One of the rising tech sectors today is data aggregation with many millennials coming to the forefront of the industry to bundle information and convey it in a summary form.
Aggregating is all around us
To fully understand what data aggregation is, let’s look at this example: Data-collecting companies, like Facebook, gather intelligence such as likes or page-visits users consume. This information is carefully organized to promote ads or document what users see in their feeds. In business using behavior metrics such as the number of transactions, or average age of the consumer, helps the company focus on bestsellers.
Vasiliy Fomin is an excellent example of someone currently cashing in by way of running a data aggregator, bundling information from various sources into a single API, and allowing all types of businesses to power their offerings to consumers. He’s been able to build a thriving business earning millions in revenue by selling aggregated vehicle data, arrest record data, and more to a network of qualified resellers.
For entrepreneurs, research and development are essential in understanding the market behavior so as to provide the best services to their customers. Data aggregators embrace innovations, new ideas and critical questioning by syncing with the industry’s changing trends in various aspects like leading, hiring, retaining and technology.
Most of us have heard the phrase, “It takes money to make money.” It’s often necessary to invest in order to make more. This isn’t always an easy decision, but the question that many entrepreneurs ultimately have to ask themselves is, can you really expect customers to invest with you if you’re not willing to invest in yourself?
When you consider investing in professional development such as a coach, consultant, mentor or online course, making sure this is worth both the time and financial commitment is strategic. But if the statistics are anything to go by, this strategy can quickly turn into fear for many women in particular.
Research shows that 71% of all assets held by women are in cash, but that 68% of women lose sleep because of money worries. It’s time to stop letting the fear of not having enough stop you from investing to build your wealth.
These are my top three tips for making smart investments and minimizing money worries.
The first step is to write down your biggest goal for your business. What is it you really want to achieve? Is it to make six figures in fewer hours, or perhaps to build a big company that you will lead with lots of employees? Getting clear on this will protect you when you come across “shiny objects” — complex websites, funnels or branding that the sales world will try to convince you is absolutely necessary.
We usually succumb to these entreaties when we’re not focused on our end goal; when we procrastinate and look for quick fixes. Deciding what is just a shiny object or a really good investment starts with the question, “Will this investment help me achieve my goal faster?”
Only when it’s a yes should you consider the investment seriously.
Work out your boundaries
Next, you need to decide if the investment is in alignment with what you want to achieve and how you want to get there. Write down what you are and are not willing to do to hit your big goal in your business. For example, will the commitment of the investment mean you’ll have to work 50 hour weeks when you only want to work 10? If so, then it’s probably not a good fit.
It’s also a good idea to write down your values. Don’t let your feelings or mental blocks get in your way. Take your time so your fear doesn’t interfere. You might think that you don’t want to do sales calls. However, sales are a big part of a successful business. So, is it actually true that you don’t want to sell and thereby help other people, or could it be that you simply don’t want to feel like an old-fashioned salesman cold-selling by knocking on doors? If you were to feel good about selling, would selling be aligned? Most likely it’s a yes.
Essentially, if your boundaries and values are in line with the investment, you should move forward to the last step.
Assess the level of support
Investments are a vehicle for getting you from A to B, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to travel. Think of it like an airplane: You can go from London to Paris flying economy, Business or FirstClass.
If you know that your money is tight and you are willing to have less support on your journey, an online course could be the way. If you know that you are willing to find the funds to get fully supported and get to your goal easier and faster, bespoke one-on-one coaching could be an option. If you want to be around other high-achieving entrepreneurs to push yourself and achieve more, a mastermind could be a great investment.
This is when you need to ask yourself the question, “Is this investment providing the right level of support that I want?” If that’s a yes, you’re on the right track.
Overthinking is often a massive pitfall, making you say no to things you really want and ending in you missing out on great opportunities. Investing in something is supposed to make you feel nervous and excited at the same time, and will most likely be a true game-changer in your business.
When I started out, I had no savings at all, only debt. But I wanted to move fast, and my family couldn’t afford for me to not make money, so I found a way to make it happen.
I started with “smaller” investments — $500 or $2,000 — which felt just as scary as the six-figure investments I make now. Since then, I have learned from experience that if the investment is not a stretch, I’m not really taking a risk, so the likelihood of me building success momentum is small.
Today, women invest with me at all levels — from $ 1,000 to $ 100,000 — and I celebrate them all for making the commitment financially, mentally and emotionally. Investment is always a risk, and having the tools to help you decide if it’s one worth taking is essential.
On the surface, Eric Lefkofsky’s Tempus sounds much like every other AI-powered personalized medicine company. “We try to infuse as much data and technology as we can into the diagnosis itself,” Lefkofsky says, which could be said by the founder of any number of new healthcare companies.. But what makes Tempus different is that it is quickly branching out, moving from a focus on cancer to additional programs including mental health, infectious diseases, cardiology and soon diabetes. “We’re focused on those disease areas that are the most deadly,” Lefkofsky says.
