Tag Archives: history

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

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What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Not the most captivating books form Malcolm. Hell I think my audiobook was not even complete and I didn’t care… so most of the summary is taken from elsewhere. Update: As I typed down the table of contents I realised it’s not a bad book. I just can’t use most of the info in my life.

– Paying extra for loreal because of the illusion of being worth it.
– Dropping 2 Alka-Seltzer instead of one in adverts and double sales.
– Scud missiles detection pictures and cancer diagnosis not done properly because of not well trained people mistaking trucks.
– Politics of sampling, copying. Intellectual property.
– Warnings and clues for 911 and Kenya bombing.
– Choking = thinking too much, panicking = thinking too little.
– Blacks fail in tests, whites can’t jump under stereotype threat.

PART 1 – Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius
– The Pitchman: Ron Popeil and the Conquest of the American Kitchen
– The Ketchup Conundrum: Mustard Now Comes in Dozens of Varieties Why Has Ketchup Stayed the Same?
– Blowing Up: How Nassim Taleb Turned the Inevitability of Disaster into an Investment Strategy
– True Colours: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America
– John Rock’s Error: What the Inventor of the Birth Control Pill Didn’t Know About Women’s Health
– What the Dog Saw: Cesar Millan and the Movements of Mastery

PART2 – Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses
– Open Secrets: Enron, Intelligence, and the Perils of Too Much Information
– Million Dollar Murray: Why Problems like Homelessness May Be Easier to Solve Than to Manage
– The Picture Problem: Mammography, Air Power, and the Limits of Looking
– Something Borrowed: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin Your Life?
– Connecting the Dots: The Paradoxes of Intelligence Reform
– The Art of Failure: Why Some People Choke and Others Panic
– Blowup: Who Can Be Blamed for a Disaster like the Challenger Explosion? No One, and We’d Better Get Used to It

PART 3 – Personality, Character, and Intelligence
– Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity
– Most Likely to Succeed: How Do We Hire When We Can’t Tell Who’s Right for the Job?
– Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling Made Easy
– The Talen Myth: Are Smart People Overrated?
– The New-Boy Network: Do Job Interviews Really Tell Us?
– Troublemakers: What Pit Bulls Can Teach Us About Crime



20 Clever Inventions You Probably Didn’t Know Were Made By Indians … thanx Nilesh

Indian inventions and discoveries have been instrumental in shaping the face of the current modern world. We picked up 20 such interesting findings out of a whole bunch that will make you go, “I didn’t know that”.

1. Buttons


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Buttons were first used in Mohenjo-daro for ornamental purpose rather than for fastening. They were first used in the Indus Valley Civilization by 2000 BCE.


2. Chess


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Chess developed out of Chaturanga, which is an ancient strategy board game developed during the Gupta Empire in India around the 6th century AD. Now you know why Vishwanathan Anand is such a pro, rag rag me is tarah… ;)


3. Prefabricated home and movable structure


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In 16th century Mughal India, during the reign of Akbar, the first prefabricated & movable structures were invented.


4. Ruler


Rulers were first used by the Indus Valley Civilization prior to 1500 BCE. Made of ivory, the rulers found during excavation, reveal the amazing accuracy of decimal subdivisions on it.


5. Shampoo


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The word ‘Shampoo’ is derived from chāmpo (चाँपो). It was initially used as a head massage oil for the Nawabs of Bengal during the Mughal Empire around 1762. It evolved into shampoo over the years.


6. Snakes and Ladders


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The game, Snakes & Ladders,  was invented in India as a game of morals. Later it spread to England and eventually introduced in the USA by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.


7. Cotton cultivation (We clothed the world, yay!)


The ancient Greeks used to wear animal skins and were not even aware of cotton. But Indians were sort of cool ;) and started cultivating cotton during the 5th – 4th millennium BCE in the Indus Valley Civilization. The word spread to the Mediterranean and beyond and soon everyone was ordering one from Flipkart. Well, pretty much.


8. Fibonacci Numbers


The Fibonacci numbers were first described by Virahanka, Gopala  andHemachandra as an outgrowth of earlier writings by Pingala.


9. Decimal System, Quadratic formula and Zero!


It was in 7th century CE when Brahmagupta found the first general formula for solving quadratic equations. The decimal system (or the Hindu number system), which was a precursor of the Arabic numeric system, was developed in India between the 1st and 6th centuries CE.


10. Suits Game


The popular game of cards originated from India & was known as Krida-patram (which literally means “painted rags for playing”).


11. Cataract Surgery


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Indian physician Sushruta (6th century BCE) had the knowledge of performing cataract surgery. It spread to China from India. Greek scientists would visit India to get operations done and also to learn the nitty-gritties.


