Sejal Kumar on Working with Michelle Obama, Content Monetization, Women’s Issues, and More

In 2014, Sejal Kumar started a YouTube channel at the age of 19. Today, she is one of the most popular content creators in India, with over 2 million subscribers.

In 2020, she became one of eight creators around the world to join the YouTube Creators for Change program with Michelle Obama.

But Sejal’s work goes beyond its content and influence. She has worked closely with UNICEF on its child protection campaign and the Gates Foundation on its vaccination campaign in India.

Her own women’s empowerment movement, Aisi Hun (I am who I am), part of YouTube Creators for Change, launched on International Women’s Day, was supported by UNICEF.

She also co-founded Maitri, a women’s health platform that has 550,000 subscribers with her mother, who is a gynecologist, to help grow credible women’s health information across the country.

That’s not all. Sejal recently made a foray into other entertainment media with a music video Fate, a Spotify podcast Shut up sejal, and taking over Netflix Engineering girls.

In a conversation with His history, Sejal takes us through her journey from a shy child to getting on the YouTube bandwagon in 2014 for women’s health and more…

Edited excerpts:

HerStory (HS): Tell us about your early years.

Sejal Kumar (SK): My mother is a gynecologist and my father was in the army, so I grew up in a very hard-working environment.

I was a shy kid but I was creative and loved exploring that side of me when no one was home. There’s a lot of music in my family; my mother is a fabulous singer and my brother plays several instruments. So I grew up singing and dancing, playing with Photoshop and our camcorder.

HS: When did you decide to start your own channel on YouTube? Walk us through the initial steps.

Sask. : I started in September 2014. I always wanted to be an actress and become a big star. I wanted to sing, play, dance, pursue art and fashion; I wanted to do everything.

I attended many auditions in Delhi when I was 14-19 – all I could find on Facebook on my own (I had no contacts) and then I found YouTube.

I felt it was such a great way to do something creative and show off my talents without giving up the reins of my creativity to someone else. But, my growth was quite slow; it took me years to get to where i am today.

HS: How did you capture the public’s attention?

Sask.: I think I’m consistent, try to improve each video, and also really appreciate its translation more than anything else.

I also always heard from my audience that my content was high quality, which kept me going.

HS: What subjects are you most passionate about?

Sask. : Telling stories through my content — now it’s through my music — through sound, music videos, short films; it’s quite an experience and I love weaving a visual story around it. It’s fun and I’m glad my audience is getting into it. I continue to read their comments and messages. They can be harsh at times but also quite insightful.

HS: You were one of eight creators worldwide for YouTube Creators for Change with Michelle Obama. Tell us more.

Sask. : It was a wonderful opportunity that presented itself very randomly. I was happy to support and create content for Michelle Obama’s “Girls Education” movement. My interpretation was that girls education starts at home and I showed it through my first song Aisi Hun and the short film/music video we had shown was the story of a simple Indian girl finding her way to becoming the fearless girl she always deserved to be.

The impact has been so wide and so deep. People shared with me their personal stories from their life at home and told me how this song and video made them stronger and wanted to take charge of their lives – the video reached a million views shortly after its release, which was also a milestone.

HS: You also talk about women’s health with Maitri. How important is it to spread the right information about women’s health, especially to women in Tier II and Tier III cities?

Sask. : I am a co-founder of Maitri, a women’s health platform run by my mother, Dr. Anjali Kumar, who has over 30 years of experience in surgery. Our goal is to disseminate credible information about women’s health; we wanted to create something for this knowledge to reach more people.

HS: You also talk a lot about mental health. The need to be constantly creative weighs on you all the time. If so, how did you cope?

Sask. : I struggled with anxiety and depression for many years, perhaps due to the nature of this profession. My audience saw how much it affected me as they see me every day and how I tried so hard for so many days to keep a smile on my face when I was breaking down.

The therapy and counseling has improved my life tremendously and I feel much better now, and sharing this journey is enjoyable with my audience as it is something that is close to my heart and has changed me as a person.

HS: How easy or difficult is it to monetize content creation?

Sask. : I was lucky in this aspect. I got my first brand deal with Lifestyle after reaching a thousand subscriptions; the growth has been steady and I’m very happy with it.

Now the market is such that there are many lucrative opportunities and I feel lucky to have started when I did and had the business acumen to introduce myself properly to the brands I worked with .

HS: Tell us about your Netflix show. How did it happen?

Sask. : Engineering Girls is a TVF production, which was released with a mere 20-minute audition. I got a call the next day I got it. I think it was just meant to be.

My first acting gig on this scale was such a great learning experience and so much fun. It was later acquired by Netflix and then Zee5 for their streaming platforms which also brought much more exposure to the show.

HS: What are your future projects?

Sask.: Lots of music. My first EP is coming out soon, and more acting. And season 2 of my Spotify exclusive podcast Shutup Sejal.

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