When Ankur Jain was 11 years old, he wanted to play in the basketball team and believed he needed a special pair of shoes to jump higher. So he coded a website, phoned the shoe company and asked to speak to the CEO. Ankur told the CEO that he would adv...
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Srini: Ankur, welcome to the unmistakable. Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to do. Hello? Hello. It is my absolute pleasure to have you here. So I actually found out about you through way of our mutual friend, Bridgette, who was a guest here years ago. And somebody who I've always looked up to admire.
Srini: So when she recommended you and I saw, what you're up to in the. I thought, yeah, this is a no brainer. I love everything. This guy is about. He's actually dealing with problems that are problems that I have. To me that was a big hell yes moment. But before we get started on your work I want to start by asking you a question that I know part of the answer to because we've had your dad here as a guest, but what did your parents do for work and how did that end up influencing and shaping the choices that you've made with your own life?
Srini: How'd you
Ankur Jain: make such a complicated question. Sounds so simple. So I grew up in Seattle to to an American dream kind of crazy story. It doesn't even exist anymore, my, my parents came here to the United States from India. One of those like truly, unbelievable stories you hear if just growing up in a my dad grew up in a poor village and the idea of ever even coming to the United States, It was pretty farfetched growing up.
Ankur Jain: And I think it's pretty inspiring to think that from that moment, a series of accidental events, that became opportunities that became a really unique moments for his career led to firstname.lastname@example.org boom, and being early at Microsoft and then leading into starting some of the largest technology companies of that era.
Ankur Jain: And it was pretty crazy to grow up. When I was born, we still have. Yeah, just me, my dad and mom, and just moved into their first small home that they'd borrowed money for got a mortgage to buy. And I watching him quit his job, put everything on the line to start a company and turn it into a $40 billion tech behemoth was a pretty wild experience for, being a kid at the time.
Ankur Jain: But I can tell you like, I'd say one of the biggest things that we've I found is when I think about like my early childhood, it was, everything was strict, like you can traditional Indian family is, it was it was very hard to get around things unless I could come up with a creative solution that works.
Ankur Jain: And I think about some of these times and moments where if let's say I wanted to buy something and my parents were very tight on budgets with all of us as kids. It was never as simple as a lot of my friends who could just go out and say no problem. I'll just go make, make some quick money and buy it myself.
Ankur Jain: The response that my parents would give me what. That's great. Go buy yourself that pair of shoes and you can also pay for school while you're at it.
Srini: I've got a familiar conversation with my parents. I remember when I got my first job at McDonald's and my mom was insistent that I diversify my breakfast and I was like, great.
Srini: I'll buy my own damn Eggo waffles. And she's we think you're a hot shot. Cause you have a job at McDonald's.
Ankur Jain: It's unbelievable. Indian parents are the absolute best of tripping. Yeah. Once I came back with not the best grades and instead of scolding me like you might think they would, my dad looked at me and he goes, I'm just sad to see you.
Ankur Jain: I was look, if, I always thought you were the smart one in the family, but if you're telling me that's the best you can do and to be as the best you can get, it is what it is that we can go get ice cream, like all your friends did for their bees.
Srini: Wait a minute, wait a
Ankur Jain: motivate. I mean talk about, what do you say that you say yes, I'm the dumb one or do you have to figure out how to get the a, it was it was brilliant and brutal at the same time. Yeah, but it does force you to be creative. And I think like what I really did appreciate growing up and something that, I don't know if this was an intentional method to the madness or.
Ankur Jain: Function of who my parents were, but while there was very strict rules, any creative solutions they would come up with were always welcomed and expected. Yeah, there's a story I've told this a couple of times, but I think it's just one that you might enjoy. I remember in a site in seventh, eighth grade as you can imagine, I was a.
Ankur Jain: Pretty skinny Indian kid in my class, but I was determined to make the basketball team. Here's my shot. I'm going to make the team. I can shoot the ball. And I, for some reason, convinced myself. The key to making the middle school basketball team was proving to the coach that I could dunk the ball.
Ankur Jain: And I was like a five foot, six skinny Indian kid. That was a pretty audacious concept. But I had seen a, an ad for these things called a jump sole plyometric shoes or whatever. It's gimmicky workout device that was like to help you with your you're a vertical jump. So here I am and I go to my parents and I'm like, mom, dad, I need to buy these shoes.
Ankur Jain: They're going to let me, if I use them and I train with it, I'm going to be able to make the basketball team. And they look at it and it was like $150 for these shoes. They smartly knew there was no shot. I was ever making the varsity team. They were like, they just said, there's no way where there's no.
Ankur Jain: Spending $50 on these shoes for you? Go find another sport. You're good at, so I'm being told no, it was never my forte. And I was determined to find a way to make this. To make, to impress the coach. So like any other good nerdy kid in, rather than going to make the money, which wasn't going to work.
