Ankur Jain is the founder of the Kairos Society, a network of college entrepreneurs dedicated to changing the world through business. And socializing. Which is, in fact, business.
When Ankur Jain was 12 years old, he knew, absolutely knew, what he needed to make the eighth-grade basketball team: $100 contraptions called Jumpsoles.
These are strap-on foot weights that look like Birkenstocks stuck to chunks of asphalt, yes, but they promised to help him jump higher, maybe even dunk, and Ankur needed to make up for lost time: He was a skinny seventh-grader who had spent the summer learning to program websites instead of playing hoops. But his parents said no. Even though they were rich (his dad, Naveen Jain, was the CEO of InfoSpace; Forbes had recently called him a billionaire), and Ankur himself now made around $200 a month from his websites, they said $100 was too much for some foot weights. They wanted to impress on him the value of money.
It was a coming-of-age moment—a test, in a way, of Jain's character. He could grudgingly honor his parents' wishes. He could throw a tantrum or secretly spend the money he'd earned without their knowledge. But Jain did none of those things. What he did was call the CEO of an online retailer that sold a lot of Jumpsoles. He told the CEO, truthfully, that he ran a website aimed at young teen consumers. He was considering featuring Jumpsoles, he told him, but would need to try out a pair first. Jain had his pair the next day.
Both Ankur and his father tell the story proudly. Ankur had his Jumpsoles. Naveen and his wife, Anu, felt as if they had taught their son not to spend money foolishly. And the retailer felt as if he had put his product in front of the teenager market online. Ankur had found a way to produce what he still prizes above everything: the win-win.
"Everything I ever wanted, if I had to buy new shoes or whatever, I would have to find a way that makes them happy, do an extra school thing, or something, where everybody wins—then I'd end up with the reward," says Ankur. "If I just asked for a favor from my parents, they would always say no."
"Your responsibility as a parent is to let them know what makes you proud of them," says Naveen. Dealmaking was, and is, a sort of family value.
Nine years later, Jain has stacked win-win on win-win on win-win-win-win-win, and he has turned himself into possibly the world's best-connected 21-year-old. He's Wharton '11 and the founder of the Kairos Society, a network of college entrepreneurs dedicated to, according to the mission statement, "solving the world's greatest challenges." I find him at a café beside a canal on the cobblestoned streets of The Hague, in the Netherlands, enjoying a sunny April afternoon with his best friends: Jacob Medwell, Jonathan Shriftman, and Daniel Pourbaba. The gang, uniformly dressed in dark suits and designer sunglasses, have traveled to the Netherlands for something called the World Foresight Forum, a conference hosted by investor Joel Wyler, the father of another Jain friend, David Wyler. They landed last night. This morning, they took chauffeured Porsches (available to certain forum attendees) from their hotel to the conference. Now it's 2 p.m., and jet lag notwithstanding, it feels like lunchtime. Tagging along with them are Jain's girlfriend, Kate Rems; one of their Dutch hosts, Jelle Brouwer; and Dylan Reid, a Jain protégé.
They sit at a long table overlooking the canal, spring sun beaming onto their shades. Brouwer orders them Bloody Marys. When the waitress comes again, they order traditional Dutch sandwiches, which are like club sandwiches with an egg inside, and Jain, who adheres to his family's traditional vegetarianism, orders one with just egg and cheese.
As they sip their drinks, Reid, the new CEO of Kairos, shows off the new Kairos lapel pins, which look like little red washers with silver trim. Jain loves them—they're more practical than the ornate gold medallions he'd had made when he started the group.
"Now we've got people walking around The Hague with Kairos pins—people we don't even know!" says Jain.
Brouwer orders a round of beers for the table, and Jain shifts his attention.
"Jelle, I love you," says Jain.
