Saturday, May 18

Bruin to Bruin: Charlie Kratus


Photo credit: Helen Quach


Good Morning UCLA host Charlie Kratus joins Podcasts contributor Aidan Teeger to discuss his popular Instagram account, his initiative to help unhoused people in Westwood and advice for UCLA students.

 

Aidan Teeger: Welcome to Bruin to Bruin, where we tap into the wisdom and insights of the UCLA community. Today’s feature is Charlie Kratus, a current freshman business econ major, and host of the very popular Good Morning UCLA. Charlie Kratus, thank you for being here.

Charlie Kratus: Thank you, Aidan. Super pumped to be here, really excited.

AT: Awesome. What have you been up to recently? We’ve just gotten into the spring quarter 2024 at UCLA. You’re a freshman. How has this first week been for you?

CK: This first week has been really fun. Coming back, getting ready for new classes, seeing friends after the break, and getting a lot of videos done. At the beginning of the quarter, I’ve been doing a lot of outreach, talking to people, trying to figure out the videos for the quarter. I’ve got the next month of videos planned and did about 15 videos this week with different clubs, organizations, and people, focusing on what’s going on at UCLA and what all the great people are doing. I lost my voice in the process from yelling, “Good Morning UCLA” so much, but it’s been a very busy week.

AT: So as you said, this is all for Good Morning UCLA.

CK: Yes, sir.

AT: I want to touch a bit on your background. Where did you go to high school?

CK: I grew up in the Bay Area. I went to De La Salle High School in Concord, an all-boys Catholic school. I had a great experience there. I played football and lacrosse, was involved in a bunch of clubs, and did announcements on the intercom. I would come on and say, “good morning, De La Salle.” That’s really kind of where I got the idea.

AT: It sort of translated over.

CK: Exactly. I’ve been doing announcements since sixth grade. My voice doesn’t normally sound like this, because I always did the joke of the day and all that stuff. I’ve been doing it for a while, but it was just on the announcements over the intercom.

AT: And how did you come up with that in high school? Really taking it upon yourself to boost school spirit?

CK: Well, I love getting involved and being part of the community. In high school, we didn’t even have a mascot, so I bought a Spartan costume from Romania – a full metal costume. You might think being in a mascot uniform is kind of lame, but I’m not worried about embarrassing myself. I have fun with it, and it turned out to be cool. I think I’m doing a similar thing here. It can be embarrassing to put yourself out there and be enthusiastic about where you go to school, but if you embrace it, it can be something cool that people relate to and connect with because it’s fun to be involved and to be passionate about something. My parents raised me well, teaching me to fully commit to what I’m doing and never do anything halfway.

AT: I tend to agree with that. You get out what you put in, really getting involved beyond just the standard academics. And the proof is in the pudding for Good Morning UCLA, obviously immensely popular. You’ve had partnerships with all sorts of departments, athletics, even Gene Block has featured a few times. When you initially got into UCLA, did you foresee that you would take this whole Good Morning concept from your high school and bring it here, or was it more spur of the moment?

CK: Not at all. It was a really small thing that I did in high school, wouldn’t even put on the list of the top 10 things I did. Didn’t think about it at all over the summer, and it really just started in October. I did the good morning greeting for a few of my friends on the dorm floor, and they thought it was hilarious. It started more as a joke, and I didn’t have any grand scheme behind it. It’s been an organic process. I couldn’t have imagined it would turn out like this, and now I’m here doing a podcast with you. It’s just me and my tripod every day. When I started, it only took three days for someone to recognize me as the “Good Morning UCLA guy” after I posted my first video. Now, I get recognized all the time, taking photos with people and doing the “Good Morning UCLA” greeting with them. It’s been a crazy experience because eight months ago, I would have never imagined I’d be in this position.

AT: Right, it really does show you’re a one-man operation. So you do a lot of the editing and all the networking to get these departments on board. Has it evolved to a point where anyone is really helping you out with it, or are you still spearheading it just as a passion project?