Ankur Jain: I came up with this crazy plan to set up a partnership with a company that makes the jump all. So I'm 11 years old. I had never coded a website or anything before, but I had seen a bunch of people that I knew building websites and doing cool partnership deals and brands. So I sat down and started learning.
Ankur Jain: And built up a web portal for the time was like a whole, it became a whole company, but it was it was one of the first websites where you could actually go online and text message your friends from your computer. This was back in like the Nokia founded. And I had seen through some of the modern tech stuff.
Ankur Jain: How, like back in the day, you could only text cell phone, a cell phone, 160 character limit. So what if I could text people through my computer screen and my laptop or my desktop instead of having to type T 9 2 2 2 5, 5, 5 over and over again. So I built out what was one of the first web to mobile messaging systems and got this thing launched.
Ankur Jain: The first thing I did was call up the company that makes jumps. I was 11 years old, probably still had a prepubescent voice and asked to speak to the CEO. Like
Ankur Jain: somehow this company connected this like 11 year old kid with the CEO of the company. And I said, Hey, I'm launching this new website for teenagers to text message each other. I think it's a great audience for all of the. Potential buyers of your jump soles. I'd love to make you my featured brand ad on our website.
Ankur Jain: If I could just try out a pair of your jump souls and maybe the guy felt pity for me or something, but he's, he agreed to the deal. I put a giant jump soles ad on our site and he sent me a free pair of the deluxe ones. I I still didn't make the team. I did get my jump souls and that was the kind of.
Ankur Jain: That was the kind of culture that my parents had at the house, which was, you can find a creative win-win solution. It was all you, but if you thought you were going to shortcut you were going to bear the full cost of that, right?
Srini: Wow. I have to ask, did you ever actually manage to dunk?
Ankur Jain: No. I touched the rim though, so
Srini: I can relate as the person who got the shit beat out of me in a seventh grade football team and was the most improved player on my basketball team.
Srini: Hey. Okay. So how old were you when your parents' financial situation starts to change?
Ankur Jain: Probably seven or eight years old.
Srini: So there are two questions that come from that for me, one where you aware of what was going on at that age? That's the first thing. And I think just based on, what I know you've chosen to do, which we'll talk about, it seems like you have almost none, really just off the charts, level of awareness of the amount of privilege that you were blessed with growing up, and that's not common for people who grew up in your circumstances as we've seen from like dynasty wealth.
Srini: Why do you think that is?
Ankur Jain: I'll start, obviously, I feel very lucky to have had a chance to grow up and frankly, more so even just from the experiences. And afforded me to learn and grow, but don't forget. I w I started growing, washing my parents with no money and we had, it was when I, when we were, my dad was starting his first company.
Ankur Jain: We had to, we sold our car. He would sometimes walk to work in the snow. We were, it was like, it was a process. And at any given moment it could all be taken away. And I think seeing, watching him work, 20 hours a day, my mom spending 24 hours a day taking care of us and working with him at the same time, building this company it was inspiring, right?
Ankur Jain: It shows you that anything can be possible. Like I said, my dad grew up in a village in India where they didn't have. Per multiple meals at a time. So to even have the freedom to say that you're going to go after an idea that's big and audacious was inspiring to watch and then to watch that grow.
Ankur Jain: And then to also just three years later, see the.com crash. It just reminds you that all of this comes and goes right. And at the end of the day, what I thought, what I took away from all of this is that the best. About this country in my mind was the idea that anybody should and could have the ability to work hard and create something.
Ankur Jain: I think, unfortunately, as I've gotten older and as the Mo my generation has entered the workforce, I think a lot of that American dream has started to disappear. And for too many people. My age, that opportunity no longer exists. And that's been quite frustrating and difficult to watch.
Ankur Jain: And it's been a lot of the inspiration for a lot of the work that I've done.
Srini: Yeah. So I want to share a clip with you from the conversation I had with your dad. Just to hear your take on it.
Ankur Jain: Interesting thing is the kids always want to make the parents proud and your job as bad and really is to let them know what makes you proud of them.
Ankur Jain: And I think, to some extent we can talk a little bit more about, because we do have three children who have been just amazing things that they're doing. And I go back and look back and see what got us there. And to some extent, there's always lot of. At the same time, they were things that we did, which were counter intuitive.
Ankur Jain: Number one was we always separated the thing about us loving them and us approving of them. So I always told them that you never, ever have to second guess do. But you always have to always wonder if we approve of the things that you are doing. And those are two separate things. That means we told them what makes us proud of them.
Ankur Jain: So I would tell them, I see what success is not about how much money you have in the bank. Sexist comes from. How many lives you've been able to improve on the success is about really building the self-worth and the self worth only comes from not what you own self worth comes from what you create. And if you own a lot, but you haven't created anything, you're still a parasite on society.
