In this series, YouTube Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular YouTube channels to find out the secrets of their success.
When Deepica Mutyala’s second YouTube video went viral in 2015 -- a beauty tutorial about how to hide under-eye dark circles with red lipstick -- the Today Show contacted her and asked her to do an on-air segment. That day, she quit her job at Birchbox, but she didn’t tell her parents, who are Indian immigrants.
Given her background, she says always felt pressured to pursue medicine, law, engineering or business. She’d selected the latter, but gravitated toward beauty. Since she was 16, she had dreamt of one day developing and selling beauty products for South Asian women. She’d even made it a case study project in college at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied business administration and marketing.
When Mutyala, then 25, went home to Texas for a visit shortly after her spot on national TV, her father told her he’d found out about her career decision. Instead of expressing disappointment, he handed her a check to help her get her YouTube career off the ground.
“He just wanted to show me that he supported me,” Mutyala, now 28, tells Entrepreneur. “I didn’t take the check, but that gave me a mental greenlight that I could do this.”
For the past three years, Mutyala has been building her brand as a YouTube personality and beauty expert full time. Although she never even watched beauty tutorials on YouTube before she started posting her own, her channel now has 151,987 subscribers, and the red lipstick video alone has nearly 10.5 million views. Initially, she’d thought she would be too late to the YouTube game, starting in 2015. But she found her niche as a brown-skinned woman in the beauty space.
Mutyala admits that she’s not a makeup artist by trade, and there are other girls who look like her out there doing better tutorials. In May 2017, after struggling for a while to keep up, she took a step back and reevaluated what drove her to start posting videos in the first place. She posted her first vlog that summer, in which she talked about the mental health challenges and career pressures she’d been facing, despite the taboo of these subjects in her family’s culture. She didn’t wear makeup for the video. At the end, she announced she was leaving New York after five years and moving to L.A.
Her audience responded well, and it led her to realize that speaking to her followers as friends and sharing her vulnerabilities could be a new way to set herself apart on YouTube while being more genuine.
“I go back and remind myself, what niche are you serving?” Mutyala says. “What is the message to tell the world that nobody else is?”
In February 2018, Mutyala launched Tinted, an online platform where people whose skin tones “fall into ‘all the shades in between’” can find a community and tell stories. But YouTube remains her main focus, as well as the springboard for her various projects and partnerships. Read on to discover what she’s learned about how to succeed on YouTube.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. How did you get your start with YouTube?
I had a college internship at L'Oreal, and during that time, I saw Michelle Phan starting off. I remember thinking, “Wow, that is so something I could do,” and I wanted to explore the idea, but I had this mental block that I, as a South Asian woman, was not supposed to go and be a YouTuber. If I wasn't going to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, then I had to be on the business side of the beauty industry.
I remember thinking there was nobody who looked like me on YouTube. YouTube was growing to billions and billions of views, India has more than a billion people and the beauty industry is worth billions of dollars. But there was no connect between those three different verticals.
I decided to get out of my own head and just start. In January of 2015, I picked up my phone, held it vertically instead of horizontally, which is terrible production, and shot a video using red lipstick under my eyes to hide dark circles. It got picked up by BuzzFeed. When it got to 10,000 views, I freaked. Once it hit 100,000, I had this moment of like, “Oh my God, it's going to hit a million.” And now it has 10 million views. It's pretty crazy.
When the video hit 4 million views on YouTube, I got an email from the Today show to come on and do a segment. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to be the next Hoda, this is incredible!” I quit my job that day -- I kind of took it as a sign that I could do this full time. I could take that 15 minutes of fame and turn it into my dream career.
2. How much of your time do you spend on a video and what does that entail?
It definitely varies, depending on if it's a vlog vs. a tutorial. What used to make it take up so much time was the prepping -- actually getting things set up. I'm not a production person. I don't know what I'm doing! It's not my thing. And so, I would find myself feeling so defeated because of that. If I allocated three hours to filming, there were periods where I even went to the YouTube Space because I was like, "I don't have good lighting. I live in a New York City dungeon," and it was so dark in the concrete jungle. But I found myself getting more frustrated with that, because the complication of all the equipment just took away from the actual content itself.
Editing took me, I’m not even kidding, 12 hours, minimum. I got smarter about how I was taking the footage, but generally speaking, it took me too long. It goes back to a mental health thing. At least with the filming part, there are some parts of it that feel a little more extrovert friendly. But I would go crazy and get so down on just sitting there and staring at a computer, editing, that I was like, “This isn’t worth it.” Now that I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I can afford to have an editor help do it, I recognize that to be able to scale and grow your business, and do it in a healthy way, you have to outsource the things that aren’t your strengths.
The tutorial itself is like, an hour. But it’s all of the prep around it that makes it go into multiple hours. Now that I’ve moved to L.A., I have enough space where it’s just permanently set up, and I can focus on the product itself. Now, in general, I always allocate three hours per video for filming, getting it all set up and dumping the footage. And of course, vlogs are very different, because gathering the footage could take a week.
There are definitely days when I bulk film. When I don’t have to be ready, I’m so not ready. It feels so nice to not have makeup on, because I have to have it on so often. The ideal scenario is that I film a couple of videos at once. With travel and other meetings that happen, it just becomes tough.
3. What's your content strategy? How do you decide what and when to post?
Every month, I always do a monthly favorites, because it's the best way for me to, all at once, share some of my favorite product pics with my followers in a really honest way, where I'm not just trying to throw things in each month into each video.
