From an early age, Nitibha Kaul was clear that she wanted only the best that life had to offer: whether it was academically or career-wise. And the way she would attain that goal, she decided, was by using every opportunity that came her way.

So where others saw ‘lame ideas’ (like volunteering for a brand ambassador campaign by a mobile phone-maker) or ‘big risks’ (like quitting Google to be a wild-card contestant on India’s biggest reality show), Nitibha saw the chance to do something life-changing. And she succeeded. The volunteering experience eventually led to a Rs.10 lakh prize on an app design reality show. And her gamble with Bigg Boss in 2016 made her a household name, and sent her social media follower count soaring.

Even other gambits that didn’t entirely work out, such as her participation in the Miss India pageant, helped her become a more well-rounded person, she says. Today, the 27-year old lifestyle, fashion and beauty vlogger and social media influencer has over a million followers across Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. And she is far from being done, she tells Thrive Global India. Edited excerpts from the interview with Nitibha:

Thrive Global India: You’ve said before that your motto has always been to grab every opportunity. How has that credo helped you in life?

Nitibha Kaul: Well, growing up I was surrounded by people I was intellectually similar to; who got the same marks as I, and so on. But if I was able to be more (conventionally) successful, it was because I grabbed hold of every opportunity that came to me. For example, I volunteered for the Nokia College Ambassador programme, which sounded pretty lame at that time to other students. But to me, it was an opportunity that could lead to bigger and brighter things. It eventually enabled me to participate in a reality TV show, ‘Nokia your wish is my app’, which invited applications for a simple mobile app idea from students across India. My idea caught the attention of the judges and before I knew it, I’d won that show and got a Rs.10 lakh prize from Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan, the competition’s judges.

There were many such small opportunities, and they didn’t just change the course of my life—they defined it. When I took part in Miss India [in 2015], I didn’t make it to the finals. But that taught me a lot about self worth and self confidence and presentation, how to look good, how to speak well and how to present yourself in the best possible way. When I sent a three-minute video for Bigg Boss, it completely changed the trajectory of my life. I became the youngest contender to be selected to India’s biggest reality TV show, and three months later I was a household name! None of these things would have happened if I didn’t grab these opportunities and believe in the potential of them changing the course of my life.

TGI: Your first job was at Google. What was your career plan at the time?

NK: I joined Google as a digital account strategist with their small and medium businesses team. And it was probably the most perfect job I could have asked for. My team-mates were my friends from college. And the kind of work-life balance, facilities and feedback mechanisms the job offered were amazing. It was a dream come true, but I did not feel like ‘this was it’.

I was always very ambitious. I did plan to get an MBA from one of the best B-schools in the world and probably come back to Google with a better profile, or maybe join another equally well-known company. My parents were on top of the world, especially my mother because it was her perception of the ideal career graph: you get some work experience with a great company for 5 years, do your MBA abroad, get a cool job in the States or in Europe, and then get married and your life’s sorted. But, of course, things changed.

TGI: Your interest in your social media follower base goes back to your Google days. What was the opportunity you saw?

NK: Well, I wasn’t focused on growing my social media audience at the time; but I liked sharing what I was doing or where I was travelling with the 5000 or so people who followed me. And I always wanted more and more people to follow me, even if they were strangers. But I first sensed a greater opportunity when I was working on a project with the Google Russia team. It was a video project where we were trying to simplify clients’ questions through interactive, solution-oriented videos.

Once I started working on this project, I realised the power of videos and the power of social media, and that sharing videos on social media can have immense potential. That’s when I had the idea to get on a video-based platform and grow my audience through it. I went on a trip to Thailand with a friend and we journaled and captured our trip on our phones. We had the expertise to work on videos, and we wanted to curate these travel videos and share that on Youtube. But soon after that, Bigg Boss happened, and that opportunity was not really capitalised on.

TGI: Was it scary when you made it to Bigg Boss, given that you’d had no prior exposure to TV? How did your family take it?

NK: Definitely! It was a scary proposition to be locked up in a house with 8 other people. In my season, half the competitors were celebrities and the other half were non-celebrities like me. But right from day one, I realised that even the non-celebrities were very certain of how they wanted to present themselves in front of the camera. They knew exactly what to do, what to say, when to intervene and when not to intervene, when to fight and when not—and I was pretty naive at that point. I hadn’t done my research as I wasn’t an ardent Bigg Boss follower, although I’d watched a few episodes here and there.

But I think my family knew I was a confident young girl, since I had done a lot of different things through college, had participated in Miss India while still at Google, and had handled stressful situations before. They knew I’d be able to hold my ground. Their main concerns were more like, how would I be portrayed on national TV; what would friends and family think; and what would my future be like after the show? 

Photo courtesy: Nitibha Kaul

TGI: Have your prior experiences framed how you approach your current work as an influencer and the owner of a thriving social media brand?

