Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

IP Lawyer To Building Startup in 170 Countries

Zain Ali

Centuro Global

Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

IP Lawyer To Building Startup in 170 Countries

Zain Ali


Centuro Global

Watch this episode on SpotifyWatch onListen on YouTube
Zain Ali Centuro Global
Full transcript here

About Zain Ali

The BAE HQ welcomes Zain Ali, CEO at Centuro Global.

Zain is a lawyer by background with both private practice and in house experience, and now CEO at Centuro Global. Specialising in helping scaling companies "Go Global" at a rapid pace as well as a super connector to experts around the world.

Their online platform helps companies plan, launch and operate anywhere in the world. Enter new markets quickly, cost-effectively and efficiently.

Zain Ali

Centuro Global

Show Notes

Headline partner message

From the first time founders to the funds that back them, innovation needs different. HSBC Innovation Banking is proud to accelerate growth for tech and life science businesses, creating meaningful connections and opening up a world of opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Discover more at https://www.hsbcinnovationbanking.com/

Full video of episode

Watch this episode on SpotifyWatch onListen on YouTube

Zain Ali Full Transcript

Zain Ali: [00:00:00] One of the problems I found very early on with a lot of my clients in my legal career was access to information. So around January 2020, I just made the decision. We're going to focus on global expansion. We're going to build a tech platform. Let's have an interactive database that has tons of information in it on every country in the world.

Zain Ali: So I just figured at this point, we need to, this is the time to hedge the bets. Like the industry, the market is asking for this product. We've had enough customer feedback. We've got product market fit. In 10 years, I want everyone to think, Oh, if I need to do anything global. Centuro Global, that's where I go.

Amardeep Parmar: Today we have on the podcast Zain Ali, who's a founder and CEO of Centuro Global. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a sportsperson. He ended up going into law, into IP law in particular, smashing it there, but having an itch where he wanted to do something different still. So he started his company off the back of that,

Amardeep Parmar: he had to make a few pivots, which you'll hear about. And then he's decided to make an app, which is changing the world, especially if you're a company that's looking to expand globally. So he talked through that [00:01:00] journey, how he was able to use venture capital, how he was able to build a product just by not having a product background.

Amardeep Parmar: And then what's been the highlight so far, and what's the vision for the future? So I hope you enjoyed today's episode. So Zain, you are now the CEO of Central Europe Label. Well, obviously you didn't start that way. So when you were a kid, what were your ambitions? What did you hope to be one day?

Zain Ali: I think I was one of those kids that never really knew what they wanted to do.

Zain Ali: There were just so many options. And I always found it frustrating that all my friends, you know, they always knew what they wanted to do. I had a lot of Asian friends who were like, I'm going to be a doctor. They're like 10 years old, eight years old. And they knew they wanted to be a doctor. I mean, for me, I was like, I wanted to be a cricketer.

Zain Ali: I wanted to be a footballer. I want to be a spy. I used to like writing. So I thought maybe I can be a, I don't know, an author, journalist. There were just too many options. And I was like, all right, let me just see where life takes me and I'll figure it out. And I want to do something I'm passionate about.

Zain Ali: Um, but it was always a frustration because even as I grew older with the GCSEs, I didn't even know what subjects to pick. Whereas my friends were like, oh, we're doing double maths. I'm going to do physics, chemistry, biology. It was always clear. Whereas for me, it was always uncertain. But I think I've always just had a very [00:02:00] intellectually curious mind and I just interested in everything.

Zain Ali: So I didn't want to specialize too early if that's the right, I don't think I was thinking like that, but, you know, kind of keep it all open minded and have aspirations. I just knew whatever I did, I wanted to do really well. I was always ambitious, wanted to achieve something, but what that was, I think I really knew as a kid.

Amardeep Parmar: Did you get pressure from the people around you to try and pick earlier?

Zain Ali: Fortunately not. I think I was quite fortunate in that sense. ‘Cause obviously, you get influenced by people around you. I think I just was interested in everything. And I think everyone who saw me knew that, you know, my parents never had to ask me to do homework. I'd come home, it'd be done, right? No one had to ask me to do anything.

Zain Ali: I just got stuff done. That's just been my personality. And I give him the friends like as a kid growing up, you know, once I think MSN was around at that point, and that was before we had smartphones, people messaging, Oh, asking about homework. Have you done this? Have you done that? They're stressing about revising before exams.

Zain Ali: I used to get everything done in about an hour once I'm done from once I'm home from school, and then I would chill. I'd relax. Everyone's stressing. I haven't done it. It's been a week. It's due tomorrow. Whereas [00:03:00] my mentality was, is actually good to get out of the way. Then I can relax and do what I want versus relax and do what I want and then panic and have to do it the other way.

Zain Ali: So yeah. There wasn't really much pressure around me to do anything specific because I think everyone just knew I'd get stuff done. 

