Varun Agarwal (Book, Instagram and Engineering)

Varun Agarwal is quite a celebrity in Bangalore, the young entrepreneurial startup world (e.g. guys who watch TVF Pitchers and Silicon Valley) and also in the digital and film space.

He is most known for his company the Alma Mater store, later the e-learning company app Grades Don’t Matter and of course his best selling book “How I Braved Anu Aunty and co-founded a million dollar company.”

His journey has been an exciting one with a film now in the works by Nitesh Tiwari, the director who also did Dangal.

Although he’s doing a lot, we do make time to hang out and recently he stopped by the Birdy Num Num podcast to discuss:

  • creativity,
  • mistakes young Indian entrepreneurs continue to make
  • and the whole follow your passion debate.

I also thought I’d jot down my five favorite videos of his, including many we’ve done together.

Mainly because I see a lot of motivational and entrepreneurial fluff by people who don’t understand creativity and communication. But also we can chart both his and my progress over the years by the content we produce. And just like in life, sometimes you go backwards.

But that’s ok, even though the fake motivators don’t tell you that.

Yes you can start an app, yes you can follow your dreams…but most of those people are only successful at books on the exact same topic…e.g. Listen to me tell you how to be successful because I’m only successful at telling people how to be successful…not that I’ve built a successful restaurant or clothing business.

Lessons to Learn from Entrepreneur Varun Agarwal

We met in 2014 when he approached me to help write one of India’s first truly viral videos, the Anu Aunty Engineering Anthem. We’ve had the pleasure of being buddies ever since.

Varun Agarwal on Engineering and Anu Aunty

In 2014 sometime around September Varun approached me to work on writing a song for the jaded engineers of our beloved India. Since I had done plenty of similar work on the IT Guy series, and we both lived in Koramangala, the startup center of Bangalore, I figured why not.

Most videos get stuck on the planning shelf for a while, we jumped right in and of course cast a then little known Sumukhi Suresh.

It was also my first time shooting on a fancy camera with director Sam Mohan (who know has helped make Emiway famous by shooting much of his work).

The video quickly picked up 1M views (a lot back in those days) and made us mini-celebrities in India for a while.

It also taught me very quickly that in this game, short term success means nothing (which we discuss in my podcast below).

This was shot in one and a half days. Imagine.

Having a Startup

Despite that, Varun continued to parlay his experience into speaking and see how that could help grow his brand.

Most talks on the Indian TedX circuit can be a bit fluffy, but as you can see by his casual jeans and straightforward attitude, this is anything but.

Real advice for real results. And almost 4M views as of July 2019.

WOW. Another lesson for creators, update your thumbnails.

Ted Talks and INK Talks have become a sort of motivational porn these days also, where in India we see one format in the west and then beat it to death.

So after viewing a bunch of clips, I was inspired to take the stand-up comedy sketch angle and make the following which Varun was a good sport about…

Varun Agarwal on Millennials

Hey bro, I have a startup that writes about other startups that are starting up.


Eaves drop on any conversation in a StarBucks in Koramangala in Bangalore (because Cafe Coffee Day is whack bro) and you’ll hear people with million dollar ideas but 10 rupee execution.

So we took a dig at that whole world of what motivates the motivator.

This was an idea I had after watching a documentary about hipsters, and I shot/edited/released it in a matter of a few days. And sometimes, for the future creators..that’s all it takes rather that months of planning and writing on one single thing.

Which brings me to our journey together in 2019, after 5 years of being friends and colleagues.

The funny thing about our world is even if things look super successful on the outside, they’re anything but.

I can’t speak for Varun but I know if I was still working at Accenture now, I’d probably be making more than doing this whole creative thing on my own.

Whether it be youTube sketch writing, stand up comedy, film making or blogging, things come and they go.

But as I discuss with Varun finally on my podcast over water bottles (and not beers for once)….you need to really be into something for the long haul, so when you hate it, you still secretly need it.

Check out the full audio podcast and the youTube snippet below.

4. Varun Agarwal | Podcast

In case it’s not embedded on your phone, here’s the podcast with Varun.

5. Varun Agarwal | the one Mistake an Entrepreneur Makes

Please do have a listen to the 3-minute snippet and let me know your thoughts below.

Do you think most startup people talk the talk or walk the walk?

Are they addicted to the result or the actual journey? And for the video creators, what can you learn from your work?


Varun Agarwal has become the poster boy for Indians who want to do something else other than what society programs us to do. It’s fine to do engineering and medicine if you really want to, but many people don’t follow their dreams and then wake up at 40 to unhappiness and fancy cars.

What’s your ideal mix of a successful, fulfilling and happy life for the ambitious Indian man or woman?

Sanjay Manaktala is one of the top stand up comedians in India who started building the comedy community in the country back in 2010. Since then his stand up comedy videos and podcasts have helped millions laugh or get motivated. His latest effort is the Birdy Num Num podcast, helping you learn creativity in life after engineering. You can learn about Sanjay here or check out his YouTube channel here.

Let me know if this helped you or any comments?