NK: Honestly, there is no one experience or skill that has helped me; rather, it has honed my overall personality, and made me this very ‘well aware’ person. I am able to gauge situations and people, gauge the tone when I communicate with my manager, a brand, my team or a potential client—anyone. I know what’s going to work and what isn’t. I have developed that sixth sense over the years because of environments I have put myself into, the people I have interacted with, the kind of experiences I have exposed myself to. I think overall it has shaped my personality and made me very strong. I don’t get frazzled by small things anymore. I don’t get demotivated or distraught when something bad happens. As an influencer, it helps my business to thrive, because my business can only thrive if my audience is engaged and inspired by what I am doing on a day-to-day basis.

TGI: What are your next goals? Is there a ‘moonshot’ goal that drives you?

NK: My 2020 goal is that I want to be more of an entrepreneur and less of just a social media influencer. I want to diversify this brand I have created into actual products and services: whether it is workshops, merchandising or commodification of the brand. I also want to expand and get a bigger team and office space. But if there is one moonshot goal that drives me, it would be to become the biggest, most respected and admired influencers in the world, to inspire people, and to be a successful businesswoman.  

TGI: Are there any challenges to social media celebrity, given the voice and influence you have?

NK: There are a few. First, people expect us to have an opinion on every topic, especially sensitive ones—a recent example would be the CAA and NRC protests. It is very sensitive topic. And when we do share our opinions on it, most people will say: why don’t you go back to talking about fashion, lifestyle and beauty? You’re not educated enough to comment on this. And [if we wait to talk about it], then people say you are not responsible enough; you have so much influence and voice.

That is one problem. The other is general trolling, social media hate and bullying. Just because we share so much of our lives on social media, people think they have the right to comment about our clothes and bodies and say really mean, hurtful things. We need to be more emotionally stable and strong and realise that this is part and parcel of the job. Apart from that, sometimes you just want privacy and not talk about a lot of things that you are doing in your day. Like if you are going on a vacation, you want to keep your phone off—but if you do that, your numbers take a hit. One cannot really complain about that, it’s our livelihood.

Photo courtesy: Nitibha Kaul

TGI: How do you deal with the ‘lows’ in your life and get back on track?

NK: When I am feeling low, one thing that works every time is communication. If I have a problem, if I am not motivated, if I am upset, I talk to my parents, my close friends…to anyone who is able to give me the right kind of advice and has the best intentions. And it has worked 100% in making me feel better. Whoever I talk to will give me some perspective and make me count my blessings. By surrounding yourself with people you love, instead of focusing on your lows, you can come out of that phase and not turn it into something big like depression and anxiety. I also go out with friends, go shopping, and do something that makes me happy. There is no rocket science behind it.

TGI: What is your advice to people contemplating making a big switch in their lives or workfor any reason?

NK: If you are contemplating making a big switch in your life, I believe you should make it, because it probably means there is some dissatisfaction in your life or work. But ensure you don’t jump into something completely unknown and risky. Take calculated risks and give yourself enough buffer, so that if the risk does not pay off, and you do not end up pursuing it, you have something else to fall back on. Be sensible and calculated and take a wise decision. You have one life and you must wake up every day and look forward to what you are doing. Every job, every profession, every life will have days when you do not feel motivated, when you feel bored, but that’s normal. But you have to make sure that at least 70-80% of the time you should be happy. That means you are on the right path.

At the same time, in today’s era, there are so many professions available. People feel like they should quit every job that they get and that doesn’t make sense either. A lot of us are privileged enough to do amazing jobs that pay well and that we’re not very unhappy with, but we still want to switch because there is one minor thing that’s not working out. That needs to change and we need to be content with all that we are blessed with. But if you are totally unsatisfied and want to make a switch, then do it.

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  • Founded in 2016 by Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global is the world’s largest well-being media platform. Since its launch in October 2018, Thrive Global India has received over 40 million visitors. Our media platform Our focus is on well-being and productivity, emphasising real experiences and unique storytelling. Through articles, videos, and podcasts featuring business leaders, scientists, athletes, entertainers and new role models of success, we add a new dimension to the global conversation of wellness. Our stories discuss daily challenges, people’s personal journeys of how they thrive, and recommend solutions to bring purpose and wonder into our worlds. We realise that the struggles of our everyday life—stress, burnout, exhaustion, apathy, technological addiction—can be intimidatingly broad and numerous. And it’s only through lived and shared experiences of people, combined with expert data and science-based solutions, that we can achieve actual, dramatic results that help us live and work well. Our enterprise solutions There is a pervasive belief that burnout is the price we must pay for success, but research has shown it is a delusion. As a matter of fact, by prioritising our well-being, we pave way for a healthier, productive life with enhanced efficiency, decision making and creativity. Through our assessments, corporate workshops, digital engagement solutions and more, we bring to you science-backed well-being and performance-enhancing strategies, proven to help individuals and teams thrive.