How A Scientist-Turned-Entrepreneur & YouTuber Helps Her Audience Find Greenery, Sustainability & Balance

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July 23, 2022

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

I am Ekta Chaudhary. I am a scientist-turned-entrepreneur and a full-time content creator based in Mumbai. 

Back in 2017, I was scrambling to complete a Ph.D. in Ecology at the Indian Institute of Science when I started spending a lot of time gardening to de-stress. I also started recording what I thought were basic, fun, and useful skills and tips for anyone else trying to garden in a small space. Two years later, I got my doctorate and dove into creating gardening content on YouTube full time. This became Garden Up, a YouTube channel with 1.4 million subscribers!

The name of the channel has a fun story behind it — back at IISc, I got late one morning and missed my breakfast. So I sprinted to a local restaurant within the IISc campus to grab something to eat before heading to my lab. During this 400-meter walk between my hostel and the restaurant, I looked at a building and I thought wistfully  “I want a garden that is up on the building”. Over time I realized I had a feeling that the people that I want to connect with through my channel won't have the luxury of a spacious terrace, just like me. I thought about these people who will only have the option of using their balconies, apartment rooms, hostels, and tiny spaces to garden. And the name “Garden Up” seemed to be a perfect fit.

Now I create a bunch of videos on urban gardening, home and gardening decor, DIY projects for any skill level, and plant science around us. I work with a team that helps me with research and writing to address a diverse Indian and international audience on different platforms including YouTube, blogs that we published on our website, Instagram, and a newsletter.

Garden Up has now evolved beyond content. One exciting offshoot is the Garden Up Store,  a retail store for plant care and home decor products. Along the way, I found that people love having personal interactions, especially after the pandemic restrictions were lifted. This helped me develop gardening workshops and travel to give talks on my journey from academia to entrepreneurship.

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory! 

I loved plants and gardening long before I started on my content creator journey. Like many people, I had doubts and questions about how to best care for my plants. When I hit the internet for answers, everybody shared the steps we have to take to keep infestations away or water them properly. But this wasn’t enough for me. As a woman of science, I had to know the why behind every suggestion or advice. 

After a few weeks of looking something up, we tend to forget some of the information and have to seek out those resources again. But if we know the reason behind the step, we’re more likely to remember and understand the value of each step. 

I discovered a new niche within gardening content that people overlooked. With my academic training, I thought I could be the one to share my stories and experiences with people and help them understand science. I thought this was very exciting. For example, everyone says you can take a cutting from a node and place it in water. But why make a cut on the node? Because here, growth hormones are released that help the cutting to grow roots.

Back when I started, podcasts were not big; blogs were more popular. I was more comfortable with the audio or speaking format than writing and YouTube was picking up, so I decided to give it a shot.

Many creators on YouTube inspired me on this journey. Some inspired me for their style of videography, some inspired me for their editing skills, and some inspired me for their style of talking. And this keeps changing throughout the journey.

But the primary inspiration was for storytelling and the art of creating content. A second inspiration was from creators who did not hesitate to show their personality in front of millions of people without the fear of being judged. 

I always keep reminding myself that I create content for my own happiness. For the last five years, I chose to create content only if I feel excited about what I was sharing and record and edit videos only when I truly enjoyed the process. 

Another great source of motivation has been the people who have shown confidence in me. When I was new to YouTube, I could not find enough time for content while completing my education which was important too. I was able to upload only 1 video in about 2 months. Yet, there were people who cheered for me in the comments, and I am lucky that I still receive the same support even after 5 years.

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and what is your advice in getting the creative juices flowing?

My aim is to create diverse content that really adds some value to people’s lives. I care more about that than collecting views and metrics. Over the years, I have found two or three different kinds of content within my gardening segment. I brainstorm within these categories which help me come up with different ideas. This categorization also keeps mental blocks away. 

Then I also consume plenty of random YouTube content from fashion to food to science-based videos. And so the algorithm introduces me to interesting projects and ideas. If I feel drawn to any of them, I put them in my to-do list! Sometimes, we find great ideas from the comment section too.

For the Garden Science videos, initially, I used to come up with ideas but now I have a team that does it for me and I give my input. 

