When Smitha Deepak caught up with Jellysmack on a video call, she carried an air of comfort. Flushed in the warm morning light of her San Francisco home, her hair was pulled back in a bun and she sported a natural, bare-faced look. Cozy and casual, it would be forgivable to momentarily lose sight of the fact that Deepak is a skilled and masterful artist who rose to international prominence through her teachings in dramatic and glamorous makeup looks.
When Smitha Deepak published her first video on YouTube in May of 2016, she was entering a crowded niche. Beauty vlogging and makeup tutorials were already among the most popular videos on the platform. Some big names dominated the category, and Deepak herself was a regular viewer.
In fact, when asked about the first video she ever watched on social media, Deepak didn’t miss a beat. “It was Marlena Stell‘s video,” she said. “She’s the founder of Makeup Geek. I was trying to find a makeup look for one of my sarees that I was wearing to a friend’s son’s first birthday. I wanted a very Arabic look. That was probably one of her first videos,” she adds pensively. “I went on YouTube, searched for it, and that’s what came up. And I absolutely loved it! That’s the makeup I wore that day.”
Rather than be intimidated by the competitiveness of the space, Smitha was inspired. When asked about her favorite creator, she highlighted another big-name beauty vlogger.
Over the course of our candid discussion, we learned she has a dog named Neo and that she is quite the coffee aficionado. “I’m actually a coffee addict. I don’t know if I should confess. But yeah, I always like to be charged up all the time.”
She also shared that she is a detailed planner. According to Deepak, it’s not unusual for her to plan her schedule out a year or more in advance. Who wouldn’t need coffee with a schedule that busy?
Deepak was born and spent her childhood, along with her early adult years, in India. She moved to the United States in 2002. Before hitting it big on social media, Deepak’s earlier professional pursuits included modeling and marketing.
It’s no coincidence Deepak is a natural in front of the camera. In addition to modeling, she worked in media prior to branching out into her own entrepreneurial ventures. That included a years-long tenure at Star Plus, a prominent Indian entertainment channel and subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company.
Deepak’s foray into the creator world was an organic union between her business experience and passion. “I used to come back from work, sneak out and do makeup on others. That’s something I’ve always loved,” she tells us. “So what’s better than starting something that I’m experienced with, which is art and media. I put two and two together and I said, ‘what’s the best thing?’ Let me try doing some makeup videos.” And that she did.
While Deepak’s video tutorials range from glamorous, to natural, to celebrity inspired, she initially carved out a distinctive niche in the beauty vlogger space. She found it by listening to her audience and following the numbers. In doing so, she discovered a way to stand out in the crowd.
Even today, when looking over her video catalog history, it’s easy to see what type of makeup tutorials really put her on the map, supercharging her creator career. While her earliest videos currently register anywhere from 3,000–30,000 views, a video entitled ‘Step-by-Step Classic Gold and Red South Asian/Indian Bridal Makeup‘ registered a notable uptick in viewership at 50,000 views. It was a video Deepak published within the first few months of launching her channel.
Relative to her other videos at the time, this tutorial–a nod to Deepak’s South Asian heritage–outperformed.
The comments lit up. Peppered between remarks gushing over Deepak’s looks and style were requests for more tutorial videos for culturally significant occasions, such as Muslim Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani bridal makeup.
No stranger to media analytics or technical challenges (she holds a bachelor’s in computer science and an MBA), Deepak got the message. There was an opening in the beauty vlogging category, and she had the cross-cultural knowledge to meet the market in a meaningful way.
The videos that followed included a hot streak of various South Asian makeup styles for occasions such as weddings, festivals, and other forms of celebration.
To the trained eye, this period demonstrates Smitha’s steadfast work ethic. Some of her follow-up videos performed quite well—one even topped her first significant outperforming video at over 70,000 views. But others didn’t make quite the same splash, netting less than 10,000 views. Nevertheless, she persisted.
It paid off. Just over six months after posting ‘Step-by-Step Classic Gold and Red South Asian/Indian Bridal Makeup,’ Deepak posted ‘Bahubali – Devasena (Anushka Shetty) Makeup and Hair Tutorial.’ The look Deepak created in the video was inspired by the Indian blockbuster film Baahubali, one of the internationally top-grossing Indian movies of all time.
The upload earned a head-spinning 2.3 million views, topping her previous highest view count by almost 3000%. Deepak had firmly placed her foothold in the creator economy.
Over that same period of time, she has produced almost 600 videos. Her catalog explores all kinds of makeup looks and styles – from natural everyday looks, to dramatic Halloween or Hollywood-inspired getups, and everything in between.
For someone who makes a career of teaching others beauty and makeup techniques, it may come as a surprise to know that Smitha Deepak prefers going sans makeup whenever she gets some down time.
In a series of this-or-that questions, Jellysmack put Deepak on the spot: Makeup or no makeup?
“It’s tricky,” she says before pausing to think for a few moments. But she answered with conviction: “No makeup, because I always have makeup on. So no makeup.”
Luckily, we live in a world where talented artists like Deepak don’t have to choose. Even if she has a slight preference for going au natural, she believes that makeup is more than cosmetic and surface level.
“I like that I can make people feel good, you know? Just teaching a thing here and there, to help somebody feel more confident about themselves.”
“And the creative aspect of it, where you can transform the way you look into something else…you become a different person altogether, mentally and physically. So that is something that I absolutely enjoy,” she adds.
While she may have found her earliest audiences with South Asian-inspired content, Deepak regularly produces shorter, more localized tutorials (i.e., a specific mascara technique as opposed to a full-face makeup look).
Of her top ten most-viewed videos of all time, seven are centered around highly specific eye makeup techniques such as applying eyeliner, building eyelash volume, and blending eyeshadows.
Deepak partnered with Jellysmack in late 2020 with the aim of growing her audience on other platforms apart from YouTube. Just one year later, Deepak’s total audience had scaled by 58%. That amounted to more than one million combined new subscribers between YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. Notably, Deepak nearly tripled her Facebook page followers while her YouTube channel experienced 60% growth over the same period.
“I’m so hands-off from Facebook, and you guys [Jellysmack] take[s] care of every little thing for me there. So I’m just super happy.”
Speaking of partnerships, we couldn’t help but wonder: What creator would Deepak like to collaborate with, given the chance? It just so happened to be another fellow Jellysmack creator partner: celebrity makeup artist Patrick Starrr.
“I would love to dress him up as an Indian bride,” Deepak said with a laugh. “Yeah…that’s who I would love to collaborate with.” We’re here for it.
Like for all of us, the events that unfolded in 2020 disrupted some exciting plans for Deepak. “I had some interesting opportunities come up in 2019,” she tells us. “But some didn’t work out because of COVID.”
It feels a little extra honest, especially juxtaposed against the backdrop of a bare-faced Deepak in the comfort of her own home. It takes the kind of confidence that Smitha Deepak hopes to inspire in her global audiences. Despite the lost opportunities brought on by the pandemic, Deepak is at the top of her game with plenty of room to run.
She certainly has the talent and know-how to keep the momentum in growth she’s experienced since launching her channel just over five years ago.
After talking to her, it’s easy to understand how she managed to stake her claim in the competitive beauty vlogger space. It is well embodied in something she said early on, something that happened not when she had her first smash video, nor when she got her first brand deal, crossed a certain threshold of followers, or any other milestone aspiring creators strive toward.
It was a decision she made after she left her promising career in media in order to pursue her own entrepreneurial goals.
“I never looked back.”