CNN’s Ayesha Durgahee gets to know one of Africa’s most successful and engaging entrepreneurs, 31 year old Ashish J. Thakkar. He reflects his journey from selling computers to becoming one of Africa’s top business entrepreneurs. Check out the interview below. You can also read his interview with Wharton Business School here.
Ashish Thakkar – Africa’s Youngest Billionaire
Wharton Business School recently interviewed the young business man about his foray into the business world and his remarkable success. Check out the interview below. Don’t forget to share it with your friends and associates online.
Knowledge@Wharton: You started making money at the age of 14 by selling your own computer at a profit to a family friend. After you sold it, you didn’t have a computer yourself. Why did you do it?
Ashish Thakkar: That’s how it all began. Basically my parents bought me a computer. My father’s friend came home for dinner that night. He saw it and he said, “How much did you get that for?” I told him the price but added on US$100 more than what we actually bought it for. And he said, “How many do you have?” I said, “I’ve got two.” And he asked, “What are you doing with the second one?” I said, “I’m selling it.”
He said, “OK great, could you deliver it tomorrow?” And I said, “I’ll do it after school.” So while they’re having dinner, I’m cleaning up my computer, deleting all the files, emptying the trash can, packing it up so I can deliver it. Obviously I didn’t have a second one. I delivered it the next day and I made a hundred dollars. I said, “Wow, this is doable.”
Knowledge@Wharton: What did your father say when you gave his friend a price that was a hundred dollars more than what he paid for it?
Thakkar: He was laughing. We didn’t discuss it much. We just kind of left it at that. I was a little scared that he would tell me off so I didn’t really discuss it. I just delivered it the next day and bought another computer. And I managed to sell my second one to the school.
Knowledge@Wharton: So from then on, you got into the IT business?
Thakkar: What happened was then my summer holidays came. I had two months of holidays. I was 15 and I said to my dad I would like to set up a small shop during my summer holidays and then I’ll shut down my shop and then go back to school. I did that. I set up a tiny, little shop with a US$6,000 loan. At that time, floppy disks were the hot thing. I was selling those. And then my summer holidays finished and I didn’t tell my parents immediately. After a week, they figured it out. We sat down and I said, “Look, if you want me to study, I’ll study but I’m going to end up doing this anyway. Why not let me do this now?”
My father is a pretty unconventional person and he said, “OK, fine. Go ahead and do this for a year. Do it on your own. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll have to go back to a year below your class.” I said, “Done.” So I still have that option available.
I didn’t have enough working capital to do cargoes and shipments. I would travel to Dubai every weekend. Fill my suitcase with IT stuff. Pay my taxes on Monday. Sell Tuesday through Friday. Get my cash on Friday. Go back to Dubai on Saturday and Sunday. Pay my taxes on Monday. That was my cycle for six months. And then I was thinking, “There are so many people coming to Dubai to do exactly the same thing. Why don’t I set up a base to help them? We then set up an office in Dubai when I was 15 in 1996 to actually supply IT hardware into African countries. And the rest is history.
Knowledge@Wharton: You had set up an office at 15?
Thakkar: In Dubai, you need a local sponsor. I found a local sponsor who was a senior guy in Dubai. We went to the court to register a company. They were speaking in Arabic and I didn’t understand what they were saying. And he goes to me, “There’s a mistake in the document.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “They’ve written your age as 15.” I said, “Well, I am 15.” He said, “You’re kidding. You can’t just set up a company when you’re 15.” And I said, “I am 15 and I want to set up a company.” And he said, “Oh my God. Well, your dad is going to have to fly in and sign as a guardian so he knows what you’re doing.” And I said, “That’s fine. He’ll fly in.” So the company registration got delayed by a week. So that’s how it all began and then we diversified.