Now, the billionaire founder has an additional $200 million to reach that goal. The Chicago-based company announced the series G-2 round on Thursday, which includes a massive valuation of $8.1 billion. Lefkofsky, the founder of multiple companies including Groupon, also saw his net worth rise from the financing, from an estimated $3.2 billion to an estimated $4.2 billion.
Tempus is “trying to disrupt a very large industry that is very complex,” Lefkofsky says, “we’ve known it was going to cost a lot of money to see our business model to fruition.”
In addition to investors Baillie Gifford, Franklin Templeton, Novo Holdings, and funds managed by T. Rowe Price, Lefkofsky, who has invested about $100 million of his own money into the company since inception, also contributed an undisclosed amount to the round. Google also participated as an investor, and Tempus says it will now store its deidentified patient data on Google Cloud.
“We are particularly attracted to companies that aim to solve fundamental and complex challenges within life sciences,” says Robert Ghenchev, a senior partner at Novo Holdings. “Tempus is, in many respects, the poster child for the kind of companies we like to support.”
Tempus, founded by Lefkofsky in 2015, is one of a new breed of personalized cancer diagnostic companies like Foundation Medicine and Guardant Health. The company’s main source of revenue comes from sequencing the genome of cancer patients’ tumors in order to help doctors decide which treatments would be most effective. “We generate a lot of molecular data about you as a patient,” Lefkofsky says. He estimates that Tempus has the data of about 1 in 3 cancer patients in the United States.
But billing insurance companies for sequencing isn’t the only way the company makes money. Tempus also offers a service that matches eligible patients to clinical trials, and it licenses de-identified patient data to other players in the oncology industry. That patient data, which includes images and clinical information, is “super important and valuable,” says Lefkofsky, who adds that such data sharing only occurs if patients consent.
At first glance, precision oncology seems like a crowded market, but analysts say there is still plenty of room for companies to grow. “We’re just getting started in this market,” says Puneet Souda, a senior research analyst at SVB Leerink, “[and] what comes next is even larger.” Souda estimates that as the personalized oncology market expands from diagnostics to screening, another $30 billion or more will be available for companies to snatch up. And Tempus is already thinking ahead by moving into new therapeutic areas.
While it’s not leaving cancer behind, Tempus has branched into other areas of precision medicine over the last year, including cardiology and mental health. The company now offers a service for psychiatrists to use a patient’s genetic information to determine the best treatments for major depressive disorder.
In May, Lefkofsky also pushed the company to use its expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The company now offers PCR tests for Covid-19, and has run over 1 million so far. The company also sequences other respiratory pathogens, such as the flu and soon pneumonia. As with cancer, Tempus will continue to make patient data accessible for others in the field— for a price. “Because we have one of the largest repositories of data in the world,” says Lefkofsky, “[it is imperative] that we make it available to anyone.”
Lefkofsky plans to use capital from the latest funding round to continue Tempus’ expansion and grow its team. The company has hired about 700 since the start of the pandemic, he says, and currently has about 1,800 employees. He wouldn’t comment on exact figures, but while the company is not yet profitable he says Tempus has reached “significant scale in terms of revenue.”
And why is he so sure that his company’s massive valuation isn’t over-inflated? “We benefit from two really exciting financial sector trends,” he says: complex genomic profiling and AI-driven health data. Right now, Lefkofsky estimates, about one-third of cancer patients have their tumors sequenced in three years. Soon, he says, that number will increase to two-thirds of patients getting their tumors sequenced multiple times a year. “The space itself is very exciting,” he says, “we think it will grow dramatically.” Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip.
I am the assistant editor of healthcare and science at Forbes. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Master’s of Journalism and a Master’s of Public Health, with a specialty in infectious disease. Before that, I was at Johns Hopkins University where I double-majored in writing and public health. I’ve written articles for STAT, Vice, Science News, HealthNewsReview and other publications. At Forbes, I cover all aspects of health, from disease outbreaks to biotech startups.
To impact the nearly 1.7 million Americans who will be newly diagnosed with cancer this year, Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder and CEO of Tempus, discusses with Matter CEO Steven Collens how he is applying his disruptive-technology expertise to create an operating system to battle cancer. (November 29, 2016)
Tins Plaza was an eyesore, a run-down, abandoned plastics factory in the Tuen Mun district when Tang Shing-bor first spotted it. To Tang, though, it was a gem, one of many forgotten industrial buildings sprinkled around Hong Kong, well worth the roughly $36 million he paid for it in 2005. But even he couldn’t have foreseen that just two years later he would triple his money on it.
It was by snapping up derelict industrial properties like Tins Plaza, flipping them or redeveloping them, that Tang went from the verge of insolvency in 2003 to billionaire in 2016, when he first made the list of Hong Kong’s richest. Now at 86 and No. 14 on the list with a net worth of $5.7 billion, Tang is making one of his biggest contrarian bets yet.
