It is one thing to admit your own mistakes and learn from them but something else to tell the world and help people not repeat them. Ankur Warikoo, former Groupon India CEO and ex-CEO of Nearbuy, has been doing the latter successfully through his viral content over the past few years, garnering the love of millions along the way.
It started at 24 when Warikoo, after securing a 100% scholarship for a PhD in astrophysics from the Michigan State University, returned to India abruptly. “My ultimate dream was to become a NASA scientist and I had worked towards achieving it for eight years of my life. I thought that is what I was good at but when I joined the course, I realised it was not making me happy, so I dropped out,” he says. The decision earned him a lot of flak but also paved the way for what was to come next.
In a way, Warikoo has always been a content creator. He has been running a blog since his student days at the Indian School of Business in 2005—a blog that he updates every single day even today.
Video content, the one that he is most known for today, came in much later in 2016 with him experimenting first with LinkedIn and then with YouTube. That was done with an aim to establish Groupon, a global ecommerce platform, in India and then his own company, Nearbuy, a hyperlocal ecommerce platform set up in 2015, as employer-centric brands. “We wanted to go directly to the people whom we could potentially recruit. That is how I got more active on social media and people started following my storytelling,” he says.
An honest Warikoo acknowledges that he fumbled professionally with Nearby by naively believing that marketing was the only problem the company was facing. “I thought that if the world got to know us, we would become big automatically. I refused to think of our product offering as something that needed work,” he says. Due to an unclear roadmap, Warikoo says they had to start firing people and 80 out of its 400 employees were laid off.
In 2019, Warikoo eventually decided to step down as the CEO of Nearbuy, a company where he continues to be a shareholder and a board member.
“I was looking for what to do next and Covid happened,” he says. That is when he thought of capitalising on the online content journey that he had already embarked upon. He built a team and dived straight into content creation in a big way with a major focus on mentoring and teaching.
Over the years, he has made videos on personal growth covering everything from time management, motivation and education to finance, investment and more. He also conducts courses online.
Today, he is present across all major social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter, and has a total of about seven million ardent followers.
The Many Hats
Warikoo ticks several boxes. He is an angel investor, public speaker, writer, course designer, mentor and now, even a social media sensation. But it is teaching and mentoring that are the closest to his heart.
“I am an entrepreneur by DNA but I love teaching. For me, it is sharing whatever you know so that the person opposite you knows a bit more after he met you. My book, Do Epic Shit, is actually about my failures and experiences which, to me, is another form of teaching,” he says.
Behind all his content is a lot of hard work, thinking and planning with precision. Warikoo says that while it may seem that he is constantly working, it actually takes just about 10 hours a week—six hours on Monday to shoot everything for the entire week, half an hour to write his weekly newsletter, another half an hour to write his weekly Twitter thread, an hour for his Instagram Live and half an hour to answer questions on the live.
His 2.17 million followers on YouTube get a new video every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and he says that to do that consistently for 2.5 years is not a trivial task. “I am a student of routine and totally okay doing the same thing over and over again. I have a process behind content creation which creates the impact that it has because it is so detailed and structured. That is the reason why we have been so consistent,” he explains.
Warikoo’s easy-going persona and simple way of communication have attracted millions to his posts. He says that he does not put up a façade. “Even during the making of a video, if I make a mistake, it is mostly not edited out, and I just move on with the conversation. I joke around things; all of this gives me comfort in admitting my failures. They do not see [someone] at my level making that,” he says.
People also see Warikoo as someone who genuinely wants to help. That is also because he shares a lot with his audience—his process, finances, investments, everything that he does within and outside the company, how he grew, his analytics dashboard on YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn, and more. His positive outlook towards life in general also helps people relate to him better.
“I get a lot of feedback around people loving my videos because they make them feel positive about life,” he adds.
Warikoo is now gearing up to launch his own community app where he plans to bring in as many of his followers and get them to communicate with each other.
While he receives a lot of love online, hate is not too far away. Warikoo, however, keeps both of them close to him.
His company’s Google Drive, interestingly, has three folders titled Hate, Life-changing and Funny. “I tell my team, ‘if you are bored, go to the Funny folder; if you are feeling a bit unsure, go to the Life-changing folder; and if you are feeling too full of yourself, go to the Hate folder,’” says Warikoo.
Since Warikoo is adept at using digital marketing tools, advertisements about his courses are all over YouTube and Instagram. They are on Google and Facebook too, which sometimes makes it look like he is omnipresent.
“Unfortunately, Google and Facebook, where I spend most of my money, do not have a mechanism to control the number of ads that a person gets to see. But, because my ads work so well in terms of earnings, their algorithm keeps showing them,” he explains.
The downside is that Warikoo’s “omnipresence” has left a certain section of the audience highly irritated, spawning several memes. “They just do not want to see my face. That is the most frequent hate that I get,” he says, as he shows an inbox full of abuses and nasty comments.
He says that most of the hate mails come from men. Among women, however, he seems to be quite popular, with 80% of the emails that he gets coming from women. This, even when 70% of his audience is male.Warikoo recalls, rather shyly, an email from one of his female fans that read: “I do not care if you are married or have kids. I do not care where you are in life. I just want to spend my life with you. Even if you have a wife, I am okay with that.”
But it is the story of an 18-year-old boy from Raipur that he recalls most fondly. The boy had watched one of Warikoo’s most successful videos titled I was lost at 24, where the influencer had spoken about his NASA debacle and had written to Warikoo saying that the video had stopped him from taking his own life.
“This boy wrote to me about how he just wanted to see his parents happy. He told me how, after watching my videos, he started picking freelancing jobs—he is a great coder and spends hours coding in his college computer lab. He recently made his first Rs 1 lakh and took his parents for coffee to a five-star hotel,” Warikoo says.
After becoming a popular social media influencer, endorsements were bound to come Warikoo’s way and they did. He, however, is cautious about endorsements. “On YouTube, I only work with long-term partners for products that I personally use and have been using long before I joined social media. On LinkedIn, I work with corporates of repute with whom I would like to be associated. I have done collaborations with LinkedIn on LinkedIn and have helped them drive their positioning as a social media platform apart from being a recruitment platform,” he says.
While endorsing a brand, Warikoo makes sure that it is a brand that he can be proud of. If he ever promotes an investment product, he ensures that he has invested in it personally. He also does his due diligence before promoting a brand and does not prefer endorsing new brands.
A keen observer of how being a social media influencer has culminated into a profitable profession, Warikoo does not shy away from sharing his company’s financials.
“We have been immensely successful—to the extent that, for the first time in my life, I have paid corporate tax this year. We did Rs 17 crore in revenue—a combination of courses, endorsements, corporate gigs and subscriptions—last year and are aiming for Rs 30 crore this year. My team is earning way more than most full-time people and interns at my company earn Rs 8 lakh annually,” says a proud Warikoo.
“I literally started from zero and learnt along the way. If I can reach where I am today in terms of my reach on social media, anyone can,” he says, summing it up.