12. Diamond Mining


Worldwide, India was the only source of diamonds until the discovery of mines in Brazil in the 18th century. Almost 5000 years ago, diamonds were first recognized and mined in central India.


13. Water on Moon

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ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 made the startling discovery that our moon is not a dry ball of rocks. The discovery of lunar water is attributed to the Chandrayaan mission.


14.  Radio/Wireless communication

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We all know that Marconi received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 for contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy. But the first public demonstration of radio waves for communication was made by Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose in 1895, two years prior to Marconi’s similar demonstration in England.

Sir Bose was posthumously credited (more than a century later) for his achievement. The fact remains that this discovery truly shaped the face of modern wireless communication.


15. Flush Toilets


Flush toilets were first used in the Indus Valley Civilization. These existed in most homes and were connected to a sophisticated sewage mechanism. The civilization was prominent in hydraulic engineering.


16. Binary Code

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Binary numbers were first described by Pingala (c. 200 BC). Pingala is the traditional name of the author of the Chandaḥśāstra, the earliest known Sanskrit treatise on prosody.


17. Ink


Many ancient cultures and civilizations independently discovered and prepared ink for writing purposes. The source of carbon pigment used in Indian Ink (called musi) used in ancient India, was India. Since 4th century BC, the practice of writing with ink with a sharp pointed needle was common in South India.


18. Steel & Metal works

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Ancient Indians were pioneers in metallurgy. High quality steel was produced, almost two thousand years before it was understood by the West. One of the most remarkable feat in metallurgy: creating a seamless celestial globe, was invented in Kashmir. It was earlier considered impossible to create a metal globe without seams.

So thanks to India, Iron Man can wear his suit now.


19. Fiber Optics

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Named as one of the 7 ‘Unsung Heroes’ by Fortune Magazine, Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, is widely recognized as the ‘Father of Fiber Optics’ for his pioneering work in Fiber Optics technology. Watch him speak eloquently on his entrepreneurial journey.


20. Plastic Surgery

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Yes, you heard it right. Indians were pioneers in Plastic Surgery too. It was carried out in India as early as 2000 BCE.

So, we’ve always been a cool country. ;)  History is testimony to it. So what’s stopping you from being innovative? Go, win the world.


The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

I was going to bitch about how the book keeps going in circles and mostly about animals until past half way. Then it gets into some decent juice about human psychology, gender differences and soooo much more.

– This concept, that all progress is relative, has come to be known in biology by the name of the Red Queen, after a chess piece that Alice meets in Through the Looking-Glass, who perpetually runs without getting very far because the landscape moves with her: It is an increasingly influential idea in evolutionary theory, and one that will recur throughout the book. The faster you run, the more the world moves with you and the less you make progress. Life is a chess tournament in which if you win a game, you start the next game with the handicap of a missing pawn.

– Every success contains the seeds of its own overthrow.

– Red Queen is that she runs but stays in the same place. The world keeps coming back to where it started; there is change but not progress.

– Viruses, bacteria, and fungi, the causes of most diseases.

– Why different sexes? Tragedy of the commons. Like communism didn’t work or when an exceptional athlete is stuck in a 2nd rate team.

– Males have many small while females have few larger gametes. Mobile creatures usually have genders. Sessile don’t, and are usually hermaphroditic.

– Parents in good condition probably have male-biased litters of young; parents in poor condition probably have female-biased litters because mothers in poor condition is likely to produce a feeble son who will fail to mate at all, whereas her daughters can join harems and reproduce even when not in top condition.

– I think it was Korea that found a way to track sperm by dyeing it with fluorescent ink and sort xy genes.

– Women more than men can “marry up,” into a higher social and economic caste, so daughters of poor people are more likely to do well than sons.

– We consciously decide whether to consider people, we fall in love despite ourselves, we entirely fail to fall in love with people who fall in love with us.

– Fishers vs good genes: The Fisher (sexy-son, good-taste) advocates are those who insist that the reason peahens prefer beautiful males is that they seek heritable beauty itself to pass on to their sons, so that those sons may in turn attract females. The Good-gene people follow Alfred Russel Wallace (though they do not know it) in arguing that arbitrary and foolish as it may seem for a female to choose a male because his tail is long or his song loud, there is method in her madness. The tail or the song tells each female exactly how good the genes are of each male. The fact that he can sing loudly or grow and look after a long tail proves that he can father healthy and vigorous daughters and sons just as surely as the fishing ability of a tern tells his mate that he can feed a growing family. Ornaments and displays are designed to reveal the quality of genes.

