- Peerless network on hand to offer advice to help scale high-impact businesses
- Willingness to give back a key amplification trait looked at by selection panel
SOME would have noticed that the city of Kuala Lumpur seemed to be shining brighter during the Feb 20 to 22 period. And that’s because KL played host to a constellation of star players, including CIMB Group chairman Nazir Razak, JcbNext founder Mark Chang (founder and CEO of JobStreet before selling it to Australia’s Seek in 2014) and a clutch of aspiring stars aiming to join them some day as super successful entreprenurs, during Endeavor’s first ever International Selection Panel (ISP) held in KL, Malaysia.
Endeavor itself is a non-profit organisation, established in 1997 and headquartered in New York City that pioneered the concept of high-impact entrepreneurship in growth markets around the world. Its mission is to select, mentor and accelerate the best high-impact entrepreneurs around the world. And it takes this seriously.
It starts with the selection process – that ranges from eight to 10 months long – for entrepreneurs aspiring to get into the select ranks of those who can call themselves Endeavor Entrepreneur.
“While we are not known in Malaysia yet, when I was in Mexico City for the ISP there in 2015, people’s perception of me immediately jumped when they saw from my business card that I was an Endeavor Entrepreneur,” notes Hakim Karim, who was building his cloud based GridMarkets back then. Hakim, the first Endeavor Malaysia entrepreneur, has since also co-founded CurrenSeek in 2016, which aims to disrupt the staid world of money changing.
[Ed: An earlier version incorrectly stated that Hakim has left the running of GridMarkets to others. He is in fact very much involved in the startup.]
And that’s another thing about Endeavor, it is not tied to a company but to an entrepreneur, which is why, even though Hakim is now running another startup, he is still in the network as an Endeavor Entrepreneur
According to Endeavor Malaysia managing director, Anand Krishnan (who, by the way, is the youngest country head for Endeavor), the selection process to be an Endeavor Entrepreneur is very long because “we hold very high standards and when our entrepreneurs go up to the ISP stage, the competition is global.”
To wit, the recent KL ISP saw some Brazillian entrepreneurs who have grown their five-year startup to a base of 50 million users. They ended up getting selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs.
At the ISP, the mood is chill and friendly with all the entrepreneurs attending aware that they are in a select company of highly driven peers. Underneath the surface though, all are well aware of the boost they can get personally from the mentors and the doors that will open up for them to seize opportunities once they get into the Endeavor network.
From the KL ISP, 18 entrepreneurs, from 10 companies, including two companies from Malaysia, were fortunate enough to be admitted as Endeavor Entrepreneurs from the 24 who participated, some of whom came from as far away as Bulgaria and Brazil.
Love for non-tech entrepreneurs
The process to get to the ISP however starts with the Local Selection Process (LSP) first. And, it is not easy to even get to the LSP as Endeavor Malaysia has already screened over 1,000 entrepreneurs in the three years it has been established. Twelve get selected each year to pitch to the LSP with between six to eight chosen to go for the ISP.
Malaysia currently has 18 Endeavor Entrepreneurs from 13 companies who generate a yearly revenue of RM400 million (US$90 million), including the three individuals who were just selected, Aaron Patel of iHandal and the husband wife duo of Fadzarudin Anuar and Vivy Sofinas Yusof of Fashionvalet.
It is important to note that Endeavor is not just looking at tech entrepreneurs. Indeed the ranks of Malaysian Endeavor Entrepreneurs include those from agriculture, construction, and home renovation. “While there is a lot of support for tech entrepreneurs, those not from the tech industry often feel like the unloved kids of the ecosystem,” shares Anand.
For entrepreneurs, the advantage starts as soon as they are identified to pitch at the LSP because they immediately enjoy access to the pool of Malaysian mentors, that number 30. And for those fortunate to be chosen to go for the ISP, they get another group of mentors to help them prepare for the ISP.
Last year was steller for Endeavor Malaysia as all the six entrepreneurs it sent, were selected.
Anand describes it as a key moment for Endeavor Malaysia where “we hit our stride”. As a result, the Malaysian chapter is now ready to engage in more market awareness to make themselves better known to the business ecosystem at large, even though its current board of five consists of a stellar group of entrepreneurs; CIMB’s Nazir, JcbNext’s Chang, Brahmal Vasudevan, founder of private equity company, Creador and MyEG Services Bhd executive director, TS Wong. Time DotCom’s Afzal Abdul Rahim is chairman.
The following video made by Endeavor Malaysia does an excellent job of describing the value and worth of Endeavor.
After getting in
The first thing that happens when someone gets admitted as an Endeavor Entrepreneur is that the organisation assembles a high powered board that can specifically help with the top three challenges the entrepreneur will face. Board meetings are held every quarter and because Endeavor has a unique rule that prevents any board member and mentor from having a commercial interest in the companies they are helping, Anand says this leads to advice that is not coloured by any bias.
The respective country Endeavor units also come in to play an active role here to keep the engagement up between the boards and the entrepreneurs with the entrepreneur preparing monthly reports to their advisory board.
Thanks to Anand and Endeavor Malaysia, DNA was allowed to sit in on a few sessions to hear how the entrepreneurs were questioned by the panelists (see list below for a sampling of the high powered executives involved) and to sit in on the vigorous deliberation sessions as panelists debated among themselves on whom to admit as an Endeavor company.
Interestingly, one key aspect the panelists look at is at how willing the entrepreneurs are to give back to the ecosystem to help amplify the impact of successful entrepreneurs. This selfless trait was clearly an important consideration for the panelists in the room where I was observing deliberations.
Even for those who don’t get selected, they are given informal advice on what prevented them from being selected and are advised to work on those aspects and to try again. And then some are also told that they probably should not apply again as they are not suited to be a future Endeavor Entrepreneur.
Needless to say, this writer came away highly impressed. There is a caveat though. While Endeavor is clearly a fantastic platform, as one current Endeavor Entrepreneur says, “how much anyone gets from the network depends on how they act on the advice given because the board and mentors cannot compel you to adopt their advice.”
And because, as the list below shows, all the executives involved with Endeavor are highly successful business leaders, a lot of the value add also comes from the advice they offer in how you organise the business and lead it. “It is more than just about connecting you to someone somewhere in the world and trust me, they can make some pretty high level connections for you.”
Selection of KL ISP Panelists
1. Eric Perez-Grovas, MD at Jaguar Ventures (Mexico)
2. Mike Cassidy, VP at Google (US)
3. Chris Misner, Former GM, Apple Online Store, Asia Pacific (US)
4. Richard Eu, CEO of Eu Yan Sang (Singapore)
5. Taizo Son, Founder & CEO of Mistletoe Inc. (Japan)
6. Sharmila Murat, General Manager at Chalhoub Group (UAE)
7. Lam Nguyen-Phuong, Co-Founder & Senior Managing Partner at Capital Group (Singapore)
8. Alexander Meyer, VP, Global Business Development at SAP (US)
9. TS Wong, MD of MyEG Services (Endeavor Malaysia board member)
10. Mark Chang, Founder of JobStreet.com (Endeavor Malaysia board member)
11. Afzal Abdul Rahim, Commander-in-Chief at Time DotCom (Endeavor Malaysia board chairman)
12. Randall Tavierne, Partner and Global Deputy for Growth Markets and Global Assurance at EY (London)
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