September 25, 2017

Billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist serves humanity with innovation

An interview by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Manoj Bhargava

Manoj Bhargava

Manoj Bhargava is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder and CEO of Living Essentials®. Born in Lucknow, India, Bhargava moved to the United States in 1967 at the age of 14. Bhargava grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended Princeton University for one year before dropping out and focusing the remainder of his education on spiritual studies in India and the United States.

In 1990, Manoj founded a plastics company that he grew to $20 million in sales, which he sold to a private equity firm. With this money, he started a consumer products company, Living Essentials®, which became an overwhelming success with the introduction of 5-Hour ENERGY® in 2004. Bhargava has committed to giving away 99% of his $4 billion dollar net worth and signed the well-known Giving Pledge in 2012.

He now focuses most of his time on creating solutions at Stage 2 Innovations, his invention shop in Farmington Hills, Michigan, as well supporting the Hans Foundation, one of the largest charitable organizations in India. Located just outside of Detroit, Stage 2 focuses on the areas of water with the “Rain Maker,” energy with the “Free Electric” bicycle system and health with the Renew Enhanced Circulation device. The Rain Maker can convert any existing water – including salt water or polluted water – into drinkable water at 1,000 gallons per hour; the Free Electric bicycle system can provide electricity free of both cost and pollution to the billions of people around the world who live daily without electricity; the Renew Enhanced Circulation device can enhance lives by promoting circulation.

Bhargava says, “My approach to things is: Let’s invent things that make a difference to peoples’ lives, and the inventions that really matter are the ones that will help the poorer half of the world. Let’s do stuff, not just talk about it.”

Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Manoj. You are a true role model, not only for Indians, but across the world. Did you ever imagine yourself being at the helm of discoveries with a potential to revolutionize the world?

Manoj Bhargava: Honestly, I didn’t. This wasn’t something that I initially set out to do. When 5-hour Energy took off, I suddenly found myself with more money than I needed, or even wanted. I knew if I kept the money, I’d be miserable. But I also knew that I didn’t want to just give the money away to nonprofits. Instead, I decided I wanted to make things. I wanted to invent products that could help people meet their most basic needs for water, energy, and health—which are the fundamental issues underlying all of the problems facing humanity. So I got a team of engineers and tinkerers together, and we started working on these inventions. Some of our early prototypes were complete failures—they didn’t work at all. But we learned. We figured out what worked, and began the process of making our products better and better. Before we knew it, we had real-life solutions. Now that wasn’t too unimaginable, because that’s what we set out to do. The biggest surprise for me has been the response we’ve been getting from people around the world. It’s truly overwhelming, and just inspires us to work harder.

Vinita Kinra: From a plastic company to a 5-hour energy super brand, what feeds your hunger for innovation?

Manoj Bhargava: My biggest problem is that I enjoy work. And when I get up in the morning, I want to do something worthwhile. So I guess you could say what feeds my hunger for innovation is my desire to solve these big problems facing humanity, and a belief that we can do this. People say it’s impossible. And maybe it is. But that’s what makes it so fun.

Vinita Kinra: You are playing a pivotal role in helping struggling economies of the world generate pollution-free energy from your latest electricity-generating bicycle. How come nobody before you thought of this ground-breaking invention that can alleviate poverty from developing countries?

Manoj Bhargava: A stationary bicycle that generates electricity is not a new invention. There are probably hundreds of models out there, but they don’t do much more than light a single light bulb, and that’s only when the wheels are spinning. In our work at Stage 2 Innovations, which is the name of our invention shop, we have a Free Electric bike that is made of regular bicycle parts, so any bike mechanic can fix it; it charges a battery, so one hour of pedaling can meet a rural household’s needs for 24 hours; and it generates enough power to light up a house, run a small fan, and charge a mobile phone and a tablet. I don’t know how many versions of the bike we’ve had since we started, but I can tell you that the one we have now probably won’t be the one we’ll end up distributing in the spring. I’m always pushing our team toward improvements and refinements that make our products simpler, more useful, and more affordable.

Vinita Kinra: In your perspective, are monopolistic business houses petrified of your trailblazing inventions?

Manoj Bhargava: I don’t pay much attention to what other people think about me. My focus is on finding and developing solutions to global problems. Whether or not monopolistic businesses feel threatened by those inventions isn’t really relevant from my perspective.

Vinita Kinra: You are one of the most generous philanthropists alive today. Who will continue your legacy?

Manoj Bhargava: We’ve barely scratched the surface of all that we want to do. I’m just thinking about tomorrow and working on projects that benefit my customers, which is the bottom half of the world. Beyond that I have no interest in legacy.

Vinita Kinra: You are on a mission to make people richer, self-sufficient and healthy. How does one lone man accomplish such gigantic tasks?

Manoj Bhargava: I’m not trying to make people richer. I just want them to be self-sufficient and healthy. And it’s basically, what else would I do but serve those in need? Every day I get up and I do the best I can to make that happen. The task is gigantic, but then I’ve got my whole life to do it. But that only assures me that I’ll have a job for the rest of my life.

Vinita Kinra: What is your vision for our planet at the turn of the century?

Manoj Bhargava: I really don’t have a vision, but I do believe that in the next 30 years everybody will have electricity, clean water, and possibly fuels that don’t generate any pollution. And that’s what we’re working on.

Vinita Kinra: Do you believe education doesn’t come from formal learning but from having the courage to experiment with a determination as firm as yours?

Manoj Bhargava: There are different types of education. Education gives you knowledge, but it doesn’t give you understanding. Only experience can do that. To succeed at anything, you need determination. Without determination, you won’t be good at anything because you’ll let every failure stop your progress. If failure makes you stop doing what you have to do, then you’ll never be successful.

Vinita Kinra: What do you want to be remembered as: entrepreneur, philanthropist, innovator or visionary?

Manoj Bhargava: I have no ambition to be remembered as anything. That’s true for me while I’m alive. And it’s especially true for me after I’m dead.

Vinita Kinra: You have a knack for solving centuries old problems like droughts, energy crisis, environmental hazards, poor immune system etc. like a simple crossword puzzle. Were you a child prodigy or did you become a problem solver?

Manoj Bhargava: As a child I was always trying to find the shortest way to get somewhere. And I’m still doing that. Except that I’ve taken on some fairly significant problems. So I guess you could call me someone who’s really good at shortcuts.

Vinita Kinra: In a perfect world, if every country adopted all your landmark ideas, how soon could our planet be salvaged?

Manoj Bhargava: To execute these ideas it’s going to take 10-20 years. We’re going to do it as fast as possible. And there will be obstacles. It’s my job to make sure the obstacles aren’t able to stop us. That’s why we need support from lots of people. Already we have 54,000 volunteers who want to help us and make sure these ideas are not stopped.

Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?

Manoj Bhargava: Just to do something useful. And the only useful thing to do is to serve humanity.

About the interviewer:

Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.

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