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In India, You Really Can Achieve Anything



There are great inspiring stories of entrepreneurship, but this one will make you sit up and read it again. How often do you find a senior executive leave his job at a board position at a large institution and acquire a falling stock thinking he can turn it around? That’s exactly what Vaidyanathan Vembu (Vaidya, to friends) did to start his entrepreneurship journey. At 42, he was already the MD and CEO of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, and earlier on the Board of ICICI bank. He built and ran a USD 30 billion consumer finance loan book, and managed 1400 branches with $20 bn in deposit.

His idea was build a retail lending institution, in a niche area where banks don’t lend, on the backbone of technology, but with ownership stakes this time around. The idea was to provide small loans of USD 1000 to USD 1,00,000, in a niche segment of micro enterprises and consumers – an area where banks traditionally don’t focus much. But the issue for any entrepreneurship, even if you had the right idea, is how do you get started- how do you raise your first round of equity? How do you raise debt? What about teams? Also, probabilities of success drop sharply when you don’t have a known brand to bank on. But there have been great case studies of such successes like Narayanamurthy, founder of the revered software giant Infosys -who quit his job at Patni Computers.

“I didn’t mind starting small all over again, but not too small. I believed we need a net-worth capital of at least Rs. 10.00 bn ($150 mn) to have a reasonable shot.” he says. “I was looking around for a Private equity to back me with such a sum, to start a company. While he was still looking around, he chanced upon a publicly listed company with a net worth of USD 100 mn, and whose shares had come down sharply from 1100 to Rs. 95 in 2 years because of the global crisis. The company was basically providing wholesale loans to real estate developers. Non-performing assets were high at 5.4%. “I thought this was ideal platform for entrepreneurship as we could start retail financial services. The company was already listed and had a lending licence, and I could raise USD 50 mn from the markets or PE.” Accordingly, he arrived at a deal with the promoters to own 10% of the equity of the company, who agreed to just be “investors”, and whom he describes as “graceful”.

Ideas are easy on spreadsheets and paper, but tougher in reality. Neither could he raise equity, nor debt, to grow the company he had bought into. In the months following, he had many meetings with many mutual funds to raise equity through a process called QIP, where a company can place shares to institutional investors. But for one reason or the other, nothing worked. Meanwhile, existing majority shareholders publicly expressed intention to sell out at the right price. Vaidya then pitched the idea to over a dozen large private Equity Firms, including the well-known ones Bain, Blackstone, Carlyle for their backing.

But the timing couldn’t have been worse. The India economy took a turn for the worse after 2010. Inflation remained elevated, India’s monetary authority Reserve Bank of India raised interest rates by 25 bps 16 times in 3 years in response to high inflation, and GDP growth rates dipped steadily from 9% to 4.5%. Most important, business magazine cover stories were painting scary pictures like “India-blackout nation, India– drifting into abyss”, corruption scandals, and so on, ceding doubts in the investor community.

The amount was big- he was looking for over $ 150 mn of equity to buy out other shareholders, and it was a big sum to seek backing. Matters got complicated because of high media visibility and speculations whenever a deal was being discussed with any potential investor, being a public company. He couldn’t sleep for more than 4-5 hours a night, out of stress, not knowing who will back him, and not knowing how to convince them to do it. There were too many moving parts about debt, business growth, profitability, attracting new employees, and retaining existing ones under these circumstances.

Meanwhile he had to produce a proof of concept to attract prospective investors as mere spreadsheet projections wouldn’t do. So despite limited capital on hand; he built a top-notch retail team of over 800 retail professionals. He offered handsome

stock options and went talent scouting from the best of names, from Standard Chartered, ICICI, HDFC, Barclays and Citi. The company diversified into consumer and MSME financing. Even under the tight liquidity conditions and uncertainties, the company built the credit lines brick by brick from USD 100 million in 2010, to over USD 900 million by 2012.

He was still negotiating with one Gurgaon-based PE when Vaidya had a chance meeting with a senior Warburg Pincus professional one evening on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai on March 7, 2012. Not letting go of the opportunity of having two captive hours with a large PE, he pitched the same story on the flight. In later negotiations, WP said they wanted to see a well-defined idea (he told them we’ll lend to micro- entrepreneurs), in an industry that has great potential (his case was Financial services), and in an economy they have confidence in (he says “what’s better than India?”). He assured them he could build a loan book of $4-5 billion in 5-7 years if he had their backing. To show personal commitment, he agreed to lock in his entire stake and signed many other caveats, locking himself in contractually.