– When a man wants to seduce a woman, he does not send her a copy of his bank statement but a pearl necklace. He does not send her his doctor ‘s report but lets slip that he runs twenty miles a week and never gets colds. He does not tell her what degree he got but instead dazzles her with wit: He does not display testaments to how thoughtful he is but sends her roses on her birthday. Each gesture has a message: I’m rich, I’m fit, I’m clever, I’m nice.

– This immune effect of testosterone is the reason that men are more susceptible to infectious diseases than women, a trend that occurs throughout the animal kingdom.

– Inca leaders had 1500 concubines and death to cheaters. Human history of harems, etc.

– Christians prevent sex because it was the reason for violence and trouble.

– Men whose wives have been with them all day ejaculate much smaller amounts than men whose wives have been absent all day. It is as if the males are subconsciously compensating for any opportunities for female infidelity that might be present.

– Of the many mental features that are claimed to be different between the sexes, four stand out as repeatable, real, and persistent in all psychological tests.
1st girls are better at verbal tasks.
2nd boys are better at mathematical tasks.
3rd boys are more aggressive.
4th boys are better at some visuo-spatial tasks and girls at others. (And, interestingly, gay men are more like women than heterosexual men in some of these respects.)

– Baby girls are more interested in smiling, communicating, and in people, boys in action and things.

– Shown cluttered pictures, boys select objects, girls people. Boys are instantly obsessed with dismantling, assembling, destroying, possessing, and coveting things. Girls are fascinated by people and treat their toys as surrogate people.

– A man who develops a preference for other men is a man who has a different gene that affects how his testicles develop or a different gene that affects how his brain responds to hormones or a different learning experience during the pubertal burst of testosterone—or some combination of these. A prenatal exposure to deficiency of testosterone increases the likelihood of a man becoming homosexual. Men with an extra X chromosome and men exposed in the womb to female hormones are more likely to be gay or effeminate, and effeminate boys do indeed grow up to be gay more often than other boys: Intriguingly, men who were conceived and born in periods of great stress, such as toward the end of World War II, are more often gay than men born at other times. Gays are also more often left-handed than heterosexuals. Studies show that homosexuality is heritable.

– Usual hip to waist ratio stuff that get mens attention.

Big up (kinda) to the PUAs that recommended this book.

– Acknowledgements
1 – Human Nature
2 – The Enigma
3 – The Power of Parasites
4 – Genetic Mutiny and Gender
5 – The Peacock’s Tale
6 – Polygamy and the Nature of Men
7 – Monogamy and the Nature of Women
8 – Sexing the Mind
9 – The Uses of Beauty
10 – The Intellectual Chess Game
Epilogue – The Self-Domesticated Ape
– Notes
– Bibliography
– Index


Real story of American Dollar v/s Indian Rupee … thanx Ravi Bhogaita

Real story of American Dollar v/s Indian Rupee
(Very Interesting Article MUST SHARE)
Advice to all who are worrying about fall of Indian Rupee

Throughout the country please stop using cars except for emergency for only seven days (Just 7 days)
Definitely Dollar rate will come down. This is true. The value to dollar is given by petrol only.This is called Derivative Trading. America has stopped valuing its Dollar with Gold 70 years ago.

Americans understood that Petrol is equally valuable as Gold so they made Agreement with all the Middle East countries to sell petrol in Dollars only. That is why Americans print their Dollar as legal tender for debts. This mean if you don’t like their American Dollar and go to their Governor and ask for repayment in form of Gold,as in India they won’t give you Gold.

You observe Indian Rupee, ” I promise to pay the bearer…” is clearly printed along with the signature of Reserve Bank Governor. This mean, if you don’t like Indian Rupee and ask for repayment,Reserve Bank of India will pay you back an equal value of gold.(Actually there may be minor differences in the Transaction dealing rules, but for easy comprehension I am explaining this)

Let us see an example. Indian petroleum minister goes to Middle East country to purchase petrol, the Middle East petrol bunk people will say that liter petrol is one Dollar.
But Indians won’t have dollars. They have Indian Rupees. So what to do now? So That Indian Minister will ask America to give Dollars. American Federal Reserve will take a white paper , print Dollars on it and give it to the Indian Minister. Like this we get dollars , pay it to petrol bunks and buy petrol.

But there is a fraud here. If you change your mind and want to give back the Dollars to America we can’t demand them to pay Gold in return for the Dollars. They will say ” Have we promised to return something back to you? Haven’t you checked the Dollar ? We clearly printed on the Dollar that it is Debt”
So, Americans don’t need any Gold with them to print Dollars. They will print Dollars on white papers as they like.

