It’s well-known how tough it is to get your foot in the door when it comes to the entertainment industry. But one particular woman named Natalie Duran hasn’t only gotten her foot in the door, she’s just recently kicked it wide open.
What started as a personal Youtube channel to document her teenage shenanigans later exploded into success, bringing 25-year old Natalie to the famous Warped Wall of the American Ninja Warrior course. With over 108,000 subscribers, Natalie Duran’s Youtube channel has become a home for rock climbers, Filipinos, and Ninja Warrior fans alike. Her channel is filled with clips of her climbing adventures, comedy segments and glimpses of her everyday life.
Blending her love for climbing and vlogging with a twist of her own unique humor, Natalie’s unforgettable personality has allowed her to make a living from her passions. Her social media influence is all over the place – she’s worked with celebrities like Richard Marx and Ashton Kutcher and has also been featured in ads for Tradesy, Mad Rock Climbing, and much more.
Faced with the new challenge of an upcoming job lay-off, Natalie has decided to change career paths, leaving her job as a clinical researcher to pursue her budding career in the sports and entertainment industry with force. Keep reading to see her game plan for the future.
I’m sure you didn’t expect for rock climbing to give you the opportunities you’ve landed today. When and how did all of your professional opportunities start coming forward?
I’ve been climbing for 9 years. 3 years into it, I got exponentially good and then sought out sponsorships and started competing in every single competition I could get into. What also made the transition easy was having a successful YouTube channel at the time that just paralleled really well. It was good for getting sponsors because while I was a good climber, but I wasn’t the best in the whole nation. Having a following really helped bump me up higher than a lot of the top climbers out there, though.
I’ve dabbled in rock climbing, so I know how expensive this hobby can be. I know you’re extremely smart with your money, so how were you able to comfortably fund your passion?
Even though my parents are really supportive, they’re still really big with the “you-need-to-save-your-money-and-not-splurge” kinda thing. When I was in grade school, I would take one chunk of my lunch money – I think I would get either $3 or $4 every day for lunch. I would save like $1 or $2 and then just ask people for their leftovers, that’s how I would feed myself. I would always save $1 a day, because at the end of the year you’d have $365, and as a kid, that’s a lot of money. So I’ve always had the saving mentality… but climbing got expensive. Gym memberships can be like $50 a month, not including the shoes and gear that you have to get. So, that’s when I really sought out sponsorships because they can cover your essentials like gym memberships and shoes. Then you just have to do what you have to do!
You transitioned from rock climbing to becoming a Ninja Warrior. How did having a background in rock climbing help you land consecutive opportunities with the TV show?
I think rock climbers have the best advantage in jumping into the world of Ninja Warrior because a lot of it is upper body strength. Parkour athletes do really well also, but I think it’s the mentality of not being afraid of heights and having upper body strength and awareness of your body and physical space helps out a lot in Ninja Warrior.
We’re gonna go a little backward – who is NDTitanLady, and what is this person all about?
NDTitanLady was a culmination that I never knew people would watch, because it was really just videos of me and my friends doing silly things in the beginning and making fun of our parents. I enjoyed putting together clips for sharing with my friends who were in the videos. But then once social media became a bigger thing, people just watched us and it blew up to something I never knew could happen.
I think you can attribute a lot of your follower traffic from your YouTube popularity. How you were able to use YouTube to market yourself?
I never knew I could use the platform for more than just a source of entertainment. When I first got a call from the guy who is now my manager, he was like, “you could make money out of this!” I was like, “shut up! No I can’t! You’re just a scammer trying to scam me.” That was the time I was still young and in high school and so I told him, “you need to talk to my parents if this is serious.” Then he had a phone call with my parents, and it was actually a legitimate thing. So it’s nice to convey my personality through my videos, because I am the writer, director, editor, actor, post-production, everything.
My segway into the entertainment industry is a bit different than most people. Most people want to go into it as an actor, but the way I’m busting in is that I’m just representing myself. My personality sells, so I don’t have to act or pretend to be anyone I’m not. I just have to be myself.
Back in high school I recall that you were able to get monthly checks from YouTubing. How were you able to make that income increase each month, and what advice can you recommend for others?
I actually just looked at it today! Even now, I remember, I’ve been in hiatus for 7 years, from posting and I still get Google checks! But, it definitely wasn’t as significant as it was when I was posting on a weekly basis. I think it’s just consistency. Staying consistent in your art, especially when you have a social media following, is very important – it’s the key to success.