After 3 months of negotiations, WP agreed to invest $150 mn, with which the existing shareholders were bought out, an open offer launched for the minority shareholders for 26% and fresh equity infused into the company. The deal was concluded and thus Capital First was founded with all things new- new shareholders, a new Board, new business lines, new name and a new Brand.

It was a big breakthrough. “I couldn’t sleep that night” he says, after 2 uncertain years, there was certainty. Since then, Capital First has built a loan book of USD 2 billion, acquired an astonishing 2 million micro-customers, hired 1300 employees. The share price of the company has moved to over Rs. 350 now, and market cap increased from $125 million to over $500 million between 2012 to 2016. “India is really incredible India, anything is possible here.” says Vaidyanathan.


“When Adam Draper does Crypto Standup, Singapore listens”



I live and work in Singapore and Santa Monica. Yes, I am blessed. However, my life has been by design, I think of what I want and so I make my life choices and make them happen in my life. Hence the bi-continent living and that comes with bi-continent and now global community living, being and ecosystems building. So I am now never surprised when one part of my world meets another.

I went to Wavemaker Partners venture capital event this evening, keen to meet Adam Draper, who is one of the many great presenters at Crypto Invest Summit, April 30- May 2 in Los Angeles.

Since I actively support leaders who are building scalable, sustainable businesses and movements for the betterment of many; of course I am learning about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. I had been keen to report on the Crypto Invest Summit as I would be back in May to LA for my PhD programme. I was in communications with the organizers. However, I am being awarded an award at the Women Economic Forum in Delhi that same week and could not be physically present.

Still I wanted to report on the event, somehow.

I wanted to listen to the speakers and support some of the speakers who are already friends and experts I rely on for greater insights on cryptocurrency. I like learning and sharing with the greater audience, I have in Asia what I am learning from the US and vice versa. So I feel I had my chance tonight to do a bit of that.

I could not help but smile as Adam Draper shed light into his world of investing in more than 85 crypto related products because he was such a breath of fresh air to the last few Blockchain and Financial conferences I have been reporting on; especially here in Asia.

He just says it like it is.

He kept stopping the audience when they said Blockchain and he said, “You know you really mean cryptocurrency.”  He hit the nail on the head because I have seen so clearly how this phrase had been said in Singapore time and again – “I am not into cryptocurrency but I believe in Blockchain.”

When he said how there was an incongruity as he sat across bankers who personally invested in cryptocurrency and when faced with an inbound of requests from their clients on the same investment; are tied by regulations and are unable to respond.

Here’s some of his best lines. If you don’t laugh or “ah-ha” the way I did, you probably just had to be there. The truth is funny because it calls out for something we all see but sometimes just do not want to admit.

There is a growing understanding of the underlying thematics that the cryptocurrency world has been experiencing as the interface between centralize; de-centralize and personal autonomy becomes more and more apparent and lines get drawn.

Adam Says:

1) The newest phenomenon is that some of the ICO founders are now just so rich from their ICOs that they really don’t need to work on the project they asked for money for.

2) For the crypto-world, money doesn’t matter anymore!
They need talent

It’s so founder friendly now.

3) What Bitcoin made us ask is “What is money?”

The next question is “What is government and governance?”

He highlighted if an entrepreneur is looking for a problem to solve., then the entrepreneur is always looking for horrible industries with poor services and high costs. So yes – Governments are those horrible industries and they need to be disrupted.

4)  Any company who comes to an investor and leads with how much ICO has raised; is a red flag. Leave immediately and go read a Harry Potter book instead.
If they are leading with value and not the problem they are solving. Beware. (read more here

5) If you are going to invest in where the brains are. It’s in crypto.

6) Philosophically, Coinbase is against ethos of what Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement is trying to do. However to do such a move from fiat to digital currency, there would need a way to do that. So Coinbase acts like a browser does for internet. One day there will be no need to cash in or out as everyone is already there on digital. Cryptocurrency is the exchange of value. His advice and we know his bias as he is invested in  Coinhako; is to hold onto an exchange for 3-5 years since onboarding of all users to the new digital currency will take some time.