Srini: So I had asked you about that because that clip just struck me so much, when I found out that, I, if it was your dad, I remembered that part of the conversation. And what I wonder is, watching your dad build this business, how did that impact the relationship between the two of you while you were growing up?
Ankur Jain: Are the truth is our family was all super close and supportive and. From a very young age, even before he started this the idea of integrating our growing up our childhood with the work that our parents did was very core. I would go to the office almost every day after school and sit there and do my homework there and get to listen in on meetings and see things.
Ankur Jain: From five years old. And when he was doing his IPO road show, I would travel with him. I do think just if you take a step back, it's interesting listening to that quote, I'd say probably one of the most important things that my parents did with us from a kind of value and culture perspective was it was this idea that.
Ankur Jain: At the end of the day, like if anything ever messed up, like my dad used to say to us, if you get in trouble and you do something dumb always make me the first call. It was he doesn't. I promise you if you're in trouble or something's wrong, we're not going to spend five minutes or one minute or 30 seconds scolding.
Ankur Jain: You it'll be. What do we do to fix it going forward and it's and that those moments happen and they came and Annie, and both of them were like that. And it was. Problem solution focused. And the reason I say that is, for many of my friends growing up, if you got in trouble, you went here, right?
Ankur Jain: Yeah. I think the reason that little lesson has played a huge part in our, and my career too, in my, in the way that I've approached, it doesn't matter like any startup you're in any business you're working on, you're going to have ups and downs. And I think that calm, steady, Solution focused approach, no matter how bad the problem is, how big of an issue you're facing play a really critical role in being able to get where I am today.
Ankur Jain: And then the second thing, which is what you referenced in that video or that audio clip, is this idea of success being really a function of how many people you impact. The only thing I would say differently from what my dad said though, is that I don't actually think they're mutually exclusive. I actually think that by focusing on helping a lot of people and solving problems for the greatest number of people, you actually have the opportunity to build the most successful business as well.
Ankur Jain: And I think, and they always say money, love happiness. The three things you can't find by chasing, but you get by just doing what you love. And. I think this is a, that's the classic example here, which is entrepreneurship. And I didn't realize I was being taught entrepreneurship right. As I was just trying to make the basketball team or get through my one problem after another.
Ankur Jain: But entrepreneurship is really just about solving problems and that problem can be as small as something for yourself, or it can be something as big as trying to FIC fix something like access to healthcare, access to education or housing affordability. But by solving problems for the greatest number of people, you actually are creating the greatest amount of value for society, which in turn does lead to business success.
Ankur Jain: Kind of elements.
Srini: Yeah. So I guess the reason that I asked about the relationship with you and your dad is that, you mentioned, the brutal part of it, which I think that it's funny. Yeah. I was thinking about all the things that, my parents did, which sound very similar. And I realized that everything that I thought was a pain in the ass about the way they raised me while growing.
Srini: Has been incredibly beneficial as an adult. But know to your point, it sort of problem solution. And I don't, I'm just curious, like how love is expressed in your family, because I realized one thing, sitting in a therapist office, he's like your primary love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch.
Srini: I'm like great. The two things that my parents have no intention of ever giving me, because that's just not how Indians are. Like. I remember the first time I ever saw my parents kiss. I was like, that's disgusting. I wish. And I was probably well into my late twenties or even early thirties. But on the flip side of that, there's something really interest.
Srini: Cause even my roommate, when he hears my parents call he's like your parents are always yelling at you. I was like, dude, they're not yelling. That's just how Indians talk. We're loud. And I realized then they'll just do random things. Like my that'll be like, Hey, we just sent you guys two air filters.
Srini: Cause we know the air is damp in your apartment, or Hey, there's pajamas coming from Costco. Why? Because they're on sale. And so I wonder what your own experience of this has been.
Ankur Jain: Yeah, I think for her us, it was very much a balance. And I, I think all of us were able to be functioning human beings.
Ankur Jain: Probably more so because of my mom than anybody, anything else. And that, that balance actually worked quite well for our February. He really did bring a lot of that love and affection and connection in the more traditional sense. And my dad brought that in a very supportive sense, which was, you always knew he was there for you, whether or not he was saying it to you.
Ankur Jain: And that balance, I think. Have that kind of complete safety net in your life. And I think that's something that is also just really important for families everywhere. Is it is a kid it's just knowing that you have people that have your back no matter what. And I think unfortunately for a lot of kids growing up that's not always a given.
Srini: I think this is a perfect segue to your career and where I want to do use as a jump off point is something that Justine must told me when I interviewed her. And she was telling me about, being divorced from Elon Musk. And one of the challenges of that being. Coming out of a marriage, where you're in the shadows of this sort of iconic giant.