Despite months of protests casting a pall over the city’s property market, Tang has embarked on a shopping spree of Hong Kong’s industrial buildings, spending $700 million last year. He ranks as the biggest buyer of Hong Kong industrial properties in 2019, according to data from New York-based research firm, Real Capital Analytics.
This is the best opportunity I’ve ever seen,” says Tang in a rare interview, held at one of his buildings in Hong Kong’s bustling Mong Kok district, just blocks from where some of the most violent scenes of unrest have taken place. During the interview, Tang is multitasking, juggling phone calls from brokers, developers and lawyers. He is negotiating his next purchase, a dilapidated building next to the city’s old Kai Tak airport, which the government is auctioning off for redevelopment. To Tang, Hong Kong’s political turmoil is only creating better bargains. “We will move on from this,” he says.
Property is only the latest of Tang’s several incarnations in a career that traces Hong Kong’s own development.
At his side is the youngest of his five sons from two marriages, Stan Tang Yiu-sing, 34, chairman of the holding company he and his father established in 2013 and named Stan Group. Tang Sr., whose title is honorable chairman, remains very involved, and the two meet twice a day. Stan oversees new businesses and redevelopment of properties. Tang still cuts the property deals. “I make the final decisions,” says Tang in a booming baritone that belies his age.
Known in Hong Kong’s real estate circles as “Uncle Bor,” property is only the latest of Tang’s several incarnations in a career that traces Hong Kong’s own development—from neon bulb maker in the 1950s, to 1970s restaurateur, to earning the moniker “shop king” for his string of retail spaces—a foray that almost broke him.
Today, Tang is renowned for his knack of spotting remnants of Hong Kong’s bygone days as a manufacturing hub, its disused factories and warehouses, in areas poised for gentrification. That expertise is attracting eager partners, including Hong Kong’s Chinese Estates Holdings and Yangzhou-based Jiayuan International, which have both set up joint ventures with Stan Group to redevelop its industrial properties. “He’s very effective and experienced in converting these building sites,” says Joseph Lam, associate director of industrial services at Colliers International.
Tang has never feared failure. His father died when he was 5 and he was raised by his mother, who took a low-paying job in a factory to support them. “I had to come up with creative ways to survive,” he says. Tang recalls loitering outside restaurants when he was hungry, waiting for handouts. Growing up poor gave him grit: well into his 70s, he kept in shape with dawn swims beyond the shark net off Hong Kong’s shore. “There’s always a way,” he says. “There’s never a problem that can’t be solved.”
With only a primary school education, Tang became an apprentice in 1950 to an electrician making neon signs, and in his 20s opened his own store catering to then-booming demand for the bright storefront marquees that remain one of Hong Kong’s hallmarks. Neon success enabled Tang in 1970 to open a dim sum eatery with friends. That led to a string of restaurant investments, including a seafood restaurant in Sydney, that Tang would in 1982 consolidate as the East Ocean Gourmet Group, which is still thriving today. The 1980s saw Tang branch out into a flurry of new businesses, including a used car dealership. But it was buying and selling shops where Tang made his mark. “Looking after the restaurant exposed him to news of nearby shops,” says Stan. One of his most notable investments in the following years would be the purchase in 1990 of an old restaurant building that he would transform into the renowned Mongkok Computer Centre.
“I’m optimistic about Hong Kong’s future,” says Tang. “I’ve seen ups and downs. There are opportunities out of risks. This is my chance—my turn.”
By 1997, Tang had amassed more than 200 shops worth roughly HK$7.3 billion ($942 million) and began planning an IPO, only to be thwarted by the Asian financial crisis. Hong Kong’s property market fell 70% between 1997 and 2004 as the crisis was followed by the outbreak of SARS in 2003. By 2004, with HK$4 billion in debt, Tang began selling most of his portfolio, including his prized Mongkok Computer Centre.
What he didn’t sell, however, was a smattering of industrial space he began buying in 1996 to hedge against volatile retail rental yields. And Tang knew just where to buy. Hong Kong had decided in 1990 to close Kai Tak and build a new, larger airport on Lantau Island. So Tang focused on Tuen Mun, a neighborhood directly across a bay from the new airport and connected by road to Hong Kong’s nearest neighbor in mainland China, the fast-growing city of Shenzhen.
Tang starts drawing a rough map: “Let me tell you about the factories on San Hop Lane,” he says as he sketches out the streets and buildings around his first purchase, Tuen Mun’s Oi Sun Centre. Tang bought the former factory in foreclosure for HK$42 million in 2004.
Up the street was Tins Plaza, the retired plastics factory named for its former owner, chemical tycoon-turned-philanthropist Tin Ka-ping. Tang picked up the building in early 2005 for HK$280 million, putting HK$28 million in cash down and borrowing the rest from banks using another of his buildings as collateral.
Six months later, Tang says he received a call from an industrial property unit of Australia’s Macquarie Bank, Macquarie Goodman, offering him HK$500 million for the building. By October, he had a second offer, for HK$520 million, from Singapore property investment fund Mapletree. “But that’s not even the best part,” Tang says.
