Ankur was inspired by Johannes HausHofer, a Princeton Psychology professor, who believes that keeping a visible record of your rejected applications can help others deal with setbacks. But more than the number of his failures in the resume are the multiple hats he wears.
Besides being a founder, Ankur is also an angel investor and a big proponent of a healthy lifestyle. He is also a photographer, a DJ, a hustler, and astrophysicist who wants to be the first person to step on Mars!
Ankur’s company Nearbuy, his third time being an entrepreneur, lives the culture that he endorses. We, at Inc42, had firsthand experience of this as we prepared for our Facebook Live AMA. The team was not only courteous and helpful, they were informative too. Right from setting up the Internet connection for the live chat, to inquiring about our needs – the Nearbuy team breathes a culture of ownership, respect, and performance.
This was all evident in Ankur’s belief that he would not want to change anything in his entrepreneurial journey. He believes that he is very blessed because he has taken crazy decisions in his life without an iota of an idea that how would they pan out. He says,
There is a trap that we fall into as to what possibilities in life could have emerged if I had done some things a certain way. But I think it’s always a wise approach to take life as it comes through and always optimising for the process that you follow rather than the goal you set out to be.
So, here are the other coolest answers from the Ankur Warikoo’s AMA with Inc42:
Question: On the subject of taking crazy decisions: Why the decision to drop out of PhD? How did it affect your life?
Ankur: It’s a fancy thing, nowadays, to say that I am a PhD dropout. So, I say that as often as I can! I went to the US for my PhD and I recognised after two years that it would be something I would be good at but not necessarily happy doing for the rest of my life.
So, the minute you have this revelation, I would encourage you to think twice and think strongly about it. I am glad that I thought about it because doing this PhD would have given me a very misplaced sense of success defined by the world or by me for a very long period of time. But it would not be a true measure of success as it would not make me happy. So, I came back without an idea of what I would do next. I had a Masters in Physics which mostly made me unemployable in this country. So I had to figure my next steps out.
Question: How do you build a consumer culture around your product?
Ankur: This is the hardest thing to do. A lot of companies say I want to build the product first and then build the consumer angle to the product but that is rarely said than done. It boils down to how many consumers you speak to every day. I get about 30 emails from consumers every day – that I personally reply to. I speak to about 50 consumers on a weekly basis just getting to know what they feel about Nearbuy without any agenda. You are listening to your consumers. And everything from these conversations then flows back to define our product road map.
It’s not driven by what Ankur Warikoo, the founder’s, feelings of what we should do. It is driven by consumer reactions and interests. I am yet to have any feedback coming from a customer that we haven’t thought of already. And that for me is consumer-facing. No other theory or platform or framework will make it easy for you but the fact that you are physically speaking to customers or observing them use your product.
Question: What characteristics do you look for while hiring?
Ankur: At Nearbuy, we spend a lot of time in hiring because it’s something extremely important for us. It defines us in many meaningful ways. Besides looking at the skills and the technical qualifications for the role, the more important thing for us is whether he is the right kind of person for our cultural setup. Because we believe we have a very strong culture. It’s not a right or wrong culture but it’s who we are.
It’s defined by three things – ownership, respect, and performance. We value people who have the ability to respect others irrespective of their looks or income or where they studied. Have a high sense of ownership which means not stopping at what they have been told to do but going beyond that. And thinking of performance as the only true measure of whether they have done it or not. Everything else is honestly bullshit – whether you are liked by people or how many hours you worked. We want to associate with people who associate with this culture.
Question: How can entrepreneurs apply this hiring culture advice when they are starting up? And how do they overcome that initial self-doubt?
Ankur: If there is one job a CEO or founder has to do forever, it is to define the hiring culture of the organisation. This begins by initially hiring the right set of people and then laying down the rules as to how people will be inducted into this organisation. I quite like the Netflix culture deck which says an organisation should not behave like a family, it should behave like a professional team. The difference between family and team is that you cannot possibly get rid of your family.
You don’t do a performance appraisal of your mother/father/sister but you would do it for your colleagues. And that’s how teams work because the only thing you are optimising is the success of the organisation and nothing else. So, the biggest thing a founder does early on is defining the hiring culture, whether it is skill-based or culture-based. No fancy office, no investment, no product market fit can ever fill in for the fact that you hired poorly or did not set up a right hiring culture.
Question: How will you summarise your Nearbuy journey?
