What a year it’s been -- from spearheading one of the largest investment roadshows for global sovereign wealth clients in India, to connecting small business owners to affordable sources of short-term capital in the United States -- my experiences during these past twelve months have been substantially wide-ranging, challenging, yet rewarding at the same time. Much inspired from reading Stanford GSB alum Bonny Simi’s unconventional path to venture capital (source), I thought I could perhaps share my own story about how I navigated my way to where I am today - an early-stage VC at Monk’s Hill Ventures (MHV).
As a disclaimer, neither is my resume as eclectic as Simi’s, nor is my path as untraditional, but this is my story and here it goes.
A. Trust your instinct
I was born into a traditional Indian family, largely made up of chartered accountants and economists. Unsurprisingly, one of my foremost fascinations, growing up, was playing with numbers. From solving quant-patterns and puzzles in elementary and middle school to representing my high school at regional Olympiads, I found math to be fun, interesting and -- well, it just helped me make sense of the world.
Despite matriculating into an engineering program, through various inter- and intra-collegiate programs at NUS and UPenn, I took it upon myself to complete additional coursework in finance, accounting and entrepreneurship. During my final year, when I received that coveted offer from Goldman, I felt like my dream had come true. To a 21-year-old, the opportunity to kick start a career in Hong Kong, work alongside the brightest of minds, and receive a sizable paycheck at the end of every month was just unimaginable.
B. Dare to blaze an unconventional trail
Six years passed. I was fortunate to have worked with very capable teams and truly exceptional managers. I had built a reliable ecosystem of mentors, well-wishers and friends; however, as my bank account swelled, my heart felt empty and to overcome that feeling of emptiness, I asked myself, “Who am I?” As I began to recognize my desire to do and become more, I felt paralyzed by the fear of letting go. To leave Goldman was a big choice.
During a subsequent month-long sabbatical in Indonesia, I thought hard about pursuing more purposeful goal. In the end, I realized that I would be happy if I used my privileged position to make a positive impact on society. Although I eventually secured that fast-track executive director promotion, I resigned. Excited by the opportunity to empower entrepreneurs within the unbanked and underserved SME segment, I uprooted my life in Asia and moved 8,500 miles to San Francisco, where I joined Andrew and Gautam to build the nuts and bolts of Finvoice, a socially-driven financial technology start-up.
C. Failing is OK
At Finvoice, I was immediately drawn to how a technology-powered platform was effectively resolving the working-capital financing challenges of SMEs; however, to experience first-hand the mettle, tenacity and raw grit it takes to build a company from nothing, to endlessly hustle among investors to keep the lights on, and to continue to maintain a sense of camaraderie amidst frequent setbacks was all a very humbling experience. I not only gained more respect for the guys at Finvoice who were building something extraordinary, but also felt inspired from interacting with the small business owners who were determined to scale their companies through the thick and thin.
It usually takes overconfidence to stay the course through adversity, but a humble mind to evolve and iterate. While it became clear to me that I had overestimated my risk-tolerance for working in an early-stage start-up, I also began to realize from having personally invested in start-ups that I much preferred being the investor over the operator. Upon further recalibrating my strengths and weaknesses, I decided to return to Singapore and pursue an industry where I could better apply my amalgamated learnings from banking and start-ups.
Venture investing attracted me for several reasons. The most compelling of them was the limitless opportunity it presented to discourse with visionaries from a myriad of industries, play a critical role in the innovation life-cycle of companies, and create value and jobs in the process.
As of earlier this month, I am excited to join the investment team at MHV, an industry-agnostic venture capital firm that focuses on Series-A and Series-B investments in Southeast Asia’s start-up ecosystem. What resonates the most with me at MHV is its “pay-it-forward” culture of entrepreneurs backing entrepreneurs. I am grateful to the firm’s leadership team and my network, without whose trust and support my transition to VC may not have been possible.
As for my first few weeks, they have been electrifying to say the least -- from sourcing entrepreneurs who are pioneering the next breakthrough technology, to conducting market research and due-diligence on investment deals in the region -- I feel liberated everyday by expressing ideas unique to my personal sensibility.
In hindsight, my professional and personal experiences have taught me valuable lessons through forced humility, and my advice to all budding entrepreneurs and founders out there is: to always trust your instinct, be fearless when choosing courage over comfort, and remember that failing is A-OK!
Written by Ganesh Ramakrishnan, our MBA intern for 2017. Prior to MHV, Ganesh worked at Goldman Sachs, specializing in emerging market equities and Finvoice, financing the working capital needs of SMEs.