The Self-Made Man: Manoj Bhargava

Where would the world be without 5 Hour Energy shots? For that matter, how did we muddle along without them for so many years? Writers and theatre folk practically live on them, and so do entrepreneurs. They would have to. The early portion of starting one’s own business is a procession of long days and late nights, and sometimes coffee isn’t an option.

5 Hour Energy shots are made by the drab-sounding Living Essentials LLC, whose parent firm is the equally drab Innovation Ventures, both of which were founded by this week’s Self Made Man, Manoj Bhargava.

Ol’ Manoj isn’t a typical Self Made Man by any stretch. He keeps a very low profile, living simply and frugally. He worked a series of not-glamorous jobs, including construction, printing press operation, and even a stint as a taxi driver. He may have given you a ride to the airport once, you never know.

Manoj also spent 12 years in India as a monk, living in the mountains after spending a year at Princeton. Couldn’t make this up if I tried. Then again, spending an entire year with those snobby, eating-club-culture douchebags would drive me insane, too.

But Manoj left the mountains and became a businessman here in America, stumbling upon the idea for 5-Hour Energy in 2003, when he attended a natural products trade show in California. Vendors there had 16-ounce energy boosters that kept him going all day, but as much as he wanted to sell them, he didn’t want to compete with Coke, Pepsi, or Red Bull, which was gaining momentum at the time.

Two-ounce bottles, as it turned out, side-stepped that problem altogether because they’re small enough to sell in checkout aisles, which is prime impulse-buy real estate. After determining that their energy shots were safe to consume, Manoj’s team was able to get GNC to sell them in stores. Rite Aid, CVS, and Sheetz followed soon afterward, and by 2011, retail sales reached $1 billion and kept going. Research firm Symphony IRI claims that 5 Hour Energy has 90% of the energy shot market, which is due partly to Manoj inventing it and partly because his lawyers aren’t shy about putting the kibosh on imitators.

So now that he’s a multi-billionaire, Manoj is throwing money into Stage 2 Innovations, a Detroit-based green venture researching clean engines, hydroponic farming and water desalination, among other technologies. It’s a long way from Manoj’s old job bulldozing rubble in North Philly.

I’ll leave you with Manoj Bhagarva’s TED talk about ideas, and how to determine which ones are worth following.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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