They start talking about travel plans after graduation. Pourbaba and his dad, a prominent real estate developer based in Los Angeles, are going to Dubai to check out construction projects. Jain and David Wyler are going to Dubai, too, to work on their "game changer," shorthand for their ambitious new business idea. "We've got some meetings, like with the CEO of Aramco," Jain says.
Reid chimes in. "There's gonna be a Kairos trip to Mexico, hopefully. Have you met Jorge yet?"
"Aw, I heard about this," says Jain.
"Youngest politician in Mexico, Kairos fellow…" says Reid.
"Isn't he a senator now?" asks Jain. As it turns out, Jorge Miguel Martin is actually a regidor, the equivalent of a city councilor, in Playa Del Carmen. But no matter; Jain rushes on. "One of our fellows is the youngest senator ever in Mexico. He just invited the Kairos team down to Mexico."
"State sponsored," adds Reid.
"The government's paying for it," says Jain.
"Oh, hell, yeah!" says Pourbaba in a falsetto.
Jain turns his attention to Reid. "How many kids is he paying for?"
"Probably 14, 15," Reid says.
"Get him higher than that," Jain says.
"Dude, he got inaugurated yesterday," says Reid.
"Is he here?" asks Jain.
"He's coming tomorrow."
"Sick!" says Pourbaba.
"He was like, 'There's no way I can make it to the Netherlands; I'm being inaugurated,' " says Reid. "But then he was like, 'All right, screw it, first official tour of duty…' "
Jain starts clapping his hands in appreciation. "Kairos Europe Summit!" he crows.
At this very moment, back in Philadelphia, Jain's market research professor is giving a midterm exam, which Jain will have to reschedule, at the cost of a 20 percent penalty. Pourbaba and Medwell are in better shape; they e-mailed their assignments for their classes at the University of Southern California just under the wire this morning. (Shriftman is off the hook entirely; he graduated last year.) The boys haven't had much time for school this semester.
Brouwer tells Jain that he is applying for a job at the giant real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
"Did you call Bruce?" says Jain. Brouwer hasn't.
"Jelle," Jain says, locking sunglassed eyes with him, "if you want a job at Cushman & Wakefield, we can make it happen like this." He snaps his fingers. "Honestly, Bruce is one of my closest, closest, closest, closest friends." Jain is referring to Bruce Mosler, a self-described "passionate fan of Ankur's" and Cushman & Wakefield's chairman of global brokerage. As the beers arrive, Brouwer asks Jain to make introductions to Mosler over e-mail, and Jain gladly agrees. "Cheers, guys!" says Brouwer.
A bicycle glides by, pedaled by a distinguished-looking middle-aged man.
"The CEO of Shell just rode by on his bicycle!" Brouwer declares.
"On a bicycle?" says Reid.
"You should have stopped him and introduced us, asshole!" Jain says.
Brouwer shrugs. "David's father knows him."
Reid goes back to bringing Jain up to speed on Kairos developments. "Hilary made us advisers to the Center on Entrepreneurship." He means Hilary Halpern of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Jain assumes he means Hillary Clinton. "I wrote this, like, article for the State Department," he says. "It's being distributed around the world, every embassy."
"Solé shoutout!" says Pourbaba.
"I wrote it about young entrepreneurs around the world," says Jain. "I wrote two paragraphs on these guys," gesturing to Shriftman and Medwell, whose bicycle company, Solé Bicycles, sells stylish, inexpensive Chinese-made bikes.
Medwell and Shriftman smile at Jain and put their hands together in mock prayer and bow. Brouwer orders more beers.
What a couple of months it has been for Jain and friends. It all started in February, with the third annual Kairos Summit in New York City. More than 350 students attended the gathering, which included events at the United Nations, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and at the Rockefeller Estate. On Saturday afternoon, there was a bit of downtime, so the bros took a group of new Dutch friends, the very people they will be hanging with here in The Hague for five days, for brunch at the über-exclusive bistro Bagatelle, at which champagne-tipsy models were literally dancing on tables in the middle of the day.