But what will Americans give to the Middle East countries for selling petrol in Dollars only?

Middle East kings pay rent to America for protecting their kings and heirs. Similarly they are still paying back the Debt to America for constructing Roads and Buildings in their countries. This is the value of American Dollar. That is why Many say some day the Dollar will be destroyed.

At present the problem of India is the result of buying those American Dollars. American white papers are equal to Indian Gold. So if we reduce the consumption of petrol and cars, Dollar will come down

The Above Details are translated originally from Telugu Language to English by Radhika Gr.
Kindly share this and make everyone aware of the facts of American Dollar V/s Indian Rupee.

And here is a small thing other than petrol , what we can do to our Indian Rupee


Please spare a couple of minutes here for the sake of India.
Here’s a small example:-

At 2008 August month 1 US $ = INR Rs 39.40
At 2013 August now 1 $ = INR Rs 62

Do you think US Economy is booming? No, but Indian Economy is Going Down.

Our economy is in your hands.INDIAN economy is in a crisis. Our country like many other ASIAN countries, is undergoing a severe economic crunch. Many INDIAN industries are closing down. The INDIAN economy is in a crisis and if we do not take proper steps to control those, we will be in a critical situation. More than 30,000 crore rupees of foreign exchange are being siphoned out of our country on products such as cosmetics, snacks, tea, beverages, etc. which are grown, produced and consumed here.

A cold drink that costs only 70 / 80 paise to produce, is sold for Rs.9 and a major chunk of profits from these are sent abroad. This is a serious drain on INDIAN economy. We have nothing against Multinational companies, but to protect our own interest we request everybody to use INDIAN products only at least for the next two years. With the rise in petrol prices, if we do not do this, the Rupee will devalue further and we will end up paying much more for the same products in the near future.

What you can do about it?
Buy only products manufactured by WHOLLY INDIAN COMPANIES.Each individual should become a leader for this awareness. This is the only way to save our country from severe economic crisis. You don’t need to give-up your lifestyle. You just need to choose an alternate product.

Daily products which are COLD DRINKS,BATHING SOAP ,TOOTH PASTE,TOOTH BRUSH ,SHAVING CREAM,BLADE, TALCUM POWDER ,MILK POWDER ,SHAMPOO , Food Items etc. all you need to do is buy Indian Goods and Make sure Indian rupee is not crossing outside India.

Every INDIAN product you buy makes a big difference. It saves INDIA. Let us take a firm decision today.

we are not anti-multinational. we are trying to save our nation. every day is a struggle for a real freedom. we achieved our independence after losing many lives.
they died painfully to ensure that we live peacefully. the current trend is very threatening.

multinationals call it globalization of indian economy. for indians like you and me, it is re-colonization of india. the colonist’s left india then. but this time, they will make sure they don’t make any mistakes.

russia, s.korea, mexico – the list is very long!! let us learn from their experience and from our history. let us do the duty of every true indian. finally, it’s obvious that you can’t give up all of the items mentioned above. so give up at least one item for the sake of our country!

We would be sending useless forwards to our friends daily. Instead, please forward this to all your friends to create awareness.


Oceanography: Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness – The Great Courses

Oceanography: Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness – Prof. Harold J. Tobin
I thought this would be a fun course with mostly Attenborough-esque sceneries and lots of cool info. It was way more than that. I got to learn so much and as always I’ve just taken notes of whatever stood out to me.

– Land info called maps, ocean maps called charts. Navigating with sextant and Captain cook and Darwin history.
– Bartymetry – measuring the depths of the ocean.
– 1 episode just for the Big Bang solar system formation volcanos. 90 billion year history.
– Process and history of making natural oil and gas that we use, how people drilled for it. The consequences of spills and ways to recover from it.
– Different shades of pink salt because different algeas thrive in different salinity.
– Amazing properties of water. Way more then boiling and freezing points. Changes in temperature, density, salinity and pressure in the different levels as you go deeper. Light and colour blue as you go deeper because the other colours/frequencies are not strong enough to go deeper.
– Tides are 1 third sun and 2 third moon gravitational pull.
– Springtide during full moon & new moon because sun and moon are aligned and pulling tides together.
– Tidal bores happen in narrow places where the wave builds up on itself like River Severn.

