YouTuber Grace Helbig learns from past to build future

One of the early YouTube stars opens up about what it takes to stay relevant
One of the early YouTube stars opens up about what it takes to stay relevant

Comedian Grace Helbig is one of the biggest names to come out of the YouTube creator space. On top of having 2.9 million subscribers on the platform, she's had her own E! show, "The Grace Helbig Show," written two books and starred in the films "Camp Takota" and "Electra Woman & Dyna Girl." That's on top of podcasts and other projects she has going on all at the same time.

The 30-year-old's path to success has had her constantly push the boundaries of her comfort zone. However, from each career move she's built upon what she's learned.

"Content over the last two or three years has just been a consistent place for experimentation for creators, especially right now with these developing platforms," Helbig explained. "The way people consume content is different."

After Helbig graduated with a contemporary arts BA from Ramapo College of New Jersey in 2007 — "I swear it's not fake, they have a radio ad!" — she moved to New York to pursue her dream in entertainment. She worked as waitress while auditioning for TV shows, movies and commercials. On the side, Helbig and her college roommate began shooting online videos for YouTube. She never thought it could turn into a career.

"I thought the only way to success via the Tina Fey method was getting on 'SNL' or getting cast in an NBC pilot," she said.

Eventually Helbig got noticed by multichannel network My Damn Channel, and was hired to create videos about its content. She started to infuse her own off-the-wall sense of humor into her clips. It led to her own online show, "Daily Grace." At that point, she realized she made a huge career mistake.

"I'm working for this company, but I don't own any of my content," Helbig said. "I'm really putting my heart and soul into it. Eventually, I decided to walk away from My Damn Channel, which meant abandoning a 2.5 million subscribed YouTube channel and starting my own channel, It'sGrace. The good thing is My Damn Channel owned my content, but they didn't own my personality."

Grace Helbig
Daniel Zuchnik | WireImage | Getty Images

Starting from scratch in 2013 was a daunting task, but Helbig credits the online creator community for helping her out. Influencers put out blog posts explaining the contract issues for many online creators, shedding light on an industry-wide problem.

"It really reinforced why I love the community, because it's a lot more collaborative than competitive in that way," she said.

Eventually, Grace signed with multichannel network Fullscreen, which she felt understood her history and gave her a chance to really own her content.

"We really look for new voices," said Fullscreen founder and CEO George Strompolos. "Our talent business looks for people who are getting traction online. We help them make better programming, we help them grow their audience and we help them make more money from their programming. We want the people who really reflect the brand we are trying to build. Grace is spot-on-target."

Even when I take time off from being on the Internet and I try not to be on social media, I miss it ... because I authentically enjoy participating in it.
Grace Helbig
actress and comedian

The company aided Helbig in getting to the next level, which eventually brought her to the attention of E! In 2015, the network aired "The Grace Helbig Show." It gave Helbig the ability to take the candid chats she filmed from the comfort of her own home and bring them to a staged set. Instead of just her, she worked for the first time with a full production crew. Though the series only lasted eight episodes, Helbig learned valuable lessons.

"It is really hard to get a preexisting audience to a brand-new screen," she admitted. "The thing I love about this Fullscreen platform is that it preexists in a screen that the audience already has in hand."

Recently, Helbig has been keeping up the spirit of collaboration with AT&T's Hello Lab through a project called "Writing With Grace." The digital writing workshop lets her collaborate with Wattpad users on writing a novella.

She also recently starred in Fullscreen's "Electra Woman & Dyna Girl," with her best friend, fellow YouTuber Hannah Hart. The film, which is based off the 1970s TV series, is about two amateur superheroes who fight crime in Akron, Ohio.

"It was another exercise in collaboration, another exercise in pushing our comfort levels and really trying to make the best product that we would want to watch at the end of the day," she said. "I think we did that."

Though there are stresses that come with any job, she has no intention of quitting anytime soon. For anyone else who wants to pursue this path, she advises that you really have to enjoy it.

"There's always passing moments of 'What if today is the day I run into the woods and abandon this whole YouTube thing?'" she said. "But I really love it. I love the feeling of laughing and I love the feeling of being inspired. And even when I take time off from being on the internet and I try not to be on social media, I miss it. I miss it because I authentically enjoy participating in it."

Note: CNBC's parent company NBC Universal also owns E!