In early March, they and 10 other friends put on Snowball, a multiday music festival in Vail, Colorado. Then they went as a group to Ultra, the massive house-music festival in Miami, Shriftman's hometown. For the duration of Ultra, Shriftman and Medwell operated a pop-up store for Solé Bicycles; they sold fixed-gear bikes by day and hit the clubs all night. Thanks to Shriftman's connections—as a kid, he DJ'ed at all the big Miami clubs, and his older sister, Lara Shriftman, started the fashion public relations firm Harrison & Shriftman—the gang found themselves one night in the VIP section of a club called Liv, where the cover was $500 and tables were available only to those ordering more than $5,000 in bottle service (they didn't pay a thing). A sanguine Russian at the table next to them bought them two bottles of Moët each.
It was at Ultra that they met a great bunch of guys who were sharing a big house on Miami's gated Star Island. One of the guys was Elliott Bisnow, who puts on something not altogether different from Jain's Kairos Summit, called the Summit Series. And Bisnow invited them and a few other friends to attend, as delegates of Kairos, an exclusive cruise/conference called Summit at Sea, at which they drank champagne with Peter Diamandis, the head of the X Prize foundation, and Troy Carter, Lady Gaga's manager. They listened to talks on the beach about things like lucid dreaming—the idea that you can control your dreams—and took part in a yoga session led by Def Jam founder Russell Simmons.
And now they are in The Hague, where they will network with Europe's power elite, earnestly attend panel discussions, and set up business meetings—all the reasons their parents paid for their plane tickets. They will also drink and dance all night in Amsterdam's best clubs, flirt shamelessly with women, and have one hell of a good time. It's a total win-win, the latest produced by Jain's big, beautiful perpetual-motion win-win machine.
Privileged young men are nothing new. It's not extraordinary that Jain and his friends want to chase women, hang out with their friends, experience the best of everything, and maybe someday change the world. (It's not extraordinary, either, that when they are talking business, there are very few women around.) The difference with these guys is that they believe they can do it all at once, very soon, with one magic word: entrepreneurship.
Some fathers dream of making their sons football or tennis stars. Ankur Jain's father, Naveen, groomed him for the world of business.
Naveen grew up in poverty in India and immigrated to the U.S. in 1983. In 1996, when Ankur was 6, Naveen left his job as a program manager at Microsoft and founded the Web listings company InfoSpace. Every day after school, Ankur would join his father at the office. As the company's fortunes soared with the dot-com boom, Naveen, whom Ankur remembers as regularly working 20-hour days, showed Ankur the ins and outs of running a large, fast-growing corporation. He would take Ankur through the company's marketing and sales and customer service departments, explaining what they did. When the company prepared to go public in 1998, Naveen took him to investor presentations. He had Ankur sit in on executive meetings and didn't hesitate to stop a meeting to ask the boy what he thought. Once, he had Ankur sit in a room off his office, close enough to listen, while he fired an employee. Then he solemnly explained to the boy why it had to be done. When Naveen hosted dinner parties for Seattle's rich and powerful in the Jains' 16,500-square-foot home down the street from Bill Gates's, he would have Ankur pitch his business ideas to the guests.
By seventh grade, Ankur had started his first Web company, Starnium, whose site offered desktop wallpapers, jokes, and games for young Web surfers. Soon he added other webpages, with names like Bored.us and Myonlinequiz.com. "I was trying to do what my dad did with InfoSpace a little bit," Ankur says.
But just as InfoSpace rode the dot-com boom, so, too, did it collapse with the bust. By the beginning of 2001, the company's stock had plummeted 98 percent from its high. Shareholders and the press started circling, accusing Naveen of misleading investors. In 2002, he was ousted as CEO. In 2005, when Ankur was 15, the local paper published an investigative series titled "Dot-Con Job: How InfoSpace Took Investors for a Ride."