Amardeep Parmar: And where did you end up studying in the end and why did you pick it? 

Zain Ali: So I ended up studying history at university, which was a bit of a rogue one for family. Um, my parents have always been quite relaxed with what I do. So not your stereotypical asian parents are like you got to be a doctor engineer lawyer.

Zain Ali: Although my mum did really want me to be a lawyer. Um, she said it throughout. She was like, Oh, you'd be a really good lawyer. And the more she said it, the less I wanted to do it. But in the back of my mind, I kind of wanted to do it because she was saying it. I was like, maybe we should think about something.

Zain Ali: One of those natural things as a kid. So I ended up picking history just because I thought it was one of my favorite subjects at school. It's literally encompasses everything. Like you, you can pick what you study at university. What time periods. So I just found it fascinating. And then the skills you get from it, I thought no one realizes this, but they're so transferable, like to law, to any other career.

Zain Ali: Like you've got to have critical thinking. You've got to be able to research things. You give your [00:04:00] opinion, you make arguments. One of my favorite quotes, um, is from a, oh no, I've forgotten his name. It's embarrassing, but I think it's Carlos Santana, that's the singer Santayana. I can't remember who the quote is from, but he said it was something along the lines of, if we don't know, if you don't know where you've been, you can't know where you're going.

Zain Ali: So with history, history is literally everything. It's the state of the world. So if you look at what has happened in the past, why people have done it, where it's taken you to. That's the best foundation for you to then move forward. It kind of comes back to mistakes, right? The best way to grow and learn is by making mistakes because you have that experience.

Zain Ali: You see what worked, what didn't work, how to improve on it in the future. It's the same with history. You look back, why did certain things happen? Why did certain people have success? Why did they not? And you learn from it and it helps you progress. So that's why I picked history. My grandparents were very confused.

Zain Ali: Why are you doing that? You should be doing medicine or something like that. But now that's what I wanted to do. And then I converted to law afterwards. So I did a GDL conversion course, LPC, got a training contract and then went down the legal journey. 

Amardeep Parmar: How did you find that legal journey? [00:05:00] ‘Cause obviously I said, you didn't know what you wanted to do originally.

Amardeep Parmar: You had the back in mind, maybe I want to do law, but you don't want to do it. Cause your mom was, you're like, am I doing the right choice? Or I just think it's because your mom wanted you to. But on the actual working in a corporate, in the law environment, did you find an environment you thrived or how did you find that experience?

Zain Ali: Actually really enjoyed the experience to be fair. I mean, when I was at university, I was trying to explore different career options. So you go to the career days, you go to open days, you start applying for grad schemes, like everyone's applying to banks and consultancy, big four, all this usual stuff. So I started doing the same thing, making all these applications, got invited to interviews, assessment days.

Zain Ali: And then I was there and I was just like, subject matter doesn't really interest me. I feel like I'm just here because everyone's here and this is the thing you're supposed to do. Um, cause I haven't taken the medical route or the engineering route. So this is more, whatever other subjects you study, you go down this route.

Zain Ali: So even when I considered law, I was thinking, what am I actually interested in? I'm interested in sport. So sports law would be interesting. I'm interested in, you know, technology, branding, marketing, psychology. [00:06:00] So maybe intellectual property law would be interesting. So those were kind of my, my thought processes.

Zain Ali: So I decided to do the GDL and I would use that as a test bed for, do I actually like law before I fully commit to it? And worst case, I've got a GDL, which is a good thing to have. And it's always good to know the law in life. So that was my kind of thought process, did the GDL and I actually really loved it, which not many people may agree with because it's a very intense year.

Zain Ali: It's effectively a three year law degree because you just do the core module. So maybe two years of a law degree compressed into nine months. So it's very intense. I remember the exams. I did it at the College of Law, which is now the University of Law. It was literally back to back every day, one weekend gap.

Zain Ali: So I think it was nine exams, Monday to Friday, you got the weekend off and then Monday to Thursday, three hour exams, completely different topics, closed book, so you had to memorize all the case law, and there was no time between exams. You're going from landlord to criminal law to EU law. It was insane, but I enjoyed it.

Zain Ali: Got applied for training contracts, got into a law firm called Bird and Bird, which are number one in the country for sports and [00:07:00] IP. So that was kind of my goal. I got the firm I wanted. I didn't, you know, corporate has always been interesting. And now I'm in business. It's even more interesting. But at the time I was thinking, it was, I went to university in 2008, you know, it's when the, you know, financial crash happened and everyone's talking about collateralized debt obligations and all these things.

Zain Ali: And I was just like, I'm more interested in sport and IP, so I'm going to pick that firm. And I managed to get into the, my top choice firm and I loved it. It was a great experience. 

Amardeep Parmar: What did you actually specialize in? So did you do both IP and law or which one did you go down in the end? 

