When Adrian Cheng looks across Hong Kong’s harbor from Tsim Sha Tsui, he sees his family’s legacy writ large across the city’s skyline. There, from a balcony atop the new luxury apartment building of his Victoria Dockside development, he can view the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on the opposite side of the harbor.
With its curved glass and massive sloping roof, the convention center is said to resemble a bird taking flight. His grandfather Cheng Yu-tung, founder of the family’s flagship property firm New World Development, came up with the ambitious plan for the building, which included a manmade island, back in the early 1980s when the market was in a slump and other developers had no interest. Undeterred, Yu-tung turned the convention center into a Hong Kong icon, showcasing New World’s capabilities. Yu-tung reportedly once said the convention center was one of the two projects of which he was most proud.
And the other project? It was the New World Centre, a mixed-use complex that was demolished about a decade ago to allow the development of Victoria Dockside. Cheng has overseen this project from the start, building on the site of his grandfather’s former landmark, as part of a wider strategy to develop his K11 brand.
“I’m not inheriting a 50-year-old family business and trying to preserve it and hold it tight. That’s not me,” Cheng says. “I’m disrupting it and rejuvenating it to create a new business model.” While Cheng’s father, Henry Cheng Kar-shun, continues to serve as New World’s chairman, his eldest son is executive vice-chairman and general manager, a position he has held since 2017.
As with the convention center, the $2.6 billion project was risky. The launching of Victoria Dockside, which has opened in stages from 2018, comes as Hong Kong suffers its worst downturn in a decade. Hit by months of protests and the U.S.-China trade war, Hong Kong’s third quarter GDP contracted 3.2% from the previous quarter, after retreating 0.4% in the second quarter—its first recession since the global financial crisis in 2009.
Victoria Dockside was a gamble in another way. Cheng could have taken the safe route, choosing a conservative design. Instead, Cheng endorsed an innovative design expressing the ideals of his K11 brand, which he created and has refined since 2009. This complex is the biggest and most elaborate expression of the brand. The 65-story office tower is called K11 Atelier, the luxury apartments K11 Artus and the shopping mall with art galleries K11 Musea. The only major non-K11 brand in the complex is Rosewood Hong Kong, part of a luxury hotel chain that the family also owns.
K11 is a novel concept—blending “art, people and nature.” It is meant to fuse together elements of artistic, cultural and environmental design in public and private spaces. “I don’t see [K11 Musea] as a shopping mall, but as a place for millennials to learn, acquire knowledge and be immersed in different cultures.”
To fulfill his vision, he hired 100 designers, architects and artists from around the world, each overseeing a different part of the complex, even utilitarian areas such as the carpark. Coordinating it all was New York’s Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, one of the world’s leading architectural firms.
One striking example of K11’s brand DNA is the atrium of K11 Musea, which soars eight stories and features twin circular skylights and a geodesic sphere measuring 10.4 meters in diameter suspended over the space whose interior is reserved for performances or exhibitions.
Cheng’s gamble is showing early signs of paying off: even as Hong Kong’s economy contracted, K11 Musea opened last August with 97% occupancy and K11 Atelier has around 80% occupancy at rental rates above HK$100 per square foot ($13)—33% above the average rent for grade-A office space. The complex has won multiple awards—even one for its carpark, which features graffiti by Cara To, a Belgian artist born to Hong Kong parents.
“Our slogan for New World Development is we create, we are artisans,” Cheng says. “I want everyone to believe that they are a creator, that they can innovate and create things.” Victoria Dockside’s tenants include Cartier and Gucci, and several brands new to Hong Kong such as Fortnum & Mason’s first store outside the U.K., a Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and a Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry school (only the second such school in the world).
Cheng, 40 and an avid art collector, first tested K11 in Hong Kong in 2009 with a six-story “art mall” in Kowloon’s Masterpiece building, a joint venture between New World and Hong Kong’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. He then developed K11 projects in mainland China—Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Tianjin and Wuhan—all of which combine commerce with art. He plans to keep expanding the K11 brand, with plans for a total 36 projects opened across China by 2024. He also runs the nonprofit K11 art foundation and the for-profit K11 Investment fund.
“The hardest thing I think is the tenacity and the perseverance of testing that product for the first few years, and believing that it would work, not blindly or egotistically, but knowing it would take time,” Cheng says of his vision for K11.
