Digerati50: Mentoring a ‘new breed’ of entrepreneurs

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].

  • Sharing of experiences needed, angels and VCs need to play more active role
  •  ‘When you have the wrong people in your organisation, it is a recipe for disaster’
Digerati50: Mentoring a ‘new breed’ of entrepreneurs

A MENTOR, a trainer, a venture consultant, a non-profit cofounder and an entrepreneur. How many of us can claim to have done all that in our careers?
 
Well, Dr V. Sivapalan is one of the few who can. He is cofounder and chief evangelist at Proficeo Consultants, a coaching and mentoring organisation; a mentor with AllStars, an accelerator that was set up to incubate and accelerate technology ideas; and the head of the Policy Institute of the Technopreneurs’ Association of Malaysia (TeAM-PI), and one of the original founders of TeAM itself.
 
The 54-year-old Sivapalan has been in the ‘entrepreneurship business’ for about 30 years now.
 
“I owned a corporate consultancy before and I have been working with entrepreneurs since the 1980s, initially in old-economy companies and now with tech companies since 1999,” he says.
 
Sivapalan, fondly referred to in the industry as ‘Doc Siva,’ says he initially worked with venture capitalists (VCs) to invest their money in startups and as a result of that, the industry saw a first wave of entrepreneurs from 1996 to 2005.
 
The names that come to mind are giants in their own right today: JobStreet.com, Catcha Media and MOL Bhd, among them.
 
Doc Siva feels that the tech entrepreneurship or the technopreneur industry has come a long way, and we’re now beginning to see the second generation of companies, comprising many young entrepreneurs hoping to emulate their peers to create successful companies.
 
“Technopreneurship is almost a career these days, with many young people choosing to start or work in startups, and there is a real buzz about the place, which is a good thing,” he says.
 
But why spend time working with tech companies today?
 
“A commodity business is a tough business to be in, where you are exposed to the vagaries of market forces beyond your control, and that taught me to only work in industries where you have better control of your destiny and where you own your IP (intellectual property) – hence the tech industry,” he says.
 
Besides this, the tech sector, especially Internet-based businesses, mobility solutions companies and software firms, still have a great future, says Doc Siva.
 
He believes that there is still so much to do, so many problems to solve and new needs to fulfil – especially with the increase in population, changes in lifestyles and technologies, healthcare issues and education – that this sector is poised for further growth.
 
To improve the ecosystem in Malaysia, Doc Siva says the industry must have better policies so that technopreneurs can thrive and succeed.
 
“We also need better talent and sharing of experiences and we need angels and VCs to play a more active role in companies,” he argues. “This is why I’m contributing to this via the work I do in policy matters with TeAM.
 
“I’m also coaching and mentoring technopreneurs, investing in promising startups and sharing my experience,” he says.
 
Speaking of experience, one would think that he has had it good with 30 solid years behind him, but not so, says Doc Siva.
 
“There have been many lessons for me personally. I have had my fair share of failures including in the real estate agency business where I lost a lot of money because I was cheated by my partners,” he says.
 
So what’s his advice to budding entrepreneurs?
 
“Finding the right partners is critical. It may also be a cliché but when you have partners or employees, you must hire the best and sack the worst – hire slowly and fire fast.
 
“I also believe in paying well for good people and then incentivising them so that they will work extra hard, because when you have the wrong people in your organisation, it is a recipe for disaster – this has happened to me before,” he says.

 
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