Ankur felt, and still feels, that his father was wrongly accused. He points out that when Naveen settled a shareholder suit, for $65 million, he never admitted wrongdoing, and that the SEC filed an amicus brief in the case on Naveen's behalf. But he does feel his father, who now runs a company called Intelius, which does background checks, did make a mistake of a certain sort. "My dad was never a networker," Ankur says. "He knew everybody, but they were people he did business with, not real friends. That would have been helpful when people started making those false accusations—to have that trust."
Ankur kept up Starnium until his sophomore year of high school, and after he graduated, in 2007, he entered Wharton's undergraduate business program at the University of Pennsylvania. He immediately wanted to start a business, but his father told him he was there to get an education. He could start a nonprofit if he wanted.
Ankur's first idea was to create a group that would foster a Silicon Valley ethos at Penn, connecting members of the engineering department to Wharton students interested in start-ups and innovation. But it seemed most of his Wharton classmates were interested in getting banking jobs.
Jain went for advice to his father and to a friend who had stuck with the family, retired Navy Admiral William Owens. Owens had begun work on something called the Sanya Initiative, a program designed to foster communication and trust between elite retired military officers in the U.S. and China.
Jain already knew, deep down, what he wanted. It wasn't money, although he certainly liked money. It was access. He felt there were people who had knowledge and influence even beyond the sort he'd glimpsed at his father's parties. "There's a little top circle," Jain says. "And I want to be in it. Not for the power, but for the sake of knowing shit."
Kairos is Greek for "the right moment." Owens agreed to help Jain get the organization off the ground, the first of many éminence grises to extend a hand. He liked Jain's youth and energy. "When you see somebody who's going to take the bone and run with it, it's a great experience," Owens says. "He's someone quite special; for me, that's a rewarding thing to watch and to help." Jain saw Kairos as another win-win, giving young entrepreneurs access to advice, and potentially capital, from established players in business. In return, these older executives, many of them retired, would be back on the cutting edge, exposed to the best and brightest and in many cases to new investment opportunities. And Jain would be right in the middle of it all.
Jain enlisted Medwell, with whom he had grown up in Seattle, as well as Pourbaba and Shriftman, Medwell's fraternity brothers at USC, to help him found a national organization. Together, they wooed existing entrepreneurship clubs at a few schools. But Jain wanted to grow faster. He decided he would show students what a national entrepreneurship society could do. He would throw a major event for Kairos, in New York City, in early 2009.
Owens introduced Jain to Bill White, at that time the head of the USS Intrepid Museum, a retired aircraft carrier permanently docked on the Hudson. White agreed to let Jain host his dinner on board, gratis.
Then, through White, Jain got Bill Clinton to agree to speak. He got Phil Condit, the former CEO of Boeing. Bill Gates Sr. recorded a video message. Before he knew it, 500 students wanted to attend, and Jain had run up a $140,000 tab for the dinner and other aspects of the summit. His father told him he needed to fundraise.
Again, Jain turned to the family network, starting with his dad's lawyer. He asked for $5,000. The lawyer agreed immediately. Jain's father didn't.
"I hung up the phone, and my dad was like, 'You're an idiot! He clearly would have given you $10,000 or more!'" Naveen made him call the lawyer back. Ankur sheepishly got him to donate $2,500 more. "That was my first lesson in fundraising," Ankur says.
In the end, Jain arrived at the event with the flu, sick from working around the clock—something that would happen to him the next two times he hosted Kairos events. But he'd raised enough money to pay for it all.
Today, Kairos is a centralized organization, with an executive team of undergraduates (in February, in anticipation of his graduation, Jain announced that Reid, as CEO, and Victoria Schramm, as president, would run the organization) and regional heads who oversee networks of fellows.
Kairos has become an adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Jain helped put together a group of young immigrant entrepreneurs to help the chamber lobby Capitol Hill to change visa regulations.) Jain is involved in a program called Startup Chile, which is intended to foster innovation in that country. He is also involved with Startup America, but he hasn't met with President Obama. Not yet.