To further his interest in art, Cheng has taken high-level roles at some of the world’s leading art institutions, including being a board member of New York’s Museum of Modern Art PS1 and a trustee of London’s Royal Academy of Arts. He likes to pepper his social media with posts about art.
On the business side, Cheng also runs two private investment ventures from Hong Kong. The first is C Ventures, which he runs with Clive Ng, a veteran entrepreneur and investor in media and internet companies in Asia.
C Ventures has investments in about 20 fashion, media and lifestyle startups. Among them is Golong, a Hangzhou-based site selling cosmetics from trendy brands such as British brand Man Cave and Korean brand SNP. The company claims to be valued after its latest financing round at over $300 million. The K11 Investment fund invests in tech firms in areas such as AI, virtual reality and big data.
Beyond making money on the investments, Cheng sees these funds as a way to stay on top of quickly evolving tastes and technology, especially among China’s younger generation. “The paradigm shifts very fast,” says Cheng. “We’re looking at the consumer habits of millennials and Generation Z.”
Looking beyond K11 and Victoria Dockside, Cheng is continuing to expand New World through other real estate projects. Two of New World’s biggest projects under way are the HK$20 billion Skycity and the HK$30 billion Kai Tak Sports Park. The first will cover 25 hectares, and when fully completed in 2027, will be one of the largest mixed-use complexes in Hong Kong. The Kai Tak Sports Park, meanwhile, will be on the site of the former Kai Tak airport. The complex will be home to a 50,000-seat main stadium, a 10,000-seat indoor sports center, a 5,000-seat public sports ground and other facilities, and is slated for completion in 2023.
Over the next five years, New World would like to more than triple its portfolio of investment properties in Hong Kong, from 2.3 million square feet to 9.8 million. In mainland China, the company’s rental portfolio is expected to grow from 0.2 million square meters to 1.3 million. The company, he says, wants to reposition itself to focus on China’s “greater bay area”—an area within about a 100km radius around Hong Kong that China would like to develop into an integrated megalopolis, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai.
Demonstrating China’s importance to New World, the family privatized its formerly listed New World China Land in 2016 so it could have more direct control over its mainland strategy. More than 50% of its China landbank is now located in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
All this expansion comes at a cost. Among Hong Kong’s big developers, New World has one of the higher ratios of debt to equity, at 32% in 2019 compared with the previous year’s 29%. Yet Cheng is confident that New World can handle the debt load. For the fiscal year ended in June, the company’s revenues—generated through a mix of property sales and its rental business—rose 26% to HK$77 billion, while underlying profit was up 10% to HK$8.8 billion.
In December 2018, New World diversified its business further when it bought FTLife Insurance for HK$22 billion through its infrastructure subsidiary NWS Holdings. The acquisition was aimed at expanding the firm’s life and medical insurance business after it launched in the same year Humansa, a Hong Kong-based healthcare service for the elderly in the greater bay area.
To help with the need for more affordable housing in Hong Kong, New World announced last September that it would donate around 20% of its agricultural landbank, some 280,000 square meters, to the government, where it will construct over 100 apartments for low-income families by 2022. Explaining this act of generosity, Cheng says: “What I learned from my father and my grandfather is that you need to have a very big heart.”
I’m a senior editor based in Hong Kong. I’ve been reporting on Asia’s wealthiest people for Forbes and Bloomberg for about a decade. Previously, I worked with British diplomats at the consulate general in Hong Kong. Any tips, please contact me at email@example.com
May.08 — Adrian Cheng, executive vice chairman at New World Development, discusses how the U.S.-China trade negotiations are impacting investor confidence in real estate, the property market in Hong Kong, his current projects, priorities in China, China’s property market and Chinese consumption trends. He speaks exclusively on “Bloomberg Markets: Asia” from the sidelines of the JPMorgan Global China Summit in Beijing.
This has certainly been the case in my journey as a founder. We started a smart home company (in 2013) when everyone said we were crazy. We saw the vision and moved toward it in the face of uncertainty and risk.
When I was starting, I identified other leaders who were making bold decisions. It helped to feel like I was not alone along the path. I followed entrepreneurs accomplished their goals, and other young leaders blazing a new trail. I recently encountered an inspiring story that demonstrates just how bold we can be.