– Moon and sun are slowing down earths rotation by 2.3 milliseconds per century.
– Gasses get more soluble the colder water gets.
– Different plankton adapt their bodies in different levels to live.
– The word twilight zone originally came from oceanography.
– Jellyfish pulsing is more to sweep water to get the food from it, propulsion is just a byproduct.
– 25% of fish caught for food are thrown away because the ship is not equipped to process these types and are already dead!
– Importance of mangroves because of their roots. The trees look amazing! Kelp and mangrove forests are beautiful.
– Beach replenishment to preserve beaches from erosion. Millions are spent to put back sand on the land.
– Corals are really animals! And a 1-1.5 degree change in the water can kill them (coral bleaching).
– Sea pigs are basically water balloons and they pump water into the leg they want to move.
– El Niño comes from current of baby Christ.
Kiribati, Tuvalu and Maldives are going to sink in a matter of decades. And the president of one of them is already vacating the inhabitants.
– There is a saying regarding sewage that goes … solution to pollution is dilution. Well its not any more!

Click to get the course


01. Diving In—The Ocean Adventure
02. Explorers, Navigators, Pioneering Scientists
03. Ocean Basics And Ocean Basins
04. Mapping The Sea—Soundings To Satellites
05. Habitats—Sunlit Shelves To The Dark Abyss
06. The Spreading Sea Floor And Mid-Ocean Ridges
07. The Plunging Sea Floor And Deep-Sea Trenches
08. The Formation Of The Earth And Its Ocean
09. The Early Ocean And The Origins Of Life
10. Marine Sediments—Archives Of The Ocean
11. Offshore Oil And Gas—Resources And Risks
12. The Enduring Chemistry Of Seawater
13. How The Physics Of Water Controls The Ocean
14. Waves—Motion In The Ocean
15. Rogue Waves And Tsunami
16. Tides In Theory And Practice
17. Marine Life, Energy, And Food Webs
18. Tiny Plankton—The Most Abundant Life On Earth
19. Soft-Bodied Life In The Dark, Open Depths
20. Swimming—The Many Fish In The Sea
21. Marine Birds, Reptiles, And Mammals
22. Whaling, Fisheries, And Farming The Ocean
23. Where Sea Meets The Land And Why Coasts Vary
24. Where Rivers Meet The Sea—Estuaries And Deltas
25. Coastal Erosion—Beaches And Sea Cliffs
26. Tidal Life, Sea Forests, And Coral Reefs
27. Deep Bottom Life And Hydrothermal Vents
28. Trade Winds—The Circulation Of Heat And Wind
29. Heavy Weather—Storms And Hurricanes
30. The Gulf Stream To Gyres—Vast Surface Currents
31. Upwelling, Downwelling, And El Niño
32. The Deepest, Slowest River—Polar Bottom Water
33. The Ocean And Global Climate
34. The Warming, Rising Sea
35. Marine Pollution—The Impact Of Toxins
36. The Future Ocean


Ashish Thakkar – Africa’s Youngest Billionaire … thanx Mukund & Hems

Who is Africa’s youngest billionaire?

31 year old Ashish Thakkar is Africa’s youngest billionaire. Born in Uganda, the young  billionaire was just 13 when he and his family had to flee the continent to escape the Rwandan genocide. He started his entrepreneurial journey at age 15 after taking a $6,000 loan to start his first company.

The journey led him to found Mara Group which has become one of the largest information technology companies in Africa.

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.

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.”ashish thakkar

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Wharton: So now you’re in real estate, tourism, manufacturing, etc. Can you talk a bit more about the businesses you have?

Thakkar: Today, we’re in 24 countries, of which 19 are in African countries. We have about 7,000 employees in Africa. We’re in IT services. It’s the same IT company I started a few years ago and we merged it a few years ago. It’s been labeled as Africa’s largest IT company but I don’t know how true it is. We’ve got an IT company. We’ve got a call center business across Africa. We’ve got a telecom infrastructure company. We’ve got a corrugated packaging business in East and Central Africa. We’re building a paper mill in East Africa. We’ve got an agricultural project. We’re building an Intercontinental hotel, convention center, shopping mall and office park in Uganda. We’re building two hotels, shopping mall, office park and hospital in Tanzania. We’re pretty active on the real estate side. We’re building a glass manufacturing company in Nigeria. For agriculture, we’ve secured a large piece of land, about 26,000 acres in East Africa. We’re looking at potentially going into the power generation industry as well.

We’re a pretty diverse group. We advise some of the heads of state in Africa. We’re pretty active on the African front. I’m on the Global Agenda Council on the World Economic Forum for Africa and quite a few others. We speak and we’re very passionate on the African platform.

Our model is we partner with international companies who want to come to Africa and become their local partners. We typically do 50-50 partnerships. We both put in capital. We both bring different expertise to the table. That’s the idea.

Wharton: What sorts of traits make a good entrepreneur?