Here in The Hague, there are 100 Kairos fellows in attendance at the World Foresight Forum, a conference on topics as diverse as the future of terrorism and global energy demands. There is a separate set of smaller gatherings that Jain is calling Kairos Europe. That program is headed by David Wyler, son of the forum's organizer. The hope is that the student entrepreneurs will bring a fresh, bright-eyed perspective to the event (a win-win, if it even needs pointing out).
One morning, before the forum programming begins, I listen as a Kairos fellow plays a video of a speech Jain gave at a Kairos Summit. "What if the world's most influential people were best friends 20 years ago, working to change the world? That's the purpose of the Kairos Society," Jain tells his audience.
The core of the gang—Jain, Medwell, Pourbaba, and Shriftman—prefer to travel together, and, when they are abroad, to hang out together. So they try to figure out ways to get everyone into events. This stretch in Holland was easy, given that the gang has long been part of Kairos. Other times, they have been more clever. Shriftman and Medwell entered their idea for Solé Bicycles into a business plan competition hosted by Alibaba.com (it was co-sponsored by Inc.) and won $15,000. The following year, they called Alibaba and pitched another win-win. They proposed that Kairos fellows make a trip to China—and Jain, having learned his fundraising lesson, proposed that Alibaba fund the $150,000 trip. Jain got his wish, and they all went together on the tour, with several other Kairos fellows joining them. This summer, they're all going to the Youth International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg.
In a sense, the lives of Jain and his friends are a phenomenon of the early 21st century, when so many barriers to starting a business and traveling all over the world have vanished (likewise the barriers to doing both simultaneously). Most of Solé Bicycles is outsourced: The company has a contract manufacturer, a customs broker who manages the importing, and a logistics manager who stores and ships the product. Medwell and Shriftman started Solé with the $15,000 they won from Alibaba, plus loans they took out against their cars. Once they sold out their first run of bikes, Medwell and Shriftman each persuaded their parents to lend them $50,000 to restock. Now, they say, they're able to restock using profits from sales, and most of their responsibility has to do with answering customer inquiries and building buzz. The business also gives them an excuse to travel. They're thinking about opening up pop-up stores for a few months at a time in cities in Europe soon, and maybe one in Cape Town.
Pourbaba's business is less sexy: a mattress company, which he started as a way to find himself and the other guys in his fraternity cheap mattresses. He gives USC's fraternity presidents a kickback to refer their brothers to his website, and in the fall, during college move-in, the company generates $40,000 a week in revenue. Now, he essentially runs the company from his phone. "I don't really do anything, to be honest, except market," says Pourbaba. "And it pays for my life."
These are what the guys call their cash-flow businesses. The margins aren't fantastic, because they outsource so much, but the overhead is low, and more to the point, so is the effort. They have entrepreneurial ventures designed to enrich their social lives, too. For example, the Snowball music festival in Vail. The bill attracted crowds large enough to book out every hotel room in the area, and the festival made money. The guys spent the weekend partying together in a big cabin they rented. They'll probably do it again in 2012.
Their parents are willing to help out financially when their children do constructive work like this. In other words, they'll drop $50,000 on a bike company but not on a vacation. Or in Jain's words, "Parents will pick up the tab for trips if it's educational—not if it's other stuff." That's why they will foot the bill for him to go to St. Petersburg and not to Cannes, where he was hoping to meet up with Wyler at his vacation home.
Meanwhile, all of the guys have ideas for more ambitious businesses. They call these their game changers. None of them imagine looking for regular jobs when they graduate.
"I had a talk with my dad about this," says Pourbaba. "I said there was no good reason to go and get a typical job. Yes, with my master's and my resumé, I can go and make $100,000. That's great, more than I'm making right now, but, so, then what? It takes four years until you can do something significant. And to me, that's not worth it. The opportunity cost of four years of my life is quite high."