Adam met with many banks and government bodies on his trip to Singapore – I hope they got his truths.

I ended the night by thanking Adam for making me laugh. He reminded me of how much I miss LA.

Want more of this?

If you are in LA on April 30 – May 2.



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Callum Connects

Adrian Reid, Founder of Enlightened Stock Trading



Adrian Reid escaped the rat race and became a knowledgeable trader. He now shares his trading knowledge and empowers others to take control of their stocks.

What’s your story?
After working 12-16 hour days in the corporate world for many years I had a moment of realisation on the 1 hour bus ride to work. It was here at this moment in time, I realised that I felt trapped, desperate and isolated. Trapped in a job I hated, and a life I had not designed. I had long been interested in investing, but I made the decision at that point to become the best trader I could possibly be and escape the rat race.
My dream was to be free; free of the 9 to 5, the commute, the stress and the exhaustion. I threw myself into my stock trading research and study and emerged 3 months later with the trading rules that would ultimately buy me my freedom. I am now retired from the corporate world, I trade full time and share my knowledge with other aspiring traders through my online education program which puts them in control and empowers them to take control and accountability for their trading results.

What excites you most about your industry?
So many people are trapped in jobs they don’t like or are feeling immense financial pressure in their life. Trading education is typically done extremely badly today because of the conflicts of interest in the industry. Fund managers want to hold onto your money forever; brokers want you to trade more frequently; forex brokers want you to use more leverage. Why? Because that is how they make their money.
By teaching traders how to develop and test their own stock trading systems I am able to empower them to find trading rules which fit their own personality, objectives and lifestyle. This is the only way for new traders to be successful. This process transforms people’s financial future, their relationship with money and wealth and gives them hope. I love that!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I recently spent 3 years living in Singapore which I absolutely loved. This put me in a good position to observe the other Asian markets. As a stock trader I am interested in many markets and economies around the world, however the Asian markets have some of the best potential for trading profits. I have traded stocks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have developed trading systems that work in many other Asian markets as well.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favourite city is Singapore. After living in Singapore for 3 years my family fell in love with the city. Life is great in Singapore for the whole family and the pro-business and investing policies of the government make it a wonderful place to build your financial future as well.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
On a personal front: Find something you love, throw all your energy and passion into it.
On the wealth front: Spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Take control of your finances and always accept 100% responsibility for your investment decisions.

Who inspires you?
My wife Stephanie inspires me. Her commitment to everything she does, her compassion, her insights into people and her ability to uplift those around her, make me want to be a better person.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
No matter what we think we know, there will always be a different perspective that can change our opinion. In my own trading, I continually find that the truths I cling to are not absolute and they can be misleading if held onto dogmatically. Striking a balance between taking a stance and knowing when to change that stance based on new information is critical in all areas of life.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more action earlier on. My fear of mistakes (which still limits me on occasions, like most people) has always proven to be baseless. Playing small to avoid the embarrassment or pain of mistakes is very limiting and I would have taken more action earlier, if I had my time again.

How do you unwind?
To unwind I like to read, meditate, run and ride my mountain bike in the forest.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I just love the small island resort at Batu Batu. It is beautiful, isolated, quiet and surrounded by clean water, full of sealife. After a week at the resort I felt like a different person.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book teaches the art of clear and structured communication. My time working as a business strategy consultant gave me a great appreciation for the importance of communication in business. Clear and effective communication can solve a myriad of challenges in your business and professional life, and as a strong communicator your employment prospects, business relationships, team performance and family life are all dramatically improved.

Shameless plug for your business:
Enlightened Stock Trading ( is the only stock market trading education business that empowers you, as an individual trader. It shows you how to design and test your own unique stock trading system that fits YOUR Personality, Objectives and Lifestyle. We have no conflicts of interest and we are focused on teaching you how to trade stocks profitably in a way that fits your life.
After working through the Enlightened Stock Trader Certification Program you will find yourself confident and empowered with your own battle tested trading system and trading plan to guide you through the markets.

How can people connect with you?
Email me directly at [email protected] or through my Facebook Page (

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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