Manoj Bhargava, the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, was in Delhi for the launch of the Free Electric, a static bicycle aimed at rural markets that produces electricity while being pedalled. Excerpts from an interview:
Don’t you think the ideas that you say will solve the world’s biggest problems are so simple?
Everyone is taught to make highly complicated things. We have been so brainwashed that we don’t look for simple things these days. Two, people fear if they innovate to make products based on simple ideas, they won’t be able to get strong patents that many others would copy it. Three, no one innovates for the poor, because poor don’t have money, and you can’t make profits.
You have dedicated more than 90% of your wealth to charity. In India we have many billionaires, but the culture of philanthropy is not that prevalent here.
I can say about myself. Everyone has their own ideas. I am old fashioned, may be 2,000 years old. A person has a duty towards those who have less. For me, part of it is selfish. Because if I am doing something great, I have a great time. If I am doing something pointless, and just making more money – really?!! Is that what your life is about?!.
We didn’t know about you, then suddenly you start appearing in advertisements. Why is that?
If I had my way, nobody would ever have known about me. Unfortunately the work demands that I have to come out. If I don’t do it, I cannot get distributors throughout the country. What I am asking everybody is, I don’t care if you help me or not, but please don’t hinder what I am doing. And if I am lucky, a few people will help, and if not, then I will do one village at a time.
There was a report by the Centre for Public Integrity that called you the “political king maker that nobody knows” because of your over $5 million political funding. You haven’t replied to it yet...
When you do a task, there are all kinds of constituencies – the public, politicians, and industry. They can either help you or stop you. So you have to work with all of them. If I say bad things about the government, they could shut this down. So I have to play nice. I have to get everybody onboard. Politicians are a part of it. In India we have partners who will execute all of these. But in the US I have my businesses. Part of that is to make sure that you are talking to politicians. Otherwise they could hurt you. I don’t want that.
You are billionaire. You have a fancy lab, where you create ideas that you say could save the world. You do a lot of charity. Tell me the truth, are you Batman?
You know I have seen many such comments. Batman, Ironman. Somebody wanted me to run for the president… But.. People say I am like Elon Musk (American tech billionaire who wants to make space travel affordable), but I am not like him. He makes entertaining things for the rich; I make useful things for the poor. Completely two different areas.
Do you have any plans to introduce your most profitable product, the 5-Hour Energy to India?
No plans. It is like.. you had a chai shop, and now you have a five star hotel, do you want to bring your chai shop to the hotel?!