I am glad I F**%*D up so much in life that it is content now says Ankur Warikoo
Ankur Warikoohits the refresh button every time he encounters a failure in life.
- Young Indians are looking for answers to existential questions and many are finding them in Warikoo’s books and videos.
- This YouTuber has started an edtech platform that will remain bootstrapped, minus the fancy valuations because he’s been a part of the start-up ecosystem and knows its pitfalls.
AdvertisementSuccess has many fathers, they say, but failure none – barring one, perhaps. Most people tend to shy away from their failures, but Ankur Warikoo, an entrepreneur, author and YouTuber, has made a vocation out of his failures. From wanting to become a scientist to entrepreneur and now a YouTuber,
Almost like a phoenix, Warikoo has risen from the ashes of a life that was no longer serving him well. Years after joining Groupon to set up operations in India and subsequently buying out the parent company’s stake in the India operations, Warikoo ran Nearbuy.com as co-founder and CEO up until 2019, which is when he decided to hang up his boots. With five months of expenses in the bank and stock options that he could not liquidate, Warikoo walked away from his job to figure out what he wanted to do next in life. Interestingly, those who follow him on social media would know that he tells his followers exactly the opposite on social media, if they are unhappy with their jobs and want to quit. But more on that later.
Business Insider caught up with Warikoo to decode his success as an author and content producer, ahead of the launch of his upcoming book Get Epic Shit Done. He earns ₹1 crore from book royalties alone. In 2020, his content business generated ₹1 crore, which jumped to ₹12 crore in 2021 and is set to exit 2022 with ₹27 crore of revenues. Clearly, there is a market for his books, videos and courses, which are strategically priced between ₹299 and ₹399. And unhappy customers can claim a refund too. His books are not just flying off the shelves across airport bookshops, but are also being bought by team leaders across mega corporations because they resonate with a wide spectrum of professionals.
Clearly, young Indians are looking for answers and many of them are finding them in his books and videos. So much so that Warikoo believes that it is a ₹1,000 crore opportunity because India will produce roughly 300 million graduates in years to come. Many of these young graduates remain clueless about life and career choices. The last two years have given him enough data points to realize that he can make a living literally out of his experiences and failures that changed the very course of his life.
Few people in their 40s can dare to dream of making it as content creators, but Warikoo is doing just that. His content strategy has changed over the years. From speaking in posh English to attract talent for his start-ups, he has moved on to making his videos in Hindi. The stories are relatable and not bookish. He explains, “I had made so many mistakes with money, my career, my biases, my relationships and as a manager that I started sharing all of that in the form of content. When I spoke about the mistakes I made in my 20s, I realized that it resonated with people between the ages of 18-24. These people wanted someone to speak to them who had gone through similar experiences. One of the reasons my content blew up was because I am old and not putting out random stuff. This was actually my life.”
Warikoo’s publisher Chiki Sarkar, the founder of
India has always consumed self-help books, but most of these books were by foreign authors. Now India has its own answer to
What Young India Wants
On an average 6.5 million young Indians graduate every year from college, of which 1.5 million are engineers. Sadly enough, a degree by no stretch of imagination will ensure that millions of these young Indians get their dream jobs. India produces graduates with almost industrial precision, but few of them know what they can do with their lives because the choices they have made are often not their own. Academics are no guarantee of success in the real world because no course prepares us for the real world. While many lack the soft skills that a corporate job requires, others are lost because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives.
Scores of young Indians have been through this and many more will end up battling the same question that Warikoo was faced with when he realized, at Michigan State University, that he was not enjoying his PhD. Like any “good student” Warikoo scored well in his exams and decided to pursue a PhD in astrophysics, but soon dropped out and came back to India, much against the wishes of his parents. In India, he had learned to score marks and which is why he believed that academics was for him. But his time in Michigan State University made him realize that he wasn’t cut out to be a scientist.
AdvertisementHailing from a middle-class family, where money was scarce, Warikoo had to find a vocation quickly upon his return to India, so he ended up doing what he says most confused people do – get a master’s degree in business administration. He enrolled into a one-year MBA programme at the Indian School of Business. His course on career choices is based on his learnings from this phase of his life. Sarkar says that he helps scores of young people tell their parents what they wish to do and what they don’t, even if these choices are unconventional.
