The Insane Journey of Creator Prajakta Koli The YouTube sensation has not only forayed into films and social and environmental advocacy but also turned an entrepreneur with selling her merchandise at the online store Merch Garage
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"Sorry, I had been holding it in for quite a while," chuckled Prajakta Koli on stage after a tiny burp escaped her mouth and momentarily disrupted her narration of how she became a YouTube sensation since launching her channel 'MostlySane' about 8 years ago.
Gathered at Entrepreneur India's Tech & Innovation Summit 2023 in Bengaluru, the crowd of entrepreneurs, investors, corporate leaders and professionals across media and public relations sitting below erupted in laughter, even more keen now to hear what she would say next. The moment perfectly encapsulated what has endeared Koli to the Indian audiences over the years: spontaneous and relatable humour.
When her childhood dream of becoming a radio jockey (RJ) came crashing down after her year-long stint in the industry ended in a dismissal, Koli turned to an emerging platform to give her career a new direction: "At 21 years old, I decided to pursue YouTube, which was very new at the time. In fact, the digital space is still evolving and is so customised to every creator's niche that there's no general roadmap or blueprint to ensure success or viral-ity. As my channel and audience keep changing, I feel that I'm still finding my feet with content creation."
With 6.89 million subscribers on YouTube and 7.7 million followers on Instagram, which feature her interviews with the likes of Michelle Obama, Bill Gates, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, as well as top Bollywood celebrities, Koli's social media stature and following have grown massively. She credits her success to a support system comprising family, friends and a professional team. Since childhood, her parents welcomed every career idea with equal enthusiasm, never casting doubt about its feasibility, she said, adding, "That gave me the confidence to one day just shift gears from RJ to something new like YouTube."
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"It's a great time for content today because the lines are quite blurred. It's just a pool of content. You can watch a film on YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime or in the theatres," stated Koli. In 2019, she set foot on a film set for the first time while shooting Mismatched, a Netflix coming-of-age romantic drama web series. Unlike YouTube, this was a whole new domain: while playing the first-ever character not written by her proved challenging initially, not being responsible for every other aspect of filming besides acting, such as scriptwriting, managing lighting, camera direction, video editing, etc., was a pleasant discovery. "The experience was so much fun because all I had to do was come to set and say my lines and not worry about anything else. There was a lot of liberty in relinquishing control over other things," she explained. Koli has since also appeared in short film Khayali Pulao (2020) and comedy-drama Jugjugg Jeeyo (2022) alongside Varun Dhawan, Kiara Advani and others.
During this time, her rise in the spaces of content and acting was paralleled by a personal journey of cultivating social and environmental consciousness that also unfolded on a public stage: "Around 2016, I started speaking about social issues that were close to my heart such as body shaming and mental health, which then snowballed into girls' education and gender equality. YouTube allowed me to speak to a variety of people on these subjects; gradually I realised that even though I did not have the experience of working in the climate protection space, I could use my platform to amplify voices that had already been doing a lot of good work." As a result of being part of campaigns and initiatives such as #iPledgeToBeMe, YouTube's 'Creators For Change' and Girl's Education, 'No Offence', Instagram's Safer Internet Week, and One.org's Girl Education, in January 2022, Koli became India's first UN Development Programme (UNDP) Youth Climate Champion.
What's more, the creator is now associated with online merchandise store Merch Garage and sells products across categories such as mugs, phone covers, sweatshirts, tote bags and more. On turning an entrepreneur, Koli concedes, "I don't feel I have a lot of business acumen when it comes to the technical side of things but I have a team that's very good at it. I like to stay on the fun side like designing t-shirts and such. It's a new experiment for us and we are still learning through baby steps. But I hope it grows large in the coming years."
As she reflects on her insane journey of amassing the approval and admiration of millions of Indians, she is struck by two distinctly 'wow' moments: "In 2018, I did a meet and greet, for which 8,000 people showed up and I thought that that was just unreal." A year later, she met former US first lady Michelle Obama as part of YouTube's global program Creators for Change for a discussion on girl child education. "She gave me a hug and knew my name. It was crazy!"