Ashu Jain has forged a successful career in business since retiring from table tennis and in 2018 will launch a brand new energy spray. Here, the American discusses his career trajectory and offers his advice for other athletes looking to move into business.
My sporting background
I competed in table tennis throughout college and, about four weeks prior to graduation, I made the national team for the first time.
I was left with the choice of either going to the World Championships or completing my graduation. There were about four weeks to go and I was spending USD 40,000 a year on my college education – a physics and mechanical engineering degree from a top-ranked engineering school.
I had all the support in the world from everybody so I withdrew from college, went to the World Championships and came back the following year to graduate.
Calling it a day
My career, however, was very short-lived. In my second year on the national team, I fractured my ankle in four places while playing basketball.
I was never able to advance table tennis any further after that. I was on the target to go to the Olympic Games, but I never did. It was a very sad, abrupt ending. I tried to return, but that was it for me.
While I definitely would have wanted to continue to compete a lot longer, I knew that physically it would take me a long time to recover. I couldn’t walk for almost six months after suffering the injury.
I was already out of college and, at the time, it was a business decision of what I wanted to do with my life. I could try to come back and compete, really train hard, but let’s say I go to the Games – which is obviously a dream for any athlete – then what?
Being injured – and I never thought of it as a positive thing until now – probably pushed me forward in my career. Maybe that’s the silver lining for me.
Moving into business
I returned home in 2004 to help out with my parents’ furniture business. We had a retail operation in the US, we had seven stores, but they were all doing poorly – the business was failing.
We were on a downward spiral even before the recession hit. But despite the odds being stacked against us, we continued to innovate, to try different things, to work hard. I had 40 employees under me and we restructured inside and out, and came out of that ahead – because of perseverance and a refusal to quit.
In 2016, I sold that business, at a good time. Now I’m taking on a new challenge and I’m working on some inventions that are proprietary and under development. Most notably, an energy spray called ONGO, which is aimed at anyone who is into fitness, including Olympic athletes.
My advice to other athletes considering life outside sport
When an athlete comes out of sport and transitions into the unknown, into something new, the confidence that was once at their core is gone.
But at a certain point – and I would give this advice to all athletes – you have to believe in yourself. An athlete has all the elements, all the fundamentals, to be successful in every aspect of their life.
So have confidence within yourself. Don’t just go out and get a low-paying, entry-level job. Go out and do. Challenge yourself in just the same way you challenged yourself in sport. Work hard, don’t quit and you will succeed again in whatever you choose – in the same way you succeeded in sport.