Faced with rival offers, Tang chose neither. Commercial property commands a higher price than industrial property, he reasoned, so he had Tins Plaza rezoned as commercial. Two years later, Tang found himself in an elevator to Macquarie’s offices in Hong Kong’s International Finance Centre to meet an executive who had flown in from Sydney with a new offer. “The gweilo [foreigner] boss was a handsome man,” Tang says. “He was very straightforward and asked me whether I’d be willing to sell for HK$850 million.” Macquarie in 2008 sold its stake in Macquarie Goodman to its joint venture partner, Goodman Group. Both Macquarie and Goodman declined to comment on the deal.
Tang’s prediction had come true: demand for Hong Kong’s old industrial space had indeed rebounded—not, as he foresaw, because of the new airport, but because of surging demand for the data and fulfillment centers needed to provide cloud services and e-commerce. “There are new technologies like data center users going into warehouses,” says Samuel Lai, senior director at property services firm CBRE in Hong Kong. Tang sold Macquarie Tins Plaza, earning HK$570 million on his HK$280 million investment. “Tins Plaza was the most memorable transaction I’ve ever made,” he says.
But Tang wasn’t resting on his laurels. After seeing the offers roll in for Tins Plaza, he set about buying another former factory down the street, the Gold Sun Industrial Building. Unlike his previous two deals, Gold Sun had several owners, each requiring separate negotiations. Tang bought the first of the building’s eight stories in 2006; he wouldn’t manage to clinch the eighth until 2014. “I bought it floor by floor,” says Tang.
Tang’s timing proved impeccable. Eager to boost the supply of property for offices, hotels and shopping, Hong Kong’s government in April 2010 implemented incentives to redevelop disused industrial properties. The so-called revitalization scheme lifted restrictions on how large a building developers could build on land converted from industrial use. The result: Factory prices surged 152% between the policy’s launch and early 2016, when the government ended the incentive. “The best initiative that came out and led to a lot of transactions was the relaxation on the plot ratio,” says CBRE’s Lai.
Tang got another lift in 2013, when the government announced the start of construction on a tunnel linking the new airport and Tuen Mun. Tang combined his Oi Sun Centre and Gold Sun Industrial Building into a single development, One Vista, a two-tower office building and shopping complex. In May 2018, he bundled One Vista with two other Hong Kong properties and sold roughly 70% to Jiayuan International for HK$2.6 billion.
Tang has left Mong Kok to head downtown to his East Ocean Lafayette restaurant overlooking Victoria Harbor. Nibbling on fried turnip cake dipped in spicy Cantonese seafood sauce, he is closely shadowed by two lawyers sipping tea at the next table and waiting their turn to update him on his deal near Kai Tak. Uncle Bor has already managed to buy 73% of the buildings near the old airport, just 7% away from the threshold at which he can legally compel the remaining owners to sell. Redevelopment of Kai Tak stands to boost property values around the area. And a new revitalization scheme, launched last year, has lifted limits yet again on how big developers can build on converted sites. If and when Tang clinches ownership, he and his partner for the property, Chinese Estate Holdings, will be able to knock down the existing building, and build a new one with 14 times as much saleable space.
“I’m optimistic about Hong Kong’s future,” says Tang. “I’ve seen ups and downs. There are opportunities out of risks. This is my chance—my turn.”
After returning to Hong Kong from university in the U.K. 15 years ago, Stan Tang Yiu-sing opened an ad agency with friends. Soon, though, he was working with his father, Tang Shing-bor, learning the real estate business and building property management and leasing firms. In 2013, he and his father set up Stan Group to integrate the family’s real estate investments with his service offerings. Stan now chairs the group and oversees the conversion of the older buildings his father buys into modern retail and commercial properties.
“Pure property investment is no longer our only single investment direction,” says Stan, who has joined the shift among Asian property executives from asset-focused development into service-oriented offerings—hospitality, co-working spaces and incubation hubs. Stan Group now operates six hotel brands with a combined 3,500 rooms. In 2016 it launched an innovation hub for entrepreneurs, called “The Wave.”
Stan has also steered Stan Group into financial services, a private members’ club, and serviced apartments catering to the elderly. “The government has given us policies that present us an opportunity to reposition ourselves,” Stan says, echoing his father’s confidence in Hong Kong’s future as part of the greater bay area comprising Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The 34-year-old plans to list five of the group’s companies by 2023, though the property representing 90% of Stan Group’s assets will remain private, he says. Stan says his aim is to grow non-property businesses to someday represent at least half of the group’s total assets.
