NOTEBOOK

Nihal Raj: The Youngest Youtube Entrepreneur

Nihal Raj, founder of the video channel KichaTube
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Nihal Raj has received close to ten handsome offers from television channels to host cookery shows

THE DOORBELL RINGS in short bursts of three, impatience on an otherwise slow afternoon. Ruby Rajagopal sets aside the whipping cream, wipes her hands on a kitchen towel and hurries to sign for the receipt of a package addressed to her six-year old son, Nihal Raj. This is a fairly common occurrence ever since Raj, a Class 1 student of Choice International School in Kochi, Kerala, became the youngest person to have his YouTube video, Rainbow Idli, bought by Facebook for $2,000.

On the dining table, a slice of cake and the courier pack are laid out for Raj. His mother helps unwrap the package once he returns from school. It is the latest version of Skylanders Battlepack , a video game that he has brought online from ToysRUs with his own money.

From the age of four, Raj followed his mother around the kitchen and helped bake cakes. It was from her that he picked up an interest in cooking, and his parents eventually helped him set up a YouTube channel KichaTube (Kicha being his petname). “The thought of making money from it never entered our minds. Even now when Kicha has received close to ten handsome offers from television channels to host cookery shows, I was particular of him not moving away from his home environment,” Rajagopal says. “YouTube videos weren’t something we suggested either. He wanted to have his own channel and the videos were not updated on a regular basis, only when he felt like it. He was actually inspired by EvanTube.”

Evan, a nine-year-old from the US, has a YouTube channel with an astounding 1.5 million subscribers. His father transformed his love for toys into a seven-figure YouTube business by posting videos of toy reviews. Little Kicha would sit in the bedroom he shared with his sister (14 years older than him) watching Evan Tube on her computer. That’s how he got the idea of launching a YouTube channel of his own. He convinced his father to get him toys which he then unboxed and reviewed.

Things took a turn one evening when his mother taught him to make an ice popsicle. He wanted to try it out himself, apeing the presenters he had seen on travel and lifestyle channels. The video his father captured on his mobile, once uploaded on Facebook, garnered generous compliments. This became a regular family exercise. The mother would teach her son a recipe, who would present it for his father to video record and upload on the web. KichaTube started in January 2015, and they posted 12 easy-to-make recipe videos within a year.

Wearing a black-and-white striped apron and a matching kiddie chef’s hat, Raj would dash through a new recipe in five- minute clips. These were often shot in the dining room of their home or in the balcony against the setting of colourful ceramic planters with bird chirps to be heard. KichaTube videos vary from easy microwave mug cake, coconut popsicles, Easter eggs to fancier recipes like Oreo truffles and flavoured ice cream. Initially, the videos were viewed by his friends and family. Then a mail from a casting agency changed everything. Nihal was then invited to The Ellen Degeneres Show. “The funny part is we never had to apply for it or anything. They approached us. They somehow got to see Kicha’s video and wrote a mail to us asking whether we’d like to fly over and let Kicha present one of the dishes with Ellen. After this mail, we had around seven Skype sessions to familiarise Kicha with the team.”

Late last month, when Kicha and his family of four reached Los Angeles, a limousine awaited them at the airport. “He was treated as a celebrity,” his father says. “He had his own green room that they had filled up with things that Kicha loved, which they got to learn during the Skype conversation. They even fulfilled his wish for a return flight in a double decker plane where the pilot and crew took him to the cockpit.”

‘This kid is a cutie. He showed me how to cook in his puttu kutti [sic],’ read Ellen’s post on Facebook when she shared the video of the episode. Not just in the US, Kicha is now a household name back in his hometown too. The US consulate has recently posted a video interview with Kicha on its Facebook page. When asked whether he understands what being famous is all about, Raj says, “Yes, Everyone congratulates me. Teachers, my classmates and everyone in the building, and sometimes strangers know me already.” As we speak, the family is on their way to a felicitation. The Rotary Club is honouring the boy for taking the humble Kerala puttu to the United States.

“Does the sun grow bigger each year?” Halfway through the ride Kicha asks his father. Questions like these that take his parents by surprise come up while they are driving, having breakfast or putting him to bed. “I am not trying to say my son is extraordinary. He is a normal boy, but with the right monitoring, the kind of information that children have at their fingertips is miraculous. After we returned from America, he googled all about double deckers. He is obsessed with black holes. That’s what he googles most often.” Little Kicha’s career ambition blends both his interests. He wants to be an astronaut chef.