Susan’s 5 questions for Aja Dang
Susan: I heard you had an unusual start as a creator. What was the story behind your first video?
Aja: I first signed up for YouTube on my first day of graduate school at USC, because at orientation they recommended we sign up for every social media platform with our names. I had no intention of ever using my YouTube channel, it was just a way to make sure I had control over my name on social media. Two years later, I launched a sports show with Maxim Magazine called Maxim Sports One-on-One and uploaded the first video in my first series: "Ask Aja: Dating Advice" in order to further engage my viewers. The first couple years of me being on the platform, my videos were heavily geared towards men.
Susan: Your channel helps make financial literacy accessible to everyone. What inspired you to teach others how to budget and plan?
Aja: Never in a million years did I think I would become the poster child for financial health but as I documented my journey towards debt freedom, I realized how important it was for people to see, in real time, the hard work and dedication it takes to accomplish something so impossible. Every video I uploaded about my debt, the comment section would flood with comments thanking me for being so transparent and asking questions about my finances. I realized that if I had someone to watch on YouTube who shared their student loan journey while I was in college, I would've done things very differently. I was inspired to share my experiences with debt and debt pay off so 1) people wouldn't make the same financial mistakes I did, and 2) they could see that it is possible to dig yourself out of debt and use the tools and lessons I learned to do so.
Susan: You paid off $200K in debt through your YouTube channel, and took us on the journey with you. What made you decide to share with your audience all the ups and downs along the way?
Aja: During Vlogmas 2017, I posted a video sharing how much debt I was in because that day I had to dog sit to make extra money to afford my student loan payments. I didn't expect the video to resonate with so many people but I realized how many of us felt alone and isolated with our financial situation. I am not easily embarrassed, so sharing how much debt I had was never an issue but I noticed that the more I talked about my debt, the more people became invested in my story. For many people, especially women, I was the only person in their lives who talked about money. I realized that the only way to accomplish financial literacy is to make the talk of money, income and debt less taboo.
Susan: How did it feel to launch a financial planner through your channel and create your small business MSTRPLN.CO?
Aja: I never envisioned myself becoming a small business owner but after becoming debt free and looking at the keys to my success, I realized that my planner and journals were a huge part of that. I had to carry multiple journals with me not only to track my work and personal schedule but also my finances. I created financial flow and goal charts that I would share on my channel so I took all those pages and built my ideal planner. I knew some people would love the layout but I didn't expect to sell out in three days. I thought launching a business would be the same as my smaller merchandise launches on YouTube but I was wrong. There was a huge learning curve with pricing, web design, product development, etc., but I'm so excited that this is a new journey for me. We'll be restocking our undated planner and launching our Academic planner for students and teachers this summer.
Susan: As a 5th generation Asian American and an advocate for social justice, what do you think platforms like YouTube can continue to do to help #StopAsianHate and better support AAPI creators?
Aja: Continue to give us a voice. Highlight Asian American creators making a difference and help us be seen by people from all walks and thoughts of life.