HT Brunch Cover Story: The trust fund of today
August 2016. LinkedIn had just launched a video feature, allowing its users for the first time to create and publish video content on what had been, thus far, a written word platform.
I had been writing on LinkedIn for two-plus years by then, with some success.
It was mostly a rehash of a daily blog that I had started in 2005 when I was still at B-school, and which had transformed from what used to be the daily rant of an MBA student to the journal of an entrepreneur. If I remember correctly, I had some 40,000+ followers on LinkedIn back then. Driven purely by text posts.
But video would be fun. I didn’t think I was ready for YouTube then, and the following I had amassed on LinkedIn made it an easier platform to start with.
So, I waited.
Waited for the video feature to get turned on my profile. A month. Two. Three. Nothing happened.
So, one fine day, I wrote a post on LinkedIn, tagging Jeff Weiner, the then-CEO of LinkedIn: “Hey, Jeff. What does one have to do to get the video feature enabled on their LinkedIn profile?” Within an hour, a product manager working at LinkedIn responded, “We have enabled it for you.”
Did you just enable “that” feature I asked for, while I waited patiently for three months for it to happen on its own? Great!
The incident reminded me of my favourite life lesson. “If you do not ask, the answer is always no.”
It happened to be a Wednesday. My last name happens to start with the same letter. And so I recorded a video, my first ever, and posted it on LinkedIn. The video was called “Warikoo Wednesdays Ep. 1: If you do not ask, the answer is always no.”
Since that day in 2016, I have been creating content online, across all possible platforms. The 40,000 following on LinkedIn has grown to a 4 million+ following across LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, a newsletter, and a podcast. This led, most recently, to my first book.
Currency, not cash
There is a new currency being built in the world today. Most of it happened in the last two years. It is not based only on money. Instead, it’s based on something that so far was always the domain of global leaders:
The currency of attention. Mass scale attention.
Influencers today, across all possible genres—fashion, music, self-help, comedy, business, finance, start-ups and more—have the platforms to create followings that catapult them into a league that few people could imagine previously. And what Covid gave all of these influencers was the perfect ammunition. Time!
When people ask me what drove the demand in India that led to this massive growth in the last two years, I often remark that the demand was always there. It was just that good quality supply hadn’t happened.
But when the pandemic began, suddenly, the smartest, brightest individuals who had something meaningful to share were stuck in their homes. For 12-18 months. And most of them chose to connect. Chose to create. Chose to publish. And that brought forth one of the best periods of high-quality content that the world has ever produced, at a mighty scale.
I was lucky to have been a little ahead of the curve. After stepping down as the CEO of my start-up, nearbuy.com, in October 2019, I had decided to slow down and take a break.
And building my community and creating interesting content had been part of the plan.
I had built a team in early 2020, and much before the country went into a lockdown, I was already posting consistently across all platforms in an organised fashion.
As my audience grew over the last two years, I also learnt more about the people following me, and their needs. The influencer doesn’t live in an isolated chamber. We respond to our community and their response helps us up our game. We’re building a circle of influence, not a one-way megaphone. I shifted a lot of my conversation to Hinglish, from English.
To money and career, from just start-ups. To 18-24 year olds, from 25-34 year olds.
My aim was to create a process where the currency is trust. I realised that people trusted me, not blindly, but based on what I said and how I said it.
People trusted me, because I was vulnerable and comfortable sharing my mistakes. People trusted me, because somewhere they see their own story in mine.
I created affluence through trust. As most other influencers also do—the power they wield is something beyond money.
The meaning of rich
Imagine a Mr Beast, with 85 million followers on YouTube. Technically, he has the attention of enough people to constitute the 17th-largest country in the world. While he reportedly makes $4-5 million per month, he puts almost all of it back into creating his videos. This leaves him with no money, but rich he is!
Closer home, Sandeep Maheshwari, with 22 million followers on YouTube, has a following almost equal to Australia’s population.
So, when Sandeep Maheshwari goes on record to say that he doesn’t intend to make any money, ever, from all the content he produces, he is creating a new form of affluence that is hard to measure and, in my opinion, far more valuable than money.
The power of distribution to influence.
Through my content, I share links to services where I have signed up as an affiliate, thus earning a small fee for every sale I generate via those links. In 2021, I earned `26 lakh in affiliate income, a 100 per cent of which was distributed to sponsor the higher education of kids who cannot afford it.
I call this affluence.
A new order of affluence that isn’t about making money for yourself, but for a cause much bigger than an individual.
However, just like money, this affluence is also short-lived if not handled right.
The very same audience that elevates the influencer to a position where it seems they can do nothing wrong keeps the creator honest. A single mistake can make them lose everything they have built over years.
I talk a lot about personal finance. Within that, I often speak about how making money is different from creating wealth. Everyone who earns a salary makes money. But not everyone who makes money creates wealth.
You are wealthy when you are making money even while you sleep. You are wealthy when the assets you own are working, with or without you. You are wealthy when you invest your money in order for it to grow, rather than spending it all on short-term pleasures.
The same goes for this new currency of affluence that influencers are creating.
If you are an influencer or wish to become one, there are two ways of looking at the journey. One will be to make money. Which frankly, will happen. As long as you stick to the process, you will make money sooner rather than later.
The other option is to create wealth. The smart ones will recognise that the wealth will be created through consistency and authenticity. It will be created when people trust you and take you at your word. When they look up to you and want to become you.
When you reach that spot, you’ll know that rich is just another four-letter word.
Ankur Warikoo is an entrepreneur, public speaker, angel investor, YouTuber and founder of nearbuy.com. His first book, Do Epic Shit, published by Juggernaut, saw a record number of pre-orders last month.
From HT Brunch, January 2, 2022
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