NEW YORK — Even First Lady Michelle Obama has asked YouTube star Michelle Phan for beauty advice.
“She asked me what kind of powder I liked,” Phan recalled in a recent interview. She traveled to Tokyo last month with Mrs. Obama as part of her “Let Girls Learn” campaign, which encourages education around the world.
Phan, 27, herself has made a career out of sharing her beauty tips. She began by posting makeup tutorials on YouTube in 2007, just two years after the video site was founded, and today has 7.5 million subscribers. She has a subscription makeup business called Ipsy (“with more than 100 employees and we’re going to be making over $100 million this year,” says Phan). Now, she’s launching her own online network of original content called ICON. It features other female Web personalities hand-picked by Phan, who share tips on everything from fashion and beauty to DIY projects.
ICON, available on YouTube, its own app and with plans for Roku and other streaming platforms, is now available in the U.S. and United Kingdom with plans to expand to Asia in the next few months.
“We’re platform agnostic,” said Phan. “We’ll go wherever our audience is.”
Phan recently chatted with The Associated Press about ICON, keeping up with technology and the pressures to post. Answers have been edited for length.
Q: Some people are intimidated by all the different apps and social media sites like Facebook and SnapChat out there. Are you? Or do you see it as opportunity?
A: I celebrate newness! It’s incredible what the Internet has done to widen the market space not only in production but entertainment, education and media. I really believe in the digital revolution. The industrial revolution jumpstarted our economy. Now we’re entering into the digital revolution where this will really change our economy.
Q: Your YouTube popularity has given you a following, and I’m sure that means possible dollar signs to businesses and other brands. Has it been difficult deciding what the right fit is when choosing partnerships?
A: I’ve had times where I’ve partnered with someone who wasn’t right for me at the time. It all comes with experience. Failure is part of the process.
Q: You’ve managed to stand out among the millions who post videos online or are trying to build a following. Not everyone would share their secret to success. Why are you giving others a platform on ICON?
A: The Internet has widened the marketplace so much that you can really own a market that’s niche. I have a niche market, and I have millions of followers who subscribe to my channel or who buy my products.
I really believe there’s no competition online because you can really own a market that’s very specific to you.
Q: What’s the one biggest mistake made by people who want to become an Internet personality?
A: The first mistake is they want to do it for money. People forget the Internet is open 24/7. There’s a lot of pressure to maintain and upload on a constant basis so if you’re not passionate you’re going to burn out really fast.
Q: Have you ever been burned out?
A: Yeah, but that was mostly because I was stretched really thin. A beauty company wanted me to make 10 videos and a jewelry company wanted me to make videos. Everyone wanted a video from me.
People often times see me as talent, which is fine but what I’m very good at is strategy and marketing.
Q: Have you become careful about what you say you like because it becomes an endorsement when you’re a public figure?
A: No, I’m very authentic with what I like. I keep it real with what I’m using and where I’m buying it from.
Q: Would you ever charge to view your content?
A: It depends. If it’s content people are already watching for free, no. We have to understand that we’re in a generation where people either want things for free, or they’ll watch with ads or to pay a very low cost.