Anuj Khanna Sohum, the founder of Affle is a serial entrepreneur. To date, he has started 3 companies with Affle being his latest company. Anitus Technologies, Sohum’s first company, was acquired by the publicly-listed Malaysian conglomerate MCSB and rechristened myMCSB. His second company, SecLore, which dealt with information security, was acquired by Herald Logic in 2007.
Every entrepreneur has their own story of success. While Sohum does not claim to know the key to being a successful entrepreneur, he shares his story with us hoping that his experiences would benefit aspiring or budding entrepreneurs.
e27 managed to attain insights from an interview with the man himself.
What does any aspiring or budding entrepreneur need?
“A true entrepreneur is very true to his idea, just intent on making the idea a reality regardless of how much they make or how much (of the company) they own.”
Sohum knew from an early time that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He always have a lot of ideas and he sees opportunities in everything. He believes that it takes a little innocence and a whole lot of passion for an entrepreneur to step up and take on the challenge of making something new and in the process, being inspired by that in eagerness to make the idea alive. As an entrepreneur, you will have to believe in the idea and be so passionate about it to just go out and do it.
- Start young
“Start a company when you are in your university years”
Having started his first company while he was in his university years, Sohum strongly advocate that everybody should do the same too. He justifies it by saying that one has nothing to lose and in fact, much to gain from starting a company during his/her university years. He describes the perks- which includes being surrounded by passionate young people, who likewise have nothing to lose, and having a huge resource pool that includes qualified and experienced lecturers. Sohum even goes so far as to suggest that one could possibly start a “100 people company at zero cost!”.
Sohum does mention repeatedly that an early start is best. He started his first company in his second year of study at the National University of Singapore and managed to get it registered by his third year. While his friends were looking for companies to intern at as per university requirements, he managed to intern officially at his own company! If it were up to him, he would make it mandatory for students to start a company as part of the university curriculum.
Besides, Sohum also talks about how experience is important and how he has learnt a lot from the things he did wrong. If one starts young, one would be able to accumulate much more years of experience. Looks like a compelling argument for any entrepreneur to start young!
- Balancing skills
“A successful entrepreneur is one who knows how to blend his business competence and entrepreneurnal spirit together in a balance.”
For Sohum, one matures from being a pure entrepreneur into a businessman. He believes that an entrepreneur in the purest form is like an artist who does not care about commercialism. Slowly as one matures, an entrepreneur learns to become a businessman. Sohum is quick to point out that when money becomes a priority, there might be a loss of the innovative edge and this is where the balancing skills come in handy.
However, it is not to say that an entrepreneur should not be entirely focused on developing his idea but instead, he/she should not lose sight of his/her own interests in terms of company shares and profits.
“Don’t be blindly in love with your idea, be ready to adapt and change.”
This is sound advice! Whenever anyone comes up with an idea, he/she would naturally be excited about it and probably think that it is the best idea in the world. What Sohum says is that one should be prepared to face with criticism or negative feedback. When that happens, one needs to be objective and review the feedback gathered with a critical eye. He mentions that critics are actually your best friends- they are help you to improve and develop your idea. So polish up the idea after listening to the critics and make it a gem!
“Win respect and trust. Not demand.”
Being a boss so young has its challenges. Sohum experienced this first hand when he was trying to employ workers for his first entrepreneurnal project. He shared that looking young and trying to employ a person who has a double degree and industry knowledge is no small feat. “Who would take you seriously?” he exclaims. While that might be an issue, he overcame his relative inexperience by making sure that he was competent in what he does know. Winning respect and trust is not easy but at the end of the day, it is possible with hard work, knowledge and humility.
- Management skills
“You don’t need to be the most senior or the most competent.”
Being the founder and boss of his team, Sohum believes that his core function in his company is to manage. While he may not be the most senior on his team, he does not see that as a disadvantage. His advice is for entrepreneur bosses to always remember that they are running a team. You have to acknowledge others’ expertise while keeping in mind that you are not expected to know everything. Always be sure that you know what you are supposed to know and tap on the team’s expertise when it is needed.
“Funding is about trust and inspiration.”
When asked about his experiences in getting funding for his projects, Sohum says without hesitation that investors typically look out for people who are committed and trustworthy. Commitment is easy to spot in an entrepreneur when there is passion in his/her pitch, the problem only arises when investors try to assess your trustworthiness. The easiest way, he reckons, is to invest your own money in your company. Nothing instills trust in investors as much as that! Investors are more likely to believe in your project if they see you backing it yourself to the extent of putting in your own money. So, be ready to tap into your own funds!
Being the director for the Mobile Marketing Association APAC region, what are some developments in the region that might be exciting for aspiring or budding entrepreneurs?
The growth and penetration of mobiles in Asia has been phenomenal. The number of mobiles has far outgrown that of the PCs and television and mobile phones are becoming cheaper and better and increasingly connected to the internet. With this trend, more people would be demanding content and services for the mobile so any development in this mobile space would be rewarding.
There is also a potential mobile market comprising of India, China and Indonesia. These three countries together make up more than 50% of the world’s mobile users. It is a ripe time for entrepreneurs to develop for this target market. Anyone who succeeds in capturing this market would have a strong foothold in the world market.
The ONE advice you have for all aspiring or budding entrepreneurs out there?
“Build a great team, don’t do it alone. Ideas are only as good as the team executing it.”
For other stories regarding Affle, do check out the following article:
The Affle team