By: Aimee Shaw
With four businesses to his name and a ministerial award for innovation, Ashutosh Sharma has already achieved more than your typical 19-year-old.
Those achievements – and the plans he has for future ventures – have been spurred by a passion for technology.
With his parents, his brother and his sister, Sharma migrated to Auckland at the beginning of 2013 from the outskirts of Ba, Fiji.
After going to Auckland Grammar, he put off tertiary study to focus on his newest venture – online marketplace Sell My Good, which he says he spends “at least” 100 hours a week working on.
If he does go to university, Sharma says he’ll study software engineering.
His family’s move to New Zealand opened up a lot of possibilities, he says. “When I was in Fiji the internet speed was really, really slow. Here we are in megabytes but over there it’s in kilobytes.
“When I came to New Zealand it gave me more exposure to the internet market and all of the possibilities.”
Sharma got his first computer when he was a 5-year-old, and has had an avid interest in technology ever since. By the time he was 10 he began programming and coding.
“Every day after school I used to come home and polish my skills as much as possible. When I was in form 5 to form 7, it just became a routine, I used to spend time on the computer, learning how to code and learning more programming languages.”
At the age of 13, he started his first business.
The online marketplace – the original idea and concept for Sell My Good – gained 60,000 users in Fiji, but was shut down a year later after Sharma ran into legal issues because of his age.
Closing the business was a hard decision to make, he says, but he relaunched it last month, with a new user interface, and it has experienced rapid growth from New Zealand.
Sharma spent $6000 to relaunch the business, which he says has more than 2 million users and has handled transactions worth more than $1 million in just 31 days. He expects it to hit more than 4 million page views by the end of next month.
Sell My Good operates in more than 40 countries; that’s the beauty of technology and the internet, Sharma says.
“What I like about technology is that you can scale it pretty fast, pretty quickly; everything is built on the internet,” he says. “Nothing is impossible in world of software.”
The site is most popular with people in Vietnam and the US, but is yet to reach its potential in this country, he says.
“New Zealand is one of the markets we’re not touching at the moment.
“The New Zealand market is obviously covered by TradeMe, so I’m [currently] targeting countries where there isn’t a big monopoly for classified ad space.”
Other businesses he founded and lists on his CV include peer-to-peer rental company Share My Garage, designed to run in conjunction with Sell My Good, and the augmented reality firm Arcom New Zealand, which he co-founded with Ruofei Rao in 2016. He also created educational gaming company Extreme Maths in 2014, then sold it last year for what he says was hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As well as all that, Sharma says he has made more than 150 mobile apps.
Asked if he has always been business-minded, he says he has always been tech-minded.
Last year Sharma was poached by Kerry Topp, general manager of transformation and innovation at Datacom, after entering Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, a technology competition designed for university students.
“I was very curious to learn new things. I wanted to know and figure out how things worked,” Sharma says. “When I first saw eBay – when it first started taking off – I thought ‘okay, why don’t I provide this for people in my country’, so I launched my version of the website there [in Fiji].”
Topp called him and offered an opportunity to intern fulltime at the information technology services firm. He started in November last year, just two days after his final high school exam.
During his seven months at Datacom, Sharma was inspired by the company’s annual 21-Day Challenge, so set himself the goal of reaching 1 million users and 100,000 listings for Sell My Good in 21 days – targets he surpassed in 14 days.
His passion for innovation and technology is being recognised.
In April Sharma was awarded a Youth Enterprise Award for his work with Arcom and last month was awarded the Minister for Youth’s International Leadership Award. That will result in him, and the three other winners, being flown to Shenzhen at the end of this month, to learn about latest innovation, trends and technology in China.
Youth Minister Nikki Kaye said the award recognised young people “for their leadership, entrepreneurism and innovative thinking. They are talented young New Zealanders who have great vision, fortitude and a sense of social responsibility.”
Sharma says he has no idea how he won the award – or even how he came to be nominated.
“I didn’t enter myself – I don’t know who it was – I just got a call and they said ‘Hey, you’ve been awarded the International Youth Leadership Award’,” he says.
“It was a huge achievement for me, and my parents are proud, but I was pretty shocked and surprised because I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even know what the International Youth Leadership Award was until I knew I won it.”
While he appreciates the recognition, Sharma’s focus is on making a difference.
With augmented reality firm Arcom, he built an app to translate sign language through a smartphone camera, which is still undergoing development.
He also created Vision B, an app designed to make life easier for the blind by making them spatially aware of space, using Microsoft HoloLens technology.
Sharma likens his business journey to that of Elon Musk, founder of luxury electric vehicle firm Tesla and SpaceX, who he says he looks up to.
“Elon Musk inspired my own journey,” he says.
“He inspires me a lot and even his story coincidentally matches mine, as he sold his first game company for the needed capital for his bigger dreams, and so did I.”
Sharma’s long-term goal is to take Sell My Good public, and list it on the NASDAQ exchange.
He’s also looking forward to releasing his sign language app, which he hopes will benefit millions of people worldwide.
“When I look back at the things I have done in the past year, and what I’m doing now, it’s pretty amazing to see how things have evolved. Technology is moving very, very fast, and that’s why we have to introduce and learn new things,” he says.
Coming up with new businesses ideas is no problem.
“When I look for ideas, I think of two worlds: there’s the virtual world, and the physical world we live in. The virtual world is the internet and a lot of ideas are coming out from what we do in our physical world.
“Blockchain, Bitcoin and cryptocurrency – that’s what I’m going to target next.”
• Job: Founder and chief executive, Sell My Good, Share My Garage
• Born: In Fiji, moved to New Zealand at age 14
• Age: 19
• Education: Auckland Grammar
• Last book read: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
• Last movie watched: Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle
• Last overseas holiday: Sydney, Australia in 2010
Source: NZ Herald