Digerati50: The turbo-booster

  •  Larry Gan brings a hands-on approach and deep corporate know-how to his startups
  •  Believes ideas are free and worthless, entrepreneurs useless until they bring in right investor

Digerati50: The turbo-booster

This article formed part of the Digerati50 magazine that was published in Feb 2016. The digital version of that publication can be downloaded from the links at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s broadband champion.

THERE are few individuals in the Malaysian technology ecosystem with the background of Larry Gan (pic). With a stellar corporate career behind him – he was a global partner and Asia Pacific head of consulting company Accenture, and managed its billion-dollar venture fund – Gan left in 2004.

It was not retirement but the start of the next phase of his career, with myriad business activities and directorship positions in some of Malaysia’s leading listed companies. But it is in technology that Gan is having the most fun, both as an investor and chairman of a number of listed companies.

He is currently chairman of Rev Asia Bhd, Omesti Bhd and Cuscapi Bhd, all listed in Malaysia. He is also chairman of 8Common Ltd and Fatfish Internet Group Ltd which are listed in Australia, and was an early investor in and chairman of Graphene Nanochem (Ltd), listed in the United Kingdom.

In the startup space, he has nine investments as of December 2015, and is looking to help them go public. “I like to do things that challenge me and find technology to be the playground that stretches the imagination the most, allowing you the opportunity to be really disruptive,” he says.

Whether approached for advice, Gan applies the same filter. “I always ask myself how I can add some dimension of thinking that will help leapfrog the opportunity for the company or the startup. That’s what I do. That’s what interests me.”

Those who catch Gan’s interest, especially as an investor, will then feel the impact of his personal involvement and powerful network that he leverages off. “I don’t just depend on these young kids [startup founders].” He somewhat immodestly describes the impact of being akin to “getting a turbo-boost.” “I promote, coach, bring in the right talent and help navigate the business model until they can see exponential growth,” says Gan.

“You [the entrepreneur] have to make that happen,” he says, acknowledging that it is not easy but reminding one that building any business is “real hard work.” And yet, he sees entrepreneurs in love with their ideas. “They need to know that ideas are free and worthless, and entrepreneurs useless, until they bring in the right investor who can help put them in a strong position to make things happen.”

But many startups fail in getting the right investor in. When it is suggested that founders, being young and typically without strong networks, may lack the gumption and confidence to approach individuals like Gan for help, he is unforgiving. “If you lack the confidence, gumption and character to seek out these individuals you feel can help, then you deserve to fail,” he says, reminding entrepreneurs that the chances are still very high that they will fail even with a strong investor in, more so if they have an ego that stands in the way.

The latter is a trait he has observed especially in entrepreneurs from privileged backgrounds. “Their pedigree and degrees give them a start, but do not help them sprint,” he argues. This is why he feels that startups should have a combination of wisdom and youth, with the wisdom coming from a seasoned corporate player with the network, leadership and management nous.

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