Pamela covers entrepreneurs, wealth, blockchain and the crypto economy as a senior reporter across digital and print platforms. Prior to Forbes, she served as on-air foreign correspondent for Thomson Reuters’ broadcast team, during which she reported on global markets, central bank policies, and breaking business news. Before Asia, she was a journalist at NBC Comcast, and started her career at CNBC and Bloomberg as a financial news producer in New York. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Yahoo, USA Today, Huffington Post, and Nasdaq. Pamela’s previous incarnation was on the buy side in M&A research and asset management, inspired by Michael Lewis’ book “Liar’s Poker”. Follow me on Twitter at @pamambler
An interview with Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing. In this interview Li Ka-shing discusses his early interest in business, why cash flow is the most important thing and building his companies, CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Property Holdings. Li Ka-shing also talks of his foundation, Li Ka Shing Foundation, and the philosophy behind it. Like if you enjoyed Subscribe for more:http://bit.ly/InvestorsArchive Follow us on twitter:http://bit.ly/TwitterIA Other great Entrepreneur videos:⬇ Larry Ellison’s in depth interview on his Life and Success: http://bit.ly/LEllisonVid Jeff Bezos on Amazon, Business and Life/Work:http://bit.ly/JeffBezosVid Bill Gates on Business, Microsoft and Early Life: http://bit.ly/BillGatesVid Video Segments: 0:00 Introduction 1:50 Careful with cash flow 2:25 Is cash flow the most important thing? 3:03 How did you educate yourself? 5:13 Beating the competition? 6:27 Yangtze river metaphor 7:33 Management style 8:52 Always half an hour early 10:27 Rich before 30 but unhappy 13:00 Leaving money to a foundation 13:47 Building the Tsz Shan monastery 14:40 Combining western and buddhist influences 17:05 Inequality in Hong Kong 18:47 When are you retiring? 21:46 Will it be the same without you? Interview Date: 29th June, 2016 Event: Bloomberg Original Image Source:http://bit.ly/LiKaShingPic Investors Archive has videos of all the Investing/Business/Economic/Finance masters. Learn from their wisdom for free in one place.
Tej Kohli’s name is up in lights in Paris, flashing on the walls in giant, bold type inside the new high-ceilinged headquarters of French e-sports Team Vitality, a 20-minute walk from the city’s Gare du Nord train station. Some of Europe’s top video game players, influencers, journalists and sponsors have arrived on this November day to buoyantly pay tribute to Kohli, a U.K.-based, Indian-born entrepreneur, now heralded as the lead investor in the e-sports team. Team Vitality has raised at least $37 million and scored partnership deals with Adidas, Renault, telecom firm Orange and Red Bull, with a stated goal to become the top team in European competitive gaming.
E-sports, Kohli proudly tells Forbes, “encompasses the entire spectrum of business … [and is] not very different from other things we do in technology.” His wavy mane of dark hair stands out in the room like a beacon, as he beams amid the buzz and recognition.
London is home to 55 billionaires, with more on the outskirts, and they generally fall into two camps: those who completely shun publicity, and those, like Richard Branson and James Dyson, who enthusiastically embrace it. Kohli, who lives in a multimillion-dollar mansion in leafy Henley-on-Thames, aspires aggressively to the latter. In April, Kohli told the FT’s How To Spend It supplement that, “Sometimes in business it’s important to show you can sell yourself by way of your lifestyle.” His website describes him as “Investor, Entrepreneur, Visionary, Philanthropist,” with photos of an apparent property portfolio, with about half a dozen apartment buildings in Berlin, one in India and an office tower in Abu Dhabi. He claims to be a member of two exclusive London private clubs, 5 Hertford Street and Annabels, and publicly gives tips on “foie gras … roast chicken” and places where “the steaks are huge.”
Kohli has employed a large coterie of PR consultants and actively courts the media, pushing grand visions that back up this image. In a 2013 article he wrote for The Guardian, he offers advice on how to get a job in the tech industry (“Learn to code”). In 2016 he told a Forbes contributor: “The one mission that every entrepreneur has, as a person rather than as an entrepreneur, is to extend human life.” And his Tej Kohli Foundation Twitter bio brags that “We are humanitarian technologists developing solutions to major global health challenges whilst also making direct interventions that transform lives worldwide.” A press release issued in mid December boasted of more than 5,700 of the world’s poorest receiving “the gift of sight” in 2019 at Kohli’s cornea institute in Hyderabad, India.
Kohli also aspires to be validated as a billionaire. Over the past two years, his representatives have twice reached out to Forbes to try to get Kohli included on our billionaires list, the first time saying he was worth $6 billion—more than Branson or Dyson—and neither time following up with requested details of his assets. (Kohli’s attorneys now claim that “as a longstanding matter of policy,” Kohli “does not, and has never commented on his net worth,” suggesting that his representatives were pushing for his billionaire status without his authorization.)
There may be good reason for his reticence. It turns out that Kohli—who in a July press release describes himself as “a London-based billionaire who made his fortune during the dotcom boom selling e-commerce payments software”—has a complicated past. Born in New Delhi in 1958, Kohli was convicted of fraud in California in 1994 for his central role convincing homeowners to sell their homes to what turned out to be sham buyers and bilking banks out of millions of dollars in loans. For that he served five years in prison.
