Digerati50: Audacity unchained

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Don’t focus on the problem; create a condition that makes the problem obsolete
  • Aims to turn KL into one of world’s top 20 places to start a dotcom business
Digerati50: Audacity unchained

WHEN Mindvalley held an office-warming party for its new headquarters in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, in early 2013, it felt more like Beverly Hills than Silicon Valley … and more international than merely Malaysian.
 
“We have people from more than 30 countries here,” its mercurial founder and chief executive officer Vishen Lakhiani (pic above) told the gathering of Mindvalley employees and guests, influencers in a wide variety of spheres, from the arts and technology space, to policy-makers and media.
 
It’s obvious that Vishen takes great pride in the fact that a Malaysian company has managed to attract young, smart and passionate people from all over the world. In fact, this is one of his missions in life: “To turn Kuala Lumpur into one of the top 20 places in the world to start a dotcom business.”
 
But while Mindvalley has seared itself on the tech startup space, and while he holds a degree in Computer Engineering and Electrical Science from the University of Michigan, the 38-year-old says, “We’re not a technology company, but a personal growth company.”
 
Indeed, its official blurb says “Mindvalley is a global brand and company that invests in, creates and builds businesses that align with its goal to push humanity forward.”
 
That harks back to the birth of Mindvalley itself, in a small space in Times Square, New York. The company was formed in 2003, at around the time Vishen was working for a dotcom. “Working for a dotcom in New York can be really, really stressful, so I took up meditation, and soon started teaching it.
 
“Problem was, you can’t really make money teaching meditation. So I set up a website, and started selling meditation products,” he says.
 
However, when his visa expired, he had to return to Malaysia. In trying to keep the company going, he was stumped. “I just couldn’t find the right talent because of the brain drain, which sees Malaysia losing some of its best and brightest every year.”
 
So he decided to do something about it. A great fan of the scientist and futurist Buckminster Fuller, he refers to one of the latter’s famous quotes: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
 
“In other words, don’t focus on the problem, but create a condition that makes that problem obsolete,” says Vishen. “So we decided we were going to create the world’s greatest workplace, right here in Malaysia.”
 
That mission took off in earnest at Mindvalley’s new office opening, when it launched ‘Project Renaissance,’ whose objectives include reducing the brain drain in Malaysia by providing opportunities for local talent and inspiring the creation of new businesses in various tech and creative fields.
 
Project Renaissance itself is an offshoot of Mindvalley’s monthly WebcampKL meetups, which gathers web developers, designers and enthusiasts with a passion for technology, a success Vishen happily lays at the feet of his good friend and Mindvalley chief designer Ngeow Wu Han.
 
“We thought, why stop at tech only?” says Vishen. Thus the office space at Bangsar includes the 150-seater ‘Hall of Awesomeness.’ Mindvalley sponsors two to three events a week there.
 
Vishen has said that Mindvalley is not an accelerator nor an incubator, but “something quite different.” But it certainly has made its mark in the tech startup space: One of the companies given birth there is Dealmates.com, which within 10 months of its launch saw US tech giant Intel Corp making a US$2-million investment in it for a 24% stake.
 
Other startups have been given birth there too, such as Omharmonics and Mindvalley Engage. In May, 2013, it launched the Omvana app, which it dubbed the ‘Spotify of meditation.’
 
Still, Vishen is laser-focused on the big picture, which is “creating a hub for Malaysia’s best and brightest to come together to learn, share, network and collaborate on projects that push local individuals and businesses forward.”

 
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