As far as the other videos, I don't really have a regimented sort of thing. I am trying to be more creative with my videos now more than ever, and not feeling like I have to do it a specific certain way. I always have at least one beauty tutorial. I got a lot of advice from people that I should get more regimented. The only thing is I now do two videos a week, no matter what. I generally do every Thursday and Sunday. But if I don't do it on Thursday and I do on Friday, it's because I knew the video would be better. I don't sweat it as much anymore. I think doing it consistently, as far as doing two a week, is more important than sticking to, “I have to do XYZ thing.”
But that's me personally. I know other people feel like they have to do a series of like, every Monday they do this, every Tuesday they do this. When I started to do that, I started to get crazed by sticking to that, and I'd lose the fun of it. The part that's the most important with a YouTube career is to keep the fun, or you will go cray.
4. How do you leverage your YouTube channels and to what extent do you monetize them?
YouTube has 100 percent been the reason that I have a living as an entrepreneur. It’s the core of my entire business. I do Instagram stuff, I do events and I get brand partnerships and become an ambassador to create content for their channels, but it all stems from the fact that I’m a YouTuber and I have my own channel that has an audience.
It’s so easy with all of the outreach that people get these days to get sucked into the money and wanting to do all of them, because it’s almost like a high. But I feel it’s important for your long-term career on YouTube -- don’t partner with a brand unless you do use them. There are other ways to be honest about it if you haven’t. Say that to your audience. I actually did that with a brand in the past. SK-II reached out and asked me to do a 90-challenge with them. We made it so the contract and deal was, if I don't like the product, I don't have to do it.
I’m also doing partnerships with brands outside of beauty. It’s cool that it’s across different categories and price points. I do things with Neutrogena, but I’ve also done things with Mac, and all the way up to Shiseido. Also, it’s really exciting to see a brown girl in these campaigns. I know my audience gets excited for me. Why wouldn’t I do it?
With Tinted, right now, my focus is not the revenue side of things. A great partnership I have coming up is with Cover FX, and the partnership is with me, but it’s such a natural fit to have Tinted involved, because of what the brand stands for. We’re doing an event together. We’re not at a size where it makes sense for brands to pay for additional partnerships with Tinted, but the eventual goal is of course, to get money and sponsorships. Down the road, the dream is creating products, whatever form that may be -- merch, beauty. But there’s too much excitement and hype around the community side of it to think about that right now.
5. What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
The first thing I would say is not to get caught up in all the intricacies and just start. Pick up the phone, the camera, whatever you have in front of you. Get in front of a window, go outside if you need to, and just start and get comfortable. Posting that first video is the first hurdle to get over. If you just start, don’t overthink, don’t be strategic about it and see where it takes you, you’ll figure out your style, your rhythm.
As far as getting brands involved, a lot of people get so caught up in how to get the sponsorships. A lot of these people, it’s their full-time jobs, and they want brands to notice them. I spent the first month of doing this YouTube thing reaching out to brands left and right. I was like, “This is my full-time job. I have to be making money off this.” But instead of focusing on doing the outreach, I should have focused on the content itself and mentioning the brands that I already used.
Don’t think about the strategic side of what brands will want to work with you. Just be so real in your videos that, even if that brand is not mentioned, they might want to work with you because they love your personality. But tag brands -- put them in the description, title or keywords, because that helps with SEO.
6. What's a misconception many people have about YouTube?
I don’t think that people really understand the hard work that goes into it. I never get offended or hurt when somebody says, “That makeup tutorial was bad,” or “You’re ugly,” or “You’re fat.” I have enough confidence in myself. But when people say things about my character, or the comments are like, “You’re not working hard enough,” or, “Did you just post this video and do it so quickly?” When someone attacks your character or work ethic, that really hurts.
The misconception of YouTube is that it’s a fluff career. Nobody gets how much goes into these videos. I was one of those people who had those misconceptions. That’s why I didn’t want to be known as a YouTuber at first. Now, I’m really proud of it, and I think people should own it, because it’s actually the most powerful thing in marketing and media right now.
1. ‘How to Cover Dark Under-Eye Circles’
“This was my second video on YouTube and the one that went viral -- it really showed me the power of the internet and really catapulted my career in this industry. This video and the opportunities that followed opened a lot of doors for me, and it will always be a special one.”
“I loved that this video showed tutorials to achieve four amazing looks, but also pushed an important message that your skin color or gender shouldn't affect anything/anyone you want to be, costume or otherwise!”
3. ‘South Asian Wonder Woman Transformation -- #BeYourOwnHero’
“This video was so fun and so last-minute to shoot -- but still one of my faves! Wonder Woman was super big this past year, and I wanted to put a cultural take on it and showcase a superhero of South Asian descent. Also, the makeup look itself is gorgeous, so I love that you can watch the full transformation.”
4. ‘Vlog: Eat. Pray. Texas -- Family, Mental Health & Big News!!!’
“Anyone who knows me knows that I work nonstop and am all about the hustle -- there really aren't enough hours in the day for me to get everything done. Last year, however, I was really reaching a low point in my life and didn't know where to turn, so I went home for some time to decompress and recenter my mind. This was a really personal and hard time for me, but I'm happy I vlogged it and showed people that everyone experiences these emotions, and they're normal.”