Profile / Zerodha’s Nikhil Kamath on becoming a self-made billionaire: meet the chess nerd who co-founded India’s largest retail brokerage – and pledged to give away a quarter of his wealth
He dropped out of school to play chess, then he dropped chess to trade stocks … and then his life changed forever.
Now Nikhil Kamath is one of India’s youngest billionaires thanks to Zerodha, the disruptive trading platform he co-founded with his brother, as well as True Beacon, an investment management firm for ultra-high net worth investors – and he is not oblivious to the impact time has had on his success.
“Timing is everything. People often fail to recognise its importance,” he says. “I am cognisant of the fact that I have been quite lucky and in the right place at the right time, with great colleagues who have shared my journey.”
The 35-year-old started Zerodha in 2010 to ease retail trading for the everyday investor, and now around 15 per cent of India’s total retail trading volume is done through the platform, averaging a daily turnover of over US$10 billion.
His has been one of the businesses that has thrived during the pandemic, with him and his brother’s combined net worth doubling from US$1.6 billion in 2020 to US$3.5 billion in 2022, according to Forbes. Such has been his rise, financially, that he is already planning a Warren Buffett-esque giveaway, pledging to give 25 per cent of his wealth to philanthropic causes and US$100 million towards fighting climate change.
“Looking ahead, the idea is to move the central focus away from doing well for oneself, to being a more significant part of the various communities I am a part of; businesses that are not just for profit but have an impact element – that is becoming increasingly intriguing,” he explains.
“It has seen seismic world events, such as a World War, the Cold War, what happened in China under Mao. For something to have witnessed so much history, and for you to be able to imagine the ‘times’ that watch may have witnessed, makes it very interesting,” Kamath shares.
More locally, Kamath cites a simple moment as being one of his most memorable. “I started my career working at a call centre when I got introduced to stock markets for the first time. I have been a trader for the last 18 years, so I think being introduced to stock markets for the first time and making that first trade that made me money – discovering that something like that is possible – is possibly my most significant memory.”
Nikhil Kamath’s most-treasured timepiece
FP Journe Octa Lune
“One of my vintage watches was probably on someone’s wrist during World War II. It has seen seismic events. For something to have witnessed so much history makes it very interesting. There is also a sense of shared experience with the person who wore this watch – making the act of wearing a vintage watch all the more powerful.”
XXIV hours in Nikhil Kamath’s day …
“My day is usually pretty repetitive, especially during the weekdays. I believe in routine. I wake up around 7am and start working around 8am. I usually eat eggs for breakfast. The Indian markets start at 9am, and go on till 3.30pm.”
“I eat lunch, which usually consists of something Indian. After that I go to the gym for a bit. I work out four days a week, playing badminton or squash, and then take any meetings that might be lined up.”
“If possible I have some in-person meetings with people I work with, but they also happen to be friends. I enjoy reading and end my day with a book. I used to read a lot about economics, but of late I am very intrigued by psychology and history. Outside of reading I occasionally watch Netflix. Currently I am watching The Watcher.”
- Nikhil Kamath dropped out of school to play chess before he began trading stocks; today, the disruptive platform he co-founded with his brother, Zerodha, has become India’s largest retail brokerage
- His love for his vintage FP Journe Octa Lune stems from his deep interest in psychology and history, which is what he will read about after a long day of work, gym and meetings – if he’s not busy watching The Watcher