"We've all decided: Graduation time is game-change time," says Medwell.
Pourbaba dreams of developing cloud-based software that revolutionizes construction design, using algorithms to calculate the greenest, most energy-efficient way to construct buildings and enhancing collaboration among architects, designers, and foremen. Pourbaba says such software exists only within major architecture firms. He would bring the technology to all designers and builders.
Shriftman and Medwell want to come up with some way to motivate people to do more good works. They say they're still evaluating how they will do it. They could build a social network similar to LinkedIn, where people would post their philanthropic activity and reach out to friends to get them involved. Or it could be a clearinghouse for lots of different X Prizes. They do have a name: NamasGroup.
Jain's game changer, which builds on his work with Kairos, will create what he calls multinational start-ups. He, Medwell, Shriftman, and Wyler will scour the world for companies with breakthrough technologies. They will connect these start-ups with the leaders of established companies—people much like those Jain has hobnobbed with his whole life—in other markets. And then Jain, the start-up entrepreneur, the established foreign CEO, and the CEO's company, will create a joint venture. Jain hopes this will result in the deployment of useful new technologies all over the world very quickly, solving problems large and small. This will help business people form friendly ties with their foreign counterparts as they all enjoy the rapid growth of a start-up. On a macro scale, Jain sees his cooperative plan tying together the economic growth of two countries.
"I call it privatizing diplomacy," he says.
Throughout the World Foresight Forum, I hear the guys pitch their game changers to the older conferencegoers, to Kairos fellows, and to one another, again and again, refining their pitches, practicing, looking for advice on how to improve, unafraid that they might spoil their chances by talking about their ideas too soon. They're trusting. The potential benefit of strangers' connections or advice outweighs the risk that someone might steal their idea, says Pourbaba. "And even if someone wants to steal it, fine. I can execute it better. All I care about is creating the best thing."
Nobody's more aggressive than Jain, though. The more people he knows and involves, the more powerful and influential he and his network become—it's a big rolling snowball of social capital and influence. At the forum coffee breaks and cocktail hours, he is fearlessly, shamelessly friendly. He's a Red Bull—fueled, heat-seeking small-talk missile, target locked on the biggest players in the room.
Over the days of the conference, I watch Jain chat up Jack Devine, former head of the CIA's Afghan Task Force; Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, Bahrain's former ambassador to the U.N.; Tom Ridge, the former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Gerrit Zalm, the chief executive of the Dutch bank ABN AMRO.
Jain is always polite but always informal. He can't help brimming over with enthusiasm. That's true whether he's talking to an old family friend such as Devine ("Jack! Jack is a legend. Jack, I have somebody you've got to meet!") or a friend of a friend, such as Dries Klein, a vice president at KLM and a family friend of Wyler's ("I promise to keep Dave out of trouble!") or to Ghaffar, the Bahraini dignitary, whom Jain catches as he and Wyler walk out of the tent to a meeting one morning.
"Muhammad! Let's meet up during lunch, OK?" Jain says. Ghaffar agrees.
"I can't believe you called him Muhammad!" Wyler says moments later. "Isn't it supposed to be Your Excellency or something?"
We're running late to the conference's closing dinner, and it's my fault. I've been run ragged by these guys. The night before, Medwell and Shriftman went into Amsterdam with Jelle Brouwer and the youngest senator ever from Mexico and other Kairos fellows for an all-nighter at the bars and clubs in Amsterdam. At one point, the Dutch photographer traveling with me, Taco Van der Eb, looks at me wearily. "I am broken," he says. That afternoon, I took a nap and overslept by an hour.
When I meet Jain downstairs in the hotel lobby, he's already consumed his latest Red Bull, and he, Rems, and I head out to the parking lot and get in one of the Porsches. "Can we get some house music, bro?" Jain asks the driver. "Like some DJ Avicii or Swedish House Mafia?" The driver complies. "Put it loud, dude! Bump it!" The driver, also a guy in his 20s, grins and nods his head to the music. We speed toward the Peace Palace in the Cayenne Turbo.
