Venture: The Endeavor endorsement for entrepreneurs

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 10, 2017 - Apr 16, 2017.
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ENTREPRENEURS such as Fashion Valet co-founders Vivy Sofinas Yusof and Fadzarudin Shah Anuar wear the Endeavor badge of honour proudly.

Like other Endeavor entrepreneurs, Vivy and Fadzarudin know how hard it is to get in. They were rejected several times before getting inducted in March, after their business was deemed to be at a high-growth stage, which is one of Endeavor’s main criteria for admission.

Not only is the selection process an incredibly rigorous one, membership of the Endeavor network is very select. So far, Endeavor Malaysia has brought into the fold only 18 entrepreneurs from 13 companies in a variety of industries. These 13 companies were selected from over 1,600 companies screened.

In a nutshell, the selection process involves the local Endeavor team making an initial assessment before passing on the due diligence work to mentors who give feedback based on its criteria. If the entrepreneur can be moved further along the process, they are put before an international selection panel that decides whether an entrepreneur can be admitted.

“All this is done at both a local and an international level. It can take anything from eight months to a couple of years just for someone to get in. The selection process itself is rigorous, but tremendously beneficial for entrepreneurs,” says Endeavor Malaysia managing director Anand Krishnan.

When the Endeavor team screens potential entrepreneurs, they typically look at three main things: the entrepreneur, the business and the timing. Endeavor is looking for individuals who have the potential to build and scale a large and successful business.

Next, the business itself has to be a high-growth business that is scalable, have a degree of innovation and the potential to create many jobs and wealth for the local ecosystem.

Timing is also key. “We look for businesses at that inflection point, where we feel they have already found clear product/market validation and mainly need help with accelerating their growth — that’s where we come in.”

But more than that, Anand stresses that the selection also hinges on whether the entrepreneurs will pay this forward when they themselves have achieved success.

“We make it quite clear to them that they are being helped because other people are paying this forward to them. When their time comes, they have the responsibility to pay this forward to the next generation as well.”

Endeavor’s board members and mentors all volunteer their time and expertise on a pro bono basis. In fact, Endeavor operations are funded by each country’s board members. Endeavor itself does not take equity in any of the companies it works with.

Endeavor Malaysia’s board comprises big names, including CIMB Group Bhd chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, JobStreet founder Mark Chang, TIME dotCom Bhd CEO Afzal Abdul Rahim, My E.G. Services Bhd co-founder TS Wong and private equity fund Creador’s founder Brahmal Vasudevan.

Malaysian mentors include AirAsia Group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Google’s Sajith Sivanandan, iFlix Malaysia CEO Azran Osman-Rani, BCG managing partner Rick Ramli and Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd CEO Datuk Rohana Rozhan.

After they get through the international selection panel, the real work with the entrepreneurs starts.

“If they get through, we throw a ton of resources behind them to help them grow at an accelerated rate,” Anand says.

The assistance Endeavor entrepreneurs have access to includes advisory help, trouble-shooting and ongoing education to guide them in growing their business, raising capital and strategy.

Endeavor entrepreneurs typically get assigned an advisory board, which serves as a great counterbalance to the company’s formal board which usually comprises investors’ representatives.

“They (the Endeavor advisory board) will be tough on you when they need to be. But the difference is they have absolutely no vested interest in your business.

“You don’t pay them anything and they have no equity in your business. The only reason they are there is that they have the knowledge and expertise. Their motivation is to see the entrepreneur succeed,” says Anand.

On an ad hoc basis, Endeavor entrepreneurs have access to specialists from across the 4,000-strong global mentor network that they can call on for help.

Apart from Fashion Valet, the other Malaysian entrepreneurs that are part of the Endeavor network come from a range of industries. There is Holstein Milk Company’s Loi Tuan Ee, iMoney Group’s Lee Ching Wei, Juris Technologies’ John Lim and See Wai Hun and Streamline Studios’ Alex Fernandez.

Anand points out that Endeavor does not work purely with technology companies.

“The consumer tech businesses or the more consumer-facing tech entrepreneurs tend to get the most limelight and help.

“On a global level, we think we should be industry-agnostic because all these different entrepreneurs in different industries add substantially to their verticals.”