Kohli then turned up in Costa Rica, where he found his way into the world of online gambling during its Wild West era in the early 2000s. He ran online casinos, at least one sports betting site, and online bingo offerings, taking payments from U.S. gamblers even after U.S. laws prohibited it, according to seven former employees. He was a demanding, sometimes angry boss, according to several of these employees.
A spokesman for Kohli confirmed that he ran an online payments company, Grafix Softech, which provided services to the online gambling industry, between 1999 and 2006—and that he acquired several distressed or foreclosed online gaming businesses as a limited part of the company’s portfolio. “At no point was any such business operated in breach of the law,” Kohli’s representative said in a statement.
Though his representative claims that Kohli has had nothing to do with Grafix since 2006, Forbes found more than a dozen online posts or references (some deleted, some still live and some on Kohli’s own website) between 2010 and 2016 that identify Kohli as the chief executive or leader of Grafix Softech—including the opinion piece that Kohli wrote for The Guardian in 2013.
Even in a world of preening tycoons, this juxtaposition—the strutting thought leader who actively gives business advice while he just as actively tries to stifle or downplay any sustained look into his business past—proves eye-opening.
According to Kohli’s back story, he grew up in New Delhi, India, and he has told the British media that he’s the son of middle-class parents. Per his alumni profile for the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (about 300 miles southeast of New Delhi), Kohli completed a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1980 and developed “a deep passion for technology and ethical and sustainable innovation.”
At some point, he wound up in California, and set up a “domestic stock” business called La Zibel in downtown Los Angeles. Kohli still uses the Zibel name for his real estate operations today. By the end of the 1980s, Kohli was presenting himself as a wealthy real estate investor who purchased residential properties in southern California to resell for profit. The truth, according to U.S. District Court documents, was that from March 1989 through the early 1990s Kohli, then reportedly living in Malibu, had assembled a team of document forgers and “straw buyers” to pull off a sophisticated real estate fraud.
Kohli and his coconspirator Charles Myers (also known back then as Loren Ferrari) would buy residential properties from homeowners with a combination of cash and promissory notes using a sham entity. Kohli and Myers recruited and paid fake buyers to purchase the home in a second bogus transaction, and had other coconspirators forge documents to make the fake sale look real and inflate the sale price. Kohli and his team would then take out loans in the name of the fake buyers using fraudulent paperwork, diverting the loan proceeds to themselves. The original sellers didn’t get the money they were promised.
By 1993 the game was up. Kohli and Myers pled guilty—Kohli to ten counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy in 1994. According to court filings, Kohli and Myers took out $7.5 million in fraudulent loans from banks, pocketing $2 million, and stiffed homeowners on $4 million in promissory notes. He was sentenced to 80 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $5 million in restitution to his victims. Kohli appealed his sentence in 1997 but lost. Richard Steingard, who represented Kohli while the federal criminal case was pending, says his client was legally obligated to make his victims whole, but doesn’t believe he ever did. “To my knowledge, as his former attorney, the restitution was never paid,” says Steingard. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice said it does not comment on restitution payments. A spokesperson for Kohli had no comment on the conviction, prison sentence or restitution.
Lavkumar Barot, 67, was one of Kohli’s victims. In 1989, Barot responded to an ad in the Los Angeles Times from Argent Alliance Corp., where Kohli was the CEO, promising investors a 14% to 20% return in 6 months to a year (minimum investment: $10,000). Barot invested $100,000 and lost all of it. One check he got from Argent Alliance—for an interest payment of $1,500—bounced. He had to work six days a week to make up for the lost funds. Even today, as Kohli promises millions to others as a philanthropist, Barot hopes for some financial restitution from Kohli. Dennis Mahoney, 75, now lives in Honolulu. Mahoney, according to court documents, lost $446,800 to Kohli’s escrow scam—after he agreed to sell his house. Mahoney claims that he received no restitution from Kohli and only got $25,000 from a state fund that helped victims of escrow fraud. He lost his home in California and blames himself. “Naturally you look in the mirror and say—how stupid could I be,” he tells Forbes, “But that naivety was a good learning experience.” Talking of Kohli, he adds: “What you see isn’t always what you get.”
Chris Painter, a cybercrime expert who was an assistant United States attorney in Los Angeles in the 1990s, says he remembers trying the case and the “sophistication of the fraud … defrauding just about everyone, from the sellers of the properties to everyone in between.” Altogether Kohli and his cohorts scammed banks and homeowners out of more than $13 million, according to court filings.
Kohli’s alma mater bio says that in 1997, Kohli “plunged into entrepreneurship and established his own company Grafix Softech,” which specialized in e-commerce payments. The timing seems off—he was in prison until 1999.
Regardless, sometime before the turn of the millennium, Kohli headed south to Costa Rica and tells Forbes he “focused on payment solutions … interfaces and payment gateways.” Asked about the exact source of his wealth, Kohli chuckles. “We were at the right time in the right place,” he says.
