The making of a tech billionaire
Bhavin Turakhia is the type of self-made billionaire you could walk past in the street and hardly notice – which you sense is what he likes.
The 39-year-old turns 40 in December and uses Uber when he’s in London and describes his wardrobe as ‘modest’. Check out his Instagram account ad you’re much more likely to see motivational quotes than shows of his wealth.
As he approaches his landmark birthday, Turakhia says he’s only achieved a fraction of what he wants to in his life.
“I’ve always believed that each of us has a moral obligation to make an impact proportionate to our potential,” he told BusinessCloud. “Despite what I’ve been working on all my life I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I can achieve. There’s also a desire to solve problems and make a difference in the world.”
Turakhia is one of the shining stars of the Indian technology scene. He’s currently the founder and CEO of Flock, a suite of business productivity apps, and Radix, a leading registry for top-level extensions. He is also the co-founder and CEO of digital payments platform Zeta.
Predominately based in London he starts work at 6.30am and will spend the first half of his day dealing with his business interests in India and the second half on his US operation. In the last 20 years his longest holiday lasted four days.
As well as a private jet Turakhia has houses in LA, Mumbai, London and Dubai, and is preparing to buy a fifth in New York. However he’s not motivated by money.
“From a monetary standpoint after a certain point it is a number,” he explained. “It makes no difference to your life. I personally am not into any extravagance in my lifestyle.”
His upbringing goes a long way to explaining his philosophy.
His parents came to India’s largest city of Mumbai with nothing and although his father Mahendra built a small tax consulting and chartered accountancy business, money was scarce.
“For the first seven years of my life, and for 10 years of their life, they were living with my dad’s elder brother in one room,” he recalled. “It was one bedroom for the four of us.”
The fourth person is Turakhia’s younger brother Divyank, who is also a tech billionaire.
“In a shared house there were 10 people. As well as the four of us there was my dad’s elder brother and his wife and their two children, their eldest brother and my grandmother. We were living in a house with two bedrooms, one drawing room and one kitchen basically.
“In many ways the biggest investment my father has made has been in us. We were very fortunate to have amazing parents.
“Although my father didn’t come from wealth and didn’t have a significant amount of money to spare, he didn’t spare on the expense when it came to buying books. He bought tonnes and tonnes of books.”
Their father told his sons on a virtual daily basis: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
“My dad bought a lot of biographies so I grew up reading eight or nine biographies on Microsoft, Apple etc. My favourite book was about Bill Gates. It was pretty much every entrepreneurial story I could lay my hands on.
“Biographies are still my favourite genre of books. I’ve just read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk’s biography. I was inspired to start something on my own.”
The key moment in Turakhia’s life can be traced back to 1989 when the 10-year-old’s school in Mumbai took delivery of a computer and he began to code.
“It was before the internet came to India,” he said. “I was in the sixth grade. I took up computer science lessons and fell in love at first sight. Our school used to have a 15-minute short break and a half hour lunch break and school would end at 4pm. I would spend all my time in the school computer room, and two hours after school, trying out different programming techniques.”
Two-and-a-half years later he assembled his own computer from parts bought in the US and at 14 he and his brother started offering consultancy services and selling software, making tiny bits of pocket money.
At the age of 17 he founded Directi with his brother after borrowing $300 from his dad. Fast forward to 2014 and it was sold for $160m. “We had about nine-a-half million domains registered; upwards of one million customers; 50,000 resellers worldwide, of which 6,000-7,000 were really active and paying customers in more than 150 countries.”
His brother set up global advertising company Media.net in 2010 which he sold in 2016 for $900m. At the time it was the second-largest adtech deal in history.
“He ran it for six years while I was starting Radix, Flock and, more recently, Zeta,” he said.
He also founded a not-for-profitmaking coding company called CodeChef. “It encourages young children and professionals to substantially improve their tech skills and coding knowledge,” he said.
Radix started in 2012 and has between four and five million registered domains and is growing 60 per cent year-on-year.
His main focus is on Flock and Zeta and between the three businesses they employ around 750 people.
Turakhia knows his numbers. He started Flock in 2014, which is a communication platform for teams operating within businesses. It has half a million installs to date and boasts tech giant Accenture and retailer Mothercare among its customers. It has 500,000 users with 100,000 weekly active users.
Zeta is a digital payments platform. It has 1.9 million consumers on its platform with plans to launch in five other countries.
“I’ve always had a penchant for productivity and one of my objectives has been how do I continually improve the efficiency of individuals within teams and organisations,” he said.
Turakhia said India has a lot of advantages when it comes to producing entrepreneurs. “There’s a billion of us so the numbers are going to matter,” he joked.
“In many ways it hasn’t had a start-up culture until the last five-seven years. There have been lots of massive conglomerates that have formed out of India. It’s predominately an English speaking country with good access to the internet with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Mumbai is the city that never sleeps. I remember my first ever trip outside of India and it was to the US. I went to San Antonio in Texas. In Mumbai or Dehli you can be up at 4am and the streets are crowded. It’s very enterprising. I remember walking out of my hotel in San Antonio at 6pm and there was pin drop silence. I almost thought there was a curfew going on. It was a bit of a culture shock to me.”
Turakhia likes to keep business simple and said entrepreneurs should focus on value creation rather than valuation.
“I’ve always believed that the very definition of a business is to create something of value to you customer audience that is of higher value to them than the value you are asking of them,” he said.
The businessman has never raised external funding and said hiring well is a priority. “I spend 30-35 per cent of my personal time on recruitment-related activities,” he said.
Despite being a billionaire don’t expect Turakhia to sell his businesses anytime soon.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he explained. “I love what I do. For the last 20 years my longest vacation has been four days. Most are three days. I get bored in most places. You can do to the Maldives or the Red Sea and it’s basically the same with a slightly different beach and sea.”