YouTube has not only democratised stardom, it has also turned hidden talent into a business proposition. Six years after SANAM hit YouTube and made it, a variety of talented ‘YouTubepreneurs’ have found fame and money online by uploading their videos. With YouTube they have turned their diverse passions—comedy, fashion, travel, cooking, technology, etc.—into money-making enterprises. The content creation wave on YouTube till a few years ago was more about music and stand-up comedy, which saw the rise of the likes of All India Bakchod and. However, YouTube has now transitioned to a more diverse platform where one can attain stardom—and make money—through something as mundane as tuition tips and gadget reviews.
The booming business of viewing
India’s YouTubepreneurs ride on a rising tide of viewership powered by cheap data and smartphones reaching even distant villages. In the last few years, India has emerged as an incredibly dynamic content and user market for YouTube, according to Satya Raghavan, head of entertainment, YouTube India. “We now have more than 300 channels with over a million subscribers, from just sixteen such channels in 2014. At the beginning of 2016, YouTube only had two creator channels with one million subscribers and today there are 133 such independent creators who contribute across genres, including music, food, beauty, technology and automobiles,’ he says.
Citing App Annie data from September 2017, Raghavan says that over 225 million Indian smartphone users are using YouTube every month. Today, India is one of the fastest-growing market for YouTube with daily active viewers growing at 100% year on year. When such a large number of people come online to view videos, they create big opportunities for advertisers—and also for the YouTubepreneurs who get money for ads displayed on their channels.
A startup that morphed into a channel
An engineering graduate, Ranveer Allahbadia knew from the start that he would become an entrepreneur. A fitness freak, he planned to launch a start-up which would be an ‘Uber for fitness/yoga coaches’. When he approached investors, one of them suggested social media as a great way to market his product. That was when Allahbadia started his YouTube channel called BeerBiceps with the initial aim to gain an online following and then market his mobile app to them. BeerBiceps now has 1.4 million subscribers. “Once I started uploading videos on YouTube I figured that it pays you! And I was also enjoying the process of video content creation,” he says. Slowly, YouTube became business for him. He now runs one more channel in Hindi.
Since December 2014 when Allahbadia launched his first channel, his content has diversified. He started off as a fitness and cooking channel as both were his passions. Now his channels also produce content on men’s grooming and fashion, life coaching and motivation. “I figured that if you treat the channel like you would treat a startup, you can definitely make good money in the long term. The Uber idea was shelved, and YouTube became my main focus,” he says.
Turning passion into business
You don’t have to sing, dance or crack jokes today to have a fan following on YouTube. Kabita Singh turned a YouTube star by telling people how to cook. She shifted to US after her marriage a few years ago, and then back to India with her husband in 2014. She had worked as a dealer at Microsec Capital, a liability desk officer at ICICI Bank and a relationship manager at IL&FS. However, once her children started school, she did not want to return to office jobs. She decided to pursue her passion for cooking. While in the US, she used to watch food channels on YouTube. “I realised that there is a niche within the food category on YouTube in which I can post videos,” she says.
Her channel ‘Kabita’s Kitchen’ now has 3.3 million subscribers and more than 500 million views. “The idea was to make videos on recipes that show even minute details of cooking and could be prepared with the ingredients which are easily available at home or grocery store next door,’ she says. The motto of her channel is the recipes should be so simple that viewers should believe everyone can cook.
Varun Vagish, who worked as a journalist, newsreader, PR professional and mass communication lecturer, gave in to his wander lust and stepped away from conventional jobs in August 2017 when he set up his channel Mountain Trekker. YouTube has kept him afloat. Mountain Trekker has more than 28 million views and 3,47,000 subscribers.
Though there is a glut of travel channels on YouTube, what worked for Vagish was his idea of travelling cheap. ‘I travel to different parts of the world where I stay and eat with the locals. Doing that not only keeps my budget very low but also gives me an authentic experience,’ he says. Based on his real-time experiences, he shares tips and tricks on his channel to tell people how to travel in the most economical way.
Scherezade Shroff left her modelling career for YouTube as she got more into the platform and realised that this was what she enjoyed the most. Just like her designer sister Anaita Shroff Adajania, the fashion director for Vogue India magazine, she too is a fashion freak. She has three channels—one in her own name with 2,49,000 subscribers; ‘Coupling’ with her husband with 90,000 subscribers; and a travel channel, GottaDoIndia, with 1,94,000 subscribers. Her content varies fromto DIYs and hauls. ‘YouTube is flexible. One can work on their own pace and be creative,” she says.
How much money can you make on YouTube?