Early Life and Times of Ankur Warikoo
After returning from Michigan State University, Warikoo enrolled into the Indian School of Business for a masters programme in business administration. That one year changed his life because he was thrown into “this ocean of super smart people”. He realized at the time that he was good with people and that he was process-driven. At the end of the programme, he had a coveted consulting job. But three years later, he joined his ISB batchmate in his start-up venture. He recalls, “We started building websites and then had some exits, after which I got in touch with Groupon in the USA. In 2011, I started the India business for Groupon.” But the company landed in problems soon after it listed in 2011 and by 2014 focus shifted to operations in the USA and Europe.
Warikoo convinced the parent company to sell out the India operations of Groupon, for which he and his team got a fat cheque from Sequoia Capital. The company was renamed nearbuy.com in 2015. In 2017, Paytm came along and they invested in the business and became a Paytm-controlled entity. The journey from Groupon to nearbuy.com taught him many things about the start-up world and the typical mistakes that founders commit. The company went through its own ups and downs. By 2019, after the company had gone through its funding winter, layoffs and had finally turned profitable, Warikoo felt his time had come to move on.
Life’s Biggest Failure That Changed His Life
Most startup founders who burn venture capital money are scarcely apologetic about their choices or poor performance of their ventures. Warikoo’s biggest failure, according to him, was what nearbuy.com did with the $17 million cheque from Sequoia Capital and the aftermath. He says: “When nearbuy.com raised $17 mn in 2015, I made the classic mistake that founders make. Without focusing on the problem to solve, as a new company we decided to spend every dollar in marketing and building awareness. And in 9 months we ran out of money and I had to layoff 80 people, which was 25% of the workforce.”
Watikoo recalls how crappy he felt after his decision, as his team had paid a price for the mistakes he had made as a manager. He recalls, “I never felt shittier and it was devastating. I was the reason 80 people lost their self respect as losing a job is not about losing a job but their self respect.” His online course on startups speaks brutally about the world of VC funded startups and the challenges that co-founders face. He says many people take a refund and leave the course after the first session, as they change their minds about starting their ventures.
It is not just his failures from the past that determine his learnings. Warikoo was called out on social media earlier this year for promoting Vauld, a crypto lending platform, for money. Warikoo is an investor in crypto assets and generally tends not to endorse products he does not use himself, but in this case he cautions creators to be more careful while endorsing financial products. Few ‘fin-fluencers’ have a skin in the game while endorsing products and maybe that needs to change. Warikoo’s motto is to only endorse products he uses and chooses to work with brands he can work with for a very long time and yet he has gone wrong with Vauld.
What Is Working For His Customers
Warikoo’s courses come with a standard disclaimer – that he won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. But because he is process-driven, many of his subscribers and students are able to organize their lives a little better. One of his courses on time management is a huge hit with people who are senior professionals and even entrepreneurs.
The Big Business Opportunity that India’s Confused Youth Offer
Ask Warikoo about himself and he identifies himself as an entrepreneur and not as a content creator. Most people, he says, confuse their designations/roles with what they actually do. It has something to do with his journey as a startup founder perhaps. While he is generating revenues of ₹27 crore a year, there is a glass ceiling on the content business because it can, at best, be a ₹150 crore business. While education is a business that can be as big as ₹1,000 crore. It is for this reason that he is building an edtech business that will never raise any money from venture capitalists. Called WebVeda, this platform will remain bootstrapped and will focus on “making college kids life ready...”
The biggest problem that the youth face today is – patience. Warikoo says that born in the 80s, he had to wait for everything in life. But this generation wants everything on tap and what they need to learn is patience. Also, many young people choose careers that others have told them to take up. This is what leads to unhappiness and confusion. Says Warikoo, “Most of these people are doing things that were thrust upon them.”
Ancient India had focused on an education that prepared students for life under the Gurukul system. Education in the industrial age, unfortunately, is not working anymore as it does not prepare the graduates for the real world. Over the next 10 years, India will produce 300 million graduates. From helping people become YouTubers to managing time, Warikoo has several courses on offer that are priced between ₹299 and ₹399. Warikoo calls his team ‘WariCrew’ and currently has 17 on board, most of whom are under the age of 30. The courses are on demand and come with lifelong free access.
Even though Warikoo likes to call himself an entrepreneur, teaching is where his heart is. That it is a ₹1,000 crore business opportunity is only incidental.
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