The business empire that, he claims, made him a “billionaire” has variously been described by Kohli, in press releases and on his websites, as operating in e-commerce, online marketing and payments processing. But 12 former Kohli employees told Forbes that Grafix Softech and other businesses operating out of the San Jose, Costa Rica, offices of Grafix Softech, were actually running unregulated online casinos and at least one sports betting site that targeted American gamblers. A spokesperson for Kohli said that any suggestion that his business broke the law “would be wholly false.”
The gaming and sports book entities operated under names like Cool Cat, Cirrus, Virtual and Royal. The websites—some of which are still active (under unknown ownership)—were an online shop front for gamblers, who could place bets from the comfort of their sofa. The biggest target market, according to former employees and executives, was American gamblers.
At first, such marketing represented a gray zone of sorts. Then in 2006 a new U.S. law, The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (known as UIGEA), effectively prohibited online gambling—and put operators like Kohli on a collision course with the U.S. legal system if they continued to knowingly accept online bets from Americans. An archived Web page from 2015 for Cool Cat Casino links to a list of “country restrictions.” There the U.S. is curiously marked green for go: no restrictions for U.S. gamblers. While a “tips” page on the same site simply states: “Cool Cat Casino is the top online casino in the United States!”
Warwick Bartlett, chief executive of Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, tells Forbes that UIGEA put most Costa Rican gambling sites out of business. “Those that remained,” he adds, “had to come up with unique ways to counter banks not wanting to process credit card transactions.” Bartlett cites the British chief executive of BetonSports, David Carruthers, who according to court documents was arrested by U.S. authorities in July 2006 while en route to Costa Rica and sentenced to 33 months in prison as an example of the kind of sentences given to those who broke the law.
Kohli, however, was undeterred by the new legal restrictions, say former employees. Cynthia Paniagua tells Forbes she worked as a human resources consultant for Kohli’s Silver Arrow group between 2009 and 2010 in Costa Rica. She describes online casinos as the beating heart of Kohli’s businesses. “He had around 15 to 25 casino brands,” she says. Who would be the end beneficiary of a $10 bet—placed and lost—on a sports result back then? Paniagua is unambiguous: “To him. His accounts are tied to him.”
“Sometimes in business it’s important to show you can sell yourself by way of your lifestyle.”
Alexis Calderon worked for Silver Arrow and Tej Kohli in customer service between 2012 and 2014, transferring callers to the VIP team that, he claims, helped big money clients wager “literally millions of dollars” at a time on Kohli’s online casinos and games. Calderon says Silver Arrow used Canadian checks to pay gamblers their winnings and would instruct the clients to cash the checks “in small unions that don’t ask questions.”
Another former employee tells Forbes that after the law change in 2006, Kohli “doubled down … because he figured everyone was getting out of the market.” The source adds, “All his competitors were fleeing because regulation hit in, and he was like—great. Like picking money off the ground. It’s gonna be a lot easier now.”
New Zealander Mike Miller was brought in as consulting CEO of BetRoyal (also known as Royal), Kohli’s sportsbook, for ten months between 2006 and 2007. Miller describes Kohli courting him before he decided to join, flying him in business class to London for the interview and putting him up in a five-star hotel. But Miller later soured on Kohli. “He had a slightly flawed view of the online gambling world,” Miller says. “He felt that when anyone deposited money to any of his businesses—and there were 50-80 of them—that money was his.”
Kohli’s sites also failed to pay out winnings in a timely manner, according to four former employees and gambling industry review websites. His Virtual Casino group received industry ratings site Casinomeister’s “Worst Casino Group” award at least three times—in 2002, 2007 and 2008—for slow-payment issues. Bryan Bailey, founder of Casinomeister, wrote in 2007 that the award was given because of its “habitual stalling of player payments” and its unpleasant sounding “September 11th Twin Tower bonus.” One staffer who worked for Kohli from 2008 to 2010 in Costa Rica was tasked with customer service, which included handling complaints about the slow payment of winnings. She tells Forbes that when people called, chasing their winnings, “I did the best I could to help people, but … it was just no, no, no with no reason.”
As an entrepreneur, Kohli was passionate about his reputation in the industry. In 2005, news broke that John Walker, who worked in Costa Rica as the founder of gambling news site Sportsbook Review, was allegedly threatened over an article naming Kohli as the new owner of a sportsbook called Royal Sports. According to Walker, Kohli was angry because “his reputation was so bad for not paying people … he didn’t want people to know he was buying Royal.” Walker says he took the article down from the Sportsbook Review website because he was intimidated by people who appeared to work on behalf of Kohli.
At their peak, Kohli’s casino operations netted at least $1 million a month, say former employees. Under the name Navtej Kohli, he was a director of a Panama-based shell company, Wisol International, which is tied to 642 domain names, many of which are online gambling sites—at least six of which are still live today.
