TAKING UP THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: INTERVIEW WITH 21-YEAR-OLD CO-FOUNDER OF CAMPUSWRITING.COM
Ankur Thakuria is the co-founder of India’s fastest growing self-help portal, Campuswriting.Com.
Could you tell us about yourself and what you do?
I hail from a small town on the North-Eastern foothills of the Himalayas, called Duliajan. My father Mr A.K. Thakuria (a civil engineer by profession) and mother Mrs Mamani Thakuria have always been the prime pillars of support for me.
Taking up the road less travelled (at least when it comes to the traditional Indian sort), has always seemed enticing to me. I began my first venture back in the 8th grade. And I began volunteering for Foundation for a Drug-Free World during the same time.
Besides being a full-time student, I am currently working as a marketing intern at Arrow 1851 (the US-based formal wear giant) in Arvind Lifestyle Brands Limited. I also am the founder of CampusWriting.Com and currently siting as the CEO of the enterprise. CampusWiting.Com is currently the fastest growing self-help cum youth portal in the country; having seen over 5 million unique IPs since its inception in early 2012.
What inspired you to start CampusWriting?
Growing up in a developing country has its own pros and cons. And to belong to the middle class and in a society which can be considered ‘closed’ is not an easy deal. I was always disturbed by the fact that when it comes to the Indian society there are several topics of conversation we cannot carry out freely. Ideas like Sex, drugs, abuse or even relationships are a no-no or like a taboo when it comes to conversation. But these are some of the most common and pressing issues in life, especially in case of a young adult.
And I wanted to give a way for everyone to speak up on these topics; I wanted to ‘Give Voice to Emotions’ and that was exactly what inspired me to start CampusWriting. Besides that I wanted the society to grow up, and allowing users to start talking on these topics at least online is maybe the first step wherein similar conversations would gain acceptance in Indian society like in case of the Western countries.
Tell us what CampusWriting.Com is all about.
The core idea behind CampusWriting.Com is to give the users a way to speak up their inner emotions and experiences which otherwise stay hidden. Allowing the users to give words to their experiences and emotions without having to reveal their identities is what CampusWriting is all about. Unlike social media platforms, we are trying to build relationships based on common experiences and feelings rather than on identities. We have seen conversations crop up between total strangers just out of sharing a common incident, experience or event in their lives.
CampusWriting has not only made its mark online, it has also started 9 regional centers across India out of user’s interest. These allow CampusWriting to take steps offline and to spread the message about the need to express to the millions of youth across India.
In today’s generation, it is essential that we speak up and that we don’t stay quiet, youth empowerment is another core area CampusWriting is working on. We are working close with some of the biggest college events in the country as well as supporting new startups reach their initial population or prospective clients.
We at campuswriting believe that, ‘everyone has a story to tell and that every story needs to be heard’; that is why we are providing the platform. And it is a widely known fact. ‘Live your life with truth, and share from your heart… And your story would touch and heal people’s souls’…
You are also a Climate change leader. Tell us how did you get involved in Climate change and how did managed to get trained under the mentorship of US Senator, Al Gore, in 2013?
My interest in the field of Climate Change grew predominantly during the 10th Grade when I was a finalist at the TERA Quiz (an international Environmental Quiz bringing in 64 students from across Middle-East & Asia), where I had the chance to hear Dr R.K. Pachauri (Nobel Laureate) and expert on Climate Sciences. It was inspiring enough to get me started on the road to understand Climate Change.
But what got me geared up to take a step was when I watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth’; faced with the reality I wanted to do something to make a change in the field of Climate Crisis and also there was an innate feeling to come face to face with Sir Al Gore someday.
That dream came true in June 2013; when I was called in by The Climate Reality Project to be trained as a Climate Leader by Al Gore. Based on my application and previous experience as an educator for Foundation for a Drug Free World, today I am the youngest Climate Leader in India. The training comprised of several core areas like leadership, presentation skills and even being an orator. The training was indeed inspiring and very informative and I look forward to spreading the knowledge and the truth of Climate Change in the masses.
What’s your take on social entrepreneurship?
I believe that one can be successful as well as earn money while doing good for the society. With the growing population, it is essential to create new avenues of jobs, and that is exactly where social entrepreneurship comes in in the first place. Besides that they address issues that are critical to growth of the society from drinking water, healthcare to sanitation.
I feel social entrepreneurship is not only a career path but also a way to give back to the society. Helping people in your communities and beyond gives one a sense of satisfaction that is much greater than money. Moreover the pride and the blessings that come in from the people affected by your actions are worth a lot more than money one makes. And it is not cheap path either; one can really make a lot of money and be equally successful in the path of social entrepreneurship.
At age 22, you have traveled to over 30 countries. Tell us more about that.
With Malaysia and Philippines back in October 2013, I completed 36 countries in my bucket list. My latest trip was to Abu Dhabi for the 3rd time 2 weeks back for the World Future Energy Summit and International Water Summit as a youth delegate and invited guest by the renewable energy giant Masdar.
I was in love with travelling for as long as I can remember. It all began around the age of 12 when I started travelling alone, I used to experience a different kind of thrill and a feeling of satisfaction in stepping into new countries. A major leap came in the year 2011, when I got the chance to be a youth diplomat at the G20 Summit 2011 in Cannes, France. Selected by the French organising presidency for G20 (under the aegis of Youth Diplomacy), I was among the 8 chosen internationally to be a part of History in the making. After this a lot of opportunities opened up in form of discussions and debates in related agenda which brought along several destinations to travel to. Signing NDAs in a few sensitive discussions was also an interesting addition to the itinerary.
It was out of my passion for youth empowerment, my entrepreneurial journey as well as my acts of leadership as a part of Climate Reality and Foundation for a Drug Free World that led to a lot of travelling.
