Ankur Warikoo wears many hats. He’s an entrepreneur, a content creator, an angel investor, a mentor and a public speaker. Known as the founder of discovery platform, Nearbuy, Warikoo quit as its CEO in 2019 though he’s still on its board. Now, he’s turned author as well. Combining his personal and professional journey, Warikoo’s book Do Epic Shit explains how our relationship with money, time and ourselves defines almost everything in our lives.
In an interview, Warikoo discusses his entrepreneurial journey, his book and what success really means. Edited excerpts:
How did you start your entrepreneurial journey?
It was quite serendipitous. I was a consultant working in a plush job right out of business school in 2005-06. One fine evening, I’m catching up with a friend from business school and he tells me of a website he’s started, Secondshaadi.com. I laughed and asked is it what I think it is. And he said, ‘Yeah, man, it’s a matrimonial website for remarriages.’ I loved the idea and asked if I could help in any way.
Since it was my proper first job, I didn’t want to quit to become an entrepreneur. So for a year and a half, I had a day job as a consultant and at night I was like Batman trying to get people married again (laughs). After three years, it got to a size and scale that warranted my full attention, so I quit my day job, took a massive pay cut and joined Secondshadi.com as a full-time entrepreneur. That started the journey into entrepreneurship in 2009.
The thing I like about entrepreneurship is it’s the most honest form of telling you what you’re worth. A lot of times in life, people get something because of the school they’ve been to, because of how they look or speak. But none of this counts. When was the last time you bought something from a startup because the founder had raised a lot of money. You couldn’t care less. It’s the greatest leveller because it doesn’t care about anything. The only thing that matters is: Am I building something of value, that people truly want and need?
Most entrepreneurs go from one venture to the next, chasing the next big idea, the next million. Why did you choose to get off this path and become a content creator?
I think I’ve been an entrepreneur even when I was working with someone else because of the way I think and the way I approach things. So in that sense, I’m still an entrepreneur. I’d like to say I’m still working in a startup, a startup in content creation and building a personal brand that will become something bigger than what it is right now. I am following the same process I would in building a startup—in product, in team building, in process orientation, customer orientation, making things they would care about, it’s the same. The only conscious choice that I made, which would be right in the sense of the question you asked, is I consciously chose not to play the venture-funded game in my next gig. I have understood how it works, I have an appreciation for it but I’ve also understood how it would not work for most people. When I was consciously choosing what I want to do next, I decided I wanted to do something that was bootstrapped, profitable from day one.
Why did you choose to reinvent yourself as an influencer and a sort of older friend who mentors younger people?
Because I’ve benefitted a lot from that. I realized I made a lot of mistakes in life, and each time I was made to realize it through the eyes of older people. I didn’t sign up for this, it just happened. I was lucky to be among people who wished the best for me and showed me the right way of looking at things and this is something I would like to give back.
What is success, according to you?
Success for me is fundamentally being able to do what I want to do without caring what the world thinks of me. That for me is success, that for me is happiness.
You say in your book that the most important skills today are the ones that are rarely taught in school or college. Why?
The reason they’re rarely taught is because it’s hard to measure these skills, which show results only in the long term. Our systems are geared for the immediate, for the short-term, for evaluation, and hence the mid-terms, the final exams, the rankings, where you are told where you stand in the entire world.
In my opinion, the skills that truly help are, first, curiosity. Ironically, curiosity is the first thing that school and college try to kill and usually successfully do it. It just doesn’t appreciate people asking questions. Second, the skill one needs to succeed is to know how to become a student whenever one needs to and I say this because the world is changing rapidly and the only hope we have is to keep learning. Third, reflection. We are not encouraged to reflect; we are told to move on. We’re told that failure is the stepping stone to success but that’s not true, because everyone fails and not everyone succeeds. Not every failure leads to success. And unless you reflect, you’re just going to move from one failure to the next until you spend the time on reflection.
You reiterate that it’s okay to fail but it sometimes comes across like you’re making failure seem cool, glamorous even, what Marc Andreessen describes as ‘fetishising failure’. Isn’t this a bit dangerous, and shouldn’t one ideally try, try until one succeeds?
I have never tried to make failure cool. I never say follow your passion, quit your job, I often say there is a way to figuring out what you want to do in life. We don’t find our passion, we grow into our passion. By definition, that means it’s going to take time. And so you must have something that feeds your stomach.
If you’re in a job that doesn’t affect your physical and mental health, then stay in that job and do what you are expected to. Do enough to do a good job. Cull out whatever time you can—on weekends, holidays, nights—to work on things you are driven by, what you think could grow into your passion should you get better at it. In that journey you are inevitably going to fail. But if you don’t even start because of the fear of failure you have already failed. Failure is not the fear of failing itself but the fear of what will people think of you when you fail. And if you are living your life in the fear of what people will think, you are never going to draw the courage to do what is right for you.