Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

Selling 2 Businesses For $200M And Accelerating The Next Gen

Saalim Chowdhury

Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

Selling 2 Businesses For $200M And Accelerating The Next Gen

Saalim Chowdhury

|

Watch this episode on SpotifyWatch onListen on YouTube
Saalim Chowdhury
Full transcript here

About Saalim Chowdhury

The BAE HQ welcomes Saalim Chowdhury.

Saalim Chowdhury, who was a partner at 500 Startups and Techstars. That's after exiting two companies, selling one to Cisco, having a combined valuation of over 200 million. But what's interesting is that from his small village in where he grew up, he was able to do all of this. We went through the corporate backgrounds to begin with and went through that journey.

Saalim Chowdhury

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

Saalim Chowdhury Full Transcript

Saalim Chowdhury: [00:00:00] It's not who you are that matters, it's what you do. Oh my god, there are these cool people, they're building these new companies, they've got these amazing ideas, they're really clever, they're changing things, they're having a go at doing things that other people just think is nuts. And I was like, that sounds way more fun than being a doctor.

Saalim Chowdhury: And lo and behold, that's where the idea of, right, I will go to pretentious university. I will try and find a job in pretentious consulting. I will go work at a startup and I will then one day become a venture capitalist.

Amardeep Parmar: Today we have on the podcast Saalim Chowdhury, who was a partner at Techstars. That's after exiting two companies, selling one to Cisco. Having a combined valuation of over 200 million. But what's interesting is that from his small village in Wales, where he grew up, he was able to do all of this. And we went through the corporate background to begin with and went through that journey.

Amardeep Parmar: And one of the hugely important things in his [00:01:00] entire journey is about being part of a squad. So you can learn about his philosophy and how he's giving back now to people like yourselves. Let's get started. So great to have you here. 

Saalim Chowdhury: Great to be here. 

Amardeep Parmar: So you've done so much in your history now and you've got building on so much more.

Amardeep Parmar: But if we take you back now, as a kid, what did Saalim want to be? What was the dreams? What was the ambitions?

Saalim Chowdhury: So I grew up in North Wales, which is obviously a natural place for Bengali immigrant family to be. It was wonderful. I think there's a, the difference between Wales and England in a large space, um, is that it's not

Saalim Chowdhury: who you are that matters, it's what you do and it was one of the reasons my family had such a warm welcome and still to this day like my mom and dad are still part fixture ferment in the community and that really shaped my idea of what I wanted to be It wasn't about could I be this blah blah. I was like, what can I do?

Saalim Chowdhury: But the one thing I always felt was at the same time I had [00:02:00] big ideas. And when you have big ideas in a small semi, it's not that rural, but still like middle of nowhere Wales and being clear, love it to pieces. Great place to be. Go Welsh innovation and entrepreneurship. But I had bigger dreams. Like I wanted to do, like, could I do something big?

Saalim Chowdhury: Like, I was just like, my head was in the clouds. And so when I was, I think 14, I used to work in a computer shop on the weekends, uh, back in the days you, they would assemble screw the graphics card in blah, blah, blah. And bless my parents. I'll let no. You need to go and yeah, go learn. Go learn about the world.

Saalim Chowdhury: Go do it. You know, it's actually just as important, if not more important than the academics, which is not bad for a brown parents, I think. And so anyway, while I was there, uh, I came across a magazine called Red Herring. The older listeners will be familiar with this. 

Amardeep Parmar: I'd say before my time, I didn't recognize that.

Saalim Chowdhury: So Red Herring was the original chronicle of the Sand Hill Road, uh, the VCs in the original dot com boom. So petthinkpets.com, et cetera, and I just remember reading about this and then it was this element of, Oh my God, there are these cool people that are [00:03:00] building these new companies. They've got these amazing ideas.

Saalim Chowdhury: They're really clever. They're changing things. They're having a go at doing things that other people just think is nuts. Like who wants pet food delivered to their door. Really? That could be a business. And they talked all about these amazing people from this company called McKinsey who were helping them through.

