Meet Justine Ezarik. She’s one of the Internet’s first “lifecasters,” whose challenging rise to fame is described in her self-titled memoir. You probably know her simply as iJustine.
The 31-year-old digital influencer is a producer, host, tech expert and has one of the most subscribed-to personalities on YouTube (with more than two million subscribers). She has been nominated for Teen Choice Awards and Streamy Awards, and won the People’s Voice Webby Award for Best Web Personality/Host. You’ll see her in The Hollywood Reporter’s 50 Most Powerful Digital Players.
But before she went viral, Ezarik started out building her first website in the sixth grade. While her friends were playing sports, she was learning HTML. “It was something I found myself really interested in, and at the time, I didn’t think that was strange or weird,” says Ezarik, who lives in Los Angeles.
Before using the moniker iJustine, in her early days she went by the handle “xthree” because it was gender-neutral. “Sometimes you don’t want to be anything—female or male—you want your work to speak for yourself.” In a platform where women can field comments like, You’re a girl playing video games, she shoots back, “All of my friends are girls and they’re playing video games [too]!”
Carving her own path, and especially being female in a male-dominant tech world, Ezarik continued following her gut. Over time she didn’t want to remain anonymous, wishing to share and connect with her growing online audience. Since Justine was taken, she went with the handle iJustine—as a nod to Apple products at the time, like the iPod.
She went to school for graphic design and video production, but she wasn’t using any of that working full-time for a dodgy boss, who would later deliver the demoralizing words that would send her packing.
In her downtime, she began filming and creating content about her life. “When I was bored,” she recalls, “I could be super-creative to make things.” That is, until misery at her day job led to resigning—her boss told her she was worthless. “I wasn’t happy and I knew I’d be able to figure out something else along the way. If anybody tells you you’re not worth it, you’re not going to make it without them, that’s a lie.”
Feeling fueled to prove him wrong, she “had to do it on my own. It’s something you have to figure out in survival mode.”
Armed with skills to create websites, she started freelancing. “You have to have these other jobs to support your passion project.” This meant shooting, editing, distributing and becoming the talent in her own content.
When Ezarik entered a Yahoo! nationwide talent search, she was the only female finalist in the running. She didn’t win and she felt a “gut punch” from the volume of negative online comments. This experience helped her deal with one of the biggest challenges of putting her life online: developing a thick skin.
“They want you to die or do something terrible, and those are probably some of the nicer comments.” Even now she says, “I’m doing what I love—a lot of people may criticize me about pretty much everything, but it is the Internet and it comes with the territory. You either have to get a tough skin or don’t do it—those are the only options.”
Ezarik gained hope due to the exposure, too. “It was my first real challenge because it was outside of my audience of people who watched my videos, and that opened up a world to me,” she says. She learned that “it’s OK to be an open book.”
She began generating advertising revenue from her videos and now works on various projects for companies and brands. Ezarik is at the forefront of evolving digital content, where brands want to connect with authentic content.
Still it’s challenging to marry her established brand with the message that companies want. “Sometimes it’s not on point with things I’d naturally create for myself, so it’s figuring out what’s this worth to other people and making sure you’re creating some content for your audience and working with these brands and sponsors to make sure they’re happy also.”
Pointing out “it really is a 24/7 job,” it’s not uncommon for Ezarik to dine out with friends and get called to something urgent online. “It really is a lifestyle.”
Mentioning how things evolve so quickly in that lifestyle, Ezarik casually adds, “I haven’t checked my email this morning, so I don’t even know what this day is going to entail. You never know what the day is going to be like.”
While she maintains her thick skin as a prominent online figure, she hasn’t lost her genuine voice. She is creating content she loves that entertains others. “I just want to see people having a good time.”