We arrive at the gates of the palace. "Coolness!" says Rems.
Inside the palace, the collective schmoozing is loud enough to drown out the three-piece ensemble that has been hired to provide ambiance. Pourbaba is in the midst of telling Luc Gnacadja, a U.N. official in charge of combating desertification, about his real estate game changer. Then Pourbaba is joined by Soaib Grewal, another Kairos fellow and founder of a charitable project called Water Walla. Earlier, the two got to talking about their interests—Grewal is a student at Rhode Island School of Design, interested in industrial and urban design—and decided they could partner together on Pourbaba's idea. The network expands.
Jain finds Wyler, who tells him he has already spoken with the CEO of Shell. "Let's go talk to the Philips dude," Jain says.
When it's time to sit down, Jain and Wyler are at Table Six, with Hessel Lindenbergh, the chairman of ABN AMRO, and Thomas Glocer, the CEO of Thomson Reuters. They all chat cheerfully. At Table 17, Shriftman and Medwell show a venture capitalist pictures of Solé bikes on Shriftman's phone.
Eventually, Joel Wyler stands up to toast and introduce the keynote speaker. He starts by calling his son, David, and Ankur Jain to the front. "I'm very, very fond of this guy," Wyler says, indicating Jain. He tells the crowd about the U.S. Kairos Summits, how Jain got Clinton and other luminaries to attend. "You did a great job. And what's happened in the last few years is you are expanding beyond the United States. And I'm proud to say that my son, David, is playing an important role in this."
The attendees applaud. The younger Wyler, the latest member of the sustainable jet set, the indefatigable win-win machine, puts his arm around Jain's neck and ruffles his hair.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique phenomenon. It's something we don't see too often in Europe," Joel Wyler continues. "I can only hope we do this together, with all your support." He looks out to the audience. "I'm counting on every single one of you to be part of this great new community." He looks again to Jain and his son. "Thank you, guys, and carry on the good work. "
As the applause swells, I have a thought. Here we are in a time when U.S. students score near the bottom of every international math test but near the top in their confidence in their skills, and when a record number of students think of themselves as "special," according to a recent psychology study. The U.S., like the guys' businesses, has largely outsourced manufacturing, accounting, customer service, and lots of other basic business tasks. What remains is what Jain and his friends have in spades: abundant, cheerful, contagious self-confidence. It's always been a major U.S. export. Now Jain—standing in a palace at The Hague, chest out, the admiration of the assembled old European establishment beaming down on him—is putting it to economic use, bridging the gap between the old world and new, putting the experienced in touch with the young and ambitious.
At 11 p.m., the dinner at The Hague ends, bringing the conference to a close—but the party isn't over. One of the Dutch gang, inspired by the showy time the Americans gave them back in New York, has chartered a full-size tour bus outfitted with laser lights, a sound system, Grey Goose vodka, and a rack of Heineken to take the whole Kairos executive team clubbing in Amsterdam. A crowd of 17 piles aboard. Now, past midnight, as the bus speeds toward Amsterdam, the international gang dances in the aisles as a track by the Far East Movement pulsates over the speakers. "Like a G6/ Like a G6/ Now n-now now now now I'm feelin' so fly like a G6." The song is referring to the Gulfstream 6 jet. Basking in their good time, the boys toast one another, their past week, and their inevitable future success.
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BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. magazine. In 2013, his Inc. feature “After the Squeeze” was awarded the Stephen Barr Award for Feature writing, and his stories “After the Squeeze,” and “Turntable.fm: Where Did the Love Go?” received awards from Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Prior to Inc. he worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and a department editor for Businessweek. He is a graduate of Yale University with a double major in Physics and English. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.