Why did you choose to go the entrepreneurial path at a very tender age?
As I mentioned earlier, I began my first venture back in 8th grade. Although it was a failure, but it taught me some important lessons in life: patience and perseverance. Getting to know the stories of how guys from humble backgrounds changes the world around them affecting millions was one thing that affected me deep within. I wanted to be known by people as someone who worked for the betterment of the society as well as someone who is very successful.
The drive to gain recognition was one chief factor that pushed me towards entrepreneurship at such a young age. And today if I look back I would say I made the right decision, because I still have the time to make mistakes while I construct a venture and still got time to stand up and start over. Entrepreneurship has taught me a lot of lessons in life since the very beginning and one of the biggest achievements for me was the first ‘Thank You’ I received from someone I didn’t know who was positively affected by my ideas. That is the beauty of social entrepreneurship, that feeling of being able to help people.
Have you always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur?
If you take a closer look at the Indian youth graduating from high schools, a big chunk of tem follow a herd to become either an engineer or doctor. Not that it is bad or something, but one must sit back and think as to what they really want to do. I was sure of the fact that I didn’t want to take the same common road as everybody, but I wasn’t sure of being an entrepreneur till I was in my final years of high school.
After failing in my first venture and getting to hear people’s reactions (both positive and negative), it somehow motivated me and I challenged myself that I would make it happen in this field. And the learning from then I tried putting into building CampusWriting. Today after two years into CampusWriting, I am looking at starting up another venture in a few months from now which will address the tier-2 cities in India.
What were the biggest obstacles, problems you had in getting started in business?
One of the biggest problems I had while setting up a business, in this case for CampusWriting was getting people to believe in the idea which I wanted to turn into a business. That is to get the core team of people who you want to be as passionate about the idea as you are.
Besides that managing the first hand working capital; although being an online portal it was less for us but still getting that first amount of cash is another hurdle. Then, once your business goes live, the biggest problem is to go sell it. Engaging clients and actually making people buy your products, in this case having users return on the site needed a steady eye for details and fix glitches as soon as possible.
And once the market is set and you have regular clients, in the case of CampusWriting, the problem faced was expansion. As the expectations increase, one must grow with it. And this calls in not only for money but also additional help. Getting the right volunteers and ambassadors at this phase is also crucial and not an easy task.
How was growing up like for you?
Since a very young age I was very outgoing and I loved to explore the outdoors, forests, open fields, etc. Maybe that’s where I got this nag to travel. On the other side, my mom and dad were always very supportive to me trying out different activities, from sports to cooking to even food. They have always been a motivation for me to do good and my elder sister who has been there to stand by me always. I am glad to have been a part of a family who has always been very supportive.
And that is what I feel is the reason I have the courage to take up the fields which many others won’t. Entrepreneurship is not easy, it indeed is very daunting and my family’s moral values, their support and motivation has been one of the main reasons I am able to carry along this path.
My childhood memories are filled with travelling, meeting new people, new cultures and long hours of family talks which helped me open up to my family on all ground.
What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?
Being an official youth diplomat at the G20 Summit 2011 and being the youngest Climate Leader in India are the two most prized achievements for me. Besides that, building up CampusWriting has been an achievement that I will cherish all my life. It is like my baby and I would like to see it grow much more over the years.
What is one lesson life has taught you?
In life, one of the most important lessons I learnt was that our immediate family is the closest people we can have who would not judge you on your acts; and who would always be on a lookout..…….. when you excel and to pull you up when you fall.
Life has taught me that when it comes to being sensible, it’s necessary to understand that the society will always laugh with you but not always cry with you. So one must be determined and strong at the face of struggle and now get weak at the sight of hardships. Serving/helping others through our acts is the only way we can make friends who would come forth to stand by us tomorrow at the time of need.
How would you like people to remember you?
I would like to see the society and my community open up to ideas that CampusWriting is addressing today; and I would like the people to remember me as an icon of hope and belief who gave ‘Voice to their Emotions’.
What is the scariest part in working for yourself?
The idea of ‘Working for Yourself’ might seem very appealing, but it’s also very taxing. In order to work for yourself, you need to be able to pay-up your employees and all that depends on your monthly profits at the startup stage. With just the running capital in the first year or so is the scariest part. There is always the fear of going bankrupt.
But then, once you make it through the years, your responsibilities increase although the company stabilizes. Being that person everyone looks up to and being a motivation to everyone around is also a tough ordeal.
How do you keep a positive mind in difficult situations?
For me the way of motivating myself to keep going in difficult situations, is to remind myself of some of the best achievements in my journey as an entrepreneur. Looking forward to similar breakthrough and opportunities is a way to convince myself to believe in me to face the situation and get over the difficult phases.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to grow and take campuswriting to the next level. We are expanding into the offline markets this year. Besides that, as mentioned earlier on I am working on my next startup to address an issue in tier-2 cities.
Besides that on the academic side, I consider getting my management education done as well as be in the corporate chairs of a renowned company for a few years before I return to my startups with more real-life experience to help it grow. Also I believe that money is an essential part of any idea execution; and working for a few years would make me financially independent to pursue my dream ideas.
What book has inspired you most?
‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ is a book that has taught me some of the most important lessons in life. The words of a small girl could shake the world; imagine what our emotions and feelings could bring in change if given the right moment to vent out.
What do you think of Under35CEO.co?
I feel it is a great portal which not only presents developments in the fields of entrepreneurship but also acts to motivate the next generation to act upon their ideas and construct their dreams and lead the path of entrepreneurs and change this world.
What advice do you have for young and aspiring entrepreneur out there?
There is one thing I always believe in, when you have an idea, have the courage to take that first step. It’s the first step which dictates your success in the long run. Because if you don’t act on your idea today, tomorrow someone else will.
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