'We go through 18 years of school and college, but we lack many necessary skills.'
'The biggest lessons we need, to live life, are somehow not taught, and they are only learned on the job.'
'My intention, through my content, my books, and my start-ups, is to make college kids become life ready.'
We are taught to tread one simple path in our work lives to become successful.
That's not been the case for Ankur Warikoo.
The multi-hyphenated, multi-passion professional has been juggling various topis and life roles, proving first his versatility and skill as an Internet entrepreneur and a corporate man and then going on to emerge as one of the most recognisable faces in India's digital space.
After dumping plans to have a career in astrophysics, Ankur got into the startup arena with Accentium Web, where he was an Internet mentor. He jumped tracks to lead a bright corporate career as the CEO of Groupon India and Nearbuy.com. He again did a U-turn to become a content creator and public speaker.
In 2021, he turned author with his first book, Do Epic Shit. Digging into his rich personal and professional experiences, his book targetted young Indian minds and guided them on how to be more productive and turn words and intentions into action.
Now out with his second book, Get Epic Shit Done, Ankur explains to twentysomethings how to face the many challenges that will suddenly pop up as they go out into the world.
"Today's generation can dream of whatever they want to be. Because they are sitting on perhaps the best opportunities that this country has ever offered, they are also very overwhelmed. They are always thinking 'If I chose this, am I saying no to something that is better?'," Ankur tells Mayur Sanap/Rediff.com in a Zoom interview.
What motivates you to do things that you do?
I love to have multiple identities in just one life.
We have such a wonderful life and I feel that it would be pity if someone asks what I do and I just give a designation at a company. I certainly wouldn't want to live like that.
For me, to don multiple hats is the thrill of it. There is no ulterior motive to reach a certain destination, it's just that on my deathbed I'd like to reflect upon my life and say 'Oh awesome, I got to play an entrepreneur, I got to be in corporate, I got to become a writer and content creator and what not will (that can) happen tommorow.'
Because that will mean I enjoyed whatever I wanted to do.
You once said you lead a way of life that doesn't involve chasing goals or targets. It would be intriguing to know what was going through your mind when you decided to quit as CEO.
(Laughs) As the CEO, your biggest fiduciary responsibility is towards your shareholders as they are the ones who have invested in you and your interests. There came a point when I recognised that playing the role of the CEO is not materially going to change that output. Then the right thing to do is to step down.
It may not be a very normal thing in our culture, but if you see in the West there are a lot of founders who consciously step down as the CEO to give way to someone else who perhaps would do a better job, while they can continue doing something else.
When I stepped down as the CEO of Nearbuy in 2019, I was super proud of the team I had built. I trusted my founders who run the show better than I could. We built a wonderful culture that I was immensely proud of and we were market leaders in our space.
Of course, this was before the COVID-19 pandemic, so we did not know what was to happen. But the realisation was very clear that me staying in this (wasn't going to) change the outcome and if I can then go explore something else for myself that's an opportunity cost that is appreciated and valued. And that was the way of doing it.
Over the years, you have built a social media brand for yourself. Inspiring people, especially millennials, has been on your agenda.
Why do you believe in connecting with the millennials out there?
My idea is very simple. In global history, there has never been a moment where in a decade or so about 300 million people will move from education to the workforce. It is going to happen in the next 10 years for our country.
That generation, in my opinion, needs the most help. With the right help, they are going to change the course of our country.
So all this comes from a realisation that I wish I was helped in a certain way when I was 22 around things like money, career, relationships, time, my own persona and identity.
All the content that I create is stemming from that same thing -- that I, at the age of 42 today, recognise so many things that I made mistakes when I was in my 20s that I would want people to consider, if not (prevent them from making the same mistakes).
Both my books are written in a manner where it's light on readers. I am speaking to a generation that doesn't read much.
They are impatient, but they also flaunt that they are reading a book. So the book has to appeal to those sensibilities. It has to be Instagrammable, but it also has to be something that helps them.
It was a very conscious call that Get Epic Shit Done should be a book that doesn't have a start or an end (no standard narrative). It is very clear that there are 36 life questions and whenever they are encountering one of those questions, they just have to go to that chapter, read it and they will get an answer that most likely is not the right one but it will hopefully provoke them to find the right answer.
Your audience base is predominantly Indian middle class youth. What have been your valuable observations of this stratum?
The biggest thing is that I am constantly amazed at the sheer audacity of their ambition. They are not limited by anything anymore, which is actually also true about the world now.
I was certainly born in an India where opportunities were limited, but they were far better than what my parents had. Today's generation can dream of whatever they want to be, in however way they want to.
Secondly, because they are sitting on perhaps the best opportunities that this country has ever offered, they are also very overwhelmed. They are always thinking 'If I chose this, am I saying no to something that is better?'
