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    Inside the BITS YouTube mafia

    Synopsis

    Entry of nine YouTubers from BITS Pilani adds credibility to the influencer economy that is often derided.

    ETtech
    Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
    ‘When the world zigs, zag.’

    This 1982 strapline for Levi’s (written by Barbara Noakes) resonates well with nine BITS Pilani students who have recently found popularity as YouTubers.

    In an environment where the world expects premier engineering college students like them to become future startup founders, product designers, or analysts at major investment banking firms, these 18-to-22-year-olds took a leaf out of western comedians and podcasters’ book to become content creators.

    As a result of said zagging, they’ve gained anywhere between 1,500 and 150,000 subscribers for their channels and are drawing income through ad revenue.

    These YouTubers are creating content for fellow students and their channels are dedicated to diverse subjects such as coding, dancing, trekking, entrance test prep, college life and productivity.

    Not just that, they have also attracted brands like Udemy and Unacademy for content collaborations.

    Seven of these YouTubers are from BITS’ Goa campus and have recently formed a WhatsApp group to discuss how to get better at the content game.

    Leading the pack is 22-year-old Mehul Mohan, final year student who creates content to help people learn to code online.

    Mohan’s YouTube channel “codedamn” has over 141,000 subscribers and fetches an average of $800-$1,000 in monthly ad revenue in addition to weekly sponsorship queries.

    His success as a YouTuber inspired fellow BITSian Harish Uthayakumar to create content on college life.

    Just as the 20-year-old’s idea took off, the Covid-19 pandemic rained on his parade as educational institutions shut around the country.

    “Then I started making content around side hustles and freelancing projects for college grads in order to democratise the exposure we get for students from tier 2,3 colleges,” the third-year student from Nashik says.

    His channel, Curious Harish, has close to 90,000 subscribers now.

    On the other end of the spectrum, 20-year-old Moksh Bainsla – aka Red Shirt Guy -- has a dancing-focused channel where he posts freestyle dancing clips and tutorials for his over 76,000 subscribers.

    Ishan Sharma, 19, creates educational content for his 37,000 subscribers-strong eponymous channel, which he created primarily to better his communication skills and overcome a fear of public speaking.

    Ambuj Saxena from the Pilani campus has 16,000-odd subscribers tuning in to Success Infinity [BITS P], catering to engineering-entrance-test-related content.

    Following in their footsteps, Yatharth Gairola (again from the Pilani campus), Somrat Dutta, Devansh Dixit, and Noah Martins have also started their own YouTube channels focused on varied educational and entertainment themes.

    While there have been one or two prominent YouTubers from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) earlier, never have so many creators tumbled out of a leading engineering college at the same time.

    So, what is so special about BITS?

    “It’s not exactly that BITS creates content creators but it definitely attracts them,” says Noah Martins, 20, from Goa, pointing out that Mohan and Bainsla had been YouTubing much before they got into BITS.

    The institute’s no-attendance policy helps significantly in enabling them to pursue content creation, most creators say.

    Inside this rapidly expanding mafia, creators push each other’s channels, exchange ideas on tagging and thumbnail aesthetics, and also find the support system required to produce videos on a regular basis.

    “When I started making these videos, I borrowed Harish’s (Uthayakumar) tripod stand,” recalls Sharma, a second-year undergrad whose video themes often overlap with Uthayakumar’s.

    Devansh Dixit is another BITSian whose content often gets compared to Uthayakumar and Sharma’s. “But these are the people who guide us on things like sponsorship,” says the 18-year-old from Mumbai.

    “Even unboxing videos are done by multiple creators. People enjoy diverse takes and that’s what we offer,” adds Sharma.

    In May 2020, he uploaded a video compilation of fellow BITSian YouTubers promoting their respective channels.


    Being a BITSian YouTuber

    The entry of YouTubers from a meritocratic institute like BITS adds credibility to the influencer economy as influencers are often derided and their work is looked down upon.

    “It’s a new industry that has grown really fast. Even now, some marketers casually remark how they want to become influencers, saying these guys charge so much for doing something the marketers think doesn't take too much effort,” says Lakshmi Balasubramanian, cofounder of influencer marketing firm Greenroom.

    Besides, they’re able to leverage their alumni network to create content of value for those who don’t have access to the kind of opportunities they do. Uthayakumar says he has tapped into that facet to co-found Clinify with fellow BITSian Shreyans Sancheti. It is a community on Discord comprising 15,000 students from 500 tier 2,3 colleges who’re able to get exposure to different BITS clubs and mentors via the online platform.

    With Clinify, the duo plan to create an "outschool" model of live-education experience, except they already have a distribution channel in place. “I already have 10 VCs interested in the product,” says Uthayakumar.

    Even Mohan is building a coding-focused edtech product on top of his YouTube channel.

    Content creation is at the heart of both Clinify and Codedamn.

    Others, too, plan to continue YouTubing to grow their network and earn social capital, despite the occasional brickbats from family, friends and even strangers.

    BITS and Bots

    “It’s a general mindset that if you’ve got into a good college, you should focus on studies and get good placement offers,” notes Ambuj Saxena, 20, from Kota in Rajasthan. His channel is dedicated to helping young aspirants clear BITSAT or BITS admission test.

    It’s also quite tough to grow on YouTube so if you’re able to show a steady income avenue from the platform, the family can be more supportive,” adds Somrat Dutta, 21, from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. Six months ago, Dutta started earning ad revenue from his eponymous channel where he posts tutorials for skills like graphic designing and video editing.

    The criticism travels from offline to the online realm.

    “‘Why are you doing this when you’re in such a good college? Why don’t you get a proper job?’ - this is a question most of us get in our comments section,” notes Bainsla, the freestyle dancer and a final year student at BITS Pilani Goa.

    Of the lot, Sharma is the one who admittedly gets trolled the most, that too from BITSians outside of the creator community. “Perhaps I have made some mistakes too, but I take it all in my stride. I embrace the positive feedback from the comments section as well as the memes and stickers that BITSians have made on me,” he says.

    On balance, there’s a whole lot these rising YouTubers are grateful for, especially the credibility that comes with the BITS tag.

    Rahul Mathur, the 23-year-old founder of fintech startup BimaPe, says, “Some of these creators have emerged as influencers on other platforms, too. If Harish (Uthayakumar) so much as likes any of my posts on LinkedIn, it gets massive traction.”

    For the record, Mathur is not a BITSian, just an observer of the rise of BITS’ YouTube mafia.

    And yet, there’s only so much a tag can help. As Greenroom’s Balasubramanian notes, “Beyond a point, the audience doesn’t care where you come from. They will like you for what you have to offer.”
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