Saalim Chowdhury: And I was like, that sounds way more fun than being a doctor. And don't get me wrong. I actually love medicine. Health tech is one of my big investment areas, but it was just one of those. I was looking at it. It's like. Screw it. That sounds like a plan. And lo and behold, that's where the idea of right. I will go to pretentious university.

Saalim Chowdhury: I will try and find a job in pretentious consulting. I will go work at a startup and I will then one day become a venture capitalist. 

Amardeep Parmar: And somehow that vision right from the start?

 I will try and find a job in pretentious consulting. I will go I read about it and I was like, I was like, f*ck it. That sounds really awesome. Maybe I'll get there. Maybe I won't, but let's go and try.

Saalim Chowdhury: And you know, it all was okay. It all kind of, I got some version of it, [00:04:00] right? 

Amardeep Parmar: I think I've interviewed over 200 people now. I know the first person ever to be, as a kid, they wanted to be a VC. I've never heard that before.

Saalim Chowdhury: I mean, I didn't even knew what it really was, but it just sounded really cool to be going out and helping build things.

Saalim Chowdhury: That lots of people could use that changes the way things happen. And like, it just seemed like way, just like, you know, I love the idea of medicine from the image of helping individual people, but I knew I wanted, it was just like this element of that just sounds like what this sounds so cool. Why the hell not?

Saalim Chowdhury: And obviously I don't think I understood what it was. Right. And I still barely, I don't think I do understand it, what it is today either. You know, I'm an accelerator early stage VC. I'm not a grown up late stage kind of ex private ex. equity, doing financial math. I just, I'm a fundamental person. And that's the thing that's been so wonderful about that, about this journey.

Saalim Chowdhury: And somehow I managed to like get an inferior quality of version of, but just slightly inferior, you know, yeah, I didn't make it to Harvard. I didn't go to, you know, uh, I didn't go to McKinsey, but I just, just one bit, just one below, which [00:05:00] is, you know, it's fine. And I know I'm really grateful. And it's just me.

Saalim Chowdhury: I'm just fortunate is the honest answer. And I know everybody comes on these things, like, I'm so fortunate, I'm so lucky. But no, genuinely, like, I think of where my father comes from, and I think of where I am today. My father was born in the bottom 10 percent of the world. I'm, I'm a 1% er, like, of the world at 1%.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's just like, it's just incredible to think how far. And how lucky and yeah, sorry, I well up a little at this stuff, but like, no, but just like what my father put in to enable me to have these dreams. He didn't force me down any route. He just said, look, go be, just be professional. Just do something that you truly, that you will find joy out of.

Saalim Chowdhury: And that's the most important thing. ‘Cause if you're good at something. You don't have, it's not about showing off about it. It's not about, it's just about doing, do the good thing and then money, everything else you want, happiness will follow. And you know, yeah, I'm really lucky. And yeah, I pinch [00:06:00] myself pretty much every morning.

Saalim Chowdhury: I am literally one of the luckiest people alive. 

Amardeep Parmar: I love that. So it's, it's interesting to see that, that impact that your parents had on you as well. So if you're not aware, so it's going to be a big part of the reason BAE HQ exists is because what happened to my dad last summer. So after he passed, it was, how do I

Amardeep Parmar: pay it forward, right? My dad, similar thing to you. He didn't really care what I did. It was more about, are you going to do it in the right way? Are you going to do it with integrity? Or is it going to make you happy? And because he took the attitude, that's enabled me to do so much. And for the parents listening.

Amardeep Parmar: Well, I don't know if we're the best two examples of the outcome of parenting, but that kind of attitude enables people to flourish, right? 

Saalim Chowdhury: Well, ultimately, like when you think about the sort of the traditional Asian family values, it's all about like, you know, the whole aspiration of success is having a big house, but not keeping it empty, keeping it full, keeping it with laughter, keeping it full of family, everybody fighting, arguing, but togetherness.