There is always this FOMO (fear of missing out) they are living with, which is making it very overwhelming for them.
But the best thing about this generation is that they are not in hurry to settle. They are pacing themselves in the right way in terms of their education, career, life choices -- both males and females. And I really love that about them because, in my opinion, that is the best way to live your 20s.
How did you come up with the idea of a sequel to Do Epic Shit?
So, this book is not< a sequel to Do Epic Shit. While the title may suggest it is a sequel, both books are very independent (of each other).
Do Epic Shit is a provocative book. It makes you think. But it doesn’t really give you any answers or tell you something new. It is a great reminder of life in general.
The feedback that I got was 'Hey, we loved how it challenged us, how it provoked us, but we felt a bit incomplete because it did not tell us what to do next'.
So I followed with this book.
Get Epic Shit Done, as the name suggests, is about (how to act). In a big departure from the previous one -- this book is lot more prescriptive.
When I was studying in Delhi University, we had this book which was a compilation of answers to questions from the last 10 years. So before the examination, you had to just go through the book and you would invariably know what to expect (on the exams).
Similarly, my book is like a kunji (key) for life, where you go through the answers to the question papers that life throws at you, and, in some way, hopefully, you will have the answers.
How did you find a voice as writer?
I will laugh at the person who ever calls me for a literature festival! I will be amused if anybody thinks that I am an author. Basically, I am a writer -- in my head there are thoughts and I am writing those on a piece of paper.
It shows in my writing style too. I don't write long sentences. I take a lot of line breaks. I don't like start-and-finish kind of writing (prose in a narrative format) because people lose patience and their attention is lost.
I like to write something that is in a very short form and quickly consumable.
A good way of thinking about this is: We are living in an era today where Instagram reels and YouTube Shorts are the new way of consumption. People do not read newspapers anymore, but they are just swiping InShorts. And if you were to write a book, you basically have to write a book that reproduces that experience.
I am writing for those who don't read often or don't read at all. Like I wanted Do Epic Shit to be the first book they have read for a lot of people and I am so glad it turned out to be that. It is not a book for people who read often or are voracious readers. They will not enjoy the book and I am aware of that.
Today you are an influencer for many. Who have you been influenced by in your journey?
People and stories! I am a big, big, fan of stories. I draw inspiration from people and their stories.
I am glad we belong to a country that is full of stories. Whether it's mythology or history or day-to-day conversation about politics and sports, everybody has a story to tell and everybody has time to hear them out.
In fact, my book starts from (how) I have a lot of teachers who do not even know me. I have learned so much from people who have no idea who I am, because I just observed them from distance.
Who are your mentors?
My mentors are many actually. I hold this thought that you shouldn't assign your responsibilities in life to just one person. So, I have multiple mentors in life and they aren't successful or well-known people as such.
Today, I have mentors for my entrepreneurial mindset, my personal life, for money, and so on.
I rely on their judgment and expertise to guide me in the right way.
I really like that there are multiple people. It is like an (executive) board for my life. While I may be the CEO of my life, I am still reporting to the board and the board gives me its oversight and judgments. That's how I live.
You say in your book that the most important skills today are the ones that are rarely taught in school or college. What skills are you referring to and what's the solution?
You know, we go through these 18 years of school and college which gives us a degree. But we still lack many necessary skills.
When you are out in the real world, you don't know how to manage your job or your peers, or your boss.
You don't how to give or seek feedback.
You don't know how to deal with confrontation.
You don't know how to manage work-life balance.
You don't know how to suddenly manage your relationships.
You don't know how to manage your mental health.
You don't know how to file taxes.
You don't know how to read your salary slip.
You don't know what your offer letter (should say).
It is like where was all this information? Why we were not told all of this?
The biggest lessons that we need, to live life, are somehow not taught, and they are only learned on the job.
That could be a very bad way of learning. Because what if you make a mistake that's fatal? What if you make a mistake that takes you really long to recover from?
That is why I stress (having) knowledge about communications skills, money, storytelling, humour, relationships is necessary and college doesn't do a good job at that. You have to know these things to win in life.
Hence, my intention, through my content, my books, and my start-ups, is to make college kids become life ready.
The book is written as a conversation between a teacher and a student. Did you deliberately keep the book format very simple to make yourself relatable to your readers?
Yes, it was a conscious choice.
There were two inspirations: The first was the seminal conversation between Socrates and Plato that gave the world possibly the best philosophical piece of work that we have seen.
The second was this beautiful book called Courage to be Disliked which I had read two years ago and it left a very deep impression on me.
I loved it because it was a conversation between a student and a philosopher. I really liked this back-and-forth approach because it allows you to ask the same question that is emerging in your head while you are reading it.
This book is an attempt to almost predict what the questions would be from the students as they go through it. And if they find themselves saying, 'Oh my god, this was the same question I had', then I know we are on the right track.