This is Manoj Bhargava.
Manoj Bhargava was born in 1953 in Lucknow, a prosperous city in northern India. His family was well off in India with a compound surrounded by lush gardens and servants. His family left India in 1967 when his father went to pursue a Ph.D. at The Wharton School of Business.
In West Philadelphia, Bhargava’s family didn’t live like they did in India. Their house rent was $80 a month and they would split one Coca-Cola four ways as a treat.
At 17, Bhargava noticed the razing and redevelopment of North Philly neighborhoods. Seeing an opportunity, he bought a 1953 Chevy dump truck for $400 and started cleaning the debris from the demolition for money. He made $600 dollars that summer and resold the Chevy truck for $400 dollars.
Bhargava excelled at math. He would land interviews with prestigious feeder schools offering to take math tests to prove himself. He won a full scholarship to the Ivy League feeder Hill School and moved on to college at Princeton in 1972. He dropped out one year later because the pretentious lifestyle didn’t fit and he wasn’t challenged.
“I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.”
In 1974, he decided to move back to India to become a monk in a commune. For the next 12 years, Bhargava traveled between monasteries in the Indian mountains under an ashram called Hanslok. He spent those years mastering the stilling of the mind through meditation.
His family urged him to come back to the United States and help with the family business. By that time, his father owned a plastics business- Bhargava had no interest in plastics, but used his skills to buy regional plants and turn them around. By 2001, his Indiana PVC manufacturer went from zero sales to $25 million; he sold the company in 2006 for $20 million. From his experience in plastics, he realized the opportunity in the chemicals industry.
“Chemicals are really simple… You mix a couple things together and sell it for more than the materials cost.”
Bhargava started a consumer products company, Living Essentials LLC. From a trade show he attended in Anaheim, California, he discovered a drink that claimed it could boost productivity for hours. He knew he didn’t want to compete with other energy drinks like Red Bull or with big companies like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Fast forward 6 months and Bhargava got his own unique product on shelves in GNC and soon other outlets. The small two ounces of caffeine and B vitamins came to be known as 5-Hour Energy.
For only $3 a bottle, 5-Hour Energy became Living Essential’s genius money maker with $1 billion in sales. Bhargava’s stake in the company is estimated at $3 billion dollars.
For being a billionaire. Bhargava still remains humble. He lives in a modest two story home outside of Detroit, Michigan with his son and wife. He is said to be the richest Indian in the United States with a net worth of $4 billion.
“5-Hour Energy is not an energy drink, it’s a focus. But we can’t say that. The FDA doesn’t like the word ‘focus.’ I have no idea why.”
Bhargava uses his own product all the time, especially when he plays tennis. He also still meditates for an hour every day.
Perhaps in homage to his days as a monk, 90% of what Bhargava earns will go to charities in India.
“I have made a lot of money in the West… and I do not believe in much of personal consumption.”