Srini: And I wonder for you like having a dad who was so prominent when you're thinking about shaping your career, how do you think about not being, like stuck in his shadow and forming your own identity when you went about
Ankur Jain: that? So that's actually never really been a thing. So from a PR I can say from pretty young, yeah.
Ankur Jain: And this is like the fun part of this whole thing, is I had a front row seat and arguably like an on-court experience, actually building stuff with my dad. And one of the things you can probably appreciate with immigrant parents is they still do everything they do for their kids. And so at every step of the way, It was really about everything he did was also working to help give me an opportunity and a platform to level up on what he's built.
Ankur Jain: And I think that's a really diverse play. I'll tell you remember that little wireless company I was telling you about. Yeah. Call two years later. I remember I was really interested. I had just found out about all these search companies. This is like overture. Find what these companies back.
Ankur Jain: I remember that these are the days of paid search where the results that you got weren't on the side, but they were actually the results and these companies would get paid per click on these results. And it was a pretty meaningful. Money that these companies would make just by incorporating search. And I remember I kept emailing and emailing these companies like overture and find what, and all these guys asking to do a deal with me so that I could put their results on my website because got it.
Ankur Jain: Make a little bit of money when I was 13 years old for other fun stuff, that could be cool. And build a good business. And obviously now these guys never got back to me. And one day I was at school and my cell phone rang, it was my dad. So I stepped out of class to pick it up and he goes, Encore.
Ankur Jain: I have John here for you. He's the CEO of, I think find what our overture at the time. Why don't you pitch them on your idea now? And and like on the spot, I was learning how to pitch these guys and figure out and, ended up coming to a deal with that guy at the time, which probably underpaid me, but it was still an opportunity.
Ankur Jain: And so that idea of shatter a competition was never there just because it was such a supportive relationship back and forth.
Srini: Let's do this. Walk me through the trajectory of your career and what led you to start focusing on the problems that you are solving today.
Ankur Jain: Yeah, it's funny. You mentioned you graduated business school.
Ankur Jain: It's the oh eight crisis. I started undergrad going to Wharton that as business school, undergrad in oh 7 0 8. So I started getting, deciding I was going to go into business formally right before the world collapsed. In 2008, when things stopped, all of a sudden it was like my entire school and Wharton was a factory for bankers and consultants.
Ankur Jain: And in 2008, that whole ecosystem just shut down. Like we discussed before every crisis is an opportunity. And so all of a sudden I was thinking there's all these smart people who are graduating from Penn and all the other schools around. No one has jobs. What if this was an opportunity to refocus some of the best talent on building technology companies?
Ankur Jain: And the idea at the time was that there was such a, antibusiness kind of feeling in 2008. I remember occupy wall street and these different kind of protests and movements. I said what if we could show the world that business is actually a force for good, and then you can actually solve big problems through technology.
Ankur Jain: And for all these smart people again, you have no opportunity costs going into banking consulting anymore. Why not put your life towards something that can actually make a difference? And so you started an incubator in 2008 and started recruiting some of the top young people coming out of Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, NYU, all the Berkeley.
Ankur Jain: To start building businesses. And it was a confluence of things that were happening at the time with the iPhone had just launched Facebook was just becoming a thing. And all of a sudden, within a couple years of launching this incubator, we had spun out a few billion dollars worth of companies all started by people in their early twenties, working on different kinds of stuff in clean water, clean energy, consumer products, all with this idea that.
Ankur Jain: Solving big problems as an opportunity to build big businesses. And that was the kind of entry point into my career today. Yeah.
Srini: One of the questions that are arises from that for me is, where technology has gone off the rails too. Because, we started Facebook with this idea that, oh, we want to make the world more open and connected.
Srini: And yet in a lot of ways it's done the opposite. It's connected, but divided. And I'm sure you're probably familiar with Cal Newport. Who's been a vocal critic of all of these things almost to a fault, I think. Cause I think that there have been benefits from a lot of these, but I also think there have been downsides, somebody who's been, at the forefront of some of this, when you see some of what's happening today.
Srini: Obviously inequality, the things that have resulted from the just sheer amount of wealth, you were talking before we hit record about San Francisco and how ridiculous it is to live there. Like what do you make of that? Do you feel like, we have to course correct.
Srini: Or do you feel like we're headed in the right direction still? Because I feel like in so many ways, We've built so many behemoths that are, the people who built them are no longer really even able to control them. They've built monsters that they can't figure out how to tame and I can't help, but think of the book, the filter bubble by Eli Paris or where he talks about the fact that as great as all this is been, it's actually put many of people into filter bubbles, and it's reduced our awareness of what is going on around us.
Ankur Jain: Yep. Look, technology is at its best. I always believed increases the quality of a service and democratizes access, right? That's what the personal computer did. That's what Google has done with the information. That's what happened me. You've heard this thing over and over again, in the Palm of our hand, we have more computing power than the astronauts had landing on the moon in the 1960s.
