This YouTuber’s popular series Challenge Accepted entertains and inspires — and it makes money.
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
10 min read
Imagine this: You’re 40 feet in the air, standing on a wooden platform with no safety line and there’s a guy on the ground yelling at you to grab a single rope and slide down. Sound like a nightmare? For YouTuber Michelle Khare, it was just a regular work day.
Not that she wasn’t completely terrified. But that was exactly the point. Khare’s fans watched recently she completed a “confidence course,” among other obstacles, as part of a three day US Marine recruit boot camp for her popular series Challenge Accepted.
In the two years since she has launched her channel, it has grown to 1.3 million followers and has received more than 75 million channel views. Khare attributes the success to content like Challenge Accepted, in which she immerses herself in worlds as varied as stunt training, beauty pageants, professional skiing and voice-over acting.
Khare said the idea began because she wanted to add some special skills to her resume when she went in for auditions — and have actual proof that she had, if not mastered them, then at least had given them a shot and broadened her horizons. “And I was a professional cyclist in college so I wanted to essentially continue to be a professional athlete without the fear of crashing on my bike at 30 miles an hour,” said Khare.
She has definitely pushed herself like a pro athlete. A recent episode followed for a month and a half as she learned what it takes to be a professional ballet dancer. But she says even in moments that are truly difficult, the experiences have been worthwhile. And she hopes that watching her go through these experiences will inspire people to go after dreams they didn’t think were possible.
“No matter how hard the challenges are, I always come out on the other side thinking I’m really glad I did this and I’m really glad I have a new perspective on this. I genuinely have grown so much as a person from the experiences and it’s just a blessing that people enjoy watching it,” said Khare.
She has been nominated for a Streamy Award for Best Unscripted Series and a Shorty Award for YouTuber of the Year and she has worked with brands like Target, Toyota, Warby Parker, Away and Blue Apron. And Khare says that her philosophy of being open about dealing with challenges extends to being as transparent as possible about the fiscal reality of being a YouTuber.
Khare shared her insights about owning your space and planning for the worst while hoping for the best.
How would you describe the content you make for your channel?
On my channel, I do a wide variety of boundary-pushing content. I have a show called Challenge Accepted where I take on a variety of extreme physical and mental challenges ranging from one to three months in training, whether it’s training with the U.S. Marine Corps or becoming the shortest woman to walk the runway at London Fashion Week or even entering a beauty pageant. I really like diving into communities fully and wholeheartedly and addressing issues from all angles. So not just what is the training for this person or community like, but more specifically, what are the social issues surrounding this. Is it empowering or sexist to walk into bikini down a runway for a panel of judges at a beauty pageant?
What goes into making a Challenge Accepted video?
Making a Challenge Accepted episode is truly a combination of determination and passion. Usually, it starts with me thinking of an issue that I’ve always wanted to explore or something I’ve always been scared to do. We spend about a month doing background research and pre-production on the project and that usually means finding coaches or speaking to different organization, getting background interviews and then I begin my training for one to three months and every video is a final culmination or test of my skills, whether it’s you know doing an actual beauty pageant, or walking runway.
Has there been a particular favorite or least favorite challenge you’ve taken on?
I think that the hardest one mentally for me was training with the U.S. Marines. It really was an incredible mental obstacle. In the video, there is a point where I am hanging on the A Frame, which is one of their confidence course obstacles and you’re basically in the air like 30, 40 feet. You’re not attached to any wires and you have to reach out and grab a wire, or a rope and slide down. It’s absolutely terrifying. For me what I learned from that experience was that my drill instructors and often people around me believe in me more than I believe in myself. And that was an important lesson for me to learn because I do need to believe in myself more, just as a person. The most physically demanding one that I have done was absolutely ballet. Hands down. That was the hardest. I mean the flexibility and strength, grace, poise — everything required to be a dancer is so hard.