CK: Yeah, I do all of it on my own. I’ve learned a lot for sure about social media and outreach, and it’s been a great experience connecting with a variety of people from the blood brain president to people who work with Gene Block daily to head coaches. I DM them all the time and just student organizations. I’ve been able to meet a ton of people, but it’s really just me at the end of the day. I’ve got great friends who sometimes come with me to give out food or help me with a video. But other than that, I’m doing all the editing, and it’s definitely a considerable workload. It’s really rewarding and fun, and it’s something that I hope is making people’s day a little bit better and making them feel proud to go to UCLA.

AT: Sweet. What does the creative process look like for you when creating content? Do you just reach out to a bunch of people, see who responds, and then go from there? Or do you have a set idea of what you want to do and hammer that until you get the response and eventually set it up?

CK: It depends on the video. About half my videos are from people I’ve reached out to, and half are from people reaching out to me. When I reach out to someone, it’s normally because I have a specific idea for that group. What I’m normally trying to go for is something energetic because people like energy. No one’s going to watch if there’s no energy. Something optimistic and fun that people want to get involved in, and something that could have a call to action – like come to this game, come to this club, join something like that where we’re trying to get people to do something. A big part of the philosophy for Good Morning UCLA is because a lot of it’s events or trying to be positive is that you’ll be happier in life if you’re busier. I know I throw a lot on myself sometimes, but I feel like busy people are normally happy people. Obviously, there are exceptions. It’s important to take a break and relax, but if I can push, you can join this music club and be playing on a Friday night. It’s incredible, super fun. All these people are super happy to be here. Maybe someone sitting in their dorm sees that and says, “Hey, that club looks pretty fun. I want to join that.” And, you know, California has the worst mental health crisis in the nation. We’re at this great school, but people can get overwhelmed with academics. If they’re involved with more out-of-campus or extracurricular activities, they’re going to be happier people. They’re going to feel more fulfilled. They’ll have a community. And that’s why a lot of my videos are with clubs or something positive, something funny, just trying to improve the campus culture a little bit.

AT: Yeah. I’ve noticed looking on Instagram, it seems like a very broad spectrum of guests you have on. You’ve done things for religious holidays, all sorts of national events, and just extending beyond clubs and recreation and activities. It’s really like an all-encompassing thing. That’s really cool.

CK: For sure. That makes it really fun for me too because I’m doing a little bit of everything. What’s interesting is that it’s driven by me. UCLA isn’t telling me what to do. Although we have now done a few videos together, no one’s saying, “This is what we want you to push.” Some people in the comments are like, “Look at this guy,” because I’m a white male talking about Black History Month. I wanted to talk about Black History Month because I thought it was important, not because of some agenda. I’m going to do a Passover video, an Easter video and a Ramadan video. No one’s saying, “This is what we need you to do.” It’s just coming from me, which I think is cool because it’s organic and I’m able to showcase a lot of different campus cultures and what people are up to. Because it’s organic, I think it’s attractive to people. It’s something different every day, including comedy videos and videos with clubs. It’s a variety, so I think it keeps it interesting and helps people come back the next day.

AT: Well, I think that type of authenticity has a way of coming across naturally because as the brand picked up steam, you’ve had more and more people reaching out to you, some of them have offered small paid sponsorships. So it’s picking up steam in that sense. And I think that is a testament to you just being you. Obviously, you’re a freshman right now, you’ve got a few years before you graduate. Do you plan on taking Good Morning UCLA with you until that point, or are you just going to play it by ear?