Ugwem Eneyo is the co-founder and CEO of Shyft Power Solutions, an energy technology company that’s working to enable an energy revolution for underserved consumers in emerging markets. Eneyo, a graduate student at Stanford University, and a member of Forbes 30 under 30, has secured more than $1 million in funding from investors and participated in the 2019 Ameren Accelerator program. GreenBiz named her a 2019 VERGE Vanguard honoree to recognize her dedication to helping advance Nigeria’s energy infrastructure.
Personally, I feel inspired by Eneyo’s bold ambitions to create solutions in an emerging market with a nascent entrepreneurial system – especially in an industry as demanding as energy. I interviewed her to learn more about her role in energy, Shyft’s path to raising money and how accelerators can be a beneficial platform for entrepreneur success.
1. How did you get interested in energy technology?
Ugwem Eneyo: My family is from the Niger Delta, a region that suffered negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts as a result of the extractive industries. After directly seeing the challenges and how they affected my family and communities in the region, I became keenly interested in the nexus of energy, environment and development.
I actually spent years working as an environmental and regulatory advisor in the oil and gas sector, trying to mitigate the impacts and drive change from within the organizations. I eventually left to pursue my M.S. and Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, still focused on the theme. Shyft Power Solutions is a byproduct of my work at Stanford.
2. How was your experience in your industry different as a Nigerian-American?
Eneyo: There’s an increasing interest within the industry around solving energy challenges in Nigeria and, more broadly, emerging markets. The local knowledge is often an overlooked critical asset in doing so.
My previous work in the industry, and in emerging markets, shows that it’s often non-technical issues that cause projects to be delayed or fail. The intimate local knowledge allows for an understanding of people’s values, culture and thought processes, and that can better inform how we solve problems and how we deliver solutions. This has certainly been the case with Shyft Power Solutions.
3. What approach did you take when raising money for your business?
Eneyo: In the early stage, I leveraged grants and non-dilutive capital, given the longer and more capital-intensive development timeline for building industrial-grade hardware. We also raised traditional venture capital, as well as funding from strategic corporate investors.
The corporate venture capitalists played a key role in our fundraising strategy, as they often had more market knowledge and connections, which complemented the primarily U.S.-based traditional venture capital. And Shyft Power Solutions received $100,000 in seed capital through our participation in the Ameren Accelerator this year.
4. How did your experience with the 2019 Ameren Accelerator program advance/benefit your business? What’s your relationship with Ameren and the accelerator now that the program has ended?
Eneyo: The Ameren Accelerator, alongside the Ameren employees who served on champion teams as mentors, provided important technical and business development expertise that offered valuable and unique insight into how Shyft’s platform can add value to utilities at scale. Part of our longer-term planning required Shyft to have better insight into utilities, and we were able to leverage Ameren in the process.
Although the accelerator has ended, my team and I have remained in contact with many of our technical champions, who still provide advice and references. Additionally, the accelerator program team has remained supportive, still introducing us to valuable startup resources.
5. How do you see the energy technology industry changing? What changes would you like to make?
Eneyo: In emerging markets, there will be a leapfrog over traditional central energy infrastructures; instead, we will see digitization and decentralization of energy infrastructure that may work alongside whatever central grid is available. The flexible and intelligent use of distributed energy resources will be necessary to make this possible, and Shyft is developing the technology to do so.
I want to see clean, reliable, and affordable energy for all — urban and rural — and want to see energy demands being met by rapidly growing emerging markets. I’m excited to be leading an organization that’s at the forefront of this energy transition in markets like Nigeria.
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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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
Plenty of entrepreneurs adhere to the mantra of “hire slow, fire fast” and for good reason. Then there’s Melanie Perkins, the co-founder and CEO of Sydney-based design software company Canva. She spent a year trying to find her first technical hire.
While Perkins didn’t intend to spend so much time filling her first engineering position, looking back on it now, she wouldn’t have done it any other way. The year-long quest informed how she’s made every other hire since. And it’s hard to argue with the results: With 700 employees, Canva is a hiring machine, and it’s been doubling in size every year.
In an industry that sees engineers switch jobs with frightening speed, many of Canva’s early technical hires are still with the company. While Canva won’t discuss revenue, Perkins, the company’s co-founder and CEO, says the company has been profitable since 2017. Canva has 20 million monthly users in 190 countries. In October, Canva announced an $85 million investment, with a valuation of $3.2 billion.
