Isabel dos Santos amassed an empire worth more than $2 billion as the daughter of Angola’s former longtime president. Now it looks like that empire is beginning to crumble.
On Wednesday—as the Attorney General of Angola held a press conference to provisionally charge Isabel dos Santos with embezzlement and money laundering, according to the BBC—a bank in Portugal where she has been a significant shareholder issued a statement saying that Dos Santos’ stake is being sold.
EuroBic, a small privately held bank in Lisbon in which Dos Santos has owned a 42.5% stake, issued a statement on Monday that it was severing its business relationship with Dos Santos and the entities related to her. On Wednesday EuroBic announced that Dos Santos had decided to sell her stake in the bank, which has about $8 billion in assets. Forbes recently valued Dos Santos’ 42.5% stake at around $200 million.
Dos Santos has come under intense scrutiny this past week after a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian, published articles based on the “Luanda Leaks”—a cache of some 700,000 documents related to Dos Santos’ allegedly corrupt business dealings that were released to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Dos Santos was appointed to head Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol, in 2016, when her father was still president of the country. (He retired in 2017 after ruling Angola for 38 years.)
According to an article inThe Guardian, while Dos Santos was heading up Sonangol, she allegedly arranged for a transfer of $57 million on one day in November 2017 from Sonangol’s bank account to a Dubai company, Matter Business Solutions, run by Paula Oliveira, a woman who The Guardian says is apparently a close friend of Dos Santos’.
It turns out that the Sonangol bank account from which the funds were transferred was a EuroBic account. In its statement severing ties with Dos Santos, EuroBic also said that the payments ordered by Sonangol to Matter Business Solutions “respected the legal and regulatory procedures formally applicable . . . between this bank and Sonangol, namely those related to the prevention of money laundering.”
The BBC is reporting that an employee of EuroBic who managed the Sonangol account, Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, 45, was found dead in Lisbon on Wednesday. A police source told the BBC that “everything points to suicide.”
Dos Santos issued a statement on Thursday saying, “The allegations which have been made against me over the last few days are extremely misleading and untrue,” and adding that “I am a private businesswoman who has spent 20 years building successful companies from the ground up,” and that “I have always operated within the law and all my transactions have been approved by lawyers, bankers, auditors and regulators.”
I’m a San Francisco-based Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on wealth. I edit mostly, but also write about how the richest get wealthy and how they spend their time and their money. My colleague Luisa Kroll at Forbes in New York and I oversee the massive reporting effort that goes into Forbes’ annual World’s Billionaires List and the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. The former gets me to use my rusty Spanish and Portuguese. In 2014, I won an Overseas Press Club award for an article I wrote about Saudi Arabian billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal; I also won a Gerald Loeb Award with co-author Rafael Marques de Morais for an article we wrote about Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angola’s President. Over 20 years my Forbes reporting has taken me to 17 countries on four continents, from the slums of Manila to palaces in Saudi Arabia and Mexico’s presidential residence. Follow me on Twitter @KerryDolan My email: kdolan[at]forbes[dot] com Tips and story ideas welcome.
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.
… a scalable, accessible and affordable technology solution to end corneal blindness worldwide. VIDEO: Wendy & Tej Kohli Discuss The Mission And Purpose Of The Tej Kohli Foundation https://www.businesswire.com/news/hom…
The word entrepreneur is used so often in so many different contexts these days that pinning it down is virtually impossible. Everyone has their own definition, and the one you adopt—or unconsciously accept—can determine your aspirations, dictate your behavior, and in some instances cause you to underperform or fail outright. It’s a classic self-fulfilling prophecy—you’re likely to get what you expect to get.
Among the many definitions of entrepreneur, six currently dominate the popular press, the how-to literature and business education—and loom large in the popular imagination. Each definition, in its own way, can be both empowering and pernicious. Here’s what to look out for:
The Noble Founder. This would appear to be the simplest definition of all: if you start a business, you’re an entrepreneur, regardless of whether it succeeds. Today, there are over 16 million people attempting to start over nine million businesses in the U.S. But even this apparently simple definition brings with it some significant psychological baggage. People who associate themselves with this definition often feel a deep sense of pride in their willingness to even try to start a business. But that understandable pride in taking on the struggle can also mean a too easy acceptance of poor results. Inside the noble founder lurks the noble failure.