CK: Yeah, well I do it for fun. I’m a business econ major, so obviously this isn’t going to help me get a job in investment banking or whatever, but I love it. It’s the best extracurricular activity ever because I get to meet so many great people like you and all these great athletes and club leaders and all these people who are at UCLA for a reason, and they’re at the top of their game. And so that part I love, and I’d like to continue to do that to highlight clubs, things that they can do. A lot of my friends are in athletics so I’m super passionate about getting people to go to their games as well because I know how much that means to them. And it’s super fun. In the future, though, I’m not super interested in taking a bunch of small videos where I’m talking about this brand’s the best, I love it, I use this product all the time because I want to keep it authentic. I’m not an informational thing that always is having ads, I’m not PBS, right. I’m doing it for fun. So I’m not going to take these little small offers from companies. I want to do something meaningful. In the future, I would love to be more involved with the school, and maybe a little more formal way, especially athletics. I think I can play a good role in trying to get people to games, give them a little different side of the athletic community. Some schools are really good about this. UCLA does a good job, but when you have coaches, or team managers or whatever running the social media accounts. I apologize. My voice, all the yelling from Good Morning UCLA. But when those people are running the accounts for social media, I think it becomes difficult because their job is coaching or their job is being the team manager, their job might not necessarily be social media, media videos. How do we showcase these players as people, as students? Or something fun. Here’s a little game show idea for the soccer team or whatever. So I think I can come in and do something fun. I do it really fast, 20 minute video. And this is something that I do. I do every day. So I’m getting better and better at it every day. How do I work with this? How do I display this club or sport in a positive light? So I’d like to get a little bit more involved in athletics and more involved specifically with football. So my dad played football in college at Michigan. I played football in high school. I love football, watching it. And I’d love to get involved with them. Obviously that’s our biggest sport, but even still, you look at the Rose Bowl, it’s empty sometimes. How do we get those students that are staying in the dorm out? How do we get them involved in saying, Hey, this is going to be a fun event because that campus community is going to make you feel like, wow, I have a great group here at UCLA. I’m involved, even though there’s so many thousands of people in the Rose Bowl, tens of thousands, you feel like you’re doing something together and have a common mission. So I’d like to be involved with athletics, whether that’s announcing, obviously my voice right now, no one wants to listen to this, but I would love to do announcing for the football team or basketball team. I think that would be really fun and just continue having fun with it. Bigger philanthropic efforts, bigger prize videos. And later down the line, I’d like to get someone to help me at some point to edit videos or something, respond to emails for me, you know, just today I had UCLA PD emailing me for a video, not because I’m getting arrested. The mariachi club, a few different brands, emailing me, the music club emailing me. It’s students, we’re in race cars, a million different avenues. I’m trying to keep track of and what the videos are going to be. So I’ll probably need some help. Maybe not this year, but next year, maybe a little bit of help. And I’m really excited about it though. I just take it day by day. I’ve loved the whole experience. Also, that’s partially because people have responded to it really well. Yeah. And so that’s been a huge honor and I just feel super blessed and lucky to be at UCLA. I can’t imagine being any happier anywhere else.

AT: It’s a great school. Like you said, when academics eventually pick up, you’re still a freshman, might want to outsource that work to someone else, even if it’s just answering emails, that sort of thing, to allow the brand to continue before you get burnt out. So, you said you played football and lacrosse in high school. Your dad played football at Michigan. You want to get involved with athletics. What has stopped you from getting involved with, especially football from the get go?

CK: It’s a little difficult because I’m not officially sponsored by UCLA or knighted by UCLA like ‘he’s with us,’ finding contacts is difficult. I know some guys on the football team and they’re really cool. And you know, they’re only freshmen though. So they only have so much power to be able to talk to a coach. Obviously, that puts them in sometimes an awkward position. Like, who is this guy? Good Morning UCLA followers, but I think I have a bigger reach than how many followers I have because so many different clubs and organizations see it all the time. My videos have millions of views last quarter. It’s only going to continue. I’m only going to grow. My audience is only going to grow and I can showcase football in a unique light. I just think it’s difficult because I’m just reaching out on my Instagram and there’s a million people DMing them. So I get lost in the sea because I don’t have that official thumbs up from the school or verified or whatever. So I think over time, I hope that someone reaches out saying, or UCLA reaches out, like, we love what you’re doing. I showcase a school on an ad for the school every single day. UCLA is great. People here are super happy. There’s a million things for you to do. You know, you can’t pay to have, or you can pay, but it would cost a ton of money for someone to do this. UCLA doesn’t need to pay me. You know, they have UCLA housing. There’s great people and they always have great videos. And all that stuff, but they pay all those people. I do this for free, you know? So it would be nice if I just had a little help. Here’s this guy that you can contact whenever you need to get involved with people. Like if I want to do a video, it’s a huge process that goes into it. It can take three months before I actually meet that person, film

AT: Yeah, and with the networking especially, it seems like because UCLA is such a big school, there’s no centralized body to really reach out to. Different departments will have someone you can reach out to, but even that information is not easily accessible all the time. So there’s a huge, I can imagine there’s a huge amount of legwork involved with that.