Varun Vagish says growing penetration of smartphones indeed makes YouTube a viable business opportunity. ‘The reach of the internet to the common man in India has recently increased after the advent of cheap data tariffs. This has had a very positive effect on YouTube. People are consuming data on videos like never before,’ he says.
Though a lot of people are making money on YouTube, it’s not an easy task and certainly not a reliable source—at least in the beginning. But if you cross a threshold, money is not a problem. The payment YouTubpreneurs receive varies from month to month. ‘YouTube monetisation is subject to a lot of things. You need to own the copyrights to the content and music in your video. It depends on where people are watching from and how long they watch. It’s not a fixed fee for a certain number of views,’ explains Scherezade.
Raghavan of YouTube says that a content creator needs to cross 4,000 hours of watchtime within 12 months and have at least 1,000 subscrib
ers to become eligible to earn revenue from their channels throughAdsense. ‘YouTube works on a revenue-sharing model through Google Adsense. Creators make money on YouTube through advertising. Once they upload a video on YouTube and tell us through the platform to show ads on their videos, ads start to run on their content, and they get the majority share of the advertising revenues,’ he says.
Allahbadia of BeerBiceps says money was pretty slow to come initially. ‘I’m not allowed to reveal figures but, say, about a year into running the channel (uploading videos twice a week for a year), I started getting about Rs 10,000 a month. Even now with 1.3 million subscribers, the earnings purely out of YouTube views are not all that high. The big money comes from brand associations,’ he says. Last year, he launched his marketing company, Monk-E, which has become another revenue source for him.
The number of YouTube views determine one’s popularity which in turn helps a YouTuber seal a deal with brands of their choice. ‘The primary way of making money on YouTube is monetisation of videos. Secondary sources include brand integration in videos, brand promotions, brand endorsement, merchandise and affiliate marketing,’ says Kabita Singh.
Keshav Dhanraj of SANAM band says that money earned on YouTube is purely through the advertisements that run before or in the middle of their videos. ‘We might also do brand deals with brands we believe in. For example, we had partnered with eBay for a music video of ‘Lakshya’ that was part of their campaign #NoWorldWithoutGirls,” he says.
What does it take to become a YouTubepreneur?
Running a channel on YouTube might require a team, office, infrastructure and investment—or actually nothing except your smartphone. Over time Allahbadia of BeerBiceps has assembled a team which includes an in-house videographer and editors. The major investment in his channels is the equipment. However, Scherezade still does all the work by herself, from shooting to editing videos. Apart from investing in new equipment like vlogging camera, mic and camera stand, she bought clothes and raw materials for certain types of content such as hauls and DIYs. Kabita Singh does most of the work by herself but her husband helps her with the technical bits. She shoots her videos in her home kitchen for it is authentic and has stronger connect with the viewer. She uploads three videos a week—on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She connects with viewers through comments and social media to incorporate their feedback in her future content.have to be very consistent with their uploads. If they fail in that, their numbers drop instantly due to heavy competition. And that is the least any YouTuber would want because the numbers decide the money.
Tips for the beginners
For those who want to enter the YouTube business and make money, there is one simple tip from successful YouTubpreneurs — don’t think of money when starting out; if you are successful, money will follow.
‘I know it’s fascinating to see people having so many followers and being famous on YouTube. However, one shouldn’t start a YouTube channel just to earn money and fame. If you enjoy travelling and sharing the experience with others by making videos regularly, then you should definitely go for it. But, if you love travelling and do not enjoy making videos, then it will become just like a usual boring job,’ says Varun Vagish.
It took a year for Scherezade to get her first brand deal since her channel debut in November 2013, and that was when very few people were on YouTube. But now with a large number of youngsters creating their own channels and wanting to earn money, it’s nearly impossible to get your first cheque soon after starting, unless the video gets crazily viral. ‘What people lack today is that they just want to earn money straightaway. It doesn’t work like this,’ she says.
Venky S of SANAM band says you must know what you want to say before making a channel and don’t worry about the money or fame. ‘DIY is the way to go. So pick up skills to make a YouTube video. You may have dreams, but the key is to be yourself and be smart. Watch people who get their content right and pick up on what can work for you. Keep your eyes and ears open and understand who your audience is. Build your content based on that.’
The mantra for making it big on YouTube is “content, passion and consistency”, according to Raghavan of YouTube. ‘Once the creators start gaining more and more subscribers, they can make the most of their popularity and talent by engaging with several renowned brands which further adds on to their income,’ he says.
When SANAM launched their YouTube channel, they too were not thinking of money but viewers. Today, they need not think of money because a large number of viewers have ensured that money keeps coming in.