Zain Ali: Yeah, so I ended up doing.

Zain Ali: So in the training contract, you spend six months in four different departments. So I spent a year, so two of those stints in IP, so intellectual property, one in dispute resolution and one in sports. So I kind of got to do everything I wanted to do. And then I had a choice between qualifying into the sports law team or the IP team.

Zain Ali: Both were kind of competitive and you kind of throw your hat into the ring. With sports, they only had, it's split in two. So you've got commercial and then you've got disputes. And I prefer the idea of, you know, fighting a case, going to court, that sort of thing. So I didn't... 

Amardeep Parmar: What you see on TV, [00:08:00] right? 

Zain Ali: Yeah, exactly.

Zain Ali: So they only had an availability in the commercial side. So I was umming and ahhing about that. Whereas with IP, it was, you know, disputes, you're fighting against IP infringements and things. So I picked IP, qualified into that department. 

Amardeep Parmar: And where did the idea for starting your own thing come into this, right?

Amardeep Parmar: So you're working in law, obviously a prestigious job, working in the city. You tell people you're a lawyer, people are like, okay, yeah, you're doing well in life. But then you had this itch to do something on the side. Where did that come from? Because originally, Centauri Global was very different to what it is today.

Zain Ali: I think, you know, going back to what I said earlier, as a kid, I was just interested in so many things. And I've always been curious, like, I love meeting new people, I love traveling, I love new cultures. Even from a professional capacity, I just like to constantly be growing, and like, personal development, I think is crucial And I'm one of those people who always feels like it doesn't matter how much I achieve, how much I learn, I still feel like I know nothing because there's so much more to learn and so much more to grow.

Zain Ali: And it's easy to forget that because when I talk to people and I start giving people, ask me questions, they ask for advice. And I come out with all this advice and I was like, Oh, maybe I do know [00:09:00] what I'm just thinking of everything else I need to learn and grow. So when I was working in law, I really enjoyed it.

Zain Ali: I thought it was great, but there was more I wanted to do. And I got the seed of the idea for Centuro because when I was doing my training contract, I was working in different departments and I had a mixture of clients who were kind of scale up tech companies and large multinational corporates and we were doing global because obviously the firm I work for was international.

Zain Ali: 30 odd offices around the world and end up doing a few cases where I was coordinating globally. So I would work with our, you know, offices in different countries. I'd work with other law firms where we don't have an office in that country or where we need a certain specialism. And I kind of saw the struggles of, you know, international business.

Zain Ali: It doesn't matter if you're a Coca Cola or a Disney for huge, or if you're, you know, an Uber in 2012, that wants to launch in London and Paris for the first time, you're only in Silicon Valley, you know, early on in that journey, they all had the same challenges. And I was like coordinating a lot of legal stuff, but then there were tax issues that were immigration issues, employment law, commercial law, IEP.

Zain Ali: There were just so many [00:10:00] elements to it. And I was working out of Excel and I worked at a firm that markets itself as being, you know, one of the top firms globally for tech and we were using Excel. And I just thought there's got to be a better way of doing this. So I had the idea in the back of my mind.

Zain Ali: I tried to discuss some of it with some of the partners at the firm. They were like, Oh, some of these ideas sound great. I always had random ideas. Even for a client pitch, I was invited to a meeting where we're thinking we're going to go, um, pitch this large video games company. And I had an idea to do a magic trick in the pitch, tell a story

Zain Ali: with a Rubik's Cube and show how we would solve all their problems. And like, literally like that, flick the Rubik's Cube in the air, it's solved. And it was a bit quirky. It's a bit out there. Obviously everyone laughs at me. I thought it was a great idea. They didn't want me to do it. Um, but I had all these random ideas of things I wanted to do.

Zain Ali: And I had the idea for the business and I just had an itch and I was like, okay, I could stay here. I could, you know, hopefully become a partner one day and have that comfortable life, but you're working hard. I wasn't working the longest hours in the world, but you're working long hours. It can be intense.

Zain Ali: You know, when you're going to court, you're working crazy hours for the months leading up. Then you get kind [00:11:00] of slightly more manageable time. I think if I'm going to run a business, I'm going to work crazy intense hours. I'm in control of my own kind of destiny. And I just had an itch that I wanted to scratch.

Zain Ali: So that's what kind of made me take the leap. And I guess going back to my childhood, my parents have both been entrepreneurs as well. So growing up as a kid, you know, I'd be in the lounge. I'm like six, seven years old. And you know, my dad's trying to design a website on the computer. I'd go in the room and I'd sit there and I'd watch him and I'd try and help him.

Zain Ali: And he'd ask me for advice on how it looks and a logo. They'd created a logo and they sat there in business. And I watched that from a young age and I watched them literally start this business in the garage. And then they grew and scaled and turn that business into a global business with 50 offices around the world.