What have been the biggest surprises and challenges of launching your channel after working for a big media company like Buzzfeed?
When I worked at BuzzFeed, I obviously learned so much about the YouTube world. It was a blessing of a first job because I was basically paid to be a YouTuber without having to take the risk of starting my own channel. When I was there, I got a lot of opportunities to experiment and really learn how to set a schedule for myself, how to produce, direct and edit all of my own content. Several months before I left BuzzFeed, like many people there, had the idea of “What if I did this on my own?” And the thing that scared me most about being an entrepreneur was the financial risk or risk of failure, which I think most people can relate to. I was reading a lot of Tim Ferriss, who is a really cool entrepreneur that I think a lot of people look up to as well.
And I kind of had this moment where I was thought “What if I live as if I’m failing and that just becomes my everyday norm?” I think it was probably a year before I left before I had any serious consideration of should I do this on my own. I moved into a studio apartment. I cut down all of my expenses. I quit my gym membership. I never ate out. I barely went out or went to the movies. I never took a vacation and just lived on a really tight budget and all the money I saved I put in a separate savings account.
Why was it important for you to approach it this way?
It created a bank of savings for me to live without making a profit for four to six months. And it also made the lifestyle of failure something that I was familiar with and used to. I was very much at peace leaving my job. I felt like I did what I needed to do and I was ready for the first time in my life to do something for myself.
Did you feel any external pressure?
Coming from an immigrant family, I think there’s a lot of pressure to succeed. Otherwise, why did my dad move across the world from India to have a new life for his family? In my whole life, I have been kind of circumventing the things that I wanted to do by clinging on to more financially or mentally secure paths. Whether that was college or a career path or whatever. And this was the first time I was allowing myself to explore that and I think the biggest piece of advice I would have for that is I feel like in the news there’s a lot of sensationalism and praise for when people quit their job point blank and then find immediate success. I don’t think that’s realistic and I also don’t think that’s the whole story. I believe that there is a way to prepare and train to be really smart for that jump so that you feel secure and not like I’m risking it all.
After hitting the 1 million subscriber mark, you made a video that talked about how you make money on YouTube. Why did you want to share that with your followers?
I think there’s a lot of fear and ambiguity surrounding what it’s like to be a YouTuber or what it’s like to make money [with the platform] and what it’s like to start your own business. And I’ve actually been inspired recently by this YouTube channel called Kara and Nate. It’s this couple and there are travel bloggers. Every quarter they have a blog where they post their financials and share and this is how we made money, this is how we grew the business. This is the exact dollar amounts on what we made off of ads or brand partnerships or merchandise. That kind of thing. I was really inspired by that because I wish I had that when pursuing my career in entertainment in general. I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about money or embarrassed to talk about money.
What do you think is a misconception that people might have about YouTube?
I wish that more people would talk about money so that other people could learn. Especially young people wanting to do this. I was even speaking with someone recently who for the longest time was under the impression that once you hit 10,000 subscribers being a YouTuber you can be your full-time job. As far as I know, that is not the case. Most people have to have half a million or more to sustain themselves financially. But again it’s all over the place. Some people with lower subscriber counts get more brand partnerships than people with millions of followers just because they’re more brand-friendly. So I don’t think the subscribers or clout or fame really show what’s financially occurring for a lot of people.
What is your biggest piece of advice for people who want to grow their brands and followings on YouTube?
I would say own your space. Never apologize. And don’t be afraid to take risks and be a badass. And remember having a plan is cool. Finding that balance of taking the leap off the cliff, but also wearing a parachute. Everyone needs to find that balance for themselves and I encourage everyone to push themselves to find that.
Check out Khare’s five favorite videos:
1. I Tried Marine Bootcamp
2. I Tried To Become A Runway Model at 5’2”
3. I Learned Hollywood Motion Capture
4. I Trained Like Miss USA For 60 Days (PART 1)
5. I Learned How To Voice A Cartoon