scorecardHow a 20-year-old YouTube creator earned $23,000 in ad revenue from a single video
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How a 20-year-old YouTube creator earned $23,000 in ad revenue from a single video

How a 20-year-old YouTube creator earned $23,000 in ad revenue from a single video
Careers4 min read

Alyssa Kulani

When 20-year-old Canadian influencer Alyssa Kulani opened a January 2019 check from YouTube, she could not believe her eyes.

Until then, YouTube had always been a hobby, she said. She worked in retail and wasn't earning enough on YouTube for it to be anything more than a passion project.

But then everything changed, starting when YouTube's algorithm picked up and recommended a video she posted in October 2018, titled, "Telling my best friend I like him...*PRANK*" which prompted the video to go viral and gain 4 million views.

"I posted that video, and I think it was around January when my first paycheck came," she told Business Insider. "My jaw dropped because of how much money I made off just AdSense."

She told Business Insider that the paycheck from Google was for $29,300, earned entirely off the ads placed in her videos. $23,811 of that check was from the viral prank video, according to a screenshot viewed by Business Insider.

Now Kulani has 675,000 subscribers on YouTube, multiple videos with millions of views, and is a full-time YouTuber.

Alyssa Kulani

How Kulani got started on YouTube and turned a hobby into a career

YouTube had always been a huge part of Kulani's life. When she was growing up, she'd watch YouTubers like iJustine, Joey Graceffa, and Shane Dawson, similar to how the other kids her age would watch TV, she said.

Kulani's first video was a vlog, which she uploaded to her YouTube channel when she was 13 years old, around 2012. By the time she was in high school, she had around 100,000 subscribers.

"At first I was posting videos three times a day, and then as I got older (in high school), I was posting once every few months," she said. "But it was never enough to say, 'hey, this is going to be my job.'"

Kulani never finished high school, dropping out her senior year, she said. That's when she began working in retail, and soon after, her friends on YouTube, who had channels of their own, encouraged her to take her channel more seriously because she was "missing out on a huge opportunity."

After Kulani's prank video went viral, she posted another in December 2018, titled "Dating my best friend for 24 hours..." which now has almost 4 million views and is her second-most-viewed video.

From this, she started to gain followers at a rapid pace, growing from 100,000 subscribers at the end of October 2018, to 400,000 subscribers by the end of January 2019, she said.

For a creator, it's important to continue to upload engaging videos consistently after one goes viral to capitalize on the boost, Kulani said.

"If you miss a week, people are going to get bored and you're going to fall out of the algorithm," Kulani said. "If you're not posting consistently, especially after a video goes viral, nobody is going to pick up on your second video."

'I still don't really understand how this was possible'

The nearly $30,000 that January allowed Kulani the freedom to focus on YouTube full time.

"I still don't really understand how this was possible," she said.

Although rare, checks from YouTube that are that big do happen. Kevin David, a YouTube influencer and entrepreneur, described to Business Insider how he made $50,000 in Google AdSense revenue from a single YouTube video. In David's case, he had a high CPM (cost per 1,000 views) rate because advertisers were willing to pay a premium for his business-focused content.

In Kulani's case, her videos focus on subjects like pranks with her boyfriend, but her CPM rate is relatively high (between $5 and $10) because she doesn't use profanity or songs that are copyrighted. Austen Alexander, a YouTube star and active-duty sailor for the US Navy, previously told Business Insider he had tripled his CPM rate by keeping his content free of profanity and copyrighted material.

In general, Kulani includes around three to four ads a video: one pre-roll ad, one mid-roll ad, and one ad that plays after the video is over. Unlike some creators, she doesn't extend her videos to over 10 minutes long to include more ad breaks. Kulani said she optimizes her ad revenue by sometimes placing an ad break before something suspenseful is about to happen.

"I don't really know how it works, but I've been lucky," Kulani said about her career on YouTube. "But I do have a feeling this won't last forever."

She said making money through AdSense this year hasn't been as easy as it was last year, and now she earns around half of her income from AdSense, and the other half by promoting products on YouTube and Instagram through sponsorships.

For more on how to become a successful influencer, according to YouTube and Instagram stars, check out these Business Insider Prime posts: