Digerati50: Out to shape the ecosystem

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].

  • Training company went up against big boys, now courted by them
  • ‘You will get conned, you will fail, and you will go close to broke’
Digerati50: Out to shape the ecosystem

ASK Bikesh Lakhmichand (pic above) how he became an entrepreneur, and he’ll point to a stint selling friendship bracelets his sister made in school as a start of sorts; while thanks to his father, he had been coding since the tender age of six.
 
But it was really only during college that this now 36-year-old had his entrepreneurial awakening, when he offered his services teaching degree students some Visual Basic programming, which garnered him some extra money every semester.
 
“It clued me in on the fact that training people came naturally to me, hence founding iTrain was something that made sense. Also, during that time, I set up a little software development company with a college-mate, and we did custom systems for pocket money,” adds the computer science graduate of Universiti Sains Malaysia.
 
iTrain, an IT training centre founded in 2005, lays claim to having successfully trained and equipped more than 5,000 developers to date, and is a venture that Bikesh points to as his proudest  accomplishment to date.
 
“We started the business going against big boys with significant backing and there we were, two kids trying to build a training company. Today, we have Apple knocking on our door to provide iOS training in the region, and have been privileged to be the first in the world to run Google Web Academy, and other programmes with Google too,” he says.
 
Bikesh embarked on his next project 1337 Ventures in 2012, with the launch of the 1337 Accelerator funded with RM5 million (US$1.5 million) from the Government via the Ministry of Finance.
 
The money will be spread over five years at RM1 million a year, with 20 app startups receiving seed funding of RM50,000 each.
 
“I really want to help shape the startup ecosystem in the country and 1337 – which iTrain kickstarted – was created solely for that. Apart from mentoring the teams in the accelerator, I also open the doors to anyone who needs pointers, with funding, connections or idea validation,” he says.
 
He currently splits his time between his two companies; favouring 1337 Ventures a little more as the venture is not yet a year old.
 
When asked what would be his biggest weakness, Bikesh admits that balancing life and work remains a challenge.
 
“When I do something, I go 1,000% into it. I can sit at my desk without food or water for an entire day – and I do mean 24 hours. I got into a relationship and had to learn the hard way to balance things. It’s
hard. It’s very hard,” he says.
 
Courtesy of an internship with the “most hard-ass manager” he has ever met, two pieces of advice have influenced how Bikesh runs his ventures till today: 1) Always under-promise and over-deliver; and 2) Always use your resources or ask for help early even if you could eventually solve it yourself.
 
When asked for what advice he would give to the next generation of would-be entrepreneurs, Bikesh has this to say:
 
“You can’t play it safe if you want to make it big. You will get conned, you will fail, and you will go close to broke. No bank will give you money initially. People won’t pay you on time. It’s hard to run your own business. It’s not for everyone.”
 
For those who remain adamant about starting out on their own, Bikesh cautions against whining or complaining and to be prepared to work hard initially for the rewards are great at the end of it.
 
“And always be kind to your mom, because the banks will turn you down initially, but mom will always cut you a cheque, no questions asked. If you can’t take money from your own mom and trust that you can pay her back, quit your business and don’t even think of asking the Government for a grant,” he says.

 
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