Ankur Jain: And that has been unbelievable. It's a direct result of some of the smartest minds and capital flowing into places like Silicon valley. The problem is that over the last few years and I, frankly, it's funny, you said you're a business without blame this on all of my fellow business. The minute MBA school guys started moving to the valley, you knew something was wrong.
Ankur Jain: Silicon valley worked because it was not cool to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur meant you were unemployable at any major bank or consulting institution. And I think what happened, unfortunately, With all of that capital and all that money in the valley started getting redirected to just useless crap.
Ankur Jain: And so you have now, people that are building like blockchain, this drone, that VR, this, that any sense of the problem they're actually trying to solve, they're just building products in search of a problem. And if you remember, we started this conversation with the idea that entrepreneurship at its core.
Ankur Jain: It was always about solving a problem first. And I remember I got sucked into this. I got sucked into the valley and I started a company thereafter. I first incubator and we were right in the sweet spot of all this hype and buzz and then sold it to IC where they had me go run Tinder's product.
Ankur Jain: And we were even more at the center of yeah, there's only so much you can do, helping people get laid off.
Ankur Jain: It's crazy that experience. At some point, you got to stop and look at yourself and say, there's billions of dollars going into this. And I remember for me, that specific moment was in 2017. After I left him. I was looking for my next big thing to try to go work on and dedicate to. And I was in San Francisco meeting with a venture capitalist whose name I won't say.
Ankur Jain: And he started his pitch to me with Encore. I have a company you need to come look at, they're going to change the world. It's right up your alley, the kind of stuff that really can make it totally changed the way people have. That's a pretty compelling way to start a pitch. And he proceeds to tell me that they're about to put a hundred million dollars into a blockchain based sticker company that had a deal with LVMH to create digital purses and wallets and bags that couldn't be replicated, allowing people to have their own unique, whatever stupid.
Ankur Jain: Product person or whatever. And I just couldn't I remember just sitting there so dumbfounded that all this was the idea that this prominent venture capitalist thought was going to change the world. And as if on cue, I walked outside his office just annoyed and frustrated for him and spent an hour with him and on market street, which is like this right across, like the main crosses downtown San Francisco.
Ankur Jain: There was a homeless person. With his pants down, standing in the middle of the street with a bird scooter humping the scooter handle. And this was like a week after bird had raised $200 million and I couldn't could not have had a more photo. Perfect representation of what was wrong with Silicon valley.
Ankur Jain: City with more money than God. You have some of the smartest people in the world talking about changing the world and in their own backyard right outside, you have one of the worst housing crises, one of the worst mental health and healthcare crises, massive access to financial service challenges.
Ankur Jain: And you have, hundreds of millions of dollars going into electric scooters. And that was the moment where I said to myself, there's gotta be a way to fix this again. This is a clear problem that someone has to do something about. And you look at these sectors, like we talked about, the housing issue, the healthcare crisis, the financial services student loans, right?
Ankur Jain: These aren't non-profit issues. Like these are trillion dollar industries that are just failing this next generation of consumers. You've gone through. More friends than I care to admit I've had to deal with this. Like you go to school thinking you're doing everything right. Following the guidance they give you.
Ankur Jain: And all that you end up with is coming out of college with a hundred thousand dollars of student loans, a job in a city where rent eats up half your salary. And you're just on this rat wheel, always trying to play catch up and never really getting a chance to get. And that is a failure of the system that could be fixed with innovation, not a given like people have taken it to me.
Srini: Yeah, I think that, that was the part of the story. When Bridget sent me your pitch, that immediately caught my attention because you mentioned student loans. Like I have a mountain of student loan debt. I remember talking to her about it. And when Rumi said that he, when he was here and I revealed how much it was and it's high, it's like right around like 210.
Srini: I remember thinking I had a friend that I was talking to in business school. He was like, you know how people get out of this debt? Their parents die and they collect life insurance. What the hell I don't want that to be the end result is this is something that I've asked so many people in you're working on this problem.
Srini: I, I've like I was a C minus economics student at Berkeley. And even I am well aware of the fact that there's only so long, you can keep lending money. And not getting it back before their systemic consequences, even chase drivers said, he's people say that this is actually at the heart of what is an economy that is stagnant because young people are not starting families.
Srini: They're not buying houses. Like we really like our literally our attitudes for some of my friends are like either it's 50 cent get rich or die trying, otherwise we're never getting out of this mess. And so I wonder how do you solve a problem of this proportion for so many damn.
Ankur Jain: And so this is where things start to get fun and interesting.
Ankur Jain: So one of the other, like one of the other really great tidbits that I always heard growing up from my parents was this great quote, right? Innovation is not about thinking outside the. The best innovation comes from thinking about a problem from a different box. In other words, you're not going to solve the problem by just looking at the same structure and thinking about it over and over again, it actually comes from just looking at other models and asking yourself how it applies here.
