What you need to know:
- Yadav Jani is a British Kenyan who, among many businesses, runs a luxury real estate firm in the UK.
- He also believes that a person’s positioning as they work can either pump in or draw out their energies.
I meet businessman Yadav Jani in the intersection between the very old and the very new; an unexpected crossbreed of the classical and the futuristic.
His religious persuasions are rooted in very ancient books, some as old as 500 years, but his approach to the future is anchored on new concepts such as blockchain technology, Web 3, artificial intelligence, the metaverse and all that jazz bandied about by techies.
A Nairobi-based courier firm has made him its chairman so he can guide them towards incorporating blockchain into the business of sending and receiving items.
In this Friday evening interview, Yadav looks like he does in most of his photos on the websites of the companies he runs: the two topmost buttons of his shirt are undone, with dinky necklaces filling the space. Some chest hair is peeping benignly.
Now in his 40s, Yadav is a dyed-in-the-wool Hindu who does not fear bashing most of the new-age spiritual leaders found in churches, temples, mosques, and other places of worship because, in his opinion, they have let money be their motivation.
“Ninety-nine per cent of them are bogus,” he says. “They’re all after money. You go to a church and the more you give, the closer you get to God, miraculously.”
Yadav is a British Kenyan who, among many businesses, runs a luxury real estate firm in the UK that follows the interesting 1.6 principle — that the free space in any room should be 1.6 times more than the area occupied by furniture and everything else.
“It’s called the Fibonacci divine ratio for spacing,” he says. His 8th-floor office in Nairobi’s Westlands is set up with that ratio in mind.
He is also a man who believes that a person’s positioning as they work can either pump in or draw out their energies. It is the feng shui principle, drawn from traditional Chinese philosophy.
“Sometimes, you’ll go to a building or some setup and you’ll feel very good energy. And sometimes you go to another place and it’s done nicely but the energy just doesn’t feel right,” he says.
“Your desk should be facing in a particular direction, and the office should be facing in a particular direction. When you optimise that, the energy flow is very good and then that creates a lot of positivity.”
I meet a man who has an interest in diverse business fields: real estate, forex trading, cryptocurrency, insurance, e-sports, and courier, among others.
In some of those fields, he has his own companies. In others, he is a shareholder or part of the management. That sees him travel to Singapore, the UK, and Dubai among other destinations.
For a man who follows religious teachings that require him to avoid sex outside marriage, gambling, drugs and meat, our meeting predictably veers into the place of spirituality in today’s world.
Tell us about your Kenyan roots and your family.
My grandfather was born in Zanzibar. He later moved to Kenya, and at one point he became the chief accountant for Mama Ngina (Kenyatta). He was very close to her, but he was a very unique person: he paid himself a salary which was about 30 percent of what Mama was willing to offer him.
He was very simple. He lived next to the main (Hindu) temple in Thika. Next to the temple was this little property where he used to live. Right now, it’s like a wedding venue. He was someone I could speak about for hours because he had such high principles.
My grandfather used to send my dad to India and England often. He also wanted to expose him to international education. Later, my relatives called my dad to Kenya, saying there was a good business opportunity here.
I was born in the UK, in Leicester. I spent my early years in Kenya, but I spent a lot of time in the UK after that. I did my bachelor’s degree in Australia and my master’s in the UK. I grew up in a joint family. My father and my uncle used to live in one house. So, I grew up with my sister, my cousin's brother and my cousin's sister — four children in total.
Marriage-wise, I have an amazing wife called Runa. I have two children aged 15 and 14, a girl and a boy. I live with my mum and dad as well in a joint family home in Nairobi. We all live under one roof. I travel a lot. I’m out of Kenya more than I am in.
Just like people claim our President is.
But he’s got a big job to do.
How did you get into business?
I started by joining my father’s business, which was insurance consultancy. He was an insurance consultant and financial advisor in the UK. I joined him in 2006. It started fun and exciting and then it became boring for me. I wanted to do something different. So, I started doing property developments in the UK. That is how One Point Six Developments came about.
If I want to sell luxury in Kenya, where should I target?
I think Kenya needs a foot spa. There are a lot of massage parlours, but there’s nowhere that has a foot spa. In Thailand, every third shop is a foot spa. In that spa, someone is just pressing your feet while you are on your phone. You can do your work and you can have your whole feet and legs massaged. And they even do your shoulders. But it’s not cheap.
What about the big-time luxury market like real estate?
The market is too small. It can work, but it’s very niche.
The amount of wealth that people have in places like Dubai, London, and Hong Kong, far surpasses what we have in Kenya. So in Kenya, luxury is there, but there are only very few people who can afford it. The other problem is, when you become flashy in this country, the wrong eyes look at you.
So, like in the Indian community, you had many people who were very successful in the 80s and 90s. They had so much money but they were still driving Toyota Corollas because they didn’t want the community (to turn on them.) My uncle was gifted a Rolls Royce by his son, but he only drove it on his farm.
