Romeo Lacoste: From Tattoos To YouTube
Romeo Lacoste is a tattoo artist, an entrepreneur and an influencer. With almost two million followers on Instagram, he one of the biggest tattoo artists on social media. He started working with YouTubers, early on, and it paid off in a major way. It led to him becoming the “go to” tattoo artist for influencers and helped him kick off his own successful YouTube channel.
We sat down and talked about his incredible rise to a success: How he went from sleeping in his car to working with some of the biggest entertainers in the world, owning a successful business and achieving social media fame.
Tom Ward: You were always drawing cartoons as a kid, and that’s how you got your start.
Romeo Lacoste: Yeah, I used to draw all the time and what happened was my Mom wanted me to become an architect. She wanted me to do something art related but she didn’t want me to become a tattoo artist.
Ward: She wanted stability for you.
Lacoste: There was that but my family was Christian, so the idea of becoming a tattoo artist was like…
Ward: The Devil’s work?
Lacoste: Yeah. Laughs. So, I was 17 and thinking about what I wanted to do. And I was super involved in the music scene, and going to concerts and listening to bands like Good Charlotte, and I was just like, “That (tattooing) seems awesome!” It involved the whole scene of what I was into. And I just dove headfirst into becoming a tattoo artist. I did everything that you weren’t supposed to do. I bought a kit off eBay and tattooed my leg. And now I’m getting it all lasered off! Laughs. Bad idea. But I eventually got an internship at a tattoo shop.
Ward: So how did the internship work? Were you paid?
Ward: So, how were you paying the bills? What was the living situation?
Lacoste: I was 18 or 19. I was couch surfing. I had a 1987 beat up Volvo. I was crashing in between my car and random people’s couches. I was working two jobs and the internship.
Ward: What were the jobs?
Lacoste: I was doing construction and landscaping at the same time. I would do construction from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then just go to the tattoo shop and intern until 10 or 11 p.m. And I would alternate between that and landscaping. It was madness. I wanted it so bad. I just knew that this was what I was meant to do. But people see me on social media, with millions of followers, and they always say, “You’re lucky. You had it easy.” But the odds were so against me.
I got my first internship, and did that for a whole year, and they ended up letting me go. And I had to go back to working a regular job and basically had to start all over. I wasted a whole year. So, after another year and a half, I got another internship and things slowly started picking up.
Ward: How many tattoo shops did you have to contact to get that second internship? It took you 40 to get the first one, so how many did it take to get the second one?
Lacoste: There were only so many tattoo shops in the town, so I just went back to the same 40! Laughs. But it’s crazy. I literally went from living in my car, and getting turned down from every tattoo shop in town and almost giving up, to where I am now.
Ward: Tattooing people like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
Lacoste: And having millions of followers and owning my own business. It goes to show that you should never give up. You might be down, you might be depressed, but it doesn’t matter. As long as your willpower is strong, you can make a way for it.
Ward: So how’d you end up in California?
Lacoste: So, I finished my internship, and saved some money, and drove from Florida to California. I stayed in a hotel in San Diego. And I started to get on social media and looked for celebrities, or people with large followings, and hit them up. I’d tattoo them for free, in exchange for a shout out. Then, I started building up my Instagram.
Ward: Was it tougher because you were in San Diego? There aren’t a lot of celebrities down there.
Lacoste: When I was in San Diego, I’d take the Amtrak to LA twice a week. I’d go up to LA after work and then I’d take the train back, in the middle of the night, and go to work in the morning. I was doing the social media thing early on.
Ward: And now you’re one of the biggest tattoo artists on social media.
Lacoste: Yeah. I’ve got about two million followers on Instagram, plus about one million on YouTube. It feels great!
Ward: But it didn’t happen overnight.
Lacoste: Yeah, a lot of people look at me and think I’m lucky but they don’t realize that I’ve been grinding at this for six years.
Ward: How was the growth? Was it slow?
Lacoste: Every year it doubled. So, the first year I had 10,000 followers. And the second year I had 20,000-50,000 followers. And it would just double or triple every year. And then I got involved with the YouTubers and that’s when things really changed.
Ward: Who were your first big YouTubers?
Lacoste: Kian Lawley and JC Calyn. They hit me up randomly on Twitter. I was like, “What are YouTubers?” This was before it was a thing. I was like, “Who is this kid with 800,000 followers?” His activity was through the roof. I was like, “I don’t know who he is, but I’ve got to tattoo him.”
Ward: What did that do for you?
Lacoste: It’s crazy the way things happen. I got involved with the YouTubers at the perfect time. They all started turning 18 at the same time. I started with one and they started telling all their friends. So, I became the “go to” guy for the YouTubers.
Ward: And they can blow up someone’s social media.
Lacoste: YouTubers have the most powerful social media engagement of any celebrity. My Instagram started going through the roof. Every time I would tattoo one of them, I’d get 10,000 to 20,000 followers.
Ward: All that time, you were working at that little tattoo shop in Culver City?
Lacoste: That’s how this tattoo shop, The California Dream, came about. I started realizing that I had something going on here. There was no one tattooing YouTubers. There was no one really known for tattooing celebrities. There was no one out there with personality. I had something that no one else could replicate. I started networking and hitting up YouTubers and rappers. I’d trade tattoos for promo. And I was slowly building up my Instagram. And the whole time I was doing all of this, the tattoo shop was giving me a hard time. Like, when I tattooed Ariana Grande, they were mad because she was there after hours. They didn’t even know who she was.
Ward: Laughs. Who doesn’t know who Ariana Grande is?
Lacoste: They were just older, grumpy dudes. They actually got mad and told me, “You’re not really good fit for the shop.” So, they let me go. I just brought Ariana Grande to their shop and they fired me!
Ward: Laughs. Was that the greatest high and then the biggest low? Like, you were on a high from tattooing her, but then you didn’t have a job.
Lacoste: I was just confused. But I couldn’t slow down. I have “No Brakes” tattooed on me. I was like, “I’m going to open a private studio and bring all the celebrities there. And I’ll have a place to shoot YouTube videos. I’m going to have a place to bring people 24 hours a day.”
Ward: At the same time you were developing your style. There are a ton of celebrity tattoo artists out there, but you do micro tattoos.
Lacoste: Yeah, it’s really blown up. I do them everywhere. I’ve been doing a lot on fingers. It’s awesome to be finally known for something. I found a niche that no one else can replicate. Once I started doing the micro tattoos and YouTube, I became who I am today. From sleeping in my car, crashing on people’s couches [and] having $10 in my wallet to now having my own business and having employees that work for me—It’s been a wild ride and an amazing journey.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.