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

I have a Canon DSLR camera to shoot my videos. For editing, we use Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro depending on who the editor is at the time. I use Final Cut Pro when I edit because I love how logical and easy it is to use. For photo editing, I use Adobe Lightroom.

Garden Up is on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

We don’t use any third-party software that helps with scheduling social media and videos because we tried out a few and it didn’t really work for us. So, we just do it manually!

What were your fears when you were starting? How did you handle it? 

As a beginner, I was not aware of the challenges that come with creating content. There was just the excitement of starting something new.

I did have a societal concern because I was someone choosing YouTube despite having an academic background from a top university. After my Ph.D., a faculty position seemed more socially acceptable than becoming a YouTuber. I have always done what I want in my life and I have had the support that was necessary. But I didn’t have to explain this decision to anyone, except my parents. 

I was comfortable in front of the camera but my troubles were more technical in nature, like syncing my voiceover and video together. My early videos just had music playing over clips of me. As a beginner, it took me almost no time to edit that style of video. I used to club the audio and video together and upload it on YouTube. But now that I understand the technical aspects of editing, it takes ages to perfect a video. 

Most of my audience is generally nice to me in the comments because they come to my channel to learn and share their love for plants and nature. There is a sense of community. But even when some negative comments attack me, I ignore them mostly. At times, I don’t shy away from responding to negativity or putting someone with problematic opinions in their place ;).

I think just as a person, my approach to any concern is systematic and practical. And I think this developed from playing sports in my childhood and surviving a Ph.D. in my adulthood!

How did you build your brand to where it is now? Take us through your process.

I did not start with the idea of a brand. I had a lot of dull data analysis to get through as part of my research, and Garden Up was my creative escape. I enjoyed making content and that motivated me to keep going. I did not receive any help other than from a friend who sold his basic shooting equipment to me at throwaway prices.

I had no idea how to shoot or make videos. Sometimes I would stand against the window, not knowing that I was supposed to allow the light to fall on my face. I had a very slow laptop that took hours to render each video. I remember sitting in my lab at 1 am editing on my laptop. The video editing took 10 minutes but I had to wait another 50 minutes for the laptop to render my video.

Later, YouTube ran a program that provided new content creators with equipment, and there I received funding for my first set of tools for creating content, including an editing software Final Cut Pro, a camera(Canon 80D), a good light, and two lenses(Canon 50mm and 24mm). 

After two years of making gardening videos, one of my indoor plant videos went viral.

Now I organize and plan my week for all the work I do on the content and storefront. On Mondays, I do admin work, accounts, and any pending work that I have. Tuesdays are scheduled for Interviews, media, and meeting people. I shoot my videos on Wednesdays, and on Thursdays, I edit the videos. I catch up with all the team members on Fridays. Strictly keep weekends off and push my team too to keep away from work for Saturday-Sunday.

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

Consistency is key to creating content on YouTube. Although sometimes, I feel that a strict routine may lose its charm with the audience, it's still a great quality to have.

The ups and downs of this journey have been a great learning experience. I don't really have any regrets nor do I have a list of terrible mistakes that I have made. The things I didn’t do were things I couldn’t do anyway. I have always stuck to my strengths and did what I do best.

For anyone who is new to creating content, I would advise you to categorize your content and find your niche. It is a great way to generate ideas. It is important to know yourself.

The second piece of advice is storytelling. There are different ways to tell an exciting and entertaining story.  Since YouTube is an audiovisual platform, you can experiment by telling your stories with great camera work or strong narration, or a mix of both.

How did you finally commit to X platform rather than your regular day job?

I have a risk-to-regret ratio that guides my decisions. This is the scientist in me talking! On one hand, I could take on a lucrative and prestigious academic position. I knew exactly what I had to do to become faculty at a great university, and I could picture what my life would look like. On the other hand, there was YouTube, which was something new and exciting with tremendous potential. In my mind, both options had their own risks and rewards. But when it came to YouTube, I did not want to miss out on an exciting opportunity and have any regrets later on in life. So I took a chance, and that’s how my journey as a YouTuber began. I don't really believe that there is one better path in life than the other. It’s just about what you want your life to be like.

