The Startup Series

By  Gagandeep Kaur

vndedit@cybermedia.co.in

An IT brand from Africa

The young and dynamic Indian-origin billionaire, Ashish J Thakkar is taking Africa to Silicon Valley with Mara Online.

The creator of the African IT brand “Mara” Ashish J Thakkar hopes to create visibility for Africa as an IT destination with the recent successes Mara Online, has garnered in Africa.

His recent social enterprise, a family of online and mobile platforms, Mara Online enables young entrepreneurs to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Mara Online basically creates educational tools, mobile applications, etc., for entrepreneurs, which enable them to connect not only with one another but also with global experts. An offshoot of Mara Mentor, Mara Online is a social network for entrepreneurs. It connects new entrepreneurs with established ones, who provide guidance in making the business grow.

Being the youngest billionaire in the continent, 33-year-old Thakkar, is well placed to promote entrepreneurship. His net worth is estimated to be around $200 mn.

“There is a lot of talk about bringing Silicon Valley to Africa but I want to turn this around and take Africa to Silicon Valley,” says Thakker in a telephonic conversation with Voice&Data.

Starting his first business at the age of 15 years, Thakkar today has interests in diverse fields such as real estate, financial services, tourism and BPO Services. The not-for-profit arm, Mara Foundation focuses on entrepreneurship and education. Mara Mentor was launched to enable African entrepreneurs to take advantage of guidance from experts.

Not Just About Entrepreneurs

Mara is not just about entrepreneurs. With this, Thakkar has managed to create Africa’s first IT brand. This is the first time that an IT product from Africa continent has made its presence felt on the global landscape.

“We wanted Mara to be a social media in Africa and for Africa. It allows people to be connected in a very cost effective way. It enables people to collaborate. The continent has a very young population and this appeals to them,” says Thakkar talking about the vision behind Mara Online.

The company would be launching new application, Mara Messaging next month. It has a number of platforms like Mara Mentor, Mara Money integrated with each other.

The increasing popularity of the platform has inspired the young entrepreneurs to move beyond the African borders. Though he refused to talk about the timelines of the project, Thakkar admitted that Indian entry is on the cards.

“We think and believe there is an opportunity in India. We haven’t decided the time line for it but definitely India is part of our plan,” says Thakkar. The young entrepreneur regularly visits India to interact with his spiritual Guru, MorariBapu.

African experience will definitely help Mara to make a mark in the Indian subcontinent. One of the biggest challenges Thakkar faced was to localize the business in all the 22 countries where it is present in Africa.

“You have to understand that each and every country is different in terms of culture, mindset and the way it works. So the strategy that works in one country doesn’t work in another country. We had to localize it for every market without losing the essence,” explains Thakkar.

This experience in dealing with cultural diversity will enable Mara to deal with similar challenges in India. The company already has a research and development center in India.

Commenting on the reasons for success behind Mara Online, Thakkar says, “It offers best of global entrepreneurship advice but still understands local reality. In a way it is an educational tool since there is no other way local entrepreneurs will have access to global experts. Mara is promoting collaboration in a unique way and is converting peer-to-peer conversations into business.”

 

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