Ash Kumra: Passion Makes Perfect
For just about anyone, being honored at the White House would be considered the career achievement of a lifetime. The fact that Ash Kumra was invited by the age of 30 should give you an indication of the kind of life he’s leading.
The Irvine, CA, native is one of the nation’s most prodigious entrepreneurial talents, heading up global digital media distributor DesiYou and self-improvement website DreamItAlive.com, in addition to being a prolific advisor and lecturer. How did he do it?
We’ve all heard the saying “Do what you love and the money will come.” But for Kumra, the money isn’t coming despite his decision to follow his passion, but directly because of it. Admittedly, his passion isn’t stamp collecting. Rather, he’s a devoted problem-solver.
In 2006, on a trip to India, Kumra came to a realization about Indie content on US television. “The TV channels suck! They’re preprogrammed and they represent, like, five percent of what India’s amazing entertainment is. So I figured, let’s create this kind of hub, where we can represent various content from India and from other places too, and let’s distribute it license-free, piracy-free and in a way that can get more traffic and more distribution.” In 2007, he and friend Harish Rao created DesiYou. Problem solved.
Well, almost. A flagging economy and customer confusion about the company’s role are just a couple of the reasons he’s had to pivot (adjust strategy) in the last five years. But that’s par for the course when you’re building your own enterprise from the ground up, and it’s why Kumra is adamant that all entrepreneurship must be “passion-based.”
Partially, this is because of his belief that passion yields superior products. But mainly, it comes down to the fact if the economy takes a downturn, trend-hoppers are likely to cash out, while a passionate entrepreneur will stick, adjust and ultimately weather the storm, becoming stronger for it.
It’s a message that he’s since taken public, as an advisor to upstart entrepreneurs and frequent lecturer. He’s a self-described “on-call entrepreneur” at Chapman University in California and as part of his big night at the White House, where he was being honoured as one of Empact 100’s top young entrepreneurs in the country, he gave a two-minute address via whitehouse.gov to millions across the globe.
One thing he noticed early on: Many of the people he was preaching to about following their passion didn’t know what their passion was. Enter DreamItAlive.com, an interactive site co-founded by Kumra, where visitors complete “dream board” exercises to work out what they’re really after in life.
It’s a natural evolution of his love of solving. What’s more, there’s a palpable intensity in his words as he discusses helping people get in touch with their inner entrepreneur. “I’m a frustrated speaker, advisor and entrepreneur who meets a lot of people who don’t know what they want,” he explains. “And I feel, ‘OK, they need to get the zen of passion that I have.’”
Ever generous with his advice, Kumra’s also got some tips for entrepreneurial Anokhians. “You’ve got to get yourself out there,” he offers. “Before you want to become this big LinkedIn or big Facebook, you have to be on the radar.” He gives his speaking engagements and social-media accounts a ton of credit for building his own profile. Furthermore, Kumra says his biggest takeaway from rubbing elbows with the policy-makers in Washington was the immense importance of being active in your own backyard. This is true for established businessmen like him (in nurturing local entrepreneurs), as well as upstarts with eyes on future Facebook-dom. His advice: in the beginning it’s OK to “just be a student of entrepreneurship. You can help out with local community groups, help out with the chamber of commerce or just help out other people [who do have] resources.”
To that point, also realize that entrepreneurship doesn’t mean quitting your job, dusting off mom’s old recipe book and throwing all of your money into a pastry shop; stepping outside the established way of doing things and making your own unique mark is something that can be applied to any job. “I have a friend,” he illustrates. “He’s with IBM and he is pushing for different research and incubation-type of ideas. IBM’s going to own it…but he’s still an entrepreneur within his company.”
Finally, understand that you too can end up at the White House someday. Ash Kumra himself started as a guy with a good job who felt like something was missing in his life. As he’s quick to mention, there’s no reason anyone else can’t find their passion and the courage to pursue it, just as he found his. “I’m nobody special.
I didn’t have a Rupert Murdoch or a Richard Branson as my father. I did it [by] believing in myself and trying to make my dreams happen.”
BY MATTHEW CURRIE / PUBLISHED IN THE BEAUTY ISSUE, APRIL 2012
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF: SHERYL TUAZON, WWW.PICTUREBAKERY.COM