That was due to two reasons. Number one, he was very simple. He didn’t need all these things. Number two, he feared that he would create envy. He is not the type of guy who wants attention. So, can luxury work? Yes, but we’re not there yet.
There must be a story behind these religious paintings and representations of deities in your office…
My family has been spiritual since I was born, but I became a rebel from the age of 12 to 18. You know, I started drinking, I started smoking. But there was one night I had an incident which made me rethink life’s purpose.
I suddenly started reading spiritual books. I read the Bhagavad Gita. I read the Science of Self-Realisation. And I read Life Comes from Life. I read these three books to start with. Afterwards, my whole perspective on life changed. So, within like three months, I gave everything up. I gave up going out partying, drinking, smoking.
Then about a year later, I went through a transition. I started living almost like a monk at university. In university, people let their guard down and go wild. I was in Australia. I could have had wild nights. I could have had lots of women. I could have had lots of drinking, all this kind of stuff. But instead, I was sleeping on the floor. I was cooking my food and making offerings.
Many of your posts on LinkedIn are about cryptocurrency. It looks like you are an early convert.
A friend explained blockchain to me in 2018. He explained blockchain, and crypto is the first use of blockchain technology. Even Singapore Airlines used blockchain technology for their baggage, right? But what was the first thing that was applied to prove that blockchain works? That was Bitcoin. Bitcoin is the first thing that uses blockchain technology. So, I became fascinated.
Have you invested in those cryptocurrencies yourself?
Yeah. I invested a little in 2018, whatever I could afford at that time, or whatever I was happy to expose. And then I saw that in 2021 it went up. I thought retirement was near (because I was getting an income of a lifetime). But then in 2022, the crash was so big.
You didn’t cash in on the spike?
No. I didn’t think that the crash would come so quickly. I thought that we still had another three, or four months but it turned out. My prediction was that the crash would start happening in April. But it started happening in December. So, it peaked and in December it started crashing. I was about four months late.
Bitcoin is very good, but it only has one weakness; it doesn’t have income. It’s not money. It’s not generating yield. How does it go up? Speculation. That is why I am now into (one gold-backed token).
I hear people visit you or ask you to give talks on spirituality.
In 2009, I started giving lectures in universities. I started small. And then, slowly, I would get invited to different countries to speak. But because I’m also in business, I’m not doing this full-time. It happens as and when I get time. Like recently, I went to Amsterdam, and I gave a talk for three days.
My talks have more to do with the core principles of doctrines. I talk about the core fundamentals of spirituality. I also present a more ancient form of spirituality, rather than a modern form of spirituality.
For example, modern spirituality may not tell you to change your diet, and things like that, but I will address those things. Like, for example, in Eastern philosophy, there are four major no-nos: no meat-eating, no sex outside marriage, no gambling, and no intoxication.
And this is what you practise?
Yes. I’ll talk about how this frees you rather than constrains you. People think, ‘Oh my God, without these things, how will I live?’ But I will talk about how these things can be very useful to open up your spirituality.
How did you feel when Rishi Sunak, who has Asian and Kenyan roots like you, became the British Prime Minister?
I was shocked. I thought, ‘If I was a white person, I’d be angry.’
That’s my honest answer. Because England is English. Now you’ve got an Indian Prime Minister. And even the Mayor of London is Sadiq Khan, another Asian. So, I thought to myself that it’s good, but if I was a white person I would be pissed off.
However, as part of my spiritual kind of leaning, our first philosophy is that we are not this body. We have a soul and the soul is not black or brown or white.
For me, it’s more than the skin colour; it’s what his values are: What is he going to do?
If you were to advise me on making money while I sleep, what would you tell me today?
I would tell you, the cryptocurrency world is going to enter a bull market for the next 48 months.
I would tell you to invest in something like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Those are good bets because they’re very large and they’re stable. Also, anything to do with the metaverse. Yeah, the metaverse, you should invest into. For the next couple of years, it will also rise a lot.
Cryptocurrency has been in the news with the troubles at Binance and all. What’s your position on regulation?
Cryptocurrency does need regulation, but Kenya is not regulating at the moment. They’re silent. They want it; they don’t want it. I’m not worried about Binance. It is not good news, but I don’t think Binance as an exchange will shut down.
If you were given a whole day to do anything, what would you do?
I would take as many people as I could to this very holy place in India, and I’d give them a full experience of what it’s like to be spiritual for one day. It’s called Vrindavan. And I did that just a month ago. For my 40th birthday, I called 60 people, and we had a very deep experience.
It’s like a Hindu shrine?
It’s not Hindu. There are more Europeans there than anybody. However, you have to go with the right people. You see, if you go there alone, you’ll find something spiritual, but you’ll be what they call a spiritual tourist, not a spiritual pilgrim. There’s a difference.