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Techie makes second stab at life in Kenya

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Nisarg Doshi is the CEO of Sintel Security Print Solutions. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • With 500 million SIM cards produced per month, Sintel Security Print Solutions is easily the largest manufacturer of smart card solutions in the region.
  • Nisarg’s business inspiration comes from what he calls his “3 am friends”, a core group of five personalities, including a triathlete in India and directors of creative and marketing firms in India and Dubai.

There’s no fitting way to describe Nisarg Doshi, the CEO of Sintel Security Print Solutions, more than sporty to the bone.

The smart tech professional’s adventure verges more on the audacious side of things, with 96 scuba dives to his name so far.

Nisarg grew up in India and went to school in the UK and US. By 22, he’d started his first company, a journey that would take him to Dubai, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and Nepal where his business acumen was honed.

I catch up with him moments before his flight to India, and we talk about why he keeps his father’s 60-year-old record labels, founding a dozen companies across the world, swimming in the English Channel, and why Kenya was a second stab at life for him.

For starters, I’m curious to know what it was like to grow up in the Indian subcontinent. “Mumbai is the city, Bombay is the emotion,” he declares, transported back to his boyhood, which there’s no denying, lights him up. “It was a delight growing up in a joint family.” Only when talking about his father, who passed on in 2009, does his face contort. Recalls he: “Memories of my childhood moments with him keep coming back.”

He tells me he was raised in a wealthy family which “allowed me to build my own companies before I could work for others.”

This privileged upbringing, though, was sometimes counterproductive, notably because “I used to wear my ego and pride on my sleeve.” Until he toured the world, including Kenya, where he has lived for three years now.

When I ask him how working across the world has shaped his outlook as a professional, Nisarg’s cheer crawls back before dissolving into a smirk. He observes that people in Asia, Europe and Africa have “strong cultural and family values,” even though every country has its own distinct business value systems.

“I’ve worked in both extremely poor countries and exotic rich ones. These experiences have shown me culture and business in different dimensions, which has made me more grounded.”

Adds he: “There’s so much going on in the world and everyone is fighting a battle of their own. We need more kindness and humility. I’ve learnt to be thankful and to appreciate the small joys of life.”

Now aged 38 and divorced with two children – his daughter is nine and son six – Nisarg describes his relationship with his ex-wife as “extremely cordial” saying that divorce has taught him “not to be caged, to live life and not to be fearful of emotions.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, he would travel to India six times a year to see his family. These trips have become more complicated, and now he only travels whenever there’s a window.

With 500 million SIM cards produced per month, Sintel Security Print Solutions is easily the largest manufacturer of smart card solutions in the region. Other products in their repertoire include voucher cards, tickets, certificates, and bank checks.

“The government and corporates form the bulk of our clientele,” Nisarg says and notes that Kenya ranks high on the continent in access to and consumption of smart technology.

Says he with his typical techie fire: “Kenya is the only country in the region to roll out 5G mobile network. M-Pesa is the clearest illustration of world-class smart technology created in Kenya.”

Setbacks, though, stand in the way of this sector’s growth.

“Why do we still import SIM cards when we have the requisite talent, innovative edge and technology? We can produce them here.”

Having dived into business in his 20s, Nisarg wasn’t always taken seriously by clients and has sometimes “had to talk, to look and to act older” by concealing his age “until after I’m well acquainted with them” to avoid being dismissed on grounds of age.

So, what has money taught him about family and friends? “To embrace failure,” he says quickly, adding that losing 98 of his 110 staff and 12 of his 13 companies is where his story begins. “No matter what situation you’re in at the moment, wake up, dress up and show up. That’s half of your battles won.”

He adds: “If you have support from family and friends, utilise it. These are the only people you can always count on. I’ve been blessed with reliable people in my life.”

Nisarg’s business inspiration comes from what he calls his “3 am friends”, a core group of five personalities, including a triathlete in India and directors of creative and marketing firms in India and Dubai.

Does he have a safety net beyond these people? After what appears like a reflective pause, he replies that his mother and children are his first and second shields in that order “because they’ll teach you something about yourself every day.”

An enthusiastic yogi and planning junkie, Nisarg wakes up between 4 am and 5 am to train for his Half Iron Man, a triathlon that involves swimming for 1.9 km, cycling for 90 km and running for 21km. “I’m a beast when it comes to athletics. I was a national-level swimmer, and represented my country on multiple occasions in water aviation games,” says the man who has swam the English Channel.

Scuba diving has taken him all over the world, with dives in the Maldives, Cayman Islands, Greece, Red Sea and on the coast of Kenya.

I wonder what kind of thoughts go on his mind when underwater and the question sends him into a state of ecstatic verve. He says: “There’s a whole world out there, which is beautiful to explore. It’s so calming and therapeutic.” But also dangerous. “When you’re down there, it’s only your breathing that you hear.”

It’s this discipline in sports that has grounded him in other areas of life, more so in business. “Tough sports teach you that there’s no shortcut to success and life. You must cut sweat and shed tears to get what you want.”

This “old soul who likes to keep old things” has his grandfather’s walking stick from 1916. But it’s the 670 record labels in his collection, some from as far back as the 1960s and 70s, that he’s proudest about.

These feature Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson. He tells me he keeps these for two reasons: sentimental and aesthetics.

Creating legacy

“Most of the records were my father’s. I also believe there’s beauty in old things.” Yet nothing quite captures his affinity for old items quite like his near-obsessive love for his 1989 wooden six-seater yatch docked at Mumbai Harbour. “I’m never going to let that one go.”

Besides tech and data management, Nisarg runs a restaurant in Mumbai with two partners “as an extension of my love for food.”

“I’m on a mission to eat at the best 50 hotels in the world. So far I’ve eaten at 16, including at Gaggan in Bangkok, Rohit Ghai in London and Masque in Mumbai.”

In Nairobi, Cultiva in Karen is this foodie’s favourite eat-out spot “because of their farm-to-table concept.”

“I’m a believer in big breakfast because I like to have a solid start to my day,” he says. Maggi noodles, though, which he prepares often, float his boat just about any time.

That you’re born with a name and die with one is his response when I ask him the kind of legacy he’s hoping to create for himself in the smart tech ecosystem in Kenya. “I want to run a business that transforms people’s lives socially and economically.”

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