I couldn’t help but notice the boxes filled with Rise Bars in your pantry, courtesy of your sponsorship with them. How do you get sponsors?
They were actually my greatest sponsorship! Even though rock climbing is my main sport and they’re a food company, they’re the most responsive and financially helpful, and they really take my input to heart. It was my first photo shoot I ever had with Mad Rock Climbing, my first climbing sponsor… one of the photographers Dylan Gordon shot me and really liked my personality. He thought I could pose really well for wilderness and action shots, which is a modeling style on its own. He did some work with Rise Bar when they started to grow, and they wanted to market more for social media and everything. So he referenced me, and I was their one consistent athlete throughout all these years when they started their ambassador program.
You’re pretty big in American Ninja Warrior and Team Ninja Warrior now! How did you start out with both TV series?
It still goes back to YouTube and how I grew my following. So in 2013, the producers actually found my phone number – I don’t know how they did – but they called me and were like, “hey, we’re the producers of American Ninja Warrior, have you heard of the show?” I was like, “…no?” So they had to describe the show to me. This was the first year it got bought from G4 to NBC Network, so they wanted a different direction with casting. They wanted more women to get on the show because they knew girls were stronger! This was around the time where female strength was just starting to get more and more popular. So the producers were like, “we saw your videos on YouTube, we think you have a great personality, and you’re really strong! You should come and play.” I was like, “I don’t do parkour!” but they were like, “it’s okay, you’ll have fun.” So I got to train for 3 weeks before we actually taped the whole thing. I got past the first obstacle and then fell in the second one, so I did horrible. But failing in that moment kind of really got that deeper drive in me to do even better. That’s why I took a 3-year hiatus. I’d been training to have a really good comeback. When I was asked to be on the first season of Team Ninja Warrior, I got to meet all the ninjas and train with them. I think that was the thing where I found it in me to reapply for the show. This is my comeback year, and I did really well.
“Golden Hearts” was your team that competed in Team Ninja Warrior during season 1. How did you guys form?
For Team Ninja Warrior, the producers take the all-stars and put the teams together. Then they have a team captain and it’s up to the producer’s discretion if they let team captains can choose who they want, but it’s 2 guys and 1 girl. My teammates Neil and Grant knew each other, and they got along really well. But Neil – his nickname is “Crazy Craver” – is just silly, insane, has a loud personality. I don’t know how he found me, but he said he followed my YouTube and Instagram and thought I’d be a really good fit for his team – even though I never met him or trained with him! So he took a leap of faith with me to be a part of the team for the sole reason of liking my personality and always wanting to have fun. Hopefully my athletic ability followed through. It kinda happened naturally, and we turned out to be one of the funnest teams on the show from the viewers and the producers’ perspective.
Earlier this year you had an ankle injury which you were advised by your doctor to rest. Ironically, you seem to be training a lot more. What’s the reasoning for this?
Hey, okay! He said, “stay off your foot.” I technically stayed off my foot, but, yeah. I was definitely training a lot more. I think it’s the motivation that drives me internally. It’s like proving a point. When I sprained my ankle, we had a red carpet screening for the final episode of the season, and I made it a point to smash my feet into Louboutins and walk the red carpet with crutches just so I could prove a point that you don’t have to let injuries stop you from doing anything. So it was that drive that made me train more purposely in my boot. People would come up to me and say, “that’s really dope and inspiring.” That means they have no excuses to stop training in the middle of their session just because it hurts.
I made it a point to smash my feet into Louboutins and walk the red carpet with crutches just so I could prove a point that you don’t have to let injuries stop you from doing anything.
You’ve had a LOT of celebrity run-ins. Tell us about your most memorable celebrity moment.
There’s been a lot lately! I filmed Celebrity Apprentice this year. I’m not one of the main people, but Matt Iseman is, and he’s the host of Ninja Warrior, so he invited me. He was like, “Come to the SLS Hotel tomorrow at 11AM.” I was like, “Okay, that’s kinda weird, why?” he was like, “just come. You won’t regret it. Winky face!” I thought he was trying to game on me! So I showed up, and nobody would tell me anything. I was getting checked in – he told me it was ladies’ lunch attire – so I stood in front of the double-doors and then they opened up, and there was Arnold Schwarzenegger standing there was a plate of mimosas, and he was like, “Welcome to spa day.” I was like, “the fuck?” And Tyra Banks was over there welcoming you in with a cupcake, and Boy George has eyeliner in his hand and was like, “let me fix your eyeliner!” It blew my mind, and I saw Matt behind the curtains giving me a thumbs up, and I’m like, “this is insane!” While they’re trying to film people’s reactions. That was my favorite celebrity run-in, because I had no idea what was going on.