Kohli’s San Jose Costa Rica office, which employed around 100 people, was not a nice place to work, say several former employees.
“There was quite a culture of intimidation. People were afraid of Kohli,” says one former staffer. A high-ranking employee from the early days in San Jose told Forbes, “He had a temper on him that could melt down the office. It was hard. His joy was in making grown men cry … break them down till they were on their knees begging for forgiveness.”
Kohli seemed to have mellowed over time. One long-term employee who worked at Silver Arrow after 2007 never saw anyone receive any physical aggression. This person describes Kohli as often “verbally abusive” but “not to employees, to managers.”
“Show me an opportunity with global potential and I will create an empire.”
A spokesperson for Kohli says, “Like any successful businessman Mr. Kohli is from time to time confronted by false claims from disgruntled ex-employees and competitors. Any suggestion of wrongdoing by Mr. Kohli in any business or other matter are rejected absolutely.”
Kohli’s gambling business in Costa Rica was shuttered in 2016, according to former employees, who were laid off. While some of the executives helped build another business in Prague around 2016 (Kohli does not appear to be involved), Kohli emerged on the social and philanthropy scene in London in a very public way.
Positive clips began with random biographies on the likes of IMDB around 2011 and progressed to more of the same and listicles on little-known publications like The Start-Up Magazine. Kohli then began to appear in laudatory articles on the pages of The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Inc.magazine’s website and the Financial Times.
A couple of admiring articles even appeared on the Forbes website. In 2014, a contributor named Drew Hendricks published a post entitled “Top 15 Entrepreneurs Who Give Back To The Community” on Forbes.com, listing Kohli at number two, right behind social media billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. Kohli makes special note of the Forbes article on his biographical page tied to his alma mater. (Hendricks was removed from the Forbes platform for violating editorial standards, and this article was removed from Forbes.com.) Another favorable article, from a different former contributor, remains online.
Based on the available financial information, Forbes estimates Kohli’s net worth to be in the hundreds of millions, not billions. The only U.K. company in his name is a dormant entity called Osac Management with just $129 (£100) on the books as of November 2018. Forbes values Kohli’s personal property in Henley-on-Thames at $8 million based on an estate agent estimate and similar listings in the surrounding area.
It’s very likely that Kohli earned most of his fortune amid the cash-rich gambling business in Costa Rica. Former HR consultant Paniagua told Forbes that while she worked there in 2009 and 2010, Kohli “would clear a couple of million a month. Free and clear. After he paid his houses, after he paid his cars, after he paid his lifestyle–net, net.” One former employee sent Forbes an Excel file with purported financial info for all of Kohli’s casinos for the month of October 2006; the profit for the month: $1.06 million.
“The one mission that every entrepreneur has, as a person rather than as an entrepreneur, is to extend human life.”
Kohli’s wealth has since spread around the globe. In India, where he has a solar panel startup, the government undertook a tax investigation regarding the startup and earlier this year found $21.6 million in assets in a multifamily office tied to Kohli as of December 2016, $20.9 million of which was classified as “long-term loans and advances.” A representative for Kohli did not comment on this matter.
In June, Kohli issued a press release saying he’d invested $100 million into an entity called Rewired, “a robotics-focused venture studio with a humanitarian bent.” Forbes was not able to confirm whether $100 million was really invested. One company mentioned was Open Bionics, a startup creating artificial limbs in Bristol, U.K, endorsed online by Star Wars star Mark Hamill. Open Bionics did not reply to repeated requests for comment. Forbes confirmed that Rewired invested in Aromyx–a Silicon Valley firm involved in producing bio-based scents for use in various consumer products (the dollar amount invested was not disclosed), and that Rewired was a backer of a $3.5 million seed investment round in U.K. firm Seldon, a machine-learning platform for sharing data.
And those nine properties, including the Berlin apartment complexes, listed on Kohli’s website? It’s unclear whether Kohli owns all of them or just a portion. A spokesperson for Kohli says his investments “have lain in real estate.”
This wide array of seemingly legitimate projects offer a way for Kohli to invent an image that belies his past as a con man, a casino boss and convict. That bothers his previous victims—the ones reached by Forbes are still out money. (Forbes could not confirm, with Kohli or elsewhere, whether Kohli paid his $5 million in restitution, and if he did, who got it.) It doesn’t seem to bother Kohli. “Show me an opportunity with global potential and I will create an empire,” Kohli boasts in his online bio for his alma mater. He already created an empire—just not the kind he wants people to believe in.
I am a wealth reporter at Forbes, based in London covering the business of billionaires, philanthropy, investing, tax, technology and lifestyle. I studied at Goldsmiths, University of London and joined from Spear’s Magazine, where I covered everything from the Westminster bubble to world of wealth management, private banking, divorce law, alternative assets, tax, tech and succession. Notable bylines include an investigation into Switzerland’s bi-lateral bonds to the European Union, and a journey through Bhutan – testing the hunger for democracy, and the love for their King. I joined Forbes in May 2019.
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