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The first YouTube video starts out with an unsteady shot of Manjula Jain in her Rancho Bernardo kitchen. Alex Jain, her husband and the man behind the camera, says “Go.”
Manjula began explaining her recipe for gulab jamun, an Indian dessert of fried dough balls in syrup, and Alex uploaded it on YouTube. He wanted to do something special for her. It was their anniversary.
They had to do it all in one take because back then, Alex Jain didn’t know how to edit video. But once the video was up, Manjula Jain marveled at how many views it garnered.
Now, more than three years later, the 61-year-old Manjula Jain is somewhat of an internet sensation. She’s posted 120 Indian vegetarian cooking videos and the most popular one — for roti, an Indian flatbread — has been viewed more than 1.1 million times.
And this isn’t just a hobby.
Jain has turned her passion into something that brings in money ($14,000 last year, they estimate), thanks to a YouTube program and ads on her own website — made popular by her viral success.
The YouTube program, which launched in 2007, allows participants to share in the majority of the revenue earned from ads displayed with their videos or from fees viewers pay to watch videos designated for rental. Whenever someone clicks on an ad displayed with one of Jain’s YouTube videos, Jain earns money.
Not only that, the feedback has given her confidence to teach cooking classes locally. She’s also started a business with a friend to sell paratha, another Indian flatbread, and tamarind chutney to some local grocery stores. She’s writing a cookbook too, after she received comments asking where hers was.
“I think in back of my mind I always knew I would do something with cooking and it will do good, but I never thought I would teach and I would enjoy so much,” Jain said. “If you can make money doing what you really enjoy, it’s the best way to make money.”
She is one of tens of thousands of YouTube users in 14 countries who are using the YouTube program to get paid for harnessing their audiences. Some of them do a funny voice, some of them find a way to teach what they love, like Jain and Anthony Persaud.
After growing up in Puerto Rico, he started teaching salsa dancing while he was a student at Iowa State University. Sometimes students couldn’t make it so Persaud began getting the sessions filmed and posting them to a student website. Persaud later launched his own website for the videos and started posting videos on YouTube in early 2006.
Salsa dancing gave the self-described “geek” confidence, he said, and changed his life. Getting paid for his YouTube videos wasn’t bad either.
Persaud sees himself on a mission to make salsa dancing accessible, he said. His most popular video has been watched more than 6 million times and he just launched a iPhone app so people can watch clips of moves when they’re at, say, a salsa club, Persaud said.
“Everyone has what they do for work and what they want to leave the world. I want to leave a dent in the universe … and I feel like I can do that with salsa,” he said.
Back in Rancho Bernardo, Manjula Jain still gets nervous she’ll forget a spice’s name when they’re filming. The Jains produce two or three videos a month and last week she explained how to make paneer tikka masala, a marinated Indian cheese dish. Atop a kitchen island, she had set out bright red tomatoes, glass bowls of spices and a block of Indian cheese.
“Are you ready?” asked Alex Jain.