Over eight million subscribers. More than one billion views. A company valued at $500 million. A net worth reaching $50 million. Pretty amazing numbers, right? At just 30 years old, Michelle Phan has achieved the ultimate success. And to think, it all started with just her YouTube page, sharing beauty tips with viewers.
Phan was a success almost as soon as she got started, with her tenth video reaching one hundred thousand views. She continues to post videos on YouTube, but has kicked off many other business ventures since starting her page in 2007. As she tells her viewers on her page, “I live, I love, I teach, but most importantly I learn.” There is much to also learn when it comes to Michelle Phan and her success story.
She had a rough childhood
Phan’s parents are Vietnamese immigrants who, like many immigrants, came to America to help forge a better life for their family. However, her childhood was anything but easy. In a 2016 interview with Mashable, Phan revealed that her father was a gambler and lost most of the family’s money. He left when she was just six years old.
“One day, you have a father who’s always around,” she told Mashable. “And then the next day, he’s gone. I was too young to comprehend that. I actually thought he was going to come back.” Eventually, her mother met another man — however, Phan says he was incredibly controlling. “He ran the house like a dictator,” Phan said in an interview with NYLON. “He didn’t want us to clean the house because he believed in his organized chaos. It was disgustingly dirty.” They eventually left, but didn’t have much money. Phan promised she’d eventually become successful enough to retire her mother — a promise she’s kept.
Her parents wanted her to become a doctor
Since her family struggled so much, her parents hoped Phan would pursue a more lucrative path for her future. While Phan originally planned to follow her parents dreams and study medicine, she revealed in a 2017 YouTube video that as a child she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mom, who worked in a nail salon. “She was someone who wore a smile and made people more beautiful,” Phan said. According to Phan, her mother was “heartbroken and scared” when Phan decided to attend art school instead.
She fell in love with the beauty industry at a young age
Phan did not have a picture perfect childhood. Depending on food stamps, her family moved around a lot, and her father was not in her life for some time. This wasn’t something Phan was sharing with viewers when she began her YouTube videos. She told Glamour, “I depicted myself as the girl I wanted to be, with money and a great family.” However, Phan told the magazine she credits the early difficulties with helping her be the person she is today, sharing “I believe everything happens for a reason. The universe will never give you any problems not knowing you can resolve them and can grow.”
In many interviews, Phan discusses her mother and how much she inspired her in life. Phan’s mom had moved from Vietnam after the war with less than $20 in her pocket, never having spoken English. She started working as a beautician, and Phan often accompanied her to work after school. This was when Phan began to find her passion. She told the Wall Street Journal she would read all of the beauty magazines and absorb the information.
Her mother wanted more for her daughter, but Phan valued her mother’s work. “She didn’t feel empowered by it, but I kept telling her growing up, ‘You know this is beautiful what you’re doing.'” She went on to explain that success isn’t always what you think it should be. “There’s beauty in everything, and sometimes the media portrays success in a certain way, but I believe everyone has their own vision of success,” she said. Now both Phan and her mother are enjoying the benefits of her success — she was able to help her mom retire a few years ago.
The beauty industry turned her down
When Phan first attempted to join the beauty industry, they told her “no.” She applied for a job at the Lancôme counter at a department store, but didn’t get the job due to her lack of sales experience. Rather than give up, she decided to film her own makeup tutorials. As she told ABC News, “I always tell my followers, you know that if something doesn’t happen in life the way you plan it, sometimes it’s the universe telling you to go in a different direction. And that led me to YouTube.”
She posted her first video on her Xanga blog in 2006, during her first semester at Ringling College of Art and Design. That video got 40,000 views in just one week. Phan told Cosmopolitan, that’s when she realized she may have a hit on her hands.
She dropped out of art school
According to NYLON, when relatives made a visit to her family’s home after Phan and her mom left her step dad, they were so taken aback by the family’s living conditions that they gave Phan’s mom $10,000 to help with living expenses. Instead, her mom put the money towards Phan’s tuition at Ringling College of Art and Design. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to afford a second semester, so Phan was forced to drop out, as detailed by Mashable. However, Ringling gave her an honorary doctorate degree in 2014.
She has lots of unexpected hobbies
Phan is not just a beauty expert, but is musically talented as well. She shared with the Wall Street Journal that she plays the piano and trumpet among other instruments. She also has a passion for art and draws when she has the time. Phan told Nylon her hobbies are a way to de-stress, saying, “I could go into my happy place in my head and occupy my thoughts with my passions, like drawing and creating.”
And how else does Phan de-stress? Not how you would expect. She has a copper pyramid room in her Los Angeles apartment. When she needs a moment, she goes inside her pyramid to meditate for 15 minutes. She described the reason for her specific meditation space, saying, “Scientists in Russia discovered that whenever they put medicine inside of any pyramidal structure, it restructures the molecule’s chemicals and increases the potency by 30 percent.” With Phan’s level of success, we’re not questioning this technique.
She wears less makeup than you might think
Phan said her one must-have item is concealer. “Most days, I just wear a little concealer and that’s it. I have nothing to hide. My viewers have seen me without makeup, so it’s all good,” Phan told Racked Los Angeles.