Ankur Jain: How can we use data analysis to rethink car transportation by routing cars, different? That's the birth of kind of everything from delivery services to ride sharing, right? How can we use. Field like AI to change healthcare. And in the case of some of these problems that we're talking about, We looked at stuff like housing costs, and we just asked the really stupid questions, which were like, when you move into an apartment and say, San Francisco, you're already in student loans, you'd try to get a job. You haven't made any money yet. And now your landlord wants you to pay first month rent last month threat and a security deposit.
Ankur Jain: So take an average rent of say in San Francisco, 3000 a month, which is outrageous. And you're talking about needing, $9,000 just to move into the damn apartment right now, that security deposit, which is one month rent, turns out there's $45 billion across the United States locked up in escrow accounts, just sitting there for security.
Ankur Jain: Wow. That's money that you and our friends and everybody else can be taking and putting towards paying down their student loans or investing in the markets or using as emergency savings in case something comes up. But instead it sits there, locked up with your landlord and everybody just does it because that's how things have worked year after year.
Ankur Jain: But if you think about it, when you rent anything else, They don't ask you for a big cash deposit to just sit there. If you go rent a car from Hertz, they don't say, Hey, by the way, Shri, if you could just give us $10,000 in case you get into an accident, you can drive the car for the 10 bucks a day.
Ankur Jain: That's crazy. They asked you for $5 a day for insurance, and that's what covers you. If you get into an accident, right? Why can't the same concept apply for that? And so one of the first things we did three and a half years ago was saying, look, the first step in making a dent in this kind of financial situation for our generation is we have to put money back in people's pockets and make things more affordable.
Ankur Jain: And so we said, let's start with this $45 billion locked up in security deposits. And we went out and we created. A win-win solution. So we found insurance companies to underwrite a new type of insurance that we call security deposit insurance. And now, instead of giving your landlord a thousand or $2,000 of cash to just sit there and escrow account, which by the way, by law, they can't even touch right.
Ankur Jain: You now instead can just pay $5 a month for insurance. That protects your landlord, unless you keep your money and use it towards and actually have an impact in your life. We created that product. It works for the landlord. It works for the renter and we brought it to market. And in, in less than three years, We've now grown into over a million apartments across the country, last year alone during COVID when people needed money, more than any more than anything else.
Ankur Jain: You'd 40% unemployment. We gave back a quarter billion dollars to renters just by unlocking their security deposit. And we're now even working with policy makers, Republicans, and Democrats, by the way. To create laws that give every renter access to that type of insurance alternatives, they can get that money back, right?
Ankur Jain: The mayor of Cincinnati mayor Cranley, and I put passed the law, which will unlock a hundred million dollars and just Cincinnati alone in Atlanta, we passed a law that will unlock almost $800 million for renters in that city. So while Congress is out there bickering and fighting over a $1,400 stimulus, Jack.
Ankur Jain: We're putting an average of $1,500 back into people's pockets almost overnight. I think all of that goes back to those core things. We started this combo off with, which is how do you really make an impact in people's life? How do you do that in a way that builds a business model? That's sustainable because that's probably the only way to really scale change.
Ankur Jain: And then can you do it in a way that's a win for all the stakeholders? And historically, like housing is just one example, but the same in healthcare, the same student loans, it's almost always a win, lose anything good for the landlord is bad for the renter. It's good for the rent or it's bad for the landlord.
Ankur Jain: And if you just start to look at other models of inspiration, right? Like car rentals, all of a sudden you could figure out how to apply that kind of idea as an innovation in the housing sector.
Srini: So this I'm glad you brought up politicians. Cause I was going to ask that was, what's gonna be your next question is, one, how do you deal with the regulatory hurdles and the bureaucratic bullshit?
Srini: Because like I say it to your point I was, as I was watching Congress bicker for six months and watching people suffer, I couldn't help, but think a bunch of kindergartners could have done this more effectively than these idiots, unlike the, I remember watching Steve Minutian and like I said, I have a C minus, economics GPA, and I felt like I could have made better policy.
Srini: So that's one, one component of this, but I think the part of this that's, more interesting to me is I think there's a whole psychological component to this. One of my roommates, he said, any good luck society is driven by some level of self-interest, people like you and I start companies and build things because obviously there's a component of self-interest involved, but I think.
Srini: Yeah. One thing that I've thought about a lot is how, we have pushed that self-interest to the point of diminishing returns, which is why we have this kinds of situations we do, and why people like you need to build the things you do. One, how do you address that issue of, excessive self-interest in a society that is completely interdependent because, my dad wants, told me a story about sanitation workers in India.
