Danish Dhamani is the co-founder and CEO of Orai, a public speaking app that thousands of people have used to eradicate their fear of public speaking. He has shared his journey in a Tedx talk with millions of views. He was recognized on Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list for 2021.

How did he get here? According to Danish, his journey in entrepreneurship is strongly rooted in his faith, a pillar in his life that motivated him throughout his education at Aga Khan Academy (AKA), Mombasa, and Drexel University and led to his creation of an app designed to improve the quality of life of people around the world.

From the start of Danish’s experiences at AKA, community service played a significant role in his learning and the school’s curriculum. “Every week or so, you had to do some sort of community service element - whether you start something of your own, or you participate in other clubs that do community service, or [attend] one bigger community service that everyone as a class would go to,” says Danish. He adds that he still recalls one community service activity where he and other students provided deworming medicine to residents in Bombolulu, a village in Kenya.

AKA’s focus on engaging in community service not only offered Danish the opportunity to put into practice the ethics of his faith, but it later shaped his mindset of being service-oriented and focused on helping humanity. “Why are we studying? Why are we in school? Is it just to make more money? No - it is to help improve the quality of life of other people,” says Danish.

Because of the college credit he received participating in AKA’s International Baccalaureate program, Danish was also able to explore new subjects and courses when he started his undergraduate studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia. One such class was an entrepreneurship course that sparked Danish’s interest in this field.

Around this time, Danish was also venturing into new territory, attending networking events and job interviews. He found himself struggling with public speaking and communication skills. “I remember my heart would pump, I would feel my palms get sweaty, and that was the struggle that "me and the co-founders of the app faced for years - not just a short period of our life,” he recalls. According to him. 73% of the world fear public speaking and this was a challenge he needed to overcome.

One day after work, Danish’s manager pulled him aside and told him, “Danish, you can be the strongest engineer or the smartest engineer but if you don’t know how to present confidently and clearly, you are putting a glass ceiling over your head. You’ll never be able to climb any higher, you’ll never be able to become a leader, you’ll never be able to become a manager.”

Danish asked what he should do, and his manager suggested he join a public speaking club called Toastmasters. After he joined, his struggle with public speaking began to improve, and he became inspired to help others overcome their fear as well by designing Orai.

Every company has a powerful founding narrative, and for Danish, his co-founders, and Orai, this was their origin story. They built and developed an app that offers interactive lessons, coaching, and instant feedback on pace, use of filler words like 'um' and 'ah,' energy, facial expression, and more. It also tracks the user’s progress so they can measure their improvement. Orai has been a success, with over 300,000 people using their program to overcome their fear of public speaking.

According to Danish, many of the different elements of our faith underpin his journey of co-founding and developing Orai. One of those includes applying best practices in the work he does. “We live in a world where competition is on the rise, and if you are okay or just average, you might not have the best quality of life. Even if you do have an okay quality of life, you might not be able to serve others or build future generational wealth,” Danish remarks.

Using best practices is only the start. In addition to this, Danish also emphasizes his belief in the importance of being ambitious at a global level and becoming a global citizen. “You don’t just look at problems in your locality or your city or your region, but you think globally. What are some of the biggest problems affecting the entire world’s population? What can you do as a human being by using the knowledge that you have gained to serve not just a thousand people, not just ten thousand, not just a million, but a billion? How can you do that?” he asks.
Now, with access to technology and the world at our fingertips, he advocates that it is entirely possible to do just that. Having graduated from Drexel in 2017, Danish also strives to live up to the ethic of continuous learning beyond formal education. He emphasizes that lifelong learning does not always mean pursuing a Master’s degree or a Ph.D after undergraduate studies.

“Personally, I feel that there are faster, more efficient, and better and cheaper ways to learn and grow oneself than the formal education route,” he says. For Danish, that means reading books - both fiction and nonfiction - and usually about three at a time. “Reading books is the closest thing to downloading someone else’s brain,” he suggests, holding up a copy of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

In addition to reading, Danish enjoys learning by traveling, meeting new people, and talking about their experiences. As someone who is very creative, Danish always has multiple ambitious projects in the works or on his horizon. In fact, he keeps a notes document titled “Narrow Down,” which is populated with ideas and project ideas.

Over the next few years, he sees himself continuing to grow and expand Orai, enhance the product’s marketing, and continue improving the app. He has also started dabbling in cryptocurrency and blockchain, believing that this will be the future three decades or so down the road. Danish also strives to give back to his community by volunteering with the Ismaili Professionals Network in the United States and assisting current and aspiring entrepreneurs to connect with one another, grow themselves, and build their assets.