personal time.

“It’s definitely something we talked about – I want to be a better partner and husband and I support her career as well,” Lee says. “She had to put up with a lot of sacrifices to be a good partner for me, and I want to do that to her.”

How he spends money

Here’s a look at how Lee usually spends money, from April 2021:

Jason ‘s typical monthly budget of April 2021.

Elham Ataeiazar | CNBC Make It

Jason and Melody at home with their bernedoodle, Remy.

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Lee grew up watching his parents diligently save money, but they never taught him how to manage his own money. Through school and work, he learned how to invest, starting with 401 (k) as an advisor, and now through the Roth IRA, Robinhood accounts, and more recently in cryptocurrency.

Another important part of Lee’s budget is money for charitable donations. He invests $ 400 a month for his church and other nonprofit community-providing organizations, including recent donations Hate is a virus i GoFundMe’s stopping Asian hatred efforts.

Looking ahead

Over the next 10 years, Lee’s personal financial goals include buying a home, raising children, and supporting a family with his wife.

Professionally, Lee says success no longer refers to numbers on his salary, but to impact through his work. His goal is to turn Jubilee Media into “Disney’s empathy” through videos that “remind us that we have a lot more in common than we think”.

Jason moved to LA in 2012 and considers it the best city to live in thanks to moderate weather, city life and an open-air approach.

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