Saalim Chowdhury: And I think that's what's really, really like one of the, these are, this is [00:07:00] a value that I've taken on very much in my career, which is like whenever you're building a company or an accelerator, it should feel exactly like that. My dad jokes, I'm unmarried. I don't have children. I often joke that the, the big Asian house family that I have is actually my accelerators, because I have this lovely, you know, like we sit, we eat dinners most evenings together.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's a huge, it's a very communal kind of thing. And so for me, that's a really important part of like what I've taken from my, you know, my Asian culture and brought forward. It's like, it doesn't matter where you're from, but you need having that strong base of family and support, regardless of what you choose to do, allows you to be the best version of yourself.

Saalim Chowdhury: And yeah, I think that's the other thing I really take from my upbringing and I try to bring forward, particularly in building sort of the startup world, building the communities. And I hate the term communities because it's much more about squads and families, right? Community sounds so broad and that's the whole thing.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's like this element of people that believe in each other and look after each [00:08:00] other. That is what has made entrepreneurship thrive. That is Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley. That is what makes all the leading world, leading accelerators, the world leading accelerators. 'cause they bring things together. 

Amardeep Parmar: So you  chose to go to BCG and you had it as your path for like going to consulting before doing this?

Saalim Chowdhury: Yes.

Amardeep Parmar: And  I, I think that was the right choice.

Saalim Chowdhury: McKinzie, but Alaska didn't get in. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. Was that, do you think that was the right choice in hindsight to go into consulting? 'cause I guess, oh, the alumni, 

Saalim Chowdhury: I'm really a bit weird, a bit weird about this. So, uh, I, I was not the, I wouldn't say I was a great consultant.

Saalim Chowdhury: But what I learned was a lot about the, how, how business works, how people behave, political hierarchies, political dynamics. It's like, when I look back at like, what have I learned from the institutions I was at? Universities, how to argue with white public school boys. And they, that's the thing. It's not just the white boys.

Amardeep Parmar: It's valuable life lessons, to be fair.

Saalim Chowdhury: Well, I mean, let's be honest. Like one of the things, the greatest privilege they have, and it's an amazing privilege, is the ability to focus on argument, rhetoric, how things are conveyed. And stuff. It's just that it's not accessible to everybody [00:09:00] and learning that skill.

Saalim Chowdhury: And it's just a wonderful thing. And equally the consulting world that any sort of professional services world teaches you the language of business, understanding how things work, you know, like the flip side of coming from an Asian family is that I always believed that just do the right thing and the good things will happen.

Saalim Chowdhury: And my dad was right, but sometimes you need to also understand the lay of the land, what people are actually saying when they mean stuff, et cetera. 

Amardeep Parmar: You can't be naive about the world, right? 

Saalim Chowdhury: But that's the thing is, it's like, unless you are immersed in, so if you're, you know, some people are lucky and they're born into a world where they see all that language, the color, people come over at dinner, et cetera.

Saalim Chowdhury: But for the rest of us. These, it was, these are just great institutions that allow you to do that, you know, and allow you to flourish. And so, and to learn these things that you don't have. So, yeah, for me, I'm a great believer that I really hate these ideas and I generally don't back founders straight out of college, simply because you need to learn how the world works.

Saalim Chowdhury: Yes, you're hungry. Yes, and it'll be [00:10:00] frustrating as hell, right? That's to be expected, right? Consulting firms, banks are consulting firms and banks. They all going to look at how entrepreneurial we are. And you're like, really? You resell services at markup. And you haven't changed your business model in 20 years.

Saalim Chowdhury: And only now you're kind of changing it 30, 40, 20, maybe 30, 40 years. It's like, it's not entrepreneurial, but what it does do is just as big elite institutions, like it's all about getting, it comes down to these families of wonderful people. And that's the thing that that's one of the things that I think has been the hallmark of, you know, of my life, like in Wales, community values are much more important.

Saalim Chowdhury: And so there were this whole element of those, this family that helped raise me. Colleges, universities, institutions. Like my time at the LSE was amazing because I was all of a sudden around a bunch of people who thought about the world, how big the opportunities were. They were from everywhere. It was great being the diversity person because I was British, right?