Thakkar: You need to have that passion. You need to have that vision. And the most important thing is you need to have a very high moral ground. You need to be very ethical and transparent. I think as long as those three things fit together. Passion meaning loving what you do and really enjoying it, looking forward to waking up the next morning and getting back down to it is really important. That’s what’s going to keep you going. Vision is thinking big and starting small — that’s very important. Being very honest, transparent, open and ethical is very important. Never giving anybody the raw end of the deal is very important. Making US$100 on a margin on a computer is business. That’s fine. Everyone thinks profit in business or the world doesn’t go around. You don’t want to mess people around. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver and I think that’s how relationships should be held. My father always said, “Earn with your partners and not from your partners.” What goes around comes around. It’s important to be very transparent and clean.

Wharton: Africa doesn’t have a reputation as being very transparent. Is that quite hard to keep those ethics while doing business in Africa?

Thakkar: We’ve definitely lost business in the past because of that. We don’t entertain that kind of stuff. Genuinely speaking, a lot of our leaders have the right passion and vision. They’re really about transformation. In that respect, it’s just important to know how to go about it. So when you are put through that bureaucracy and people are trying to frustrate the process. We manage to reach out and scream. We make sure we get the right attention. We’re not just going to start entertaining other types of stuff because that’s just not something we agree with. Principally, it’s just not the right thing to do long term at all. We’re a case study in that sense because we’re absolutely transparent and we’ve succeeded in doing business. It is a generalization.

Forget North Africa but sub-Saharan Africa has 46 countries. Even if 10 or 15 are not great, the others are. Out of the 46, I’m only in 19. Not all 19 are clean either but we have more emphasis on the ones that are.

It is doable. Africa isn’t plug and play. It is a challenging environment but as long as you have the right intentions. We don’t do any sort of business that doesn’t have a social impact on people. We don’t want to go into mining and take out minerals from countries and export them to make a quick buck. We don’t do stuff like that. We want to do things that are sustainable for the continent that will benefit people and create some sort of local beneficiation that really help the communities we work in. In that respect, it’s important to have the right intentions. You’ve got to be a long-term player in Africa. You can’t come in with a short-term mentality.

Wharton: You also have the Mara Foundation that includes an incubator in Uganda for entrepreneurs. What sort of atmosphere will help support entrepreneurs in modern Africa?

Thakkar: After starting off as refugees in Rwanda, we lost everything. That’s when we started off with very little. I started off at the age of 15 with US$6,000. You understand what young entrepreneurs go through.

We have a huge issue in Africa with unemployment. Unfortunately, a lot of our governments think the answer is foreign direct investment. It’s not. That’s when we started a mentoring program a few years ago. We were trying to mentor young entrepreneurs. The first year, we mentored around 120 entrepreneurs but it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. We wanted to make a much bigger impact and that’s when we set up an online mentoring platform that we launched in Silicon Valley about three months ago. Within three months, we’ve actually got 52,000 young entrepreneurs signed up. It’s been amazing. We’re relaunching the entire site to have more content and data and everything else.

At the same time, we’re realized it’s sexy to be working out of your bedroom in the West but in Africa, people just don’t respect you and trust you if you’re working from that kind of thing. In order to give credibility and visibility to businesses, we decided to set up business incubation centers. So now you’re guiding them, handholding them, teaching them, inspiring them and you’re giving them credibility and visibility.

Now the missing link was partners and capital. How do they get access to funding? Then we launched our own venture capital fund that basically invests in these companies. This entire project belongs to the Mara Foundation, which is a nonprofit social enterprise.

So far, we haven’t raised any external money. Everything has been 100 percent subsidized by the group. We’ve launched in Uganda. We’re launching in Tanzania by the end of the year. We’re signing partnership agreements in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. It’s quite an amazing thing and I spend about 30 to 40% of my time on the foundation.

Wharton: You met with a whole bunch of business leaders like Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, on a recent trip to Silicon Valley. Was it difficult to find top business leaders to partner with budding African entrepreneurs?

Thakkar: Everybody loves the idea of it. But it was the method. How do they go about it? Where do they start? That was the big question mark, which is why hopefully the platform answers the question. There was a lot of positive feedback. At that time, we literally had zero entrepreneurs on our network and now have 52,000. We’re launching on mobile now since we’re online. Hopefully we’ll be launching on Nokia and Blackberry apps. That should create a massive scale. When it does, we’ll probably come back to Silicon Valley and relaunch it. Everybody does want to play a role. Everybody wants to help out. Everybody loves the idea of it but doing it in a credible way, hopefully we’ll be one of the conduits for that and support the entrepreneurs.