CK: Definitely. Cause I sometimes get kicked out of filming places, “Hey, you’re not allowed to film here. Who are you with?” What do I say? “Good Morning UCLA.” They don’t know it. So it can be difficult.

AT: Can they do that? It’s a public campus.

CK: I don’t know. In the libraries, they tell me, no, you’re not allowed to film. There’s been a few different times where like, “Hey, you need to get out of here.” I’m not some random YouTuber. I’m a student just trying to show off the school. So it can be difficult sometimes, but I get it. It’s a big school. I’m a small fish, but I hope over time we can get a better situation worked out.

AT: And if you could, and this is a little bit broad and kind of cliche question, if you could pick the primary positive experience or asset that you have taken personally from Good Morning UCLA, what would it be?

CK: Oh, well, I always say to my sister, “Believe in yourself and everything will work out. Just BIY, believe in yourself.” I feel like it’s the most true sentiment. If you go in saying, “Hey, I can do something kind of cool with Good Morning UCLA.” It will normally happen. Have confidence in yourself, believe in yourself, be optimistic. People will respond to authenticity. So believing in yourself is the takeaway.

AT: And we were talking, off camera as well about some initiatives you’ve started with the homeless population in Westwood. Can you run me through that? What’s the essence of that?

CK: Yeah. Yeah. So right away after I came here for orientation in the summer, I was blown away by the number of homeless. Obviously, California has the most homelessness in the nation. LA in particular is the number one spot of homelessness. Skid Row is terrible. It’s, um, and Westwood has…

AT: Just real quick. Is that true? That is LA has the greatest density of homeless people.

CK: You know, there’s so many statistics that I’m sure you could say it’s New York or San Francisco, like for sure, for the record, I know that LA has the largest number of homelessness. Now, I don’t know if that’s like per square mile, it might be different because New York’s more packed, but yes, LA has the most homelessness in the nation. And we, there’s a lot of homeless people in Westwood as well. And so right away, I want to take care of those people. Obviously there’s only so much I can do, but I feel like as an individual, we all have a responsibility to take care of the less fortunate and there’s no one more needy or less fortunate than someone that lives on the street. You know, when you go out on the weekend or you’re walking back from In-N-Out and you see three people sleeping on the floor, that’s pretty terrible. They’re people, they’re cold, it’s rainy outside. How can we help those people? So at Christmas, right after I finished finals, I went out, got a bunch of swipes from people, and we gave out over a hundred meals to the homeless in Westwood and talk to them. And you realize these are real people who are struggling. They had, you know, a mom and dad that loved them. And through one course or another, they’re out here. Some of them are on drugs. Some of them are down on their luck, but people that need help and I feel really terrible sometimes, you know, when I walk past them, you know, I pray for them and, you know, wish that something could be done. I feel like for something to be done, you have to take action for it. So went out a few weeks ago, gave out food, also asked what they need. And a lot of them were pretty responsive and you talk to them and they’re talking about the beach and they’re talking about there’s multiple UCLA students, or I don’t know, they were UCLA students officially, but they tell me they were UCLA students. One of the guys had a class ring and you know, they’re like, I’ve been in Westwood forever. We’re seeing more and more people out here and we’re thirsty and we need socks. Now there’s great people at UCLA health. They are doing a lot of work to help them out and giving them some medical care and food, but it’s difficult for them using the restroom. No one wants someone that smells like pee to come into their establishment. If they don’t have anywhere to go, then they are going to smell like pee, unfortunately. And so I asked them what they need. They need socks. They need sleeping bags. They need clothing. They need food, water bottles, hygiene kits. And I think over the course of time, I’d like to get more involved, trying to help those people get shelter. One of the guys I was talking to was talking about how he was a renter and then the rent moratorium ended and he’s now on the streets fairly recently. And he seemed like a totally normal guy. That’s now just on the streets. Obviously you don’t know the whole story, but I feel like there’s a great potential for UCLA students to be able to help these people. If we work together. So I’ve reached out to UCLA health, getting some of a medical service. One guy had a rotten tooth. They was really complaining about teeth pain. So we’re helping him where I’m me, uh, I’m trying my best to help him, but I think there’s a lot of opportunities all over campus to be able to help people. I’m going to do a few mental health videos this year to, uh, this quarter highlighting mental health, how important that is. But I feel like there’s no, there’s no shortage of people that we can help.