Saalim Chowdhury: Not because of anything else, right? [00:11:00] Nobody could throw a diver Oh, you're the diversity person. It's like, Oh, no, I'm British. Yes. It's great. Uh, and it was wonderful because you had this whole thing. And so immersing yourselves early in your career in environments where there are people you can learn from that help fill your blind spots.

Saalim Chowdhury: That's so valuable. And that, if without that, I would be nothing. I think that was the like, that was the real finishing school. That was the real thing I got out of those. My first, first years in sort of, you know, like the professional world. And so, and then going on to startup land was just like, you know, um, what was it?

Amardeep Parmar: What’s good with the transition then?

Saalim Chowdhury:  Honestly, I always knew as a startup person, I dabbled in startups while I was a kid, like trying to build my own stuff. Oh my God. It was, it was fun. And then, uh, but it was that element of, I knew I was there to go out and do and build. And when the opportunity came, it was just like, that's the right thing to do. I need to go like, you know, I love this stuff.

Saalim Chowdhury: I love these people I'm working with. Did I, was I in love with the product? Probably not. [00:12:00] But for me, it was just a great opportunity to learn, understand the way it works. ‘Cause I think, you know, the, something I wish I think is a maximum that some people may have said to use, but I think it's really valuable.

Saalim Chowdhury: You should be using your twenties to learn, uh, your thirties to earn and your forties to yearn as in to yearn for whatever you wish you didn't do and then go do it right in an ideal world. Now, I guess I'm lucky because I'm doing that. I accept I'm the luckiest person alive, literally. Uh, and maybe I'm just, it's a revised narrative based on, you know, just reflect, Oh, how wonderful am I?

Amardeep Parmar: So yeah, that, that first startup, was it skill bridge is the first major time into?

Saalim Chowdhury: no, no. So, um, scan safe, which was acquired by Cisco, uh, was the first product. person there. Um, we raised money from what is, uh, what was Boullderton, uh, Bolton is it was benchmarked back then. So alas, according to the document, I was supposed to, the magazine I was supposed to raise from Sequoia.

Saalim Chowdhury: So like I said, failed miserably, but no, they, it was great [00:13:00] entity. We built SAS, you know, enterprise security software, um, which obviously was great at dinner parties. And, you know, like you easily go, Hey, what do you do? I work in enterprise SAS security, keeping web security and. Portal stuff, but.. 

Amardeep Parmar: Now it was how it's cool back then.

Amardeep Parmar: I guess it was less of a, 

Saalim Chowdhury: Oh my God. Everybody thought I was an idiot. Why are you leaving? You should do sensible. You're sensible. And I'm like, no, also, I think also it's just like a personality trait. Like. I am very much interested in things that change. I'm very much like looking, I don't think like a normal person, which has been one of the banes of my life and one of the joys, right?

Saalim Chowdhury: I'm very good at like, uh, by associative thinking. That's basically a fancy way of saying, it's fancy saying I like puns. So, uh, I have, I do actually have a presentation on this, why people who make puns make great entrepreneurs, right? Nobody believes me when I have that. Um, and I've given it a few times.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's, it's what I hear everything, but it's this whole amount of by associative thinking. [00:14:00] Like you look at one thing, you see different sides of it. And I think that's one of the hallmarks of you need someone on your team to do that, but that doesn't work well in traditional industries where, uh, following the orthodox pattern, following the traditional pattern, iterating slightly generates reliable return.

Saalim Chowdhury: In the entrepreneurship world, it's brilliant, right? And that's what I love. Like, Scante was an amazing group of people, brilliant engineers, brilliant people that we could work with. You could take the ideas back and forth and, you know, you can have robust conversations. And it was such a, it was just such a wonderful experience.

Saalim Chowdhury: Um, and I think for me, this element of, that's where I really came and, uh, and learnt a lot about who I was and what I was wanting to because I don't think anybody truly knows what they actually are or they're really good at. I still don't know is the honest answer, right? 

Amardeep Parmar:  But you know better than you used to.

