Bethany Mota didn’t set out to make it big on YouTube when she started filming videos in her bedroom at age 13. The shy, introverted teen simply wanted an outlet to express herself. What started as a hobby, however, evolved into a thriving business and brand.
And 12 years after hitting the record button for the first time, Mota is a YouTube celebrity, author, entrepreneur and, most recently, a designer, with a following of more than 20 million people across her platforms. Mota’s success has landed her on the TIME listing of the Most Influential People on the Internet two years in a row. She was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2017. And that same year she published her autobiography Make Your Mind Up: My Guide to Finding Your Own Style, Life, and Motavation!
Mota’s most recent venture, Atom&Matter, came to fruition in 2019 while she was taking a step back from YouTube. Social media was taking a toll on her mental health. But her desire to create and design was at an all-time high. And so, she launched a company founded with the intention of creating a community of like-minded people.
Atom&Matter first launched with a demi-fine jewelry line featuring pieces that range from pearl drop earrings to crescent moon pendants, and with a price point between $39 and $159, the pieces are meant to be accessible, yet special. Mota has partnered with organizations Step Up and Pratham, which offer mentorship and training to young women who are aspiring entrepreneurs. A percentage of each piece of jewelry sold goes back to each organization.
“This brand could be a million things,” Mota says. “Ultimately, I wanted this brand to be a landing space for community and what we believe in, which is that everybody is equal; we’re all atoms and matter, and we all go through the same stuff. We go through challenges. We can relate in that we’re all different and we all have our own unique paths.”
Mota’s journey from a teen filming videos in her bedroom to a bona fide YouTube star brought her to this next venture as a jewelry designer. Still just 25 years old, her story serves as a good reminder that sometimes the projects we start out of passion and curiosity can grow into so much more.
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Mota says she didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. This was due to her introverted nature and the fact that her family moved around a ton. As an adolescent, she spent time alone in her room with her computer. And during the MySpace era, she was the target of online bullying. Another kid on MySpace had created a fake version of her profile, taking her photos and posting hateful comments about her appearance and weight. She couldn’t help but obsess over it, checking the page again and again, growing more and more self-conscious over it.
The bullying became the fuel for Mota’s YouTube channel. The first video she ever watched on the platform was Charlie Bit My Finger. Amazed by the power to create, the teen set out to build an online space where she could be herself and define who she was going to become. So, in 2009, Mota recorded her first YouTube video. By that point, she had seen plenty other YouTubers become sensations in their own right—particularly young women sharing makeup, hair or other beauty tips. Mota watched a lot of the online beauty tutorials, even though she wasn’t quite of age.
“I wasn’t even really into makeup, but I just thought, Well, this is what other girls are doing, so maybe I could do it,” she says. “At the time, I was one of the youngest in the beauty community giving people tutorials. I was giving tutorials on something I’d only been doing for a month.”
As her following grew, and her interests expanded, she gained the confidence to explore new avenues like hair, fashion, DIY and even baking tutorials. She also started including bloopers in her videos as a way of letting people get to know her more intimately. Behind the quasi-polished YouTuber was a quirky and shy teenager trying to navigate her way through life, just like many of her viewers.
“I didn’t talk much,” she says. “I was very afraid of expressing my opinions and being myself. I was a little anti-social, and so this was my outlet to talk a lot and to say things that I would never say in person. And to essentially discover myself, because in real life I wasn’t giving myself the access or the permission to discover areas of myself. So, it was very much a growing outlet for me.”
Mota gained a sense of empowerment through filming videos and describes the first years of creating content as feeling like she was living a double life—one as a booming online personality, and another as the average American teenager. The more Mota engaged with her YouTube community and responded to comments, the more people became invested in who she was and what she had to say.
She eventually expanded her platform to Twitter, where she connected with more followers, and that’s when things started to gain momentum in a big way. She didn’t realize that acquiring such a large audience was even possible. She didn’t set out to be internet famous, but she was already well on her way.
But it wasn’t all likes and faves. The internet is home to countless trolls. Mota soon became the target of their criticism. For all of the things she’s achieved and accomplished, she has come to understand that this goes with the territory of opening yourself up, sad though it may be. For all the frustration online haters may have caused Mota, the experience has also allowed her to grow in some ways.
“Whenever [comments] reflect something that you already feel, it hurts way more because you already believe it,” she says. “So, coming to terms with the fact that people I’ve never met before suddenly have the ability to say things about me and make assumptions that can be really hurtful was really hard and I would say that it took years to get used to it all.”
With time and practice, she discovered ways to not internalize the negativity.
“I’ve learned how to not take people’s opinions too seriously,” she says. “Even with the loving stuff and hyping you up. I love knowing that people enjoy my content and that it makes a difference. But I think that tying my personal value to what people’s comments are, regardless of being positive or negative, hasn’t worked well for me in the past.”
Mota has struggled with self-doubt and negative self-talk since her brand is her personality. “It’s not a specific talent,” she says. “We’re marketing ourselves.” But suspending her concerns over whether people love or hate her has allowed her to continue creating content—and now jewelry—as her authentic self without worrying too much about the outcome.