Ankur: I don’t think I will able to summarise my Nearbuy journey in a constructive manner. It has been a fascinating ride. I would not trade this for anything. Right now I am just emotionally, physically, psychologically married to Nearbuy. It’s not been an easy journey.
We came from the Groupon world and had an identity that was married to the parent brand. And then we became Nearbuy but the hangover still remained. It has taken a long while for us to get rid of it. So people still think of us as a deals and discounts site and we are working to break that myth. We drive this company in a very human way, we have a beautifully well-knit family. We are not assholes, we don’t mess around with people’s lives and careers, we don’t misuse people’s time or their money, and we think we are very fair – be it to merchants or colleagues or customers.
Question: What is the most unpopular opinion you have on entrepreneurship?
Ankur: That would be of becoming financially successful as an entrepreneur. Like the odds are so against you that you are a maverick to think that this is going to be your way out of financial boredom. If you end up working as a professional, you have a far better chance of making more money. If you do nothing and just invest your money in stocks and mutual funds, you will make more but the chances that you will survive as an entrepreneur are less than 10%.
The chances that you will survive and be enough to raise funds is 5%; the chances that you will survive, raise funds and get to a size and scale where your percentage ownership will mean something significant is less than 1%. So, you are betting your life, your time, your family time, and everything around you on that 1% chance that you will be financially successful! So, don’t be stupid and opt for this path for financial success. Choose this path because you are on a maverick journey to solve a problem and it consumes you day in and day out.
Question: Can you share one thing which startup culture in India is missing, compared to other countries?
Ankur: We do not believe in sharing. Remember that guy in school who used to top the class but never shared his notes because he feared that you would top the class if you had his notes, that’s exactly the mentality of entrepreneurs in Indian startups. It is screwed up on so many counts- because we don’t know shit, including the top entrepreneurs in India. No one knows what he or she is doing because the industry and ecosystem in itself is just very, very young.
The way it expanded in China or Silicon Valley or Israel is by sharing and asking help for a problem one is trying to solve. And, in return, they offer each other their learnings. I have no qualms in sharing my P&L or headcount or my top line or my salary because none of that makes my competitor stronger than me.
Sharing information doesn’t bother me because I am the one running this business and I know how to drive the nuts and bolts of it every single day. So just because someone has my P&L information, does not make him or her smarter. So, it’s sad that we don’t share enough or collaborate enough or exchange ideas and we want to do everything on our own.
Question: Can you please share with us your definition of success or failure?
Ankur: I can, but here’s the deal. You should not care. Why do we have to let the world define our success or failure? When we are in business school, someone tells you to have to go into consulting, that will get you a X title and a X lakh package and that is the success. They might scoff at you for joining a creative agency or starting up on your own without having an idea.
But it’s an individual’s choice to determine what is success or failure for him. I will not let anyone else determine it for me. Because we have grown up in an environment where everyone has told us that what is success or failure is meant to be. You should define your success or failure for yourself because if you let anyone else define it, you will be frustrated.
Question: Would you ever invest in solo founders in the mobile app industry? Please share your opinion.
Ankur: It’s not about the mobile app industry; the more important thing is the solo founder. Being a solo founder is a very hard journey, it’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. You are not going to have peaceful nights or happy days. Having a co-founder means having someone you can fundamentally trust with your life. You know that a particular individual is as passionate about your vision as you are. That’s a very hard thing to find because you have a vision about what your startup will do and you believe in it irrationally.
But someone else may not align himself with that kind of vision or optimism. To find him is rare. But it’s almost necessary because if you don’t, then most of the times you will find yourself staring at yourself in the mirror asking, “What am I doing? Am I even in the right spot? Am I insane? No one believes me?” You need that belief to come from somewhere and most often it’s the co-founder. If you can manage that on your own, hats off but typically becomes very hard. However, investment is not a criterion for that.
Question: Are you excited about Game of Thrones season 7?
Ankur: I have not watched even a single episode of Game of Thrones! I have no idea what the deal is all about! So yesterday the Season 7 Trailer came out and my Facebook feed was going crazy with it. I haven’t watched House of Cards or Narcos or The Crown. I only watch documentaries on Netflix. I am a boring guy. Besides that, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I am a vegetarian, I don’t have tea or coffee or juices or Coke or Pepsi. So, people around me joke why the hell I am alive… and I think maybe just to work and do nothing else!
Stay tuned to the Inc42 Facebook page for more such AMAs.