This is going to be bigger than yearbooks
When Perkins started the predecessor company to Canva in 2007, she was just 19. She was frustrated by how hard it was to use design software. When she started teaching design at university, she noticed that her students were similarly frustrated. With her boyfriend (now fiance), Cliff Obrecht, she built a website called Fusion Books that helped students design and publish yearbooks.
It did well–becoming the largest yearbook company in Australia and moving into France and New Zealand. Perkins quit university to work on it full-time. By 2011, Perkins and Obrecht realized Fusion Books could be much more: an engine to make it easy for anyone to design any publication. But to build that more ambitious product, they’d need outside investment.
Perkins headed to San Francisco to visit angel investor Bill Tai, who is known for making about 100 investments in startups that have yielded 19 initial public offerings. She’d met him in Perth a year earlier, where she had collected an award for innovation. “If you come to California, come see me,” he remembers telling her. “Without me knowing exactly what she was doing, she engineered a trip. She’s a very ballsy woman, if that makes sense. And I’m thinking, you know, I should help her. I know hundreds of engineers.”
Early in her San Francisco visit, Tai introduced her to Lars Rasmussen, the co-founder of the company that became Google Maps. Tai told her that if she could hire a tech team that met Rasmussen’s standards, he’d invest. “I didn’t realize at the time what that meant,” says Perkins. She bought an Ikea mattress, and planted it on the floor of her brother’s San Francisco apartment. “Obviously, that was free rent,” she says. “I had food to get by and I felt safe.”
Perkins set out initially to hire by doing the obvious: She went to every single conference she could get into. She’d speak if the organizers let her. Tai invited her to his MaiTai Global networking event in Hawaii, even though, for most attendees, a big draw was kitesurfing, which she’d never attempted. “It was great fun,” she says gamely. Then, “I really don’t like it. I have the scars to prove it. I’ve … retired from kitesurfing.”
Back in San Francisco, Perkins passed out flyers, trying to pique people’s interest. She cold-called engineers, and approached suspects on buses. She scoured LinkedIn, but Rasmussen wouldn’t even deign to meet most of her finds. “He didn’t think they had enough startup gumption or experience with a world-scale company, or with complex technology,” she said. She says fewer than five LinkedIn finds ended up interviewing with Rasmussen. He’d give them a problem-solving challenge that, inevitably, they flubbed.
After a year of this, Perkins was thoroughly frustrated. Surely it’s better to at least make some progress, she told Rasmussen, than to continue to do nothing. But he was adamant.
The perfect candidate and the bizarre pitch deck
That same year, Rasmussen introduced her to two candidates that he thought might be a good fit and recruitable. The first, Cameron Adams, a user interface designer who had worked at Google, was busy trying to raise money for his own startup. The second, Dave Hearnden, a senior engineer at Google, initially said he wasn’t interested. In 2012, both had a change of heart.
“We were absolutely over the moon,” says Perkins. Adams came on board first, as a co-founder. Hearnden, on the other hand, started to have second thoughts: Google wasn’t happy with his leaving, obviously, and was trying to get him to stay. He worried that his project would be abandoned without him, and he didn’t want to disappoint his team.
At this point, Perkins sent him something that has since become known as the Bizarre Pitch Deck. In 16 slides, the deck tells the story of a man named Dave, who longed for adventure but was torn by his loyalty for Google. In the pitch deck, as in life, Dave eventually joined Canva. It helped that Google had already poached his replacement.
In 2012, Perkins was able to raise a seed round of $1.6 million, and got another $1.4 million from the Australian government. Tai finally agreed to put in $100,000. “It was really hard for her to raise,” he says. “You’ve got a young girl in her 20s from Australia who had never worked at a company, with her live-in boyfriend as COO. People would say to me, What if they break up? I didn’t have a good answer.” Now, things look much different: Tai says Obrecht is Canva’s “secret weapon,” and that “Cliff has just blown me away.”
Keeping the bar high, hundreds of hires later
While Tai drove her nuts at the beginning, Perkins appreciates his stubbornness now. “We’ve been able to attract top talent across the globe,” she says. “It wouldn’t have been possible without setting such a high technical bar early on.” Tai says he hasn’t made exactly this condition with other startups. But he’s done it in reverse: He’s backed highly technical people without knowing what, exactly, the business opportunity would turn out to be.