Zain Ali: So I watched my parents start from literally scratch. And I went on that journey with them when they rebranded, when they did all these things. And they really made it after I went to university. So during that period, I kind of just saw that growth and they always encouraged me to, you know, try and work for yourself if you can in the future.

Zain Ali: So I think that [00:12:00] also played a big part. 

Amardeep Parmar: With your parents having done that, did you almost feel more pressure to succeed when you did go? Because it's like, it's one thing if you're trying to fight against everybody else and say, hey, I can do this and nobody else can. When your parents have done that, then it's like, well, now if I can do my own thing, I've got to live up to that high standard.

Amardeep Parmar: How is that? For you, would you agree?

Zain Ali:  It's a good question. I guess I've never really thought about it like that. I think my philosophy in life is always just to do the best I can. I'm very ambitious. I've seen my parents succeed. I know what they've been able to achieve. There is an element, I guess, in the subconscious of like, can I live up to that?

Zain Ali: Because they've done so well. And it's probably even more pressure because I have them there as mentors so I can learn from them and I should be able to take that and do my own thing. But I try not to let that bother me. I just try and do what I need to do. I want to be my own person, want to be my own man, create my own business.

Zain Ali: I just kind of try and focus on that. I think pressure is also good. So as long as you don't, doesn't overwhelm you and you take it the wrong way, you can sometimes use that as fuel to keep you going and think, look, I need to do this. I need to do it really well. As long as I do a good job. I'm not trying to compare what I'm doing.

Zain Ali: They'd [00:13:00] set up a traditional services business. I'm trying to build a, you know, a tech sass company. Which is involved, which is related to services as well, so it's even more difficult to productize professional services, which has never successfully really been done before. So it's a tall ask, tall order, but it's something that I'm kind of setting out to do.

Zain Ali: So I think I just take that pressure and use it as fuel. 

Amardeep Parmar: Soin that first period of you working for yourself now, what was the initial idea? Like, what was your initial strategy to try and grow this out? 

Zain Ali: So the original idea was at Bird and Bird, we worked with the Justy accelerator program. Um, and one of my friends who was in the corporate department, he was kind of, you know, front leading the from the front on that kind of initiative.

Zain Ali: And we'd give pro bono, like free legal advice to some of the startups on the program. So he got a few of us in different departments to contribute. So he was doing some of the corporate stuff, hoping you can help them with the fundraise. Someone in the employment team would come in. I was from the IP, so I would give trademark advice.

Zain Ali: How do you register your trademark, protect your brand and so on. So I started working with a variety of different startups and they all [00:14:00] had a million questions. And they were like, how do we do this? How do we do that? How do we be on fundraising? Like, how do we set up a company properly? If we want to set up in another country, how does it affect our corporate structure?

Zain Ali: The trademarks? Can you introduce me to investors? Can you introduce me to someone in this country? And I started researching and obviously there are accelerator programs, some, there's very few that, you know, have a really good reputation, they really help companies, but then there's tons that people have set up where it's kind of mixed bag, I guess.

Zain Ali: So I was looking at it and at the time there was nothing online and I was trying to think, you know, there's entrepreneurs all over the world or there's people with talent all over the world that might want to do something, but don't have access to the resources to do it. You know, you've got people in, I won't name any particular countries, but literally there's so many countries where they just don't have the access you would get in London or in New York or in Silicon Valley or Berlin, for example.

Zain Ali: So I was thinking, why don't we create an online platform where, you know, I can build this network and we can create it in layers. So when you're a seed company, this is the support you need. So we built a roadmap. We were like, these are all the steps a [00:15:00] successful seed company takes. These are the things you need to do from a legal perspective, a compliance perspective, a networking perspective, um, and then so on all the way through to, you know, expanding globally to.

Zain Ali: So that was the original vision, build this online kind of portal and create a network, a community, build an app where people can interact and, you know, just help anyone, anywhere in the world to succeed. But that's a huge undertaking. So spent a year doing that. And it was just overwhelming how much work was involved.

Zain Ali: And it didn't even make sense to try and do everything at once. So we thought, okay, we could start with seed, but seed stage companies, they need the most support. Majority of them sadly fail and none of them want to pay for anything. So from a business perspective at a commercial perspective, whilst it sounds nice, it just wasn't really effective.

Zain Ali: And I looked at my career and I was like, okay, I've been helping companies at the global expansion stage or international cross border stage. And if you look at startup series A, B onwards, they've got money to expand. You look at multinational enterprises, they're doing [00:16:00] global cross border business every day.

Zain Ali: So I thought. It makes sense to just focus. So around January, 2020, I just made the decision. We're going to focus on global expansion. We're going to build a tech platform that solves, you know, some key problems. So if you're a company that already has global operations or expanding for the first time, there's a ton of information you need to know. Right.

