At the age of 33, Anubhav “AJ” Jain – a serial entrepreneur who ‘cut his teeth’ in Australia – has achieved an enviable level of success steering companies in a range of markets, including computer hardware, mobile apps, medtech and health products.
Jain’s latest venture is GoDoctor, an online network he co-founded with his friends Rahul Shokeen and Nalin Ahuja in April 2015. Headquartered in Singapore, with offices in the UAE, India, and the US, the company is – in Jain’s words – “like LinkedIn and Facebook but exclusively for collaboration and knowledge sharing in the global medical community”.
Jain spoke to Dynamic Business about his journey from Africa to India and then Australia, where he founded his first company aged 20. He also discussed the experiences in his youth that determined his life path, the role UTS Insearch played in helping him overcome an early career roadblock and GoDoctor’s traction so far.
DB: What sparked your interest in business and technology?
Jain: When I was 13, my father gave me an Apple Laptop. That sparked a fascination with the usefulness of such machines, from entertaining people through to assisting them to carry out basic tasks and work out complex problems. Aged 14, I secured a three-month internship at Xerox, which gave me experience in data management with a multinational company. Next, aged 16, I undertook a three-month internship with Electronic Data Systems, doing quality assurance. These experiences made me realise how much I enjoyed working with the intangible and tackling critical business challenges.
DB: What experiences led you from Africa to Australia?
Jain: I was born in Zambia and my initial years of education were in Malawi. I was enrolled at a British School, which emphasised practical education and experiential development. After grade five, my parents moved me to India, where I struggled with the methodology that underpinned the education system there, which was basically “remember things word for word and regurgitate it in exams”. I remember getting 3 out of 100 in my Hindi exams – it was really THAT bad. Fortunately, I had the option to switch from Hindi to French, which I’d learnt in Africa. One critical lesson I learned from my schooling in India was to push my mind by not relying on the sorts of tools we take for granted today (e.g. calculators, mobile phones, laptops).
Studying commerce and mathematics in India, this opened up career paths in accounting, business marketing, law and technology. Recalling how much I enjoyed my internships, I ultimately decided to pursue further education in technology. The problem, however, was that none of the courses in India stood out for me. At that point, my mum had a shocking idea: “why don’t you look to Australia?” She’d studied urban planning in Australia and spoke very highly of the experience. Listening to her memories filled me with a sense of optimism, inspiring me to explore universities in Australia. I decided I wanted to study a Bachelor of Computer science at the University of Technology Sydney…but, due to my year 12 results, I didn’t have the marks I needed to get in.
DB: So, how were you able to overcome this roadblock?
Jain: While exploring my options, I discovered a pathway into the course I had my heart set on. UTS Insearch gave me the option to do a Diploma in Information Technology and – if I performed well – the opportunity to transfer to a Bachelor of Computer Science. Seeing this as a two-for-one deal, I opted in. Looking back, it was a great way of stealing into a new education system. The experience gave me confidence, equipped me with critical skills such as how to present solutions to challenges, and provided me with opportunities for team work, which I loved. Of course, Sydney itself had a huge influence on my work ethic…
DB: How so?
Jain: During my initial days in Sydney, I remember being thirsty while waiting for a train home and approaching a vending machine for a Coke. The can cost around three times more than I would have paid for it in rupees back in India. At that point, I realised just how much my parents were sacrificing out of their pocket for me. I then told myself failure wasn’t an option and that I would give it my 100% to ensure that I become financially independent and take care of my expenses. Outside of my studies, I worked at several bars in key establishments like the Sydney Opera House and the Olympic Stadium, before landing a job working on the casino floor at Star City.
DB: Tell me about how you cut your entrepreneurial teeth…
Jain: During my first two years at UTS, I’d head to Capitol Square at least once or twice a month to check out all the latest tech gadgets. I was constantly modifying my computer workstation and overclocking it to get the best performance. In 2004, at the age of 20 and early into my third year of university, I partnered with one of my friends, somewhat spontaneously, to launch Online Centre out of Capitol Square.
With a passion for computers, we built branded and custom laptops using nothing but the best parts. We also offered great prices and worked beyond normal hours to succeed where other stores had been failing their customers. We ran the store seven days a week and I remember opening the store every morning, and closing it every evening, attending classes in the interim. Word of mouth spread and we began to enjoy business not just from individuals but also corporates such as Energy Australia, Foxtel and News Corp. Through connections with Microsoft, HP, IBM, Logitech and other companies with good buying volumes and distributor connections, we stayed competitive.
