“I believe if you really want to do something in a particular field, you don’t really need a degree. Hard work is your best degree.”
This is what fitness vlogger-cum YouTuber Gaurav Taneja told YS Weekender, when we caught up with him during our recent flagship event, TechSparks 2019.
At first glance, Gaurav seems to check all the conventional boxes of a fitness vlogger – well-built, well-spoken. But a half-an-hour-long panel and a candid chat later, it is pretty apparent that behind the tough persona is a goofball whose subtle humour is bound to leave you in splits.
Gaurav’s journey as a digital influencer, in fact, is as colourful as his online personality. From pursuing civil engineering at IIT Kharagpur to becoming a pilot and finally landing the role of a fitness vlogger, there has hardly been a dull moment.
Better known as the Flying Beast in his fandom – which by the way is a staggering three million plus club – Gaurav today runs two successful YouTube channels, called Flying Beast and FitMuscle Tv. Here, he shares his vlogs, daily life stories and his knowledge on fitness and nutrition.
Now, it’s certainly not unusual to come across an IITian who has gone through such drastic career transitions. Regardless, I was curious to find out about the turning point.
“Why did you choose to leave engineering and do this?” I asked, right after his panel at TechSparks 2019 where he shared the stage with fellow YouTuber Ranveer Allahabadia and took the audience ‘Inside the Booming Influencer Economy’. To my surprise, there was no outlandish reason behind this, just a simple philosophy.
“At every point of time, I have always listened to my heart,” Gaurav said, “If you want to make software and you are from a commerce background (just self-teach) … College me bhi wahi books padaenge na? (They will refer to the same books in college, right?) Just go ahead and self-train yourself.”
Having said that, Gaurav also cautioned against dropping out just because “it is cool”. “If you genuinely get a kick from inside, then only drop out,” he added.
A day in the life of a social media influencer
For many people, digital marketing or social media influencing is all about exotic vacations and couture. But behind the glitz and glamour of the near-perfect Instagram posts and videos, is a stark reality that involves long hours of work, a great deal of brainstorming, and the risk that what one shares online could be misinterpreted or received wrongly.
“The challenge here is to just hold on to the brand,” says Gaurav, referring to his personal brand that he has created for himself over the past three to four years.
“People can directly come to our videos, share comments, so the feedback is pretty direct. If you are doing good, you will know you are doing good. And if you are doing bad, you will know that too,” he continues drawing parallels between the life of a social media influencer and a startup.
“The challenge is to stay at the level you have built for yourself and churn out content,” he adds.
With great followership, comes great responsibility
Building a brand, engaging your followers with posts, videos, pictures – as fun as it sounds, it also entails a great deal of responsibility. And Gaurav knows this very well. As a social media influencer, boasting millions of followers, he knows that there are many watching him, believing whatever he says and hence, all the more reason for him to be mindful about his online footprint.
“Influence can mean both positive and negative. The idea is to make sure that I always influence people in a positive way because the kids are connected to you. They are disconnected from newspapers and TV,” he quips.
The responsibility is also looming large because Gaurav, who is married to fellow pilot and content creator Ritu Taneja, has recently embraced fatherhood.
“I became a father just a year back, so the parenting thing is always on my mind. I am always worried about what my kid will learn, so I am all the more conscious about [what I put out there],” he tells us.
The ‘Brand’ decision
One of the biggest decisions in the life of a social media influencer is to choose the right brand from a sea of options and associate with it. After all, association with a brand is a potentially ‘make or break’ moment.
For Gaurav, this decision is purely based on gut feeling. He tells us, “It comes as an instinct, honestly.”
“Most of the times when my manager tells me that there’s a new brand (who wants to associate with me), I know it in a jiffy if I want to endorse it or not,” he continues. “For instance, I don’t do fashion.”
Explaining his reasons, he says it is because his image on social media is that of a “college guy”. If he goes around telling his followers to, let’s say use a sunscreen, they would catch his bluff in a jiffy, he says.
“It’s like you know your audience, you have been doing this for 2-3 years. If you go against this intuition, you will have to face the consequences in the comments section,” he chuckles.
It is perhaps this mindfulness, understanding of his audience, and years of experience churning out content that makes Gaurav the internet sensation that he is today. But now that he has conquered YouTube and social media, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s next on his plate (I even coaxed him into answering if he is eyeing the OTT platforms next).
“Nothing that I have thought of but if an opportunity comes my way, I will think about it,” he answers. And when that happens, Gaurav is absolutely sure about the kind of content he would like to create.