As he walked into the room, I wasn’t sure what to expect – Ashish’s demeanour was as simple as the late Steve Jobs giving a talk on the latest Apple release, yet his accomplishments were somewhat ethereal. At the age of fifteen, he dropped out of High School to start his own business, Mara Group. Fifteen years later, he is Africa’s youngest billionaire and World Economic Forum Young Global leader.
Within an hour of hearing him speak, it was evident why Ashish Thakkar is the lion of the business jungle.
Below are ten pearls of wisdom drawn from his fountain of knowledge. For every young, aspiring entrepreneur who seeks to make a difference, this is the manual: from a young entrepreneur to a young entrepreneur.
Be a risk taker
No entrepreneur worth his salt ever accomplished greatness without taking any risks. Ashish was prepared to drop out of school for a year to give his business a shot. If it failed, at least he tried. If he succeeded, there was no turning back.
With every challenge lies an opportunity. Mara group focused on Africa that has its unique challenges of lack of infrastructure, power instability and manufacturing industry decline. Ashish however saw opportunity in each challenge and this has been paramount to his success. You can moan and groan about problems or you can see these challenges as opportunities.
Study the market
Study the pulse of the market you intend to run your business and be thorough in your research. Know your market, learn how it works, know the players, establish relationships, change the game or be the game. Ashish not only studies the market but immerses himself in the culture of the people he does business with. He tries to pick up their language or at least learn their local greeting. This makes his business style endearing to the host communities.
There is never the perfect time to launch out into your business. Ashish could have waited to finish his formal education or he could have followed his instincts. By starting out early, he managed to capture the market by selling computer parts before expanding to real estate, tourism, financial services, information and communications technology, renewable energy and manufacturing. The earlier you start, the more you can achieve!
Make a positive, social impact
Success is not defined by how much money you make, but by how many lives you have impacted. It is about creating positive change and social responsibility to the country in which you are engaging your business in and helping others fulfil their dreams. Ashish spends almost an equal amount of time on his foundation that mentors young entrepreneurs as he does with his day-to-day business.
Follow your instinct
An entrepreneur must ensure that his business is guided by his instinct and value systems otherwise it is bound to fail. Mara Group believes in transparency and does not hide behind various corporate veils. Align your business to your values and follow your instincts.
You must be passionate about the business you are in! Passion will drive you when things seemingly get tough.
Develop solid business structure
Ensure your business has a solid structure. Mara Group ensures it abides by the regulations in each trading hub, including business registrations and taxations. With a solid business structure, it was easy to secure the credit lines at the initial stages of his business.
Envisage the future
Ashish believes it is time for Africa to shine and he has ensured his companies are strategically positioned for his vision of the future. “The Indian tiger and the Chinese dragon have had their days; it’s now the African lion’s turn” he says. The lion is the logo of the Mara group and rightfully so for it has roared its way to success, a feat that cannot be overstate
Ashish did not have formal mentors when starting out his business but he had an inquisitive mind. He read a lot of biographies, asked the right questions and continued to learn. He would not advice anyone to drop out of school but his advice is keep learning and do what you feel is right for you. An entrepreneur never stops learning.
Whilst Ashish’s demeanour is strikingly similar to that of Steve Jobs; that is strangely where their similarities end, for he seems to have defied the famous Apple’s advert logic. He is a disrupter of a different kind. He is not a rebel. He is not a trouble maker. He is not a round peg in the square hole. He is very much fond of rules. He ‘feels’ like a nobody.
Well, for once, ‘nobody’ is on his way to changing his world! The room was filled with other ‘nobodies’ who have the same passion: to create change, to shape the communities and the world we live in. This is what makes the Global Shapers unique; it is for those who dare to believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Seye Odukogbe is the founder of ‘Stay Focused’, a social enterprise dedicated to breaking down the practical barriers to employability that stand in the way of talented, young people. Seye is passionate about improving people, processes and committed to human development and community service. With Masters in engineering and professional qualifications in project management, Seye has been involved in a number of multi-disciplinary project teams (within Europe, Middle East, North America and Africa) and has spearheaded transport and infrastructure projects in Nigeria.