Srini: And, as well as anybody, India is a country of extremes, like extreme wealth and extreme poverty. And he said the sanitation workers went on strike people. Didn't value them. Cause their sanitation workers. But he said the moment they went on strike, everybody realized, wait a minute, these guys are actually incredibly integral to a society that functions well, especially in a country that's already polluted.
Ankur Jain: So
Srini: how do you address that
Ankur Jain: part of this? Yes. There's a great quote that I, who knows if it actually was said, but it's been told to me by math people that I believe, and it was said, and I love it, which was, there was a shareholder meeting for Amazon. And one of the shareholders asked Jeff Bezos, what do you think will change most over the next 10 years?
Ankur Jain: That will shift the way Amazon thinks about its product off. And he said, everybody asked that question, but it's the wrong question. The question I would ask is what are the, what is the thing that will not change over the next 10 years that affects Amazon's business? And he said, the answer is core human behavior.
Ankur Jain: Doesn't really change people still read books. They may just read it on a tablet. People still need groceries, whether they get it from my website or from a grocery store, people still want to meet people. People still wanna, go out and do certain activities. And so when you think about that from a business perspective, a lot of companies try very hard to change behavior.
Ankur Jain: And what I would say is rather than trying to change it, can you create a solution that actually does work because it satisfies everyone's self-interest right. And so you take something like this company, rhino that we built for security deposit insurance, take the most selfish kind of desire of each stakeholder involved.
Ankur Jain: You have landlords who they under, no circumstance want to give up the certainty of having one month of protection, even if it means hurting their red renters. That's their selfish desire because they don't want to take any risks. Even if nine out of 10 renters are good people, right? So they want that protection, but they also want to sign leases and close units because they want to make sure they fill up their apartments and maximize their rent revenue.
Ankur Jain: Renter wants to keep as much money in their pocket because life is so damn expensive and you host them at the same time. You also need housing. So you're stuck between having to do it, a landlord ones and wanting to save money. You've got us as a business who want to build a successful business that can help you, but also make money.
Ankur Jain: And we see that. Billions of dollars are being kept away when only a tiny percent of renters actually cause the damage that caused real losses for a landlord, that's literally insurance in a nutshell. And all of a sudden you have a win-win solution where it's in everyone's interest. To switch. But it requires challenging the status quo model and getting able to think differently.
Ankur Jain: So yeah, that to me is like how you deal with this is just don't fight it. Understand the court, same thing for the politicians. You brought a regular regulators, but don't forget what is a politician? They're like a politician at the most selfish level wants to get real. And how do they get reelected?
Ankur Jain: They get reelected or elected to a higher office by doing things that their constituents view as beneficial to them. Yeah. What better way to look good as a politician than giving every resident, up to 1400 bucks on average, back in their pocket, without hurting the landlords who are, you're doing.
Ankur Jain: Without having to raise taxes on your other donors, right? It's like a, it's a very selfish self-interested thing to do that just happens because of the way we've created a product to really help a lot of people. And I think that's how you build these sustainable businesses.
Srini: Yeah. So I guess that raises a couple of more questions.
Srini: One is when you see, projects like universal basic income, and the pilot programs that are Y common areas winning, what are you given? The work that you're doing. Do you think that is an excuse for people to be lazy? Because, even Andrew Yang who was here when he was running for president instead said, he's this would solve so many problems for so many people.
Srini: And he said, he's, if you go and look at the typical sort of social welfare structures, he said just the bureaucracy alone is so costly to maintain. That would be cheaper to just give people the money.
Ankur Jain: Yup. So anyway, we've we've done a lot with him. And I wholeheartedly agree that giving people.
Ankur Jain: Cash is probably more effective than trying to deploy that money through a web of government bureaucracy through services the government provides. But I don't think that solves the underlying issues of the way society functions. The fact that housing is still so expensive. Isn't going to change.
Ankur Jain: Everyone has an extra 1400 bucks or a thousand dollars a month, right? If anything, probably just raise the cost, but I'll give you another example. We spend a lot of time thinking about this, right? And if you take a look at housing as another example of like, how can you think from a different box? We know the primary driver of high rent costs is the shortage of housing supply in metropolitan areas where the jobs are.
Ankur Jain: If you were to think about what could fundamentally change that most politicians, most people in the space for thinking about how do you build in cities more effectively and efficiently? Do you need to taller buildings? Can you remove permitting costs? Can you change tax code structures, all of that to try to fit 10% more efficiency out of the housing supply in a city.
Ankur Jain: But if you start to think about that problem from a tangential. Why do people care to live in cities in the first place? Because it's close to the job. It's close to the restaurants, the nightlife you want to be in the seat. Without having to go drive an hour where you're an unproductive twice a day and be out of commission.
Ankur Jain: So if you really want to think about solving the housing supply problem, maybe the best answer is actually to focus on things like self-driving cars and vertical takeoff vehicles, because all of a sudden it becomes feasible for somebody to live what's today, 30 minutes or an hour outside the city, and still have the same convenience of access.