The Self-Made Success. Some definitions bestow the title of entrepreneur only upon people who have started a successful business, or at least one from which they earn a decent living. People who see themselves this way can feel a bit proprietary about the definition. To them, everyone who is struggling to make a living is merely an “aspiring” entrepreneur.
Only 30 to 40 percent of startups ever achieve profitability. In the world of Silicon Valley high-risk startups, the chances of reaching profitability plummet to less than one in a hundred. The self-identity of people who feel success is an essential part of what it means to be an entrepreneur are proud of the self-sufficiency they achieve or at least seek. They are more likely than noble founders to keep their eye on the bottom line, but they also can be overly fearful of risk and can underperform in terms of innovation.
The Entrepreneur by Temperament. In this view, entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It can apply equally to people starting a business or people working in corporate settings. It’s all about mindset: such people “make things happen,” “push the envelope,” or refuse to stop until they get what they want. It is the broadest of definitions. In fact, Ludwig Von Mises, a member of the Austrian school of economics, theorized that since we all subconsciously assess the risks of our actions relative to the rewards we expect to receive, we are all entrepreneurs. Because this definition applies to everyone, anyone can delude themselves into believing they are an entrepreneur. You don’t even have to start a business. You just have to behave a certain way, let the chips fall where they may.
The Opportunist Par Excellence. For at least a century, entrepreneurs have described themselves as having the ability (a skill, not a state of mind) to “smell the money.” There are indeed many entrepreneurs who proudly identify their ability to spot money-making opportunities. But it wasn’t until the economist Israel Kirzner, in the mid-1970s, described the core of entrepreneurship as opportunity identification that academics began to study it as a process and a skill. Entrepreneurial education today is often targeted at teaching opportunity identification skills.
What is interesting is that there is no strong evidence, after several different studies, that entrepreneurial education actually results in students or attendees having a significantly higher chance of reaching profitability. Perhaps opportunity-spotters can overextend themselves by doing multiple startups or product launches simultaneously, a problem that can be compounded by a lack of synergy among these disparate efforts.
The Risk-taker: Frank Knight, one of the founders of the highly influential Chicago school of economics, drew an illuminating distinction between risk and uncertainty. With risk you can predict the probability of various unknown outcomes of business decisions. With uncertainty you not only don’t know the outcomes but also you don’t know the probability of any particular outcome occurring. In other words, risk can be managed, but uncertainty is uncontrollable. Knight argued that opportunities for profit come only from situations of uncertainty.
To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must therefore seek out uncertainty. Today, few entrepreneurs know of Knight’s thesis, but many nonetheless proudly describe themselves as “risk-takers.” This identity can lead to taking on more risk than necessary, especially when you see all risk as good and see yourself as an adventurer into the unknown. You would be better advised to think of your adventures as a series of small calculated experiments that turn the greatest uncertainties into knowable risks.
The Innovator: Joseph Schumpeter’s description of entrepreneurs as innovators who participate in the creative destruction that constantly destroys old economic arrangements and replaces them with new ones has appealed to many observers, including economists. That concept is often naively married to Clay Christensen’s notion of disruptive innovation of industries and markets.
See, for example, Zero to One by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel. This fetishizing of disruption has led many entrepreneurs to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever they want to do, no matter the effects it might have on society like creating a “gig economy” of low-paid workers. Seeing yourself as an innovator and regarding innovation as an unquestioned good is arguably one of the most dangerous definitions of all because it simultaneously encourages great boldness and justifies equally great moral blindness. It also results in passing over opportunities to create valuable and socially beneficial businesses that were less than truly disruptive.
All of these definitions of entrepreneur are self-limiting. How you define yourself as an entrepreneur also defines what actions you’ll take to view yourself as deserving of the title. But the only two things academics have ever been able to show conclusively correlate to entrepreneurial success (measured generally) are years of schooling and implicit, core motivations that align with feeling good about getting things done (known as “need for accomplishment”). Pinning your identity to any of the current definitions of entrepreneur will only set you back.
I am a successful entrepreneur who researches and teaches entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, at Princeton University. My two bestselling books on entrepreneurship, “Building on Bedrock: What Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Other Great Self-Made Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us About Building Valuable Companies” (2018) and “Startup Leadership” (2014) focus on what it really takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and the leadership skills required to grow a company. Prior to joining the Princeton faculty, I was founder and CEO of iSuppli, which sold to IHS in 2010 for more than $100 million. Previously, I was CEO of global semiconductor company International Rectifier. I have developed patents and value chain applications that have improved companies as diverse as Sony, Samsung, Philips, Goldman Sachs and IBM, and my perspective is frequently sought by the media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nikkei, Reuters and Taipei Times.
