The World Economic Forum recently announced that Ankur Jain, a serial tech entrepreneur, has been named as one of its Young Global Leaders for 2017.
“Being an entrepreneur is a mentality and a lifestyle,” Jain says. “Inherently, while you see the success stories of entrepreneurs and all the glamour that comes with it, it’s really, really hard.”
The 26-year-old serial entrepreneur would know.
In 2011, Inc. magazine named him the “Best Connected 21-Year-Old in the World.” In 2014, he co-founded Humin, a mobile contacts app that allows users to organize contacts by how you know them. In March 2016, Humin was acquired by dating app giant Tinder, with Jain joining as VP of Product.
Jain is also the founder of the Kairos Society, a global foundation he started in 2008 while studying business at Wharton. Focusing on the next generation of entrepreneurs, the foundation’s mission is to help solve the world’s biggest problems through technology. Over the years, Kairos fellows have launched successful companies like Casper, Periscope, Fiscal Note and Freenome.
And now Jain and Alex Fiance, partner and CEO at Kairos, have launched Kairos Society Ventures, a seed investment fund to support budding young entrepreneurs.
In April, Kairos will host a three-day summit in partnership with the Rockefeller family to bring together the next generation of entrepreneurs and 100 of the top CEOs, political leaders and media heads. They will also be announcing the Kairos 50 – 50 of the most innovative companies from universities around the world.
On a recent wintry afternoon at the Soho House, Mr. Jain spoke about the impetus for Kairos, starting a venture fund for the first time and the single biggest problem facing tech today. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Briana Seftel: Your father, Naveen Jain, is a well-known figure in the tech world. Would you say tech is in your genes?
Ankur Jain: The entrepreneurial DNA is definitely in the culture when you get exposed to it. I don’t know if it’s genetic, but when you’re exposed to it, it’s such a thrill that it’s very hard to not want to pursue it. There’s a great quote by Muhammad Yunus that says, ‘Every one of us is an entrepreneur, not all of us are lucky enough to find out.’
BS: You began the Kairos Society in 2008 while a student at the Wharton School of Business. How did the idea come about?
AJ: Back then, for the smartest talents in the world, the goal was to get a job at J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs. When you talk about a waste of top talent that is the definition. When Wall Street crashed, there was this interesting nexus where all of a sudden young people were open to doing something different. So we had this idea of ‘What if we could focus the next generation of leaders on tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.’
It’s this idea that the world’s biggest problems – broken industries that we accept as the status quo – are actually the biggest billion dollar opportunities. It requires a fresh, young entrepreneurial mind to rethink the whole sector, and that was the impetus for the Kairos Society.
BS: The Kairos fellows are all in college or just graduated. Why is it important to begin at that stage?
AJ: Young people have all the opportunity, time, hunger and drive to create solutions, but going after these big broken industries like healthcare or education isn’t possible for most 22 year olds. When you find the people who would normally have to wait 10-15 years before they can tackle problems and bring them together at the age of 20 with CEOs and industry leaders, it’s less about mentorship and more about partnership.
BS: You’re launching a first-ever Kairos venture fund to support the next generation of breakthrough startups. Why now?
AJ: Over the years Kairos has launched a few hundred companies, and our fellows have gone on to start Casper, Periscope, Fiscal Note and Freenome. We realized as we helped launch these companies around the world, we didn’t have the ability to put a stamp of capitol so other institutional investors get behind them. By us having a funnel to put money into these companies at the right stage, we can signal to the rest of the markets that these big, audacious moonshots are ready for [investors].
BS: In April, Kairos will host a summit in partnership with the Rockefeller family. Can you talk to us a little about it?
AJ: We’re partnering with the Rockefellers and asking, if we could focus the next generation of entrepreneurs on one problem, what would it be? We’re bringing together 150 leaders to set the agenda for the problems and opportunities over the next few years and identifying the 50 most innovative companies and make sure they have a platform [to shine].
BS: What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur just starting out?
AJ: When you’re young is the best time to try to be an entrepreneur because you have the least to lose. If you’re going to go out and be an entrepreneur, swing for the fences because there’s no point trying to build something small when you have the opportunity to make a global impact. That doesn’t mean overcomplicate your product and make it impossible to use. Start simple, but think big.
BS: Okay, last question: What are the biggest problems in tech right now?
AJ: The tech industry, more than anything else, is a bubble. As much as Silicon Valley talks about changing the world, the stuff that they spend most of their time on only changes San Francisco. The tech industry really needs to take the time to understand the challenges that everyday people are facing around the world.