The Definitive Guide to Business

This 36-year-old self-made billionaire started his first business at 16 with a $500 loan from his dad — here's his best advice 

Div Turakhia
Div Turakhia

Div Turakhia has been working almost nonstop for more than two decades, and he has a lot to show for it. Turakhia, 36, became one of India’s youngest self-made billionaires two years ago after selling his ad-tech startup Media.net to a consortium led by China’s Beijing Miteno Communication Technology for roughly $900 million.

That wasn’t even Turakhia’s first big payday. He and his older brother, Bhavin, also founded Directi Group, a holding company with a portfolio of tech businesses — such as the domain registrar Radix and international voice-calling app Ringo — that reports $250 million in annual revenue, according to the company.

In 1998, Div and Bhavin Turakhia founded Directi as a web-hosting business from their parents' house in Mumbai when they were only 16 and 18 years old, respectively. They started the company with a $500 loan from their father, an accountant, and within four years, their fledgling business already had revenue of $1 million, Div Turakhia tells CNBC Make It.

The brothers needed the money to rent an internet server to host the data for their first company. When the brothers went to their father to ask for the loan, Div says there was never any question that he would give them the money, even though it was certainly not a small amount to their family at the time.

“He didn't even ask anything, he was like ‘Here’s 500 bucks,’” Div says. “And it's not that he had a crazy amount of money, you know, it wasn't insignificant. But [his view was], ‘You’re doing something that may work, may not work, and it’s OK. Try it.’”

In fact, that supportive response from their father still sticks out as some of the best advice Div has ever received, he tells CNBC Make It.

“‘If you want to try something, try anything, it's okay to fail,’” Div says his father told them. “He trusted that, even if it failed, it would be something that would be worth it from a learning standpoint for us.”

Div started teaching himself computer programming around “age 7 or 8,” he says. By the time public internet access came to India in 1995 (when Div was 13), he says he had enough computer experience to start offering his services to local companies that wanted to build websites and take advantage of the country’s new era of connectivity. Between the ages of 14 and 16, Div says he “did web consulting stuff, like build a website for a few [companies], did some security stuff,” while getting paid small amounts here and there.

“I felt that I was getting paid a lot, they felt like they were paying me nothing, so it worked out well,” Div jokes. At the same time, Bhavin was running his own jobs portal where he used the internet to connect job-seekers in India with recruiters.

Div and Bhavin decided they wanted to embark on a project with “mass market” appeal and they realized that everybody in India’s nascent internet era would need a website and “all these people that need websites need hosting space,” Div says of their idea to start their own web-hosting business.

So when it came time for them to get serious about starting their own legitimate business — even if it was based out of their house — their father saw how hard they had been working on it as a hobby and how important it was for them to give it a shot full-time.

Once the business started to take off, with the brothers creating domain names to connect local companies’ sites with the World Wide Web, it just kept growing from there — reaching $10 million in revenue by the time Div Turakhia was 23, he says.

Despite the fact that they started making so much money at such a young age, Div says he and his brother mostly invested their earnings back into the business. Otherwise, their early spending habits were fairly unsurprising for teens flush with cash.

“Obviously you buy all the initial stuff that everybody buys,” Div says, noting that he and his brother bought their first car together when he was about 17. It wasn’t anything flashy, a small hatchback Hyundai Santro, but “I was so proud to be able to buy it,” Div says.

“And then very quickly after that, we bought my dad his first car, and we were very fortunate to be able to do that,” Div says. They bought their father a Mahindra Scorpio, which was an Indian-made SUV.

It wasn’t until Div was in his 20s and he could "absolutely, no-brainer, afford [it]" that he bought his first flashy car: a Porsche Boxster S that he says cost him roughly $220,000.

“By then I was already worth a lot — a whole lot — maybe tens of millions,” Div says.

The fairly sudden influx of money was a major change from his childhood.

“We didn’t grow up rich at all,” he tells CNBC Make It.

His family moved to Mumbai when he was a small child and they all briefly lived with his uncle in a small apartment. “There were eight of us in a one-bedroom apartment,” Div says.

“So, we didn’t grow up rich but my dad invested in us.”

Today, Bhavin remains CEO of Directi, which the brothers jointly own and where they oversee and invest in various tech start-up ideas, some of which are developed into subsidiaries like Radix and Ringo. Meanwhile, Div has also branched out multiple times to foster his own ideas — proof that he's taken his father's advice about not being afraid to try new ventures to heart.

In 2005, Div launched Skenzo, a company that buys unused web domains in order to sell them at a later date. That company was later folded into Media.net when Div founded the latter in 2010 in an effort to secure a foothold in the fast-growing online advertising market (global digital ad spending is expected to top $270 billion this year).

Div wanted to create an online advertising service in the vein of Google’s massively successful AdSense, which allows website owners to create and monetize Google display ads on their sites using data to target users by demographic. (Roughly 14 million websites currently use Google’s AdSense.) Div already had a relationship with Yahoo through Directi’s domain registration business, and he convinced the company that his own start-up, Media.net, could be as successful for Yahoo as AdSense has been for Google.

Yahoo was eager to get on board, so the online search company signed an exclusive deal with Media.net and Yahoo even considered buying Div’s company multiple times over the next five years until Yahoo’s increasingly struggling search business eventually made such a deal impossible. But Media.net kept growing, eventually taking in $232 million in annual revenue in 2015 — a year before China’s Beijing Miteno shelled out just shy of a billion dollars for the company.

Div stayed on to run Media.net as a subsidiary of Beijing Miteno after the sale and he says he hasn’t yet thought about what his next new venture would be, if anything. He's not sure what he would do if he wasn't working non-stop and he doesn't really believe in the idea of work-life balance

"There’s no work-life balance until after you succeed, and even after that [sometimes]," says Div, who is single. Div has "had a number of girlfriends," according to a profile of him in Wired, and he plans on getting married some day, but, for now, he's still preoccupied with work. "If you look at my hours, they’re crazy right now. But at some point in time, everybody normalizes, hopefully."

“I've thought of taking a break," he says. "It's been 22 years of me working every day, including weekends, for variably between 10 to 14 hours [a day].”

If he did take a break now that Media.net has been sold, it would only be a matter of time before he starts "the next thing," he says, whatever that might be. What Div does seem to know is that he's still happy coming up with new ventures to try, always chasing his next success.

“Am I happy? Yeah, absolutely," he says. "If I wasn't happy I wouldn't do it. I don't need money."

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