When we help youth to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, we empower them to be successful in our rapidly changing world. Whether they own a business or work for someone else, young adults need the skills and confidence to identify opportunities, solve problems and sell their ideas. This skillset can be encouraged and developed in elementary schools, with the immediate benefit of increased success in school. In this talk, Bill Roche shares stories of students that have created their own real business ventures with PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs. He illustrates the power of enabling students to take charge of their learning with freedom to make mistakes, and challenging them to actively develop entrepreneurial skills. Bill also showcases the achievements of specific students and shares how a transformative experience for one student has been a source of inspiration for him over the years. Bill Roche specializes in designing curriculum-based resource packages related to entrepreneurship, financial literacy and social responsibility. Bill worked directly in Langley classrooms for over ten years and now supports teachers throughout the country in creating real-world learning experiences for their students. Over 40,000 students have participated in his PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs program. The program’s impact has been captured in a documentary scheduled for release early in 2018. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx
Ray Reddy has raised millions of dollars in startup funds, sold a company to Google and is taking on the local business gauntlet in an innovative new way. Yet, he chose to exit Google and Silicon Valley to launch his latest venture.
In his exclusive interview on the DealMakers Podcast, Ray Reddy shared the pros and cons of the valley and his fundraising strategies.
The Art of Business
Always curious, Ray wondered if business was like math and science. He attended the University of Waterloo to study computer science, then a Masters of Business and Entrepreneurship and Technology.
He says he learned some good foundational principles, how to approach complicated problems, and how to learn quickly. Yet, when entering the business world he found that very little of what he learned had any practical knowledge of applicability. He says “it’s much more about common sense and experience than it is about definitive approaches and how to solve some of these problems.”
After school he went straight into corporate strategy at BlackBerry, doing M&A and venture investments. Yet, he has always not only had a lifelong craving for learning, but a passion for building something and building something that he found had a purpose.
What Google Gets about M&A
The mobile phone was starting to consume other portable electronics. It quickly began to absorb portable navigation, portable GPS, handheld units, and portable media players. Yet, no one seemed to be addressing it. Ray Reddy decided to go solve it himself and built a team of people to go after it.
That startup became PushLife.
Prior to the iPhone, they focused on building an experience that made it very easy for people to move content back and forth between their phone and their computers, specifically music. It took normal phones, and it gave them an iPod-like experience on Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia. PushLife ended up licensing software to major carriers.
It was so successful it was acquired by Google. After the acquisition, he was at Google for four years. First in the Canadian Google office in Waterloo. Then out in Mountain View at Google‘s headquarters.
He ended up running the mobile commerce team for one of their products. Then towards the end, Ray was actually part of the launch team for Google Shopping Express, which was their same-day delivery effort in retail.
The difference with companies like Google, according to Ray, is that they do hundreds of acquisitions a year. They really turn it into a mass production factory. It’s very organized. There are no games. They are very straight-up. From Ray‘s perspective, it doesn’t feel like anyone is trying to overly optimize a negotiation. It makes a lot of sense because the transaction is the beginning of the relationship.
Ray‘s opinion is that Google‘s M&A process is designed in a way to get a group of people that are energized and that deliver a lot of value over the upcoming years. Contrast that with some other acquisition approaches and the result is quite different.
Eventually, Ray found a big new problem to solve. He ultimately concluded that structurally, a big company wasn’t set up to solve this problem, even with all the resources a company like Google has.
Toronto vs. The Valley
Ray moved his founding team to Toronto. Not that the Valley isn’t a really interesting place. He says “On one hand, it is the capital of technology worldwide, but I think there’s also some really weird dynamics there.” The biggest one being that you’ve got a very high concentration of very wealthy people, and they’re all early adopters.
He points to the collapse of the entire on-demand space, everything from on-demand valets to cleaning services several years ago, and a massive false-positive from the Valley.
Because when you have places like Palo Alto where average household incomes are north of $2 million, you can fool yourself into thinking that there are enough people who will pay a big premium for convenience.
As Ray states, “the types of investors living in the Valley are not at all sensitive to paying a $10 delivery fee for having a $10 item brought to them.“ That doesn’t seem weird to them. When you look across average neighborhoods and cities in North America, that’s not necessarily true. You lose sight of that in the Valley. You lose sight of the average person.
Ray says “So, if you’re trying to build a mass market consumer product, you just have to be very careful of false-positives that can come from something working in the Valley“
Then the team went and looked at the reality of building talent there, and hiring, and cost, and a lot of those other things. They decided to move to Toronto instead.
Ray’s latest startup is Ritual which is a social ordering app that taps into networks of co-workers and colleagues for fast and easy pick-up and pay at a wide variety of local restaurants and coffee shops.
He has already raised $120 million in capital. Greylock led the Series A out of the Valley. Insight did the Series B out of New York. Georgian Partners led the C round out of Toronto.
Rather than waiting until funds are imminently needed to close a round, he says “I think about it differently which is you should always be talking to investors. Always having an ongoing conversation with investors.”
He’s always talking to the next stage of investors and trying to build that relationship. Fundraising comes down to trust, and do they trust your judgment? Do they trust that you can do what you say you’re going to do?
For Ritual, it’s never been about the investor that gives the highest valuation. It has been about who do you want to work with and who do you want to build this company with and spend time with.
He’s had a relationship with each one of those investors for about 9 to 12 months before the round. When it came time for fundraising, it was a no-brainer each time.
Today Ritual has a team of about 300 people globally.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
The process of selling your company to Google
Benefits of launching in cities outside of Silicon Valley
Ways to build relationships with investors
Success factors behind marketplaces
Retention as the critical factor for ultimate success in business
Alejandro Cremades is a serial entrepreneur and author of best-seller The Art of Startup Fundraising, a book that offers a step-by-step guide to today‘s way of raising money for entrepreneurs.
Mark Zuckerberg has had plenty of difficult days in the past year, but this past week was a good one for him. The Facebook CEO’s net worth jumped $5.5 billion in the week through Thursday April 25, mostly due to investor glee about the $2.4 billion in first quarter profit that the social media firm reported on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old is worth $71.3 billion, $20 billion more than at the beginning of 2019. He is now the 5th richest person in the world, up from No. 8 in March when Forbes published the annual world’s billionaires list. The positive quarterly earnings report overshadowed news that Facebook is setting aside as much as $5 billion to pay a fine to the Federal Trade Commission over privacy issues.
Zuckerberg’s gain was by far the biggest of the week, but he is in good company. The fortunes of Zuckerberg and four other tech billionaires, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, rose by a collective $13 billion in seven days.
A day after Facebook released its first-quarter earnings report, Amazon announced a quarterly profit of $3.6 billion, an all-time record for the e-commerce giant. Amazon’s share price rose 2.2% in the week through Thursday, causing Bezos’ net worth to surge by $3.2 billion. The 55-year-old CEO, who owns a 16% stake in Amazon, is now worth $157.8 billion.
Bezos announced earlier this month that he will transfer approximately 4% of the company’s stock to his wife, MacKenzie, as part of their divorce settlement, which is expected to be completed around early July. Jeff Bezos would still be the world’s richest person while MacKenzie will become the third-richest woman.
The net worth of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s former CEO, rose $1.7 billion in the week through Thursday as the software giant’s share price increased by 4.7%. Microsoft smashed earnings estimates with a quarterly revenue of $30.6 billion, boosted by its commercial cloud business, which has grown 41% year-over-year. Ballmer, Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder, is now worth $48.3 billion. Cofounder and former CEO Bill Gates only owns just over 1% of shares, having sold or given away most of his stake in Microsoft, but the stock uptick did bump his net worth by $600 million.
Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, is now worth $40 billion after gaining $1.4 billion in a week due to a 6.6% stock uptick. Last December, the computer maker returned to the public market six years after Dell took the company private. Dell Technologies’ market capitalization was $46.7 billion as of end of day Thursday, up from its $34 billion listing. Dell’s net worth has nearly doubled over the past 12 months.
Larry Page, the cofounder of Google and CEO of its parent company Alphabet, got $1.1 billion richer, with an estimated fortune of $57.6 billion. Shares of Alphabet, which will report its first-quarter earnings after the closing bell on Monday, have increased 2.2% since last Thursday. It has been a busy week for Alphabet’s “Other Bets.” Wing, which became an independent Alphabet business last summer, recently got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deliver goods by drone. Wing plans to start drone deliveries in Blacksburg, Virginia, later this year. Loon, which uses high-altitude balloons to provide internet access to remote areas, raised $125 million from a SoftBank subsidiary on Thursday.
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