By Chris Kenji Beer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Naveen Jain is among the most energetic and passionate minds in this region. Outside of California, he is one of a handful of billionaires of Asian descent.
Announced earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show, Jain’s recruiting agency, TalentWise, sold for an estimated $200–300 million Like few others in this region, Jain represents the same ideals and follows a surprising parallel to one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, Elon Musk.
Jain is the first nominee for Northwest Asian Weekly’s inaugural Technology and Innovation Award, a dinner held Oct. 7. “The journey toward success is not a destination,” Jain said. “It is a lifelong journey … not so much what you dream or reaching for a specific dream. My dreams since childhood were not defined. I didn’t imagine I’d become an internet entrepreneur — but the lesson is that you compete all the time. It is a lesson on survival.”
Jain comes from humble upbringing in India. “I took nothing for granted,” he said. What he did have since early childhood and into schooling was a competitive drive. He first earned an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology and later an MBA from XLRI Xavier School of Management.
But life in India didn’t come easy. His family was poor because, he said. His father, an engineer in the construction business, refused to offer and take bribes, which dominated the business landscape in India at the time.
This taught Jain lessons in failure. “Your ideas may or may not work out but you should know that every failed idea becomes a stepping stone to a bigger success. As an entrepreneur, you only fail when you give up.” Everything else is merely what Jain calls “a pivot,” a change in direction, maybe an adjustment or modification. “Most successful companies start as one thing and become something else,” he said.
While so many accomplished entrepreneurs are one-hit-wonders, Jain parallels Elon Musk in finding delight in “the next big thing.” The next big thing for Elon Musk after the sale of his company PayPal to eBay in 2002 was electric car maker Tesla and Space X. The next big thing for Jain after his great success with InfoSpace was Intelius, TalentWise, Moon Express, and BlueDot. Intelius’s parent company is Bellevue-based Inome Inc., which sold last July for upwards of $100 million to private equity firm H.I.G., according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.
The two entrepreneurs parallel each other in that they both leveraged their early internet successes, PayPal for Musk and InfoSpace for Jain, to create new ventures and explore the limits of human endeavors.
Moon Express and Space X for both Jain and Musk, respectively, are literally out of this world. When talking to Jain, much of the time (if one can keep up) Jain pushes the mind into “other-worldly” matters. He seeks to tackle space exploration with Moon Express, which “is blazing a trail to the moon to unlock its mysteries and resources for the benefit of life on Earth and our future in space.”
And yet, in his words, this “John F. Kennedy-esque ‘going to the moon’ extravaganza” is merely a starting point of something deeper and more meaningful to the ordinary layperson. It offers visibility into what it takes to succeed in life, and it does not compromise the end goal. Through the lenses of Jain’s eyes, the moon is just another continent, what he calls the “eighth continent,” which offers vast natural resources waiting to be tapped. Jain’s Moon Express plans to send a series of solar powered robotic space crafts to the moon to source metals, elements, and moon rocks.
Successful entrepreneurs have the vast resources to build valuable collections of personal interest. Jain owns possibly the largest privately owned collection of meteor rocks in the world. The collection is said to be valued at $5 million by Wired Magazine. Could it be that Jain found something of game-changing value in the chemical composition of his meteor collection? For Jain, perhaps the greatest value of his collection is in its nuggets of wisdom — what he’s learned in the pursuit of success — rather than an actual “golden nugget” inside a meteor.
Jain recently launched BlueDot. Geekwire reported just over a month ago that BlueDot is aimed at society’s big issues, which include solutions for curing diseases and clean energy solutions. (Likewise, Musk somewhat parallels Jain’s aim to solve energy issues of the future with SolarCity and Tesla’s battery storage system.)
BlueDot aims to “harvest ambient energy to wirelessly power devices of the future,” according Geekwire’s Jacob Demmitt.
BlueDot might be Jain’s way of keeping his feet firmly on the Earth. He speaks of humility as a key sign of success. “It is when you positively impact others, and you have nothing to prove,” said Jain. Many young aspiring entrepreneurs confuse certitude and passion with arrogance, and they could not be further apart. As Jain put it: “If you have to tell someone you’re passionate about something, you’re not [passionate].” Clarity of purpose and passion is embedded in humility, he added.
Though Jain is neither an aerospace nor bio-medical engineer (another parallel with Musk), he said “being a non-expert is the greatest strength I bring to the table for my new businesses.” As a non-expert, Jain offers a higher wisdom, the intangibles
Jain believes there are two brains processes. “One is the neural-networking in your brain” that helps logical functions and task execution. The other is “neural networking in your gut” that helps keep the mind open to create and recreate. These are the intangibles.
“Listen to the faint voice. Be open to change and trust your gut.” The gut cannot be quantified on a spreadsheet made in MBA school, he said. Successful people don’t so much “take risks; they mitigate risk.” They minimize risk in order to maximize potential for success. This is done by working with and hiring the right people, said Jain, and step-by-step, 1-2-3 execution. Jain has an infectious vision that draws like-minded people to him. Success is not determined by “how much money you have, but by how many people you positively impact.”
Jain says it is better to work for a small company when entering into the career world, to learn all aspects of a business. To Jain, “working for a large corporation is the biggest risk. When you work for large companies, you develop bad habits.”
“Never work for an idiot,” he said. “I’d rather be the idiot I work for.”
There is another message here — have a sense of humor and laugh at yourself.
Jain’s parting messages are “if you can’t be an entrepreneur, go work for Microsoft” or Amazon. Successful people, he said, have an obsession about their dream.
“Dream so big [that] people think you’re crazy.” (end)
Northwest Asian Weekly will hold its inaugural Technology and Innovation Awards on Oct. 7. We will continue running profiles of our honorees leading up to the event. For more information, email email@example.com. Online tickets at http://visionary.bpt.me.
Chris Kenji Beers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.