The experience also showed her, the hard way, just how much effort she’d have to put into hiring if she wanted to build a successful tech company. By Canva’s second year, the company had a recruiting team. “We knew we needed to invest heavily in hiring,” she says. Now, each open position gets a strategy brief. That document lays out the goals for the person in that role and the project they will be working on. It also identifies the people who will be involved in the hiring process. “Getting everyone on the same page is really critical,” says Perkins. “It sets that person up for success.”
And like Rasmussen looking for the first technical hire, Canva asks each candidate to take a challenge. Candidates have a choice of doing a four-hour challenge or a one-hour challenge. “Maybe they’re working parents and they can do it in an hour,” says Perkins. “Other people prefer to have a longer time and work at their own pace. We’re looking for people happy to take on challenges and who get a real buzz out of being able to solve hard things.”
In in-person interviews, someone on the Canva team will almost always ask the candidate, “How would your previous boss or manager talk about your work or rate you?” Perkins says people are “surprisingly honest” in their responses. The answers help her get a window into what type of leadership allows a particular candidate to thrive. Some people require a lot of structure or hierarchy, she says, and Canva doesn’t have much of either.
“One of the things I believe quite strongly is having a really strong idea of where you’re going,” says Perkins. “I have this visual metaphor. Plant 100 seeds. Until eventually one flowers or sprouts. For most people, if you’re rejected, you feel really hurt and don’t want to continue. The reality is that you have to push through. If I had given up quickly, I certainly wouldn’t be here today.”
Australian casino mogul James Packer agreed to sell nearly 50% of his remaining stake in Crown Resorts Limited to Macau billionaire Lawrence Ho’s Melco on Thursday. The deal will close in two tranches—one in early June and the other in late September.
Melco also said that it’ll pursue a larger stake in Crown as well as board seats, pending regulatory approvals. The $1.22 billion (A$1.75 billion) purchase price is a tiny premium—not even 1%—over Crown’s closing price Thursday. On Friday, Crown’s stock dropped 3% on the Australian Securities Exchange from the previous day.
Forbes calculates Packer’s net worth at about $3 billion, based on the $850 million he’ll likely receive (net of taxes), and Friday’s closing stock price. That’s a drop of $600 million since January when we published our ranks of Australia’s Richest. At the time he was the nation’s ninth richest person, worth $3.6 billion.
It’s quite a comedown for Packer, whose father was considered one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs. Kerry Packer, who died in 2005, owned Australia’s leading television network and the country’s biggest swath of magazines. Kerry had inherited a media company from his father, Sir Frank, and grew it into a broadcasting and publishing empire worth $5 billion. James Packer seemed up for the job, and was initially lauded for reinventing his father’s empire by selling most of the Packer family media assets to a Hong Kong-based private equity firm for $4 billion across two deals in 2006 and 2007 and moving into casinos. A decade ago, James Packer was the nation’s richest person. Five years ago, his net worth peaked at $6.6 billion. Today he’s worth less than half that.
This is not the first time Melco and Crown have done business. The two companies partnered in 2004 to develop and operate casinos in Macau. The partnership ended in 2017 when Packer sold his Macau assets back to Melco to focus on his Australia-based casinos.
Lawrence Ho, CEO of Melco, who like Packer is the son of a powerful, legendary entrepreneur (97 year old Stanley Ho, who retired last year), is currently worth $2.1 billion, according to Forbes. Most of his net worth is tied up in Melco, in which he owns an approximate 54% stake.
Currently, the biggest project for Crown is its $1.5 billion casino in Sydney, which is slated to open in 2020.
Earlier this year Packer tried to cash out of Crown. In April, Wynn Resorts, which was founded by billionaires Steve and Elaine Wynn, explored taking over Crown for $7 billion. But hours after Crown announced the proposed deal, Wynn Resorts issued a statement saying it was off due to “premature disclosure.”
Packer stepped down from Crown Resorts’ board in March 2018. Four months later, he resigned from the board of his family company Consolidated Press, which he and his sister inherited from their father.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Packer has been seeking a lower-profile life since stepping down from Crown’s board. “He definitely wants an easier life, and a less-stress life,” one colleague told the paper. “No doubt about that.”
