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How Michelle Phan went from food stamps to the most popular woman on YouTube

·Nicole Goodkind

Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of YouTube, the video streaming service that has transformed the way we share and experience videos online. In honor of the milestone, Yahoo Finance sat down with Michelle Phan, the most popular woman on YouTube.

Phan, who began giving makeup tutorials, has 7.6 million YouTube subscribers and has racked up 1.1 billion views. She also has a makeup line, a media company, a book deal, a beauty subscription service and a music label.

She’s also only 27, was just listed as one of Inc. Magazine's 30 top entrepreneurs under 30. Just nine years after she began filming makeup how-to's and posting them to YouTube, Phan is estimated to be worth $100 million. But it wasn’t always that way. Phan’s first video was made on a borrowed laptop from her local community college — she was waitressing and living on food stamps at the time.

“What inspired me to work so hard and to maintain my determination was seeing my mother. She was an immigrant and was struggling in America to make it by, that inspired me to work hard.”

When Phan’s mother left a war-torn Vietnam on a boat amidst gunfire, she arrived in the U.S. without knowing English and just $20 in her pocket. Her father left at a young age and Phan’s mother would work 14-hour shifts to afford an apartment where Phan and her brother slept on the floor. From a young age he and Phan worked part-time jobs to help out.

It was that same work ethic and determination that helped Phan to launch her YouTube channel. She had been rejected from a job at a Lancôme makeup counter because she lacked sales experience. “I don’t believe that if one door closes that’s the end,” she says. “You’re in control of that, but you need to seek opportunities and prepare for them.” So she made a few makeup tutorials, including some on how to look like Lady Gaga. Those ended up getting picked up by BuzzFeed and brought her a new fanbase. Eventually Lancôme approached Phan about being the brand’s official video makeup artist.

Phan sleeps about five hours a night and says she is on the clock 24/7. “I’m motivated by my love to share and teach. I love sharing things that inspire me and I love connecting with people,” she says. “Being a part of a community is in the millennial DNA.”

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