Before you got more involved with Ninja Warrior, you started party crashing the Golden Globes, Oscars and the Emmys. Now you’re actually getting invitations to these parties! Tell us more about you transitioned from party-crasher to honorable guest.
When I first started to sneak into these Hollywood parties, it was kinda just like a a challenge to see how far I can get. I don’t get embarrassed easily… if security tried to yell at me, I just tried to smile and talk it off, and for the most part that worked. I just started sneaking into things, and bragged about it afterwards with video clips of me climbing stuff at the Golden Globes. Then it actually became my story on Ninja Warrior. They highlighted it and were super psyched about it. I always thought that people would be like, “ jeez, you’re so unclassy.” But now people actually want me to go to their parties and are like, “by the way, we have a benefit party today. We would like you to come and climb some stuff, wink wink!” I think a lot of these people just want personalities at these parties to make them more exciting.
You’re one of the few who can spend frugally without depriving yourself. How were you able to pay off your student loans while funding your hobbies and lifestyle?
I had a lot of student loans from my undergraduate days, and that was around $36,000 or something like that. People always say you’re going to pay your student loans for the rest of your life. I’m the kind of person that does not like dealing with debt. Even though it may help build your credit, I just want to get rid of any debt that I have. I was supposed to pay off my student loans in the year 2040, but I wanted to pay it off as soon as possible. When I had an acting gig or a commercial gig, I would always cash the check and immediately use half of that towards my student loans and I wouldn’t think about it. The rest of it, I saved at least 10% of that and the rest was my spending money for whatever I wanted. I continued to do that, and in four years, slowly but surely, I got to pay off all my student loans. It blows my mind because it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t realize it would be paid off so quick. I could have done monthly payments, but I would pay them in big chunks instead, and it made a big difference.
I think what people don’t know is, with student loans you have different APRs. You can refinance and get a lower rate, but what I would do is just pay off the highest one. You have to call them and pay for it with a credit card because you can’t pay with a credit card online. You have to tell them that you want to pay for the highest APR completely of with a credit card, and that’s how you dwindle it down. In reality, if you do the regular payment plan, you’re not really getting anywhere. You really will be paying it off for the rest of your life because you’re just paying all this interest.
In four years, slowly but surely, I got to pay off all my student loans. It blows my mind because it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t realize it would be paid off so quick.
Also, something I do only if I know I have the money to: I’ll pay something off with a credit card, and then just pay that statement off when it shows in the bill, so I can get cash back with my card.
You went to college to study neuroscience, wanted to be an OB/GYN, and now you’re a clinical researcher for UCLA. Are you intending on continuing this career path, or do you have other plans for yourself?
Being a first-generation American, our parents sacrificed a lot, and continue to sacrifice a lot for us to be successful. But their idea of being successful is to become a doctor, become a lawyer – textbook ways you know will make a lot of money. So I’ve always had a stark, intense, educational background ever since I was a little kid. Even though I did YouTubing, that was kind of my job while I went through college. Once I graduated college, I had to find a job and then reality struck me that I had to be serious. People Google these days, and if they see I’m a crazy YouTuber, they’re not gonna hire me. Luckily, I had a boss who took a chance on me and liked the fact that I was creative. He thought he could harness that into marketing and clinical research for the center, and it worked out. But, I’m getting laid off in January because funding ran out. It was depressing at first, because the security of having a normal paycheck and benefits is gonna be eliminated, but I think I’ve been responsible in saving and doing side jobs like selling on Tradesy for extra pocket change. That helped me realize it’s gonna be okay. Now I can finally express myself creatively and create more content on YouTube again. I also want to try acting and do commercial gigs in LA in the meantime. It’s gonna be a nerve-wrecking transition, but I’m super psyched now!
Natalie Duran continues to rapidly expand her social media influence through her Youtube channel and numerous television segments. She can be found training at Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach, where she climbs high on ropes and causes mayhem.
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