AT: And how do you suggest other students at UCLA who may be listening to what you’re saying and finds it resonates with them, how do you suggest they get involved with what you’re doing?

CK: Well, I’m going to have a few different initiatives to get people involved this quarter in some philanthropic efforts, which I’m excited about. So definitely stay tuned to that. If you’re interested in getting involved in a casual way, just following, commenting, sharing, all that stuff really helps because the algorithm sees it and then, you know, maybe one day I could get a sponsor that says, Hey, we love what you’re doing. We want to give you this much or whatever to go help these people. That’d be fantastic. You know, if it gets enough views, long term, they’ll reach out to me. I respond to all my DMs. If you really want to get involved, I’d love to have you. I’ll take any help I can get. So it’s an organic process. It’s just me. I’m not in an establishment, but I’ll take whatever help I can get.

AT: Hell yeah. Just shifting over to your academics. So you’re a business econ major. Why did you pick that?

CK: I had a business in high school. I did a lot of landscaping and handyman work. It was really fun to hire a bunch of guys in the summer. I’ll continue doing that this year. Uh, I’m a big fan of mulch, you know, mulching.

AT: No, I don’t know what that is. Oh,

CK: really? Well, you’ll see it on campus. It’s like in the irrigation, there’s those little bark pieces, you know, tree. Yeah. Bark. It’s like on the ground

AT: just kind of cleaning that up. Is that what that is?

CK: No, I, I put it in. So I have a wholesale deal with a nursery in the Bay area that I get these giant truckloads delivered 12 cubic meters, which is pretty big, like a whole, not a small truck, but like a huge moving truck worth of this stuff. They dump it off. 15 guys show up, wheelbarrow spread it all over the yards and stuff like that. It’s really fun. So I learned how to do accounting because of it. And it was a really good experience working outside, learning, um, leadership and stuff like that. So I like business because I’ve been involved in it.

AT: So you had up to 15 people working on this thing at any one time and you started this in high school at what age?

CK: I started in COVID with my lawnmower, uh, which was really cool. So I would go door to door asking people if they need their lawns mowed. And then eventually I moved over to a little bit larger landscaping stuff. And it’s just, you know, high school students and part-time, you know, college kids and stuff. It’s not that big of an operation. It’s kind of, again, me reaching out to people, marketing, getting things going.

AT: Can’t undersell it. That’s still pretty cool for, you know, someone who’s pre-college. I assume you didn’t have any kind of formal business training, not that you need to. I think practical experience, there’s no alternative for that, but. That’s still pretty cool.

CK: Yeah. I learned a lot for sure.

AT: It definitely beats working at some of these, uh, hospitality chains.

CK: Oh, for sure. For sure. I know that the rest of my life, I’m not going to be outside mulching or making fun videos with people every day. So I’m just trying to enjoy it while I can.

AT: And so you think, uh, being a business econ major is going to kind of solidify that base of knowledge and you’re going to go into that sort of field when you graduate?

CK: Yeah. Not the mulching field. I don’t think that, but yeah, I really think, you know, UCLA has a great economics program. I’ve already got to learn from some great professors. I mean, UCLA is the best school ever, in my opinion, might be biased, but I think it’s going to really help me get connections and learn a lot. And I want to use these four years to really expand my skills. So that when I’m ready to enter the job market, I’ll be well prepared.

AT: Graduate school. Is that on the cards?

CK: Yeah, I think so. So got to take it one day at a time, but yeah, sir.

AT: Rough idea for right now.

CK: Exactly.

AT: Would you do that at UCLA?

CK: UCLA Anderson, I know you follow me. If you want to accept me, I’d be thrilled.

AT: So well, USC has a, I shouldn’t say that on this podcast.

