Goldy Singh is a busy man. A driver in Delhi for ridesharing companies Ola and Uber, he spends an average of 12 hours a day on the road, seven days a week. He has a family of seven to look after – his wife, a school-going son, parents and grandparents. And every few days, he needs to connect with a growing pool of followers on YouTube.
Singh is the creator of YouTube videos that dispense motivational and technical advice with a side of comedy. His eponymous channel, Goldy Singh, has garnered within a few months 18,000-odd followers – from India and across the globe – and enough views to get monetised. His first video, which went viral, has 2.7 lakh views and counting.
Singh’s journey to YouTube mini-stardom began at the start of the year. This was around the time dissatisfaction was brewing among Ola and Uber drivers, primarily over payment-related issues that would culminate in a strike in March. Singh felt he needed to educate drivers aspiring to work for ridesharing services on what it was really like.
On January 31, he uploaded The Real Income of Ola and Uber, in which he detailed how much money he earns in a month – around Rs 20,000 after deducting fuel costs and maintenance expenses – and urged those watching to weigh the pros and cons before entering the profession. “The company lures new drivers and then two months later, the incentives go,” said Singh. “Then, [it’s] the driver [who] suffers. There is disgruntlement, dharnas and strikes. I wanted to tell people that if you want to join this profession, you should keep certain things in mind.”
Singh did not check on the video until two weeks later, by which time it had been viewed 10,000 times and had fetched him 76 subscribers. This motivated him to start posting regularly. Singh records his videos – primarily in Hindi, with a bit of English and Punjabi thrown in – on his cellphone and uploads around two to three a week.
“Earlier, I didn’t even know how to pronounce the word subscriber,” Singh said. “My brother told me, ‘Look, people want to listen to you. Speak to them.’ That’s where the journey began.”
Singh was born in Delhi in 1984. He studied up to class 10 and then started working as a technician with companies, fitting air conditioners and refrigerators for customers. He spent close to eight years at Samsung, but a fall while installing a split air conditioner brought his career there to a halt. He could no longer carry heavy equipment. Instead he dabbled in installing LED televisions. But when business slowed down, he turned to driving. “The driving line is not respected in our society,” he said. “But when a person is out of options, what can he do?”
In early 2017, he got a commercial licence and took a car on lease from a private company. “For about three months, I didn’t see my family.” He would be home for four hours in the afternoon, spending the rest of the time on the road. Though he enjoyed the work, especially the opportunity to meet new people, he knew he needed to find a way to make it less physically taxing and more financially viable.
At his mother’s insistence, he bought a car in July 2017 and joined both Ola and Uber. In a particularly emotional video, Singh says that his mother couldn’t bear to see him tired all the time. A tailor, she offered him all her life’s savings – about Rs 1 lakh. With that and loans from friends, he bought a second-hand Wagon R, his “lucky charm”.
Make a difference
As his life began to get back on track, Singh realised he wanted to do something that would earn him goodwill. In November, he started serving water to his passengers free and soon included tea, coffee and fruit juice, along with candies for children. This, Singh explains, is an extension of the Dasvandh practice of Sikhism, which encourages devotees to set aside 10% of their earnings for the betterment of society, in the name of god. His family had been keeping that money away diligently, but his busy schedule left him with little time to put it to use. So, he decided to start with the place he spent most of his time – in his cab.
He began the service in full swing in February. Titled Guru ka Langar, a bright pink menu in his cab informs customers of the beverages on offer. This practice has got Singh some media attention: he has been featured in newspapers, websites and on radio shows. One of his videos shows a crew from a television news channel tailing him and interviewing a passenger who is all praise for Singh’s gesture.
Through his videos, Singh hopes to build a community among drivers and create a forum to address their concerns, assert their rights and voice their grievances. Most of the 100 videos are targeted at fellow drivers, featuring a mix of advice, motivation and occasional admonishment. He also provides them hacks every now and then, putting his engineering knowledge to good use. His second-most popular video, with more than 1 lakh views, tells drivers how they can make the air conditioner in their cars function better for just Rs 20. In others, he guides them through permits and licensing issues.
“This is a tech and motivation channel with a spice of comedy,” says the descriptor of the channel.
Some of his videos feature other drivers, where they discuss tips and tricks of the trade or air grievances. In a two-part series, for instance, he gathers a group of drivers in his car, and they share their experiences of working for various cab services. “I don’t want to change Ola or Uber, nor do I have the ability to do that. But hopefully some good can come of the videos. Drivers may start thinking differently. Customers may start thinking differently.”
Despite his driver-centric approach, many of Singh’s subscribers are from outside the profession. He has even met some of his followers, having bumped into them in the city. Singh has featured them in his videos and his happiness at being recognised is clearly evident.
Having a camera, an internet connection, and access to social media isn’t a guarantee of success. Likeability and an engaging personality are important as well and the affable Singh, with his natural screen presence, scores high on those counts.
He begins almost every video by wishing his followers. “Hello doston, kaise ho? Majein mein?” – Hello friends, how are you? All well? – are his signature opening lines. He often breaks into a song or dance at the end of the video. There is no attempt to hide emotions: he tears up when he recounts his struggles, or his mother’s support, and has an infectious cheer when he celebrates a personal or professional achievement. On occasion he takes on his critics, such as those who have mocked his broken English. But he never does it without a smile and good humour.
It is this inherent warmth that has perhaps made him appealing to even those beyond his target audience. One comment on the channel says: “I don’t know why I watch your video! I’m not a driver nor I traveling thru [sic] uber Even then I enjoy !! Paaji.P.s. missing your angrezi.” Another goes: “Aur log aapko isly dekhna pasand karte hai.. kyuki Aap sache ho, sach Bolte ho hamesha, logo ki help karte ho (This is why people like you. You are honest; you always tell the truth and help others).”
One of his followers is an Indian professor who lives in Canada and does animation work in his free time. He sent artworks to Singh, including the colourful menu that covers the seats of his cab and an animation of a dancing Singh that plays at the beginning of recent videos.
“When people start recognising you, you feel very happy, you [feel like a] celebrity,” said Singh. “I had thought that if I come in this line [become a YouTuber], I have to do something that no one else has done. Wherever I have worked, people remember me. If you present yourself the way you are, you will be appreciated. This boosts [your] confidence that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right.”
Singh says his most-watched videos are the ones related to his profession. He does diversify sometimes, taking viewers out of his cab and into his home, or the park where he exercises every morning. He shares weight loss tips, the odd recipe or urges them to stay positive. “People know me more as a motivational speaker,” he said. “They say ‘Sardarji, you speak from the heart’ – basically it’s not scripted.”
Singh’s driving force is his optimism, he says. “Even if something bad happens, I tell myself that god must have done it for the right reasons. Now I feel like it was a blessing that I had that fall [after which he stopped working as a technician]. If not, I would still have been fitting ACs in people’s homes. But now, I’m fitting myself in people’s hearts!”
Reaching out to people through his channel has brought him immense satisfaction. “The house is still running the same way [financially]. But I’m happy. In our whole family, nobody has seen money. But we have earned respect. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
Even though his channel has now been monetised, he is yet to earn from it. A long verification process will follow, after which he may make some money from it. “Right now I am nothing on YouTube, compared to the potential of the platform. I don’t have much time. Plus I’m not able to edit the videos or put music on them…I will have to learn all that. But right now I have expenses at home too. So I can only do this in my free time.”
Singh’s ambition is to appear on television. “Acting ka keeda hai (I have the acting bug)…and there are many reality shows where people of all ages feature. So I feel like it can happen, and I have my whole life ahead to do that. A lot of my followers say I could appear on Bigg Boss.”