Packer’s board exits were reportedly due in part to mental health issues, following a tough year when Crown exited its Macau and U.S. gambling investments.
Packer, who has three children living in Los Angeles with his ex-wife, Erica Packer, also finances Hollywood films via his RatPac Entertainment, which he cofounded with Brett Ratner, who directed the Rush Hour film series and X-Men 3: The Last Stand.
The venture capital firm cofounded by Facebook billionaire Eduardo Saverin and partner Raj Ganguly has raised hundreds of millions in new funding to invest in startups.
B Capital has raised $406 million in a first close of its second fund, according to a new regulatory filing with the SEC obtained on Friday. The firm, which wrote in the filing it had raised that amount from 62 investors since late March, indicated that it planned to raise more than that amount, which already tops the $360 million it raised for its first fund.
B Capital declined to comment on the filing or its funding plans.
Earlier in March, Forbes published a wide-ranging interview with Saverin, the cofounder of Facebook who moved to Singapore in 2009. In that article, Saverin and Ganguly revealed a strategy to invest in companies with an international focus—B Capital maintains offices in California, New York and Saverin’s Singapore—and ones that can benefit from a “special relationship” with Boston Consulting Group, the consulting firm that is one of the anchor investors in B Capital’s initial fund.
At the time, B Capital had made about 20 investments from that fund, using up much of its “dry powder,” as the industry sometimes refers to money available to invest in startups. A source told Forbes at the time that B Capital would look to raise a second fund of approximately twice the size of its first later in 2019. That remains the goal after this first filing, the source says now.
At the time, B Capital had recently expanded to bring on a seventh partner, Karen Appleton Page, a former executive at Box and Apple. With seven investment partners and check sizes that can run into the tens of millions, it’s not surprising that B Capital, still just four years old, would seek out so much money so fast.
“No matter how lucky or blessed I might be, I will never retire on a beach,” Saverin told Forbes in early 2019. “We are still so early into making the technologies that will impact the world.”
Read more of Saverin’s views—and see how B Capital is looking to stand out in a crowded venture capital market—check the full feature story here.
Follow Alex on Forbes and Twitter for more coverage of startups, enterprise software and venture capital.
Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for.
The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far, so we’ve compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.
As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:
While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the previous post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.
Don’t be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.
In this post we’ll go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.
As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.
1. Start with what you have
Before you begin searching the depths of the internet for business ideas and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you’ve had for years. Maybe it exists in a half-written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea, right?
Here are a few questions to consider when making your list of internet business ideas:
What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
What products, niches or industries are your friends passionate about?
What pain points do you have in your own life?
Example: Sisters/entrepreneurs Lisa Kalberer and Allison Hottinger are passionate about family and tradition. They instill these values in their homes by assembling a manger during the holidays. When friends were interested in starting their own traditions, The Giving Manger was born. The product born of passion attracted the attention of influencers that made the brand a nationwide hit, online and in stores.
Identify pain points and challenges
If there’s a problem, solve it. Consider which pain points you have in your life, or even the pain points of those around you. Active Hound, for example, stepped in to solve the challenge of dog toys that were easily chewed and destroyed. Dog owners would become frustrated with unreliable products, and the expenses can quickly add up. The market for that product was based on this one specific pain point.
Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique internet business idea. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information.
Example: Grocery-delivery service InstaCart is a perfect example of a company that saw a way to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. Most grocery shopping happens in-store, according to PwC’s 2017 Total Retail Survey, but with the growing popularity of services like Amazon Pantry, there’s an opportunity to drive and capture online sales. Though many consumers may be apprehensive to online grocery shopping, InstaCart partners with brick and mortar retail stores so customers are still shopping from the same grocery store they know and love. This also supports the small business movement, allowing customers to buy from select local grocers.
3. Online consumer trend publications
A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.
There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:
TrendWatching: TrendWatching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. TrendWatching has a team of professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos who report on worldwide trends.
Trend Hunter: Trend Hunter is the world’s largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.
Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, “Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn’t know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea… but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter — a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired.”
PSFK: PSFK is a “business intelligence platform [that] inspires creative professionals as they develop new products, services and experiences across retail, advertising and design.” It analyzes research-based consumer trends and insights that you can use as a jumping-off point and validation for ecommerce business ideas.