Zain Ali: It takes weeks to book in a meeting with a lawyer, even to find the right lawyer or accountant. Do I need a lawyer? Do I need an accountant? Do I need tax advice? You don't even know what you don't know. Right. And it gets so confusing. And even if you've done it before in one country, you've expanded to the US, which has so many complexities.

Zain Ali: That's completely different to expanding into Japan, you know? So just because you've done it once doesn't mean you can take that experience and easily do it again. So one of the problems I found very early on with a lot of my clients in my legal career was access to information. We would spend weeks creating reports, 100 page report, 50 page report, you know, the front page of the report says, we advise you don't do this, but you can.

Zain Ali: And here's the if, buts and maybes. And then there's a hundred pages and the client's like, well, I don't know what to do with this. Doesn't really help me with [00:17:00] my commercial goals. And I've just paid 10 grand for all those legal hours. So I thought, let's build a platform. Let's have an interactive database that has tons of information in it on every country in the world where

Zain Ali: people can go in, they can click, they can ask questions, um, we'll build AI in, this is all conceptual at the time, you know, it will start to give advice, all the advice that, you know, knowledge I've gathered, I'm going to get knowledge from lawyers around the world, I'm going to build up a network, they're going to plug their knowledge in, and we're going to have this AI tool that spits out information, that was kind of the vision early on, and then companies would take that, plan their international expansion and then when they wanted services, they could request it on the platform so then they could track everything in one system.

Zain Ali: So it's not just emails, like hundreds of different providers, different CRMs that each individual provider has. It's one place. You've got a dashboard. What are we doing in Germany? What are we doing in Spain? We're getting, you know, we're setting up an entity. In Spain, we're going to send our founders there.

Zain Ali: We're going to send a team of five. We've got visa applications to sort out immigration stuff, work permits. You can just track everything in [00:18:00] one system. And then even those providers, they, if you give them permission, they can see the different parts of the journey that they're waiting on. They're dependent on, you just upload documents.

Zain Ali: Once it's secure, it's more secure than email and you don't have to have repeatedly send documents to hundreds of vendors around the world. It's all in one system. So that was kind of the vision. And at the start, it was like, well, how do we build this? That was the tricky part. And this was before, you know, LLMs and chat GPT.

Zain Ali: So we just went, got tons of information, created like an interactive database, bit like Wikipedia, but we made it really, UX was always important to me and UI and I wanted everything to visually look really good and easy for people to use. So that was abig undertaking in itself. We've built this amazing database.

Zain Ali: You can pick a country in the world on a map or select it from a dropdown. It gives you country facts. It gives you, how do you set up an entity compares different options and just help make up, make, help people make decisions very quickly. And then last year, obviously chat GPT came out and at first you know, people were asking me questions, Oh, is this [00:19:00] gonna, you know, take away the need for your business or that that element of your business or your platform?

Zain Ali: I was like, No, this is brilliant. This is what I've been waiting for, because it's ultimately the tool does one thing, but it's the data and the knowledge that people need and chat GPT has data from the internet and from various sources and books and so on, but it hasn't been trained specifically for what we're doing so that this technology enables so many businesses to use it with their own knowledge.

Zain Ali: So with tax legal, we can use that to our advantage. So actually, it's just really helped us this year. 

Amardeep Parmar: It's interesting  that journey you've had there, right? From going from your original idea. So then pivoting what you're doing today, and I think one of the key points for the audience there too is a little piece about what people might want, right?

Amardeep Parmar: As a different team, what people want based on what they'll pay for. Cause like you said, a lot of stage companies would want what you were building, but they wouldn't actually be able to afford it. And I think that's quite a danger people get into. It's like they survey people. Would you want this rather than would you pay for this?

Amardeep Parmar: And it's two different elements and you can't [00:20:00] be building something that people want, but people won't pay for you. You don't have a business. And that's why the pivot towards the large company you said there makes so much sense. And like I said, about building this now, right? So it's first of all, okay, you had your initial database, but how did you actually go about like that product side of things?

Amardeep Parmar: Right. ‘Cause you had a law background and you said, you're curious in different things, but like to build an app from the idea to getting to that stage. How did you go about that? Like who did you get people on board? How did you find the right people to help you do that? 

Zain Ali: Yeah, it's a good question. I think I don't have any tech background.

Zain Ali: So yeah, I started reaching out to my network, trying to get introductions and I wanted to build a website as well, obviously, because the look and feel was really important to me. I thought, let me find a designer who can help with this. So I explained the vision of the company to him, explain things I liked.

Zain Ali: And then he got really into it and he started creating a mind map. He was like, to create your website, I need to know your business inside out. So we built this mind map. We sat in a room for about three days, just mapping everything out. And then he was like, I can help you design the app as well. [00:21:00] So he started getting involved with not just the website, but let's start creating designs for an app.