“If we get so dependent on people telling us how great we are or how superior we are, the moment we don’t get that, we can feel like we’re no longer that,” she says. “So that was a practice too. Feeling that I am great, feeling that I am creative and successful, all those things, without being told them.”
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Mota has always loved designing things. In the autobiography, she expresses her love of all things do-it-yourself. She has described a process of DIY-ing virtually everything she owned at one point to make it more her. She recalls spray painting a desk caddy gold so that it popped on top of her white desk. She created a makeshift mousepad out of clear plastic and rainbow wrapping paper.
Mota has since come a long way. Scissors and glue guns have given way to the finer crafting of her jewelry line with her company, Atom&Matter. But the joy of creating something unique remains the same.
“There’s something about seeing what you designed in other people’s lives,” she says. “And seeing how they make it their own and how they tie their own personal stories to it.”
In 2019, Mota and her team started brainstorming. She admits that starting a brand new venture was in some ways terrifying. Mota was faced with the fear that so many other solopreneurs encounter: What if things don’t go as planned? But she used her fear to give herself momentum (not unlike the online bullying back in middle school) and kept going. She had to face her fear and charge ahead in order to start something from nothing.
So Mota took something of a hiatus from creating content and started designing. But then the pandemic hit. Like everybody else during this time, Mota and her team held their meetings over video conferencing. For seven or eight months, everything was virtual, and this further fueled her fear since she prefers communicating with people face-to-face. “There’s already self-doubt that comes with starting a brand,” she says. “It was scary.”
The early stages of Atom&Matter were full of self-doubt. She second-guessed everything from the name of the brand to the website’s color scheme. “There were a lot of opportunities for me to get in my head,” she says. “And that’s when I took time to step back and told myself I wasn’t going to overthink everything and I’m just going to go with whatever I feel in my gut.”
She says that once she decided to not dwell on decisions and to rely on her intuition, all the remaining steps became much easier.
“I think that it’s almost crucial that self-doubt be part of the process,” she says. “I’ve found that tuning into it when the fear pops up can usually be helpful.”
Inspecting the fear helps get to the cause of it. In turn, Mota has found, understanding the cause of the fear can help to eradicate it altogether.
“If I’m afraid and avoiding, there’s something here,” she says, going on to explain that avoiding fear causes her to stay stagnant.
And so, with a lot of planning and a little bit more courage, Atom&Matter took shape.
“I didn’t realize how much you fully need to know when you’re launching a brand,” she says. “You need to know everything about this brand: what it embodies, what it looks like, what it sounds like, feels like. You need to be so specific in every little detail.”
She deeply explored her intuition and worked with her team on questions like Atom&Matter’s purpose, how the brand makes people feel, and the meaning behind it.
Mota wanted her next venture to appeal to her existing audience, since they’ve grown with her. Some people started watching her when they were young teenagers, the same as Mota, but have become women with careers or businesses of their own. She also wanted it to appeal to people who might not know her from YouTube and social media. Mota modeled for the first collection and made it clear that it is her brand without naming it after herself.
“You have to dig deep into why you’re making this,” Mota says. “If I didn’t know that, I’m going to be confused as to what the brand is. I won’t know how to talk about it. Or why I’m even doing it.”
She wanted to give herself time to figure out the unspoken narrative the brand exudes—maybe the unspoken narratives she exudes herself.
She is a grown-up, a powerful embodiment of what an unsure young girl hoped and imagined she could become. Her company reflects much the same story, one with which her audience and customers surely identify. She, the brand and the buyer will evolve. Only the jewelry pieces themselves are set and static—reminders of a specific point in time, markers along the journey.
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Mota has returned to creating content on YouTube. She has brought with her a new outlook on how to make it work for her. She says that meditation has been very important, as it quiets noise and negativity. She is also being honest with herself about what’s demanded on social media.
“Social media has to be churned out quicker,” she says. “It’s constant. It’s every day. Our attention spans are so short now. When we find a creator we love, we can’t get enough. And for a creator, that can be stressful.”
If there’s a creative endeavor that she knows is going to take more of her energy, she gives herself space to work on that, while cranking out shorter tasks ahead of time. “I’m finding the balance of it being a business that moves really quickly,” she says. “But also, I want to satisfy the artist side of myself.” She’s mastered multitasking to have time for her passion projects. She has also learned to confidently own her personal brand.
“It’s very easy to tie your personal worth to everything,” she says. “That’s what I think causes a lot of burnout for people and is why people have to step back, because you kind of get confused. It’s like this is me, but I’m marketing myself. It’s hard to separate the logic from heart and self.
“To overcome it, I think it’s being in tune with myself. It’s giving myself time mentally if I need a break and to step away for a second and really think and be with myself and figure out what it is I want to do.”
As important as anything she’s learned through the years, Mota has stopped comparing herself to others. “I feel like the more you compare yourself to other people, you can get off that path.”
And when it comes to realizing the future you imagine for yourself, all that you want to become and create, your own path is the only one worth trekking.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos ©Christopher Patey