When he’s not crafting some of the digital world’s most uplifting content, you can find Jubilee Media’s Jason Y. Lee surfing at home on the California coast. “With surfing, it’s not like you’re going to catch every wave,” says Lee. “That’s not the point. The point is that you learn which waves to catch and which waves you’re not supposed to go for, and you can’t do that by just sitting on the beach.”
Anyone who’s ever surfed can tell you that the sport rewards making leaps of faith, whether that’s falling when trying to catch waves or deciding when to paddle and when to simply float, and Lee’s no stranger to taking risks. As the creator of Jubilee Media, a video company dedicated to fostering human empathy, he heads a small team that creates weekly video content for over six million subscribers. Some examples of the change-making concepts that helped boost Jubilee Media’s success include “Middle Ground,” which puts a group of strangers into a room to talk about taboo subtopics of politics and society, and “Can 2 Strangers Fall in Love With 36 Questions?” which explores what would happen if two strangers asked each other 36 intimate questions on a blind date.
Although Lee once walked the typical career path, taking on a well-paying job as a consultant at Bain & Company after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he felt compelled to do something that was both more creative and meaningful to him. “I like to catalyze, start, create things and just connect with people and find ways to create a better community,” says Lee.
When the 2010 Haiti earthquake hit and Lee saw all the images of loss and destruction on the news, he felt a need to spread awareness. Millions of Haitians were affected and left by much of the world to fend for themselves. Lee was struck by the tragedy and wanted to put the awareness of his privilege to good use. “A lot of my beliefs come from my faith and wanting to make the world a better place,” he says.
The tide of destiny led Lee to understand that life is about chances. With absolutely no video-making skills, Lee left his 9-to-5 behind and partnered with his brother and a close friend to start a non-profit called the Jubilee Project. Their crew shot a video of Lee busking at a New York subway stop to raise money for Haiti. That video notched tens of thousands of views and raised thousands of dollars, all of which were donated to help Haiti’s disaster relief efforts.
Despite that early success, Lee hit a wall when the nonprofit disbanded and his brother and his friend left the Jubilee Project to pursue their own creative endeavors. “It was one of the lowest points in my life,” Lee says. “I didn’t care about viewership. I didn’t care about fame or the accolades or awards. I was just trying to figure out: Who am I? What should I do? And why do I exist?”
He’d find the answers to those questions soon enough. After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Lee saw people around him were incredibly divided. Despite a polarizing 24-hour news cycle, Lee held fast to his belief that everyone has more common ground than they think. “At the end of the day, the answer is empathy,” says Lee. “We need to be connected with one another and ourselves, and to just be kinder to one another.”
Those sentiments form the cornerstone of Jubilee Media, which Lee launched by himself in 2010. The big question was, how do you foster a culture of empathy on the internet? “It’s about agreeing to disagree,” Lee says. “It’s about doing good in a space that is not always good. The internet can be the most difficult, divisive or toxic place ever, but it can also be one of the most magical places.”
Lee wants people to see Jubilee as more than just a YouTube channel or media brand, but a company simply focused on interconnectedness. “We want to be the company that’s known for human connection and empathy— full-stop,” he says. “So, that means not just content, but products, experiences and, one day, technology.”
As part of Jubilee Media’s goals to expand beyond YouTube, the company has helped produce a feature-length documentary called “Accepted,” which chronicles the journey of students attending a small, prestigious high school in Louisiana. Lee also hopes to one day see Jubilee Media’s content on a streaming platform like Netflix or Hulu, and his team even has plans to bring Jubilee’s hit video concepts to the offline world. “Our vision is that we will have spaces or events where we will do some of our formats in real life,” Lee says. “For example, real-life blind-date or speed-dating events.”
Above all, Lee remains thankful for the many ebbs and flows in his journey as an entrepreneur. “I’ve always believed that ordinary people could do extraordinary things,” says Lee. “I believe that when you use your skills and talents to do something good in the world, the universe and God will respond.” Though it may be more relaxing to sit on the beach and watch from afar, Lee is ready to dive in and put his faith in the current.
This article appeared in Character Media’s Annual 2021 Issue. Read our full e-magazine here.