Zain Ali: Let's mock some screens up and create some design files, XD files, and see how this can look and make it interactive. So that was a pretty cool journey. And then he has a lot of technical knowledge. So he, I had all the ideas and he would map them out and then he would say. We could do this or we could do that.

Zain Ali: He was really, really helpful from the technical side of things, because I always said, this is the end goal. This is what I want to achieve. This is what I want it to look like, but how do we do it? And that was the bit I was missing. So having him come in quite early on was pivotal and he's gone and built the tech team for us.

Amardeep Parmar: It's interesting though, because when you started out, you didn't necessarily think it would be event scale business and be a global as it is today. So how is that adjustment in your thinking too? Right? Because you didn't start out this business and think, okay, I need to go and raise venture capital and it's going to do this.

Amardeep Parmar: And I think many people that I've talked to as well, venture capitalism that comes later in the journey when they first quit their job, it's not something they ever think about. So when did you think, actually, what I need here is I need support. I need that [00:22:00] investment from that side of the world.

Zain Ali: Yeah. So I think running a venture business is very different to a standard business.

Zain Ali: So the whole purpose of venture is to invest in taking a risk, right? You need to build something. You can't sell something until you've got a product to sell and to build it costs money. So if you don't have any money, how do you build something? So when I started the business, it was more advisory initially.

Zain Ali: So I thought I can, you know, sell consultancy services, you know, use that to test the market. If people are interested, I can, you know get estimates. How much did it take to build a basic platform and just use the revenue to build it. But then as we grew, we started focusing on this global expansion. And then the ideas were just huge.

Zain Ali: And it was like, we can build all these tools. We want to build AI. I wanted to create modules. I don't know if a lot of your listeners use HubSpot or anything, but HubSpot is a CRM and you've got functionality for sales for marketing. For data for just collecting everything and there's different purposes for it.

Zain Ali: So I thought, why don't we create something similar for global expansion? So for the visa immigration side, there's a suite of tools, there's suite of tools for business incorporation and so on tax and [00:23:00] whatnot. So to build something like that takes a lot of money and you need funding to really scale it and we bootstrapped and we

Zain Ali: built a really solid platform in my humble opinion without any funding. And we got to this stage where we thought people would say to us, Oh, how much money have you raised? And we're like, we haven't raised anything. And they're like, well, how did you build this? And it was like, well, it was through revenue.

Zain Ali: And you know, I didn't pay myself a salary for a good couple of years. I was in the privileged position of being a lawyer and I had savings and I made the decision, you know, I can live off of these for X period of time, which meant I could take that risk. I didn't, you know, didn't have a family at the time, kids or anything.

Zain Ali: So we got to this position and then I just figured we'll build something good. But to really scale it, to really go to market in a big way, we need to hire really good people. And, you know, the salaries were crazy high in the past couple of years. Finding talent's been difficult. So I just figured if we want to scale this product the way we want to do it, customers were giving feedback.

Zain Ali: We want this feature. We want that feature. And we couldn't do anything quick enough. Everything was slow from a product development perspective. So I just figured at this point. [00:24:00] We need to, this is the time to hedge the bets like the industry, the market is asking for this product. We've had enough customer feedback.

Zain Ali: We've got product market fit in the sense of people using it and, and paying for it, but we haven't properly, we had to just don't have the resources to scale it. So that was the moment where I thought, okay, let's start thinking about fundraising, speaking to VCs, trying to do that. But obviously, the timing of that was 2022 when, when funding kind of came to a halt effectively.

Amardeep Parmar:And   was it a bit easier considering, considering you already built a platform, you already had customer demand, did the conversation with VCs go as you expected, or was it harder than you expected? 

Zain Ali: It was probably easier than I expected in a lot of ways. What was difficult was, what we had sold was services where people would use the platform.

Zain Ali: So we hadn't sold any subscriptions or we had, but not a significant amount and they were all over the place. We didn't have a clear pricing and we were just testing it. What are people willing to pay and so on? So the biggest roadblock I had with VCs was [00:25:00] recurring revenue versus services revenue. So it's like if you have a subscription, you're getting money every month.

Zain Ali: It's guaranteed. There's a contract. You pay Netflix. 12 pounds a month and it, let's say it was for a year that you're locked in, you know you're getting 12 pounds a month with services. Somebody might set up a company in January and they'll pay you 10 k, they might, or whatever the amount is. And you know, they might do nothing for another four months and they might ask for a visa, so there's no guarantee of revenue.

Zain Ali: So even though you're gonna make more money from all the services than you would from a 10 pound a month subscription. Investors prefer the confidence of, you know, recurring revenue. So our challenge was at the time that we hadn't, we had repeat revenue. So we had clients who were consuming every month and we knew what they were going to purchase.

