Daniel Dsouza’s plan to share some knowledge ballooned into a huge following on YouTube. The ECE master’s student produces short videos to help viewers succeed in career aptitude tests in India. He’s been posting to his YouTube channel and website, called The Aptitude Academy, since 2013. In that time, Dsouza’s lessons have gone viral and attracted 109,011 subscribers and over 6,300,000 views to date.
In India, aptitude tests are a required stepping stone to advanced knowledge and even a technical job. But as Dsouza found out, it takes specific knowledge that may or may not be covered in traditional settings.
“I found the test to be easy,” said Dsouza. “But friends of mine that were much stronger technically had a hard time.”
So he began to teach his friends, and then his friends’ friends, one on one. As the circle of friends grew, his mother (Lira Dsouza, a teacher herself) encouraged him to share his know-how on YouTube. Though he’d never done anything like this before, he began to record instructional videos on his phone, and posted them on YouTube.
His early videos didn’t draw a single view for nearly three months, but he plugged away through his first 10 videos regardless. Eventually, with no advertising or promotional efforts, his videos started catching on – and they caught on big with audiences across India, into Pakistan, and even Thailand.
Dsouza began to post videos in response to user requests. He has now posted 63 lessons, with some drawing between 300 and 700 thousand views each. Every day his inbox and comments sections host a new batch of questions and requests.
Online lessons that focus on India’s aptitude tests do exist, but they involve expensive coaching, or videos hidden behind paywalls.
“They were badly made videos, and the instructors didn’t come in front of the camera,” he says. Dsouza always presents his materials on-camera, which still means just his smartphone. In the early days, he would prop up his phone with chairs and his mom’s perfume bottles.
Once he reached 50,000 subscribers, Dsouza was contacted by a YouTube manager, who suggested ways to improve the channel. He took the feedback to heart, and now spends more time on editing (including on-screen graphics) and improving his audio quality.
The videos were getting so many views, the coach also encouraged him to monetize his content.
“I never had the intention of doing this for cash,” Dsouza says. “Once money comes into it, you can be tempted to make that the focus. So I eliminated that influence.” Instead, Dsouza donates all his channel’s advertising proceeds to charity.
During his first school year at Michigan, the channel’s content slowed down. He was too busy to make videos!
“I never expected it to be this hard,” he says of his time at Michigan. “I learn something completely new with every assignment.”
He’s been back at it this summer, and is even planning a new video series based on his life as a graduate student at Michigan. So far he’s explored this in a more casual video blog about his US adventures called The Fake Firang (a Hindi term for foreigner). He eventually plans to make videos that offer advice and perspectives to foreign students thinking of studying here.
At Michigan, Dsouza studies machine learning and natural language processing. In his first semester, he joined the Michigan Data Science Team in a challenge to address the water crisis in Flint.
“Working in that competition, using numbers to make smart calls on how to take the next step, is what inspired me to study this area,” says Dsouza.
Dsouza also traveled to New York City with the Center for Entrepreneurship, exploring the area’s active startup scene and getting advice for his channel. While not necessarily interested in building a company around it, Dsouza does have a pipe dream of building a platform for professors and other academics to share low-level videos on their area of expertise.
“I like explaining things to people,” Dsouza says. “I enjoy when the light goes on in their head – ‘it’s that simple.’”