Successful and aspiring entrepreneurs have graced news stories across many emerging countries in recent years; with several experts highlighting the growing gap in investment available to startups and SMEs. Marred by a lack of funding and economic conditions, promising entrepreneurs may never be able to afford the senior management support structures required to be able to focus on achieving their full potential.
Addressing this need through venture capital funding, Kohli Ventures was created to embrace the technological revolution and youth entrepreneurialism, providing the necessary valuable management advice and hands-on experience that entrepreneurs need to create a successful long-term business model, connecting young, high growth companies to important industry contacts.
With a focus on emerging markets with high intellectual capital, Kohli Ventures’ Chairman, philanthropist, billionaire and likeminded entrepreneur, Tej Kohli, is providing a new generation of visionary, go-getting entrepreneurs with the chance to accelerate their business plans by partnering with Kohli Ventures. The enigmatic business mogul explains his own business journey and what makes a good Asian entrepreneur in today’s economic environment.
Asia Outlook (AsO): Please provide a brief introduction to yourself, Kohli Ventures, and your own journey as an
Tej Kohli (TK): I am the son of a respected Indian economist and a graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, where I studied electrical engineering. On leaving university, my first job was in a tachometer factory, it was there that I had my eureka moment; I quickly learned that for any business to advance and become as profitable as possible on a global stage, it needs to embrace technology with a youthful vision, tireless dedication and hard work that ultimately has a positive social impact with accountability. I have built my wealth over three decades on this proviso, primarily as a result of my investments in ecommerce platforms and technology businesses.
AsO: How much of a role do you think entrepreneurs play across the Asian business landscape?
TK: What quickly became apparent was how few powerful technological advances have come from major institutions; they almost always start with one entrepreneurial person having a visionary idea.
Therefore, entrepreneurs play a key role in business in Asia. In India in particular, there is a strong culture of entrepreneurship combined with new opportunities created by the digital technological revolution and it is the country’s connected and tech-savvy youth who are exploiting it. The difficulty lies in these young entrepreneurs getting finance to grow their business. In India, most entrepreneurs are self-financing, borrowing from family and friends as well as using savings. However, this is changing and venture capital firms are particularly backing young tech entrepreneurs.
AsO: Why is it crucial for companies and individuals like yourself to invest in entrepreneurs?
TK: Business success is not just a question of funding for entrepreneurs, they also need advice and support from active investors that play a key role in nurturing the business. This is where firms such as Kohli Ventures, with a long-term view and the management expertise – essential in guiding young but highly creative entrepreneurs – can step in. Business success is more than just funding for entrepreneurs and it must also not be about being restricted to a tight financial framework, boxing them in.
Limiting flexibility, specifically for entrepreneurs, can ironically stifle growth as the vision continues to evolve and adapt to the necessary changes taking place in the market. To allow an entrepreneur’s vision to be fulfilled, they must be given the freedom to continue working on it. The burden of the day-to-day running of the business should be replaced with a senior management team who bring in the fully-fledged areas of expertise, which is what we do.
AsO: How do you personally identify what makes a good entrepreneur, and who is worth investing in?
TK: From my experience, there are five characteristics that a successful entrepreneur must possess:
1. Work ethic: It is essential entrepreneurs have a steely dedication to hard work and I look for evidence of this such as meticulous planning and attention to detail.
2. Passion: Success will depend on both the entrepreneur’s enthusiasm for a new product or service, as well as the overriding belief that it will be successful, which is essential to develop and persuade others to buy it.
3. Taking on calculated risk: Entrepreneurs must be prepared to take on the risk of not having a steady income as well as staking their own time and money. However, it is important they show understanding of the risks they are taking as well as determination about how to tackle them. This is about commitment 24-seven, 365 days a year.
4. Rule breaker: An entrepreneur that has developed a concept that breaks the established rules has the attraction of no initial competition and exponential growth.
5. Vision: They must show a strong vision of how a concept, product or service and the company behind it can grow rapidly. Of equal importance is being able to see how that vision might need to adapt to external market changes.
AsO: What particular trends have you seen emerging among those who are ideal candidates/companies to invest in?
TK: Dreams of being a successful entrepreneur are sweeping through Asia among the young. And making all this possible is the amazing growth in access to the Internet. There are almost three billion global internet users, two-thirds of them coming from the developing world and the number of global mobile-broadband subscriptions is around 2.3 billion, with 55 percent in the developing world, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Most of these users in the developing world will be in Asia and they are mainly young people. The internet and the tech revolution is bringing this generation new business opportunities and inspiring stories of successful Asian entrepreneurs. What all this means is that the next wave of potential Mark Zuckerberg’s are likely to come from Asia.
Consequently, I look for entrepreneurs with companies operating in technology, particularly those in the fintech (financial technology) line of business, in areas that have the potential to disrupt existing business models and are globally scalable. They tend to be young, energetic, proven and driven individuals, who have strong management teams that are able to take businesses to the next level. They also need to demonstrate their ability to work with a senior management team who will bring in additional skills.
In addition to those in the fintech sector, Kohli Ventures also has interests in digital media, medical science and renewable energies. Notable case studies include Costa-Rica-based Grafix Softech, a provider of payment management and fraud detecting systems, and Dublin-based Dynacart Solutions, which offers secure payments system software.
Founded in 1998, Grafix Softech has grown to employ more than 500 people and securely processes millions of online transactions a year. One of our most recent investments is the purchase of Zynergy, an Indian-based solar energy Company.
AsO: What would be your advice be to anyone seeking to start a business in Asia?
TK: Whatever market you go into, you need to understand the local business culture and how your business will fit
in. It is important to develop trustworthy contacts in those markets; those who will be able to offer sound local
knowledge and insight. The more informed you are, the better your position will be. In terms of Asia, there is a
profound work ethic, one that does not stop for tea as they say. If you are going to enter the market, you need to be
prepared for a non-stop approach to business as well as any time zone implications for your business.
Read this story, and more in December’s issue of Asia Outlook here.