If this makeup maven’s lack of makeup on the daily surprises you, wait until you hear her biggest tips. Here’a a hint: they don’t include makeup products. According to Phan, the most important beauty product is water. She says the simple act of drinking it can flush out toxins and rehydrate your body. Number two is sunscreen — not just for wrinkles and brown spots, but health as well. And her final tip is the simplest, just smile. “If all else fails, when you smile… happiness is beauty,” she said. Phan emphasized that these tips are not just for women, but men as well.
Her perspective on makeup is all about inner beauty
Phan’s focus isn’t just at the surface level. She says she doesn’t view makeup as a way to cover-up, but as a way to bring out your inner beauty. Phan described makeup to The Huffington Post saying, “It also gives you creative freedom. You get to have that moment in front the mirror every morning and give yourself self-love. You’re making yourself beautiful, which is essentially self-love.” She says makeup isn’t a mask but, “a weapon that helps you express who you are from the inside.”
And part of that inner beauty also has to do with following your dreams. Phan constantly encourages her viewers and others to go for what they want. This appears to the be the driving source behind, ipsy, Phan’s super-successful subscription cosmetic company.
She pays it forward with ipsy
Phan describes ipsy as a not-for-profit business, even though it isn’t filed as that. She puts money into the business in order to “give back to the community and help them reach success,” and it looks like that’s exactly what she’s doing.
She added to that initial success by launching ipsy Open Studios, which is located in Santa Monica. It’s a space for beauty creators to come and have the opportunity to shoot videos using all of the necessary tools. And get this — it’s free. If a member lives in Los Angeles, they can set up a time to go in the studio. If they don’t, they have access to special Q&A sessions and individual beauty mentoring online.
She encourages people to share their interests and invest in their futures. “It’s never too late, because someone who looks similar to you and likes your specific style wants to learn from you, not from me or anyone else. It’s about making a connection,” she said. Phan emphasized that with the internet, there is “a niche market for everything.”
Overall, Phan is humble about her success and wants to help others reach that same success. She does not focus on competition but collaboration, saying “It’s such an incredible journey, and I want to share this to more people, because if I can do it, people can do it too and they can probably do it better.”
She started feeling detached from herself
Once she made it big on YouTube, she became a self-professed workaholic. “The taste of success was like a drug,” Phan detailed in a 2017 video on her YouTube channel. “I figured, the more productive I am, the more successful I’ll become — because money buys happiness.” As time went on, however, she began to feel completely different from who she was when she first started her journey. “Who I was on camera and who I was in real life began to feel like strangers,” she revealed in the video. “I spent my whole life chasing after success, only to find myself running away from the very thing that mattered: myself.”
She fell into a depression after one of her makeup lines failed
Though Phan found extreme success on YouTube and through her ipsy line, she wasn’t immune to failure. In 2013, she launched a makeup line, Em, with L’Oreal. The line did not do well at all. “When Em Cosmetics flopped, I was trolled so hard online,” Phan wrote in an article for Teen Vogue. “I had Reddit forums dedicated to hating on it.”
Phan and L’Oreal officially parted ways in 2015, according to WWD. The bullying sent Phan into a cycle of self-diagnosed depression. “I think I was going through depression,” she told Racked. “I don’t know because I didn’t go to a hospital or anything or get diagnosed, but I was taking a few quizzes online and I felt really sad every day.” She began retreating from her public life, posting less on social media. “I wanted to be forgotten, so I began posting less online,” she wrote for Teen Vogue.
She quit social media in 2016
Phan’s successes (and failures) weighed on her, leading her to take a hiatus from social media in 2016. Between December 2015 and December 2016, she stopped posting videos on YouTube and didn’t share any photos on Instagram. “My intuition told me it was time to leave,” she said in a 2017 YouTube video, her first since the hiatus. In the video, she described her journey into the makeup world and the fame that followed, and how she began working for all of the wrong reasons. “I felt like it was time for me to just relax and enjoy life because since my first video in 2007 I didn’t stop,” she wrote in an article for Teen Vogue.
She used her time off to travel the world
Phan’s departure from social media wasn’t an easy decision for her. “It is really scary, because you can become irrelevant. If you don’t upload a video or stay updated, within a month you’re irrelevant,” she wrote for Teen Vogue. However, her need for a break surpassed her need for relevance. “I decided to have an intervention with myself and to remove myself from the environment that was causing all that anxiety, which was L.A,” she wrote. “I took refuge in a place where I could find meaningful time to heal, learn, and grow,” she said in her first post-hiatus YouTube video. She visited Switzerland and Egypt, and revealed that being in nature helped her find peace. “Nature reminded me that everything we’ve built around our world that we have today doesn’t really matter,” she wrote in her Teen Vogue article.
She’s revamping her failed Em Cosmetics line
Phan returned to Instagram in December 2016 after her month-long social media hiatus, and some of her first photos were of the logo for her Em Cosmetics line, prompting lots of “where have you been!?” comments from fans. She addressed these comments in a YouTube video she posted in the beginning of June 2017 detailing her prolonged absence from the public eye. She claims that the time away is just what she needed, and she won’t let one failure get in the way of devoting her time to her true fans. “I’m actually happy that Em didn’t do well, because I’m happy that I own it,” she said in an interview with Racked. “It is my makeup brand, it’s not L’Oreal’s makeup brand. It’s not for me; it’s for my viewers who have been there since the beginning.” The first products for her new line went on sale in April of 2017 on its website.