Wharton: Any other future goals? You’ve accomplished so much at such a young age.

Thakkar: Frankly, I’m very passionate about Africa. I’m fourth-generation African in that sense. My parents and my grandparents were born in Africa. Helping entrepreneurs is one thing but helping entrepreneurs in Africa and slowly but surely, taking it to other emerging markets and other markets generally. We want to make a global platform because there’s nothing stopping them. The content’s the same.

Entrepreneurial advice is entrepreneurial advice. Once you have all that content online, it can be used anywhere. My aim is to impact a few million African entrepreneurs. We want to make the group global. At the same time, I’m very passionate about changing the image and perception of Africa.

Unfortunately right now, when people think about Africa, they think about a child with a bowl in his hands. That’s absolute rubbish because plenty in our continent has evolved. We’re really progressive. I think the right story needs to be told. We need to stop generalizing about a billion people in 54 different countries. It needs to stop.

I think changing the perception and hence my whole space trip is creating a positive buzz about the region, and making people realize that people in Africa have the vision and ability as well.

So I think focusing on young entrepreneurs, which is the immediate thing. Scaling it up in Africa and making it global one day. Also, next year, we’re launching something called Mara Women, which is focused on women entrepreneurs through the Mara Foundation. All our incubation centers and venture capital funds and mentoring will have an allocation fixed for women entrepreneurs. So young women entrepreneurs, going global and changing the perception of Africa are what we’re focused on.

Wharton: You have an interesting family background since you said your grandparents were born in Africa but you’ve also lived in the U.K.

Thakkar: Sure, in the 1890s, my father’s family left from India and went to Uganda. In 1920, my mother’s family left from India to go to Tanzania. After they got married, they lived in Kenya and moved to Uganda. And then in 1972, the Idi Amin saga took place and everybody was expelled. My parents left, lost everything and went to England. My parents worked in factories, built some capital, started up a business, built more capital and bought a home. In 1993, they decided they wanted to go back to Africa so they sold off the home, sold their business and took everything they had to Rwanda in Central Africa.

Nine months later, unfortunately, my parents, my sister and I were taken from our home and we were refugees for three weeks. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Hotel Rwanda. I was in that hotel. We were evacuated. Fortunately, we came out alive but unfortunately everything they built from 1972 to 1993, they lost in 1994.

So we literally started from scratch. My father took a US$11,000 loan and set up a business. And I took a US$6,000 loan and set up a business in 1996. And here we are today.

Wharton: That must’ve been terrifying as a refugee because you were so young at the time?

Thakkar: I was 13. It was crazy because you remember everything. It was extremely terrifying. You think back to my father, having my sister, my mother and me with us. He was still playing games and acting all chirpy acting as if everything was fine. When you think back, you think, “Wow, he’s something else.”

Wharton: You have been quoted as remembering U.N. convoys running over bodies to make sure everybody was dead.

Thakkar: What happened was we were in a truck being taken from the hotel and I was curious. I stuck my head out and saw that bodies were being loaded in trucks. I asked the U.N. guy. Basically, whichever army or rebels or whoever, are taking all the bodies and putting them in a truck and taking them to a place and blowing it up to make sure everybody was dead.

When you go through all that, it makes you think, “Wow.” This is the reason it gives you a completely, completely different perspective on life.

I’m 31 and have so many people around me, saying “Why are you spending 40% of your time on the foundation? There’s so much more in business.” Literally we have the ability to access anyone we want to, a whole specter. We can do some crazy stuff in the entrepreneurial space.

But I think God has been amazingly kind and given us so much. It’s given us a second or third chance. Why not give back and impact other people’s lives? We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to make things happen but so many others haven’t. Why not help them and give them a second or third chance. It’s important to give back and genuinely that’s how I believe wealth should be measured.

Wharton: It sounds like the Rwandan genocide has really impacted the career you’ve taken on?

Thakkar: It has. Another major factor that has played a key role in my life is my spiritual leader Morari Bapu at moraribapu.org. He really is an amazing, amazing individual. He has three core teachings, which are truth, love and compassion. He has these nine-day functions every so often. I try to attend at least one or two a year.

Listening to him keeps me really grounded. Just listening to him makes you really realize there’s so much more to this world than just earning money. Since I was a child, I’ve been following him. That’s my one little secret. It freaks me out even thinking what I would do without him. He has been an amazing inspiration. He really teaches you truth, how to be honest, how to be a better person. Love – how to love everyone around you, regardless of religion and color and race, this, that and another, regardless of their position in society and all that rubbish. He teaches compassion, like how to give back, with no hidden agenda and no particular intention.