CK: Goodness! USC.

AT: I butted heads with, uh, the last guy we had, uh, had on the podcast. Um, Brent Knapp, if you’re listening, I’m sorry, but he kind of shouted out USC’s, uh, business school. So he, uh, had to put him in his place there.

CK: You know, the Trojans are cool. Um, they’re not as great as UCLA, um, but I think some of that friendly rivalry is good. Sometimes people comment on the Instagram, “Oh, you don’t need to praise one school and make the other school bad.” I mean, UCLA stores sell like USC stuff. Like, yeah, UCLA, USC, like pins and stuff like that. I think a rivalry is good. The more like you feel like, “I’m proud to be a Bruin. I’m proud to be a Trojan.” I’m not, but you know, I think that’s good for the school community and school spirit. So. You know, maybe I’d rather be a Bruin for a few more years.

AT: Healthy rivalry.

CK: Yeah, exactly.

AT: Okay, so, million dollar question, I suppose, in one sense. Let’s go. If another student at UCLA, anyone in the student, faculty, alumni cohort, has an idea, they don’t know how to actualize it, how do you suggest they go about it? For a video or for any club, it can be a mulching business. It can be social media brand for your university. It can be a homeless helping the homeless initiative. It can be a supply chain business. How do, how do you suggest people go about actualizing their ambitions instead of just kind of being a little bit stagnant and succumbing to the paralysis of indecision?

CK: Well, sometimes you got to just make a decision, go for it. So you can’t wait around forever. Um, cause nothing’s ever going to be perfect. The first time you do it, you know, I looked back at some of my old videos and go, “Oh, you know, not that what, what was I doing,” but I’ve definitely learned a lot experience. So you just got to get started. I think having a great team of people, I don’t have a team, but I, I do have a great team of friends, you know, people that I can talk to, work things over with. Having a group of people to work with is something really special. So if you were trying to start a club, start with eight people, you know, you can find eight people on your dorm floor and get started that way, but just go for it because there’s so many opportunities at UCLA, 30,000 undergraduates, someone else is going to have the same interest as you. So just go for it.

AT: Just kind of take the step, do the thing.

CK: Exactly.

AT: Do you think there’s an issue with people’s relationship with failure in our sort of demographic?

CK: Yeah, I think. People are a little scared of making the decision, making an effort to go for something, because if you fail, people think it can look really bad for them. But I’m yelling on campus all the time. People see me and, you know, people laugh and stuff like that, or I get hate comments or whatever I do, particularly on TikTok. So there’s a big difference between Instagram, the community, you know, people, I feel like watch Instagram. Um, for the people they follow and the reels and stuff like that, but less for random for you page stuff. And so I like 6, 000 plus followers on Instagram. But if you go to TikTok, I like 200. And particularly on TikTok, people are not fond of me, you know, people saying stuff about my family, like, “Who is this guy? He sucks.” And like, you know, some more mean stuff like that, but I don’t want to say, but when you don’t see that, “Oh, this guy’s got other followers, like people, someone must like these videos, you know?” So people will hate on me for that, but you’re going to get hate no matter what you do, if you put yourself out there. So sometimes you just got to take it and run with it.

AT: And I think that’s just indicative of the state of affairs on TikTok as well.

CK: Yeah. Yeah. I actually don’t post that much on TikTok. Because I, number one, who knows what happens with TikTok being sold and all that stuff. But they also don’t allow me to post some of the videos because I have a song in the background or whatever. And it’s just a lot of work for me to have to go back and take out the song and goodness.

AT: Charlie Kratus, this has been super interesting. I really appreciate you coming here.

CK: Thank you. This has been awesome, Aidan.

AT: Good Morning UCLA is a super cool idea, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

CK: Thank you, Aidan. I can’t wait to see where all this podcast stuff goes. Really exciting that we have this now, I know. I’m going to be listening to every episode from now on, so thank you, Aidan.

AT: Hell yeah. If you enjoyed that interview with Charlie, then you may want to consider heading over to Daily Bruin Podcasts on Spotify for a selection of interviews and conversations with some of the most amazing and inspiring Bruins out there.

 


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