I wanted to expand Online Centre but my friend was comfortable with the level of success we’d achieved. So, I decided to work on Orange IT directly across from it – that was in April 2006. Orange IT had nearly double the physical footprint of Online Centre, and within six months, we’d opened up a second Orange IT store in Capitol Square, with one focusing on laptops, the other on desktops and components. By then, we were generating around $700k in monthly sales. We then opened a third Orange IT store in Capitol Square, focusing solely on PCs from budget through to high-end configured and branded machines. This approach meant we could direct the flow of customers to the relevant store, maximising our display space and bringing efficiencies to our sales process. By the 11th month, we were clocking approximately 1.2 million in monthly sales, so we decided to take things to another level by establishing a further store, this time above Wynyard Station, with a focus on corporate customers.
DB: What did you focus on between Orange IT and GoDoctor?
Jain: Following Orange IT, I was involved with a further three companies In Sydney. Firstly, there was software developer Solentive. We built core systems for several marquee clients like UNSW, Carlson Marketing Group and Ray White and over a few months, I saw our team grow from 13 to 45 and our revenue increase from $3 million to $7.25 million. Next, during my time with Synoptic Consulting, I assisted institutions like the Department of Defense, Education & Training, Universities & Multinational companies with the mapping and optimisation of existing business processes. I then founded Australian IT Domain to help businesses scale in size and not let technology be a hindrance, and we worked with several blue-chip companies on both the procurement and installation side.
Following Australian IT Domain, I founded Natural People, Anukirti Natural Health Products in Gurgaon, India. It’s a company that brings leading global natural and organic health brands to the local consumer, and focuses on sustainable sales, marketing & distribution strategies. It has been responsible for several brands in the Indian market like B Natural Juices, Paper Boat and Fashion TV Energy. Most recently, Natural People has assisted several international brands to setup join ventures with large Indian Multinational companies.
Outside of my ongoing involvement in GoDoctor and Natural People, I’m also a director and shareholder with Mobilous, a company that enables clients to launch native mobile apps without writing a single line of coding.
DB: What motivated you to launch your latest business, GoDoctor?
Jain: One of our co-founders – my friend Rahul – was confined to bed for a couple of months due to a spinal issue. Having spoken to several doctors across the globe, he was left with conflicting advice about the right treatment. Speaking to Nalin and I about his ordeal, Rahul asked us “why can’t we create a platform that connects the right patient with the right doctor”. My reaction was that we couldn’t play the matchmaker game without knowing the detailed background of both the doctor and the patient – and that would raise an ethical red flag.
Nevertheless, we began researching other gaps in the medical world and, after several months, concluded that medical professionals were missing out on technology and innovations that could bring them together to collaborate on bettering humanity. We resolved to establish an online platform that united the global medical community – from doctors, hospital and labs through to medical institutes and colleges, pharma companies and medical equipment manufacturers.
DB: What is the strategy behind where GoDoctor is based?
Jain: From the beginning, connectivity to various regions has been very important due to a need to have in person meetings with stakeholders, often at short notice. These are usually to meet senior officials and/or hospital owners to assist them with their digitisation and communication strategies. Our HQ in Singapore gives us the flexibility and opportunity to make this happen. Setting up our core support centre in India it exposes us to a large population and the associated challenges, which gives us more potential to meet our vision. The other advantage is that we have mostly found that stakeholders in the region were we operate are exposed to a higher level of chaos and disarray, which provides an opportunity to collaborate more as a partner than a vendor and grow at a sustainable and organic pace. I generally shuttle between India and Singapore but I’m currently in India.
DB: What lessons from past ventures have informed the business?
Jain: Here are two off the top of my head. Firstly, every business has an entry and exit – in order to nail both, and thus create a sustainable business, it’s important to get the timing just right. Secondly, in order to be the best at what I’m doing, I’ve learned to constantly push myself to improve. This has involved listening to others and reflecting on the experiences I’ve had with each and every person I’ve met, whether those experiences have been good or bad.
DB: What success is the business enjoying in the medical world?
Jain: Although we’re still on the road to success, with work still underway on our Day Zero release, we’ve established ties with leading hospital chains globally as well as the official communication partners of several medical associations, which represent thousands of professionals. We’ve received positive feedback from those of the medical community already on the platform and usage is multiplying. In terms of the size of our company, we’ve grown to become a team of more than 70 across 4 continents in less than 12 months.
DB: What key factors have helped fuel these early results?
Jain: Firstly, having founded GoDoctor on the value of human connection, all our employees are treated like family and this has led to an incredible level of ownership. Secondly, the willingness of everyone to go beyond the call of duty to make things happen. Finally, a tech team that constantly pushes the status quo, which in turn facilitates opportunities to submit patents within the medtech space.
DB: Reflecting on your ventures, has there been a through line?
Jain: The desire to grow things, be the best at who I want to become and solve future challenges so we all can live in a better tomorrow.