That’s why I hate the word “CSR.” [Corporate Social Responsibility] It’s such a useless word. Someone doing it for the sake of doing it so they’ll look good in society.

You have to go about creating social enterprises. That’s the way forward. You have to make sustainable wealth in a straightforward and simple manner. I set up my manufacturing plant ten years ago. At that time, I was producing 30 tons a month. Today I’m producing 30,000 tons a month. Why? Because there was a demand so I created this plant.

My foundation helped 120 entrepreneurs three years ago. Why can it not help a million entrepreneurs? There’s a demand. Why not create the platform?

I did it in packaging. I did it in all my other businesses. Why not do it in this? I looked at it as a real business. That’s where I think we need to switch our mindset. I’m hoping this will create a huge impact, and I’m hoping this will inspire the public sector to do more to support these young entrepreneurs. And also the private sector to do more. It’s not about the size of the check. It’s about the impact that you create.

When you’re putting up a business, your simple bottom line is what’s your IRR? How much are you making at the end of the day? It’s not a matter of what kind of investment you make, it’s the return you’re focused on. People need to look at this very differently. It’s time we changed that mindset.

Wharton: I want to talk about you being an astronaut. You talked about changing the image of East Africans and you’re the first East African to become an astronaut. You’ve signed up to be an astronaut on Virgin’s private space flight. What made you decide to sign up?

Thakkar: A few years ago, I was in China watching the news. And I saw the news and I thought, “Wow, that looks pretty funky, a bit crazy.” It pumped up my adrenaline and I was at the airport lounge. And I just logged onto their site and I just signed up. I didn’t take it that seriously. I hadn’t even watched Star Wars so it wasn’t like I was jumping up and down. I just kind of did this. When I was a child, I always thought about being an astronaut or a pilot. I didn’t take it that seriously and I didn’t take it that seriously when I signed up.

But then I got a phone call from Virgin. I was offered a Founder’s Position from Africa to represent the continent to become Africa’s second astronaut and East Africa’s first astronaut.

I just thought it can create an amazing political impact. So the heads of state officially handed over their flags to me and I officially represent the region. So it’s feeding that buzz that we have the vision in East Africa.

I did training in Philadelphia’s NASTAR Center when they put us through the centrifuge. They’re pushing you down 3.5-Gs [as in G-force] so it’s really intensive. You walk in thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m going into space” and then you walk out, thinking, “Oh no, I’m going into space.” It’s really cool though and very exciting. Virgin Galactic has been an awesome company to be associated with. The whole journey has been really fun. I met some amazing individuals.

Wharton: You’re based in Dubai now.

Thakkar: Our home office is in Dubai. It’s the perfect hub for Africa. It’s more centrally located than London or South Africa. We feel passionately about Dubai as a hub for Africa.

There have been a lot of historical routes between this region and Africa. I think more and more, there’s an active role being played and it’s increasing further and further. Obviously, India and China have invested in Africa pretty aggressively. Europe has inroads from the colonial times. I think the Middle East is getting to grips with it now. They’ve done so much in Africa. But I can see the momentum is increasing. I don’t think the U.S. understands its story as well but I think that will slowly change. You can see the transformation taking place in people’s mindset. Still, there’s a huge lack of understanding.

People still need to understand sub-Saharan Africa or take even East Africa. Each of these countries is an independent case study. You can’t copy and paste anything. You have to localize it. The culture is different. The vision is different. The leadership is different. The jurisdiction and laws are different. Policy is different. The mindset is different. You have to plug into each country being very local. And that’s very important. Unfortunately right now, we really generalize the continent and that’s very wrong.

Wharton: So because of these generalizations, people in the U.S. and the Middle East have been hesitant about investing in Africa?

Thakkar: I think it’s more than hesitancy. It’s a lack of understanding. You can see the eagerness and there are historical ties. There’s a lot of warmth here for Africa but translating into more trade between the two regions. It’s been happening but I think it’s been increasing. But with the U.S., I’m not sure. I still haven’t seen any huge movements in that respect. In the past, the U.S. has been a little bit more conservative and moved a little slower but I’m sure in time, the U.S. will come into play quite a bit more, which is a good thing.

Wharton: So where in the Middle East have people been more interested in investing in Africa?

Thakkar: The United Arab Emirates [UAE] has been more active. The UAE is the one I understand the most. I haven’t seen too many Qatari groups come in. I haven’t seen any Bahraini groups come in. I haven’t seen too many Saudi groups come in. The UAE seems the most active in that respect. But you can see everyone else bubbling up as well. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot more now.