Zain Ali: And it was effectively recurring revenue, but because it wasn't, you know, contracted, this is the minimum amount every month. That was my biggest roadblock with VCs because when you're pitching traction, the more traction you have, the more convincing you need to show VCs. One, that there's a huge market size opportunity, because if you look at it.

Zain Ali: As a founder, you're taking a [00:26:00] risk to set up a business. If you're going to take funding, there has to be a minimum 3, 5, 10x return. Otherwise you're just burning money for nothing. So from a VC perspective, they also raise money. They raise it from limited partners. They have targets to hit. Their portfolio companies have to hit these numbers.

Zain Ali: If you don't show the opportunity to hit those numbers, then it's not even worth them looking at it. Then from attraction perspective, you need to show that you've, depending on what stage you are, whether it's precede seed series A and so on, there's certain elements of traction. So we showed, like you say, we built a platform, we've got customers, we've got revenue.

Zain Ali: So that was a massive advantage. And then it was just shifting the mindset of or demonstrating how we have a plan to turn this into recurring revenue. We have a plan for this to be a really scalable SAS platform. And I think that was the key to unlocking a lot of good investor discussions.. 

Amardeep Parmar: So You're obviously able to raise that money and you've gone on to raise like a seed round recently as well.

Amardeep Parmar: Could you talk a bit about like what your traction is like in today?

Zain Ali: Yeah. So [00:27:00] we closed the seed round in March of this year, which was a process. It was about three, four, five months of due diligence, which is understandable in the current climate. But what we've done since closing the funding is really try and scale the team, scale the products.

Zain Ali: And from attraction perspective, we've onboarded, you know, wide variety of clients now. You know, when you're, when you first start a company to get an enterprise corporate client on is very difficult. There's a lengthy procurement process. You have to have a certain amount of revenue, reputation and big companies don't like to take risk and they tend to use traditional providers, old stuffy providers, just because they know it's reliable.

Zain Ali: Ticks the boxes, right? Internally, individuals may not want to use that provider. They might want a modern forward thinking tech solution for whatever it is, but you have to go through a procurement process. So we've been around for about four years now as a company, three and a half years, four years, and that longevity, even though it's not that long in the grand scheme of things, but we've got to a point now where we've been around long enough.

Zain Ali: Our accounts are good enough to start to win corporate clients. So we've started winning quite a few corporate clients this year. Before that we had mostly kind of SME scale ups, [00:28:00] mid market clients, and now we've really kind of hit that sweet spot and got numerous enterprises and that's just really helping us scale.

Zain Ali: And how many countries do you operate in as well? So we cover 170 plus countries. So our model is unique. So we have on the ground experts around the world. So we've hired people in Brazil and South Africa and. The U S in the Philippines and India and so on. So we've got a pretty global team. Remote works obviously helps with all of that.

Zain Ali: And then we also have on the ground experts globally. So lawyers, tax specialists, accountants, we've brought up a community. They're effectively an extension of our team. So we've trained them up on how we work, how the platform works. They plug in and they can offer those services through there. So it's been a unique way for us to.

Zain Ali: to effectively get presence globally overnight without having to set up entities ourselves. Yeah, all over. And if we need to, we're the experts in it. So we know we can do it. 

Amardeep Parmar: And what's been your proudest moment so far? 

Zain Ali:I guess I haven't had time to think, you know, I think the problem when you're a founder is you're always trying to look at the next thing.

Zain Ali: So you're looking at everything in milestones. Let's build a product, but the product's never complete. So you're like, okay, it serves this client. This [00:29:00] client's given this feedback or this user wants this and do other users want that? And then you keep building. And I don't know if it's a bad habit or if it's a good habit and it's something that all founders do or not, but I'm always looking at what's wrong versus what's gone well.

Zain Ali: And I think it is important to stop and reflect and say, We have achieved this. We have achieved that. I mean, I don't want to say the fundraiser is my proudest moment because a fundraiser is a means to an end, right? The goal is to get money to grow the business. If the business doesn't grow and you wasted the money, then it was pointless.

Zain Ali: Not pointless, but you know, it hasn't achieved anything. So, It's all good when we congratulate people for raising funds, but I think that's just the beginning. It's how you effectively, you know, utilize those funds. But the reason why I would say it's still a good thing to do is it's external validation.

Zain Ali: You've gone out, people have seen your business who are experts. They've compared it to lots of other businesses in the market. We did it in 2022 when, you know, hardly anyone was getting investment and it was a tough environment. So I'd say that was a good achievement. And I think the fact that before the fundraise we built, I'm a lawyer, like you say.[00:30:00] 

Zain Ali: I studied history, you know, put together a team and built a product, which a lot of people were convinced had been around for years and was a sophisticated product. And maybe we'd already had funds, which we hadn't. So I think, you know, just building a team of really good people, you know, making global connections and having a product.