Ankur Jain: And by working on something like self-driving cars, you actually open up so much land. And if you are flown over a city, you see it. It's like a little tiny, dense bubble of buildings. And then just empty space. You don't have a space, right? It's just that nobody wants to get to commute one to two hours a day, distracted from anything else just to get into work.
Ankur Jain: If you could suddenly. Be in the city in 10 minutes or sitting in a vehicle where it's like a portable workspace or work remotely. Like we're not seeing from coven. All of a sudden, the requirement to live in that density changes your space to build changes. And you could 5, 6, 10 X, the supply of housing in an affordable way.
Ankur Jain: But not many people are talking about affordable housing supply as an issue. Vertical takeoff vehicles or self-driving cars or transportation. I think that's where you can create win solutions again, and where we need more of what used to be Silicon Valley's capital focused.
Srini: Wow. So I have a couple of final questions for you and we'll wrap things up, one thing that you mentioned early on in our conversation was that, you got to see your parents witnessed the true American dream story. I did as well. I saw my parents come from nothing, built a job as preps.
Srini: And I remember thinking, as a kid, I'm like, I don't want to be a professor. Like I want to be rich. And now I look at my parents' life and think, you know what? They have it pretty damn good. I definitely didn't value it for what it was worth, but you mentioned that you people in your generation, and I think I'm in that in-between that opportunity isn't available to us in the way that it was before.
Srini: And there's almost this sort of, loss of optimism that young people have about what's possible in their future. What, w what do you say to those people? Particularly the ones that are coming out of college, they're watching, a world in disarray with a pandemic civil unrest and just shit falling apart.
Ankur Jain: Yeah. I think the sad reality is our generation will be the first generation as of now to be poor than our parents in American history. Okay, that's bullshit. That should not be the case. And I think the answer is like, we can sit back and do nothing about it and run in this rat race, or we can continue together to do what we're best at.
Ankur Jain: We're the generation of the greatest innovations of this kind of modern era, right? Look at how for better or for worse companies like Facebook and apple and Google, they've all transformed. The world is, know what I mean? Imagine if we could do that for the problems that actually matter now.
Ankur Jain: And so I guess like the truth is if we don't do anything that is going to be the case, but I do think that we have an opportunity to do something about it. And one of the things that I think is going to be the most important problem to solve is giving millennials and gen Z access to home ownership because despite.
Ankur Jain: Some of the fears that came from oh eight crisis around home ownership. It's still the only truly levered form of equity that most people in this country can have. And it's also the greatest driver of compounded wealth and growth, and frankly, generational wealth transfer that people can have access to.
Ankur Jain: And so we don't give people a path to home ownership. We're going to see. Really terrible inequality has only a handful of people are in our generation can afford that lifestyle that our parents had. And the rest are still living paycheck to paycheck, paying off student loans and more, other debt for the rest of their life.
Ankur Jain: And so I just, I cannot emphasize and stress enough, the urgency for us to find innovative and new solutions to these problems.
Srini: So I have two final questions for you. Do you grew up watching your parents go from being, Indian immigrants to being extremely wealthy? Basically you fall into the 1%.
Srini: I wonder what that did, for your own perception of the value of money and wealth, and also how the, how has that changed with age in your own life?
Ankur Jain: I guess it's a little bit tricky to answer that question largely because despite having achieved a lot of financial success, our parents were still quite tight on money. Like we don't have access to that money. It doesn't, it hasn't changed my ability, it's, it was still a fight growing up to buy.
Ankur Jain: A pair of $50 jeans versus the gap jeans, call that just the culture of coming from nothing, or whatever, but then that did it for, for better, for worse. I didn't really get the benefit of a lot of that. Growing up, I thought I did get the benefit of was the exposure and the learnings that came from that type of platform.
Ankur Jain: Which I just, I continued to value that education more than anything else.
Srini: Amazing. Wow. I have one last question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at the unmistakable creative. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?
Ankur Jain: The willingness to ask the really dumb, obvious questions that everyone else forgets to ask. And I think that's where a lot of the greatest innovations and change in this world comes from is just taking a step back and sometimes asking why to something that everyone else takes for granted.
Ankur Jain: And fund, if more people did that. We'd see a lot more disruption happening in some of these spaces that affect our daily lives
Srini: and incredible. Wow. I can see why Bridget recommended you. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom, and your insights with our listeners.
Srini: Where can people find out more about you, your work and everything else that you're.
Ankur Jain: First of all, thanks for having me. It's always just a wild journey to have these combos, but you can find some of the work we're email@example.com. That's K a I R O S H q.com or finding me on Instagram.
Ankur Jain: But thanks again for having me, man. This is a two, I can't listen to your other stories. Here, how to find another career path for myself.
Srini: Absolutely. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.
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