Example: A great example of someone who noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes made of authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successfully funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.
4. Industry leaders
If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas through a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.
There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:
Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source for product and internet business ideas. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and AHALife (luxury products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.
Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:
Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you’re particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.
6. Social curation sites
Polyvore and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending businesses and consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.
Several of the larger social curations sites that may inspire niche business ideas are:
Polyvore: Polyvore is a way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore’s global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
Fancy: Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
Wanelo: Wanelo (Want – Need – Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest-like product posting format. You can start by checking out out trending people.
Wishlistr: Wishlistr is a way to collect, organize and track products you want, as well as share that list with others. More than 9 million “wishes” have been listed to date.
7. B2B wholesale marketplaces
What better way to get product ideas than right from the source? This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites expose you to thousands of potential products ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of products available, so take it slow.
Alibaba: Alibaba is one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. The platform connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba.
Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.
Oberlo: is a marketplace owned by Shopify where you can purchase products to sell on Shopify from suppliers. These suppliers provide automated order fulfillment services, so it’s a popular turnkey option for many entrepreneurs deciding what to sell on Shopify. Browse what’s available and review Oberlo’s trending products to help come up with your own ideas.
Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Millions of products is probably an understatement, so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:
eBay: eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. Use eBay Market Research to find some of the most popular product categories on eBay.
Amazon: Amazon is the largest internet retailer.Amazon Best Sellers shows Amazon’s most popular products based on sales. Amazon Movers & Shakers displays the biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Both are updated hourly.
Kickstarter: Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website. Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options with Kickstarter Discover.
AliExpress:AliExpress is Alibaba’s consumer wholesale marketplace that allows you to order in smaller quantities. AliExpress Popular reveals the most-bought products.
Jet: Jet is another internet retailer that continues to grow in popularity. Each product category has its own list of best sellers, such as this one for wholesale and this one for books and media.
9. Social forum communities
Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea.
If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.
There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.
Here are a few examples:
Buy It For Life: For practical, durable and quality made products that are built to last.
If you’re active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like this one, which asks commenters to share their best purchases for under $50.
No matter which approach you take, Reddit has been and continues to be a valuable source of ecommerce business ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.
Quora is a community question-and-answer site, “a place to gain and share knowledge,” as the company says. Essentially, users come to Quora to ask and answer questions about pretty much anything and everything. Like Reddit’s subreddits, Quora has topics that you can choose to add to your own customized feed. Consider adding some product- or industry-related feeds, as well as anything else inspired by online business.
Quora also shows which topics and questions are trending, as well as a count of the total number of answers (each with a number of upvotes and downvotes from the community).
Once you populate your feed, you’ll start to discover questions and answers that may inspire ecommerce business ideas. Here are a few:
Depending on the industry you’re targeting, there may be niche forum sites that you can tap into for product ideas to sell. Gaming is one industry that has an active online community, and you can check out forums like GameFAQs or NeoGAF. Here are a few other industry forum sites for niche product ideas:
There are a few ways you can use social media to search for product and niche ideas.
Hashtag: If you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on social media for hashtags that indicate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.
Product curation accounts: There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you’ll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in.
Audience insights: If you already have a business page on one or more social media platform, you may be able to use your audience data to find ecommerce business ideas. Understand which pages, hobbies, interests and other characteristics they have in common and brainstorm products based on those insights.
Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product and ecommerce business ideas. Because it’s photo-based, it’s easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.
Facebook still has the most active users out of any social media platform. If there’s a market you’re trying to reach, there’s a chance they’re on Facebook. In addition to hashtags, trending topics and popular pages, check out which Facebook groups are popular in your niche. You may be able to participate and find inspiration through those communities.
The average order of value of sales coming through Pinterest is higher than any other social channel. This indicates that Pinterest users are browsing, shopping and buying, making it an ideal spot to research popular products and trends. Another visual platform, it’s easy to scan and find inspiration for ecommerce business ideas. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.
Especially ideal for a younger demographic, Snapchat admittedly has more limited capabilities in terms of identifying trends. Use the Discover option to find out what the Snapchat community is talking about and follower influencers in your niche to gain more insight into their needs and motivations.