Zain Ali: I think the whole concept of everything we've done today, I'd say I'm quite proud of rather than any one specific thing. But for me, it's just the beginning. I don't know if I'll always think about that. It just, it'll always be the beginning because there's always so much more to do. 

Amardeep Parmar: So if today is the beginning, what's the target for say 10 years time or 15 years time?

Zain Ali: Yeah. Where do you want this company to go to? 

Zain Ali:  Soif you look at kind of incumbents in the market today, if anyone wants to expand internationally, people don't think I need a tech solution. They think, how do I do it? I need an expert. I need a lawyer. I need an accountant. Whether it's in different countries or whether you use an international firm.

Zain Ali: So in 10 years, I want everyone to think, Oh, if I need to do anything global, Centura Global, that's where I go. So I want it to become the platform that people know as a [00:31:00] solution for all their challenges anywhere in the world to do with legal, immigration, tax, and so on. Anything, if you want to succeed anywhere in the world, we want that to be the platform.

Zain Ali: And I think if I can build up a global, a bigger global team and, you know, just be like the fifth player of the big four, become the big five, for example. Something like that, I think that would be a... Pretty good achievement. 

Amardeep Parmar: So the quick five questions now. Thank you so much for sharing your story so far.

Amardeep Parmar: So the first one is, Who are three British Asians that you'd love to spotlight today that you think the audience should be paying attention to? 

Zain Ali: So I'd say one is Uthish Ranjan. So he's a partner at Octopus Ventures and he started off as an engineer. Went into private equity investment banking and now he's in VC and I think, you know, he's doing a lot of great work trying to, you know, find great opportunities in the market.

Zain Ali: And I've known him for a long time and he started sharing a lot of content on LinkedIn and he's really trying to give advice to, to people on how you pitch to VCs and not just, there's so much advice out there. A lot of it's quite generic, [00:32:00] and he goes into real depth around metrics and traction and data.

Zain Ali: The data you need to really close certain rounds. So shout out to you, Uthish. Then I would also shout out Kush, Birdi and Lina Birdi. So I went to law school with Lina, which was in my class during the GDL. And, you know, we both went on to become lawyers and she's now set up a law firm. With her husband, Kush, and you know, they're, they're making the splash and it's quite difficult to set up a law firm, especially from scratch.

Zain Ali: And, you know, they, they're trying to make it modern, have great branding, and they're going out there and trying to do things in a different way. They help startups, they help scale ups, they help lots of different industries. So shout out to both of them. And the third one, I don't know if that counts as three because there's two of them.

Amardeep Parmar: They can count as one for this.

Zain Ali: Okay. And the third one, I'll shout my dad out. So. 

Amardeep Parmar: What's your dad's name? 

Zain Ali: Zafar. He has a business. He helps companies, particularly in the Middle East. So he does a lot of government. He calls it government liaison. So if you want to. You know, do business in the Middle East and Saudi [00:33:00] Arabia and other countries, he can help companies navigate the landscape, the regulations and so on.

Zain Ali: So he's also been a big help and a mentor for me. 

Amardeep Parmar: So if people have enjoyed listening to your journey today, I want to find out more about you and your company, where should they go to? 

Zain Ali: LinkedIn is probably the best place. So if you search Zain Ali. Um, since you're a global, I'll probably come up. I haven't posted for a while, but I, you know, I like to post on LinkedIn, share thoughts.

Zain Ali: So I'm always open to receiving messages and so on. 

Amardeep Parmar: And  is there anything that you need help right now that maybe the audience could help you with?

Zain Ali: Well, I think like any company, number one goal is always to get more users, more clients. Um, so if anyone thinks. anything has resonated today and you know, there's any partners they could introduce potential companies they think could utilize support with, you know, international expansion, then would love any introductions.

Amardeep Parmar: And thank you so much for coming on today. Any final words to the audience? 

Zain Ali: Well, thanks for having me. And final words, I would say anyone who wants to start a business, it's not an easy thing to do. So, you know, make sure you think it through really [00:34:00] carefully, but when you do do it, number one kind of thing to bear in mind is the power of a network and a community and people to support you.

Zain Ali: So get out there, network, message people on LinkedIn, meet people, get advice. And there's a whole host of, you know, founders and people who are really willing to give back and support you.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello, hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. It means a huge amount to us and we don't think you realize how important you are. Because if you subscribe to our YouTube channel, if you leave us a 5 star review, it makes a world of difference. And if you believe in what we're trying to do here, to inspire, connect and guide the next generation of British Asians, if you do those things, you can help us achieve that mission, and you can help us make a bigger impact.

Amardeep Parmar: And by doing that, it means we can get bigger guests, we can host more events, we can do more for the community. So you can play a huge part. So thank you so much for supporting us.

Coming soon...

Other episodes you may enjoy: