‘It took me 35 minutes to raise $1million in India… and I’m just getting started’

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun16,2024

Abhishek Asthana, ​​34, is one of a growing number of young, industrious “New Indians”

Abhishek Asthana, ​​34, is one of a growing number of young, industrious “New Indians” (Image: ANDY COMMINS)

EXCLUSIVE: There is no limit on ambition in capitalist “New India”, a leading entrepreneur and social media star has told the Daily Express.

Abhishek Asthana, ​​34, is one of a growing number of young, industrious “New Indians” blazing a trail in the subcontinent and setting a fresh standard for those who follow.

The social media superstar and entrepreneur is a household name thanks to his online alias “Gabbar Singh”.

The Express caught with him in the up-and-coming Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, where he lives with his wife and their young daughter.

Posting under the handle @GabbbarSingh, Abhishek has wracked up a huge – and, crucially, highly engaged – following on X (formerly Twitter).

His posts draw on pop culture and trending themes and are even featured in Indian print media.

Gabbar Singh is a classic Bollywood villain ubiquitous in many Indian childhoods. Abhishek uses the character in his work to draw on powerful feelings of nostalgia.

The @GabbbarSingh account now has 1.5 million followers making it a lucrative venture for Abhishek who also runs a creative agency boasting clients such as Amazon Prime and Durex.

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The Express caught with Abhishek in the up-and-coming Delhi suburb of Gurgaon

The Express caught with Abhishek in the up-and-coming Delhi suburb of Gurgaon (Image: ANDY COMMINS)

“It was an accident actually,” he tells us during a poolside chat in his swanky apartment building. “I was trying to launch a funny blog so I made accounts for a bunch of characters and Gabbar was one of them.

“I ended up deleting all the others but keeping this one and it started to go viral with its posts.

“And it was when my flatmate came up to me one day and said, ‘Have you heard of this account?’ That was when I knew I was onto something.”

But the successful businessman, who is from the city of Lucknow in eastern India, was not raised with a silver spoon in his mouth.

He said: “I was born in one of the poorest parts of the country. Its per-capita income would still be like Somalia in Africa.

“Opportunities are not there.”

He went on to highlight in that part of India it was common to see huge billboards advertising how to “get out” using coaching and tuition classes to qualify for exams.

He said: “So people like me would study hard and get into good colleges to seek jobs in better cities.”

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“I know some young people who are 28 and have a company valued at $200million.”

“I know some young people who are 28 and have a company valued at $200million.” (Image: ANDY COMMINS)

The ultimate goal for aspirational young Indians was to also lift their parents into prosperity, Abhishek explained.

He said: “And that is the curve I followed. By 2010 I was working for Samsung and my first salary was already more than my father’s.”

Abhishek said this period was a new “91 moment” for India.

In 1991, the country opened up to free market capitalism and moved away from being a socialist economy.

He said: “There was no competition before ‘91 as most goods were produced by the government and you could only get one brand per product.

“And I would say 2014 was another ‘91 moment for India because in the following years, business was democratised and starting your own enterprise was made easy.”

Abhishek praised the mass rolling out of digital infrastructure to give widespread access to cheap mobile data but also physical infrastructure such as motorways to get Indians moving.

There was also a huge removal of barriers to enter business, Abhishek said, with unnecessary red tape removed.

The Express sat down for a poolside chat in Abhishek's swanky apartment building

The Express sat down for a poolside chat in Abhishek’s swanky apartment building (Image: ANDY COMMINS)

Abhishek said this period following 2014 was a new “91 moment” for India

Abhishek said this period following 2014 was a new “91 moment” for India (Image: ANDY COMMINS)

He said: “I did not even have to leave my house to start my business or visit a single government office.”

Businesspeople used to be demonised in Bollywood culture, Abhishek explained.

He said: “Movies in those eras used to assume if someone was a businessman, then he must be an evil crook. He must be stealing money and taxes.

“Now, the businessmen are the heroes. Rewarding merit is common sense.”

There was a newfound respect growing in India for wealth creators, Abhishek said in a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi beginning to champion enterprise more openly on social media.

The internet boom in India made it easy for Abhishek to set up his own company remotely before Covid hit and popularised the practice.

He also explained he had registered a start-up called “Hood”, an anonymous social media network.

He said: “We had just a logo and idea on paper. We did not even have a product as such.

“We went to the market and within a month we raised $3.2million (£2.5million).

“It took me 35 minutes to convince one investor to pledge $1million (£783,000).

“And that is the power of New India.”

Abhishek is a standard-bearer for the “New India” he describes

Abhishek is a standard-bearer for the “New India” he describes (Image: ANDY COMMINS)

Abhishek is a standard-bearer for “New India” and all it represents, with its get-up-and-go spirit of free enterprise and ambition.

Previous attitudes about capitalism and merit being negative were beginning to shift in the minds of New India’s “new working class”, Abhishek said.

These fresh-faced get-up-and-goers were now competing with each other. He said: “Everybody is putting their best foot forward. There is no sense of complacency.

“I am sitting here talking to you and I feel like an imposter because there are so many people out there who have achieved much more than me at a young age.

“I know some young people who are 28 and have a company valued at $200million.”

India still has a lot to do in terms of economic development, Abhishek admitted.

But he did not necessarily see this as a bad thing because it meant there was still huge potential for growth.

To illustrate his point he explained how some 13%-14% of Indians are in what he called the “consumer class”.

The rest are dependent in some way on the government for help.

But it is young entrepreneurs like Abhishek who are propelling India to new heights to lift those people into prosperity every single minute.

The statistic also demonstrates that India has still not achieved its potential, Abhishek said: “Just imagine with this 13% consumer class we are still the fifth biggest economy in the world.”

The story of New India is one of dynamism and aspiration.

And its seemingly unstoppable rise now appears all but inevitable.

It is time nations in the West – and the UK in particular – took note.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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