Twitter trends will be helpful in finding new ecommerce business ideas. You’ll be able to see what’s popular in your network or a chosen location. You’ll find these trends on the left-hand side when you log in at twitter.com, or look for the Explore option when you’re on the mobile app.
Niche social media sites
If you’re searching for niche product ideas, social media sites dedicated to related topics and hobbies are another way to gain insights into new product ideas. Here are a few, as examples:
If you already have a business (online or in real life), check out your own customer reviews. Savvy entrepreneurs consider customer recommendations, the motivation behind it, and respond accordingly.
If you don’t have any reviews of your own to consider, look at reviews of companies and products in your niche. Identify commonalities, paying careful attention to customer complaints, and determine how you can create a product that will address those concerns. Amazon is an especially great place to find honest customer reviews.
12. SEO analytics and insights
Search engine optimization (SEO), insights can show you what’s trending on search globally or targeted to specific geographic locations. Google has a number of free and paid tools you can use
Google Trends: Find out what’s trending, globally and regionally, and choose from specific topics like Business, Health and Sci/Tech. You can also browse Top Stories to see what’s most popular. If you have a specific market or idea, you can also research keywords to find common related searches, as well as anticipated peaks in search volume (which can help dictate timing for your product launch).
Google Keyword Planner: Keyword Planner will help you find average search volume and related keywords to your chosen phrases. You can also look at AdWord competition to gauge whether someone else is bidding on your targeted phrases for your ecommerce business idea.
Google Analytics: If you already have a website, use the data from Google Analytics to find out which terms users are searching to find your site. Volume isn’t always important: There may be a longtail, descriptive search phrase that makes you think of your next big idea! You can also use data from your onsite search to find the same insights.
Google search: Google.com is an often-forgotten tool to use in your SEO research. There are a few key areas to look when you’re look at a search on Google.com: predicted text (as you type your query in the search bar), paid ads at the top and on the side rail, suggested searches (at the bottom of the page), and Google Shopping results. Remember to check out images and news, too.
Consumer-facing publications in your industry can reveal a lot about a market segment and what’s trending. Consider what these publications are talking about and which articles resonate most with the audience. To find out which articles are most popular, look at how many comments, social media engagements, or social media shares the content has received. The more popular articles could inspire niche market ideas.
14. Your competitors
Learn from the successes of your competitors and popular businesses in your chosen industry. Which products have they launched with the most success? Why were they so successful? Sometimes, brands will share the why and how behind new products.
Beyond your competitors’ products, examine their community. Who is their audience and why do they love those products? Look at what the brand is saying to consumers, as well as how customers are interacting with them online. Identify gaps in your competitors’ product offerings and look for ways to fill those gaps with your new product.
15. Audience surveys
Surveys are one of the best ways to get qualitative and quantitative insights into an audience. Craft questions about the problems and challenges they face, which products they love most and why, and what they wish they had to enhance their everyday life. Keep a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions that will let you inside respondents’ heads. Use this information when you brainstorm your ecommerce business ideas.
Here are some tools you can use to create and distribute your survey:
Crowdsourcing is along similar lines as surveying, except when it comes to crowdsourcing, you’re asking for ideas more overtly. LEGO Ideas is a prime example of a brand that uses crowdsourcing to find new product ideas to sell. Consumers can submit their ideas for LEGO sets, and the site also features popular and successful ideas. Create your own crowdsourced ideas or look to those hubs for inspiration.
If you want to organize your own crowdsourcing campaign for product ideas to sell, check out the following:
One way to learn is from the past. Through examining history and old trends, you can come up with a list of revived product ideas to sell. This is one tactic that Dogfish Head Craft Brewery came up with their product series of Ancient Ales, which uses old-school brewing techniques.
But history doesn’t necessarily mean historical events and techniques. It’s also about pop culture trends. In fashion especially, we often see the resurgence of trends, and consumers love nostalgia. Choker necklaces have made a comeback, and countless movie and TV show reboots have created renewed interest and passion for consumers. You can evoke this sense of nostalgia through a product that is no longer available or highlights a seemingly forgotten subject likely to inspire fond memories.
Read this next
Now you’re equipped with resources to help you come up with a great list of initial products ideas to start. Next up, we’ll look through all of the resources ourselves and share some interesting product ideas with you. Keep the journey going by reading the next article in the series: What To Sell Online: 10 Interesting Product Ideas Trending Right Now.