Entrepreneurs and leaders alike are constantly faced with the question – maintain the status quo or evolve. And with a pandemic underway, a change in presidency, AI’s exponential growth, and plenty of other shifting elements at play, the choice to maintain the status quo is barely an option. For some, this question never felt like an option – maintaining the status quo might mean being trapped by the cycle of poverty. Current policy allows for a much higher chance that children born into poverty will stay in poverty. Anyone who can beat these odds is someone to pay attention to. One such example is Gurps Rai, whose career has been spent redefining what’s possible.
Like many other leaders, Rai started off by following what peaked his interest and then voraciously learning everything he could about it. Following his interests led him to the music industry, where he was mentored by the late Heavy D. Eventually, he found himself in the financial services sector and it wasn’t long before his curiosity pursuits paid off. His wide range of knowledge allowed him to provide strategic solutions for the MENA region, host Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room event at UN’s COP 17 international summit, set up a drug rehab in Punjab, India and co-designed the world’s most expensive sneaker for charity, valued at $4 million. These notable highlights would not have been possible had it not been for his ability to intuitively identify where to place the focus of his next business ventures by using his knowledge of past, present and forecasted market trends.
Notably, Rai was a leading presence in the first carbon trade to be priced with virtual currency. As a result of his knack for trendspotting, Rai spotted an opportunity to “retire” a large sum of carbon credits via virtual currency, a first for the carbon market. With each carbon credit retired, the planet is spared some pollution; so the pressure was on. His confidence in the purchase led to seed funding in Brazil and ultimately proved itself to be prophetic given cryptocurrency’s exponential growth this past decade.
For decades, humanistic and social psychologists alike have been seeking the science behind what differentiates successful entrepreneurs from the rest. Is it charisma, ability to rebound from failure, leadership skills? It’s an overwhelming task with layers of complexity, making the task even more difficult to quantify. In regards to Rai’s story, his relentless drive is hard to miss. But, it takes more than just motivation to reach his level of success.
Making decisions in the face of uncertainty involves a certain amount of luck, skill and planning. However, it’s a person’s attention and focus that must come before decision making. Jim Collins, a business management and growth researcher that Forbes selected as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds, finds grounded examples, like hedgehogs, to bring heightened concepts like entrepreneurship back down to earth. What stands out in Jim Collins’ research is his recognition of a common thread in successful entrepreneurs that sounds counter intuitive. Collins makes the argument that leaders who go from good to great are a hedgehog rather than a fox personality type. To clarify, this doesn’t mean that these leaders are prickly, he’s actually referring to an ancient Greek parable. In the parable, foxes know many things and hedgehogs know one big thing. In Collins’ work, he finds that the great leaders are able to develop a “Hedgehog Concept.” That is, they organize life’s many complexities into one, single, organizing principle and use this to guide all decisions.
For Gurps Rai, “never give up” can be seen as his hedgehog concept. When asked about important advice he’s carried with him during an interview, he emphatically answered, “The best 3 words of advice I have ever been given happen to all fit together in a single phrase: ‘Never give up.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated those words to myself. They also have been words I have passed onto others. I first got the idea for what became droppTV several years ago. The idea wasn’t fully formed, and the tech didn’t exist for it to work, and everyone told me that others had tried and failed at a similar concept. When something just feels like it has to get done, I can’t not do it. I practice meditation; it helps ground me. I mention that because “Never give up“ has become a sort of mantra for me. I really believe that you have to consciously remind yourself to keep forging ahead — otherwise, you’ll just be another guy who had a great idea.”
In sharing this, Gurps Rai exemplifies another key component of an entrepreneur who is more than just a “guy who had a great idea.” Overnight success is rare and realistically, successful entrepreneurship is determined by how one responds to failure. History has a tendency to romanticize some of the most famous leaders into flawless heroes, making it easy to fall into a trap of disillusion by thinking that failure is not a part of success. More often than not, a great leader is built during their recovery from failures. In fact, Abraham Lincoln lost his first job within a month, was defeated in the state legislature that same year, failed in a business venture the next year, experienced a clinical nervous breakdown and is widely considered one of the greatest US presidents. Similarly, when asked about making mistakes, Rai exhibits his never give up strategy and says “if you don’t make a lot of mistakes when starting out, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
Entrepreneur and author, Seth Godin, piggy-backs on Collins’ hedgehog concept with his own writing where he equates the success of the next generation of leaders to their willingness to start a business not based on what product or service, but instead, starting with who they want to serve. The simplistic genius in this is hard to miss – finding a customer base that is in need comes before the product because without customers, there is no quantifiable success. This forward thinking approach is evident in Rai’s vision behind droppTV. droppTV is the world’s first shoppable streaming video platform or shopatainment platform. Its marketplace uses proprietary artificial intelligence, machine learning and a computer vision algorithm to recognize products within video content, allowing for seamless one-click in-content purchasing. This model was built out of Rai spotting the rise of the direct-to-consumer model and anticipating the result will be consumers that crave a more intimate relationship with the brands they are buying from. This foresight once again proved to be the seeds of a decade defining trend that the merging of retail, entertainment and technology is becoming.
Ultimately, it seems that Gurps Rai’s entrepreneurial qualities are rooted in the same core willingness to always question what is possible. This pattern of questioning followed by pure conviction in Rai’s career makes him much more than just “another guy who had a great idea.” So, what’s next for Gurps Rai? No one can know for certain but given his history, it will be sure to test the limits of what’s possible.