Tell us the biggest obstacles you have experienced in your content creation journey. And how did you bounce back?

The biggest obstacle I still have is physical space. To shoot my videos and cover all aspects of urban gardening, I need a physical space to set up a studio, that too in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Mumbai. But this is where I live.

People have gardens inside their homes, on their balconies, and even on their terraces at times, and now to create content for everyone, I need a space that has all such features. I want to be able to demonstrate the ideas and techniques I have in mind. This can turn out to be very expensive. Since renting an office space would become an additional challenge, my team and I work remotely and online.

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

My best milestone was finding out I have a functional and vibrant channel that saw millions of people come to watch each of my videos. I never believed people would listen to me and follow my instructions. I still find it surprising when my instructions work out for people and this brings plenty of confidence in me. 

Another milestone is that we now have some structure of how things move with our content and retail work. We are still working on making the process smooth and my team is very helpful with finding the right tools to manage our work. We use Notion to share our work catalog with clients. We also use Airtable to visualize our calendar and divide work among the team. For thumbnails and Instagram stories, Canva comes in handy.

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

Authenticity is the key to our brand and it's not just a strategy. It’s a comfortable way to communicate with our audience. 

When Covid-19 hit India, there was a shortage of oxygen cylinders in the hospitals. Our metal manufacturing vendors for the Garden up store use oxygen cylinders for welding, and we had many orders lined up for them. During this time of need, the government asked to submit these oxygen cylinders to the hospitals. 

Orders were delayed, and we had to reach out to our customers to explain the situation. And believe me, people were incredibly patient and supportive. Their orders were delayed by 30 to 60 days, yet we did not receive even a single cancellation request.

It’s important for a brand to communicate clearly and honestly with its people. When I started my channel, I connected with an audience who did not have the luxury of a big house, nor did they spend too much money on extensive furniture. They just loved the idea of plants and greenery in their homes. Their personality is very similar to mine, and I believe that helped me reach them. I never had to invest in marketing to grow my audience.

During my initial YouTube days, I visited Quora and Facebook pages where I would answer questions related to my videos and then paste a link to divert the traffic toward my channel. Now that I think about the analytics of that process, it did not work out for me.

I have tried collaborations with creators, but it's not something that I enjoy. The personality and the genre of content change from creator to creator and it can be difficult to sync together. But I am always open to experimenting.

It’s a cliché thing to say but the content is really the king. If your content is good, then you don’t have to invest your energy in posting to blogs and pages and Whatsapp groups. The fantastic content will automatically bring traction.

We still don’t have marketing staff. We do everything based on instinct. Our content has been shared by influencers like Lilly Singh and news channels like The Hindu, The Telegraph, Times of India, Elle magazine, Big FM, and India Today. All of this happened organically, we did not reach out to them, they reached out to us. 

How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships? 

This is the first thing that I needed help with. I have a business partner who takes care of brand deals. I still do everything on the content and store side, but I cannot focus on three complex things at the same time.

When the channel was young, my negotiations did not go so well. I have a close-knit circle of YouTube creators with whom I openly discuss brand deals. After chatting with them, I realized I got paid way less than many of my peers. So I thought it's probably best if someone else takes over this side of the business. 

Generally, we do not reach out to brands, they reach out to us. But we only take on deals that match Garden Up’s ideologies, and ethics and comply with our company policies. So far we have enjoyed fantastic sponsor relationships. I do not share anything with my audience that I won’t use myself and I always try to keep the relationship transparent by declaring sponsorships clearly. This is something I urge every creator to do irrespective of their Country's compliance rules. Transparency with the audience is key to getting your audience to trust you.  

What is your monthly earning from content creation? 

I completely understand this curiosity. This was something I wondered at first too. Since Garden Up is a privately owned entity, I prefer to not publicize our earnings. I want the focus to always remain on the content. And the thing is, there’s a huge range in the earning potential of any budding content creator. 

Having close friends in the social media ecosystem can help anyone with questions like these. But more importantly, these creators have spent many years in their field, so they can help you find ways to grow your channel. Creating content isn’t something that is taught in school so having someone to navigate through this world is extremely helpful, and I do my best to help others around me figure out challenges that they might face too. 

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