Saalim Chowdhury: Correct. And that's the thing. Um, and there are some areas I'm still discovering new things I'm good at and discovering things that I thought I was good at and awful at, right? That, and I think that's just part of, that's just a one piece of the journey, but [00:15:00] like making sure an environment where it's safe for you to do that and it's okay.

Saalim Chowdhury: And the people around you like, yeah, it's cool. It's fine. You know, that's, like I said, you, sorry, I keep going on about families and squads, et cetera, but it really is, that's what all, that's like my whole Raison d'être and like my whole thing about B you know, like, 'cause once you have that, you have the shared understanding you can pay stuff forward.

Saalim Chowdhury: Like the stuff that you're doing with, uh, uh, uh, with, uh, b uh, do I call it Bay? 

Amardeep Parmar:  The Bay Bay? Yeah. 

Saalim Chowdhury:  The Bay . So, so, so the cool thing, uh, about the Bay is that like it's acting as another family and a squad, and this is what we need. So much more of. And that's the whole thing. It's like, I think as an investor focusing on businesses that build squads has been like, that's where I've like, really come, come through.

Saalim Chowdhury: And even in boring stuff, like it's the, you need to find the squads of people who believe and do stuff. And that's how you get through the adoption curve. Right. 

Amardeep Parmar: And how do you think that squad was built in Scansafe, for example, what made it such a good squad and such a good family?

Saalim Chowdhury: Well, I mean, the [00:16:00] thing is what it's really interesting.

Saalim Chowdhury: So I should be saying it was just a really dynamic team of really exceptionally bright people. They really understood the market, etc. But I'll be honest, it was just literally a very people could talk directly. People would talk straight and, you know, straight shooters. And it was never combat, you know, we would have the spirited discussions where necessary, but it was never held against you.

Saalim Chowdhury: And those are sorts of things that make it like, you know, it's learning those environments where we don't have to, where we can be ourselves. We know how to respectfully talk to each other. It's not about, Oh, I'll be radical candle, meaning I can just be a menace. And it seems that every, even with, with, with the other startups I've built, um, with the large companies I've been through, it's the ones where

Saalim Chowdhury: you can have discussions respectfully, but also honestly and transparently, are the ones that really, really, really thrive. Um, and just going straight to it. I mean, that to me is just like, yeah, a big thing.

Amardeep Parmar:  So obviously you scaled those companies significantly. Right. And you're part of those massive journeys, but [00:17:00] like, what were the biggest struggles you had on that journey?

Amardeep Parmar: And like, what gave us like the story of like the struggles and what was the outcome? Right. 

Saalim Chowdhury: Oh my God. Okay. So Uh, so across a couple of startups, so like, um, we were lucky, you know, we ended up, uh, there's about a couple hundred million exit value, which is, I, some people say it's not, I I'm really proud of it.

Saalim Chowdhury: Um, but anyway, the, I think one of the first things was I, I met things have changed now, but I remember when fundraising, you know, despite having all the badges you want. I am a pretentious, right? Like my resume reads as like one of the most privileged entitled people. And I, I'm privileged, definitely earned, you know, somewhat I God knows it's a mix, but yeah.

Saalim Chowdhury: And I would go and I thought it must be, how hard can it be, you know, took me the second startup after being, you know, like that company sold to Cisco, I have all the bells and whistles, university, blah, blah, blah. And I thought, surely I just send some cold emails round and people take calls of me in London for my next startup.

Saalim Chowdhury: No. It was really [00:18:00] depressing. Actually, I remember one time I had to get one of my old Etonian friends from university to do an intro. And this guy, uh, we got the intro, it's like one of the leading VC funds in London and the guy just fell asleep in the middle of the, um, uh, uh, of the meeting, woke up and just didn't say anything as if we were just like, oh, okay, that's great.

Saalim Chowdhury: And it's like, it was kind of interesting. It's like, I think the attitudes have changed. I mean, this is like, you know, 10, 15 years, 10 years ago, plus, and the things have changed and actually, and it's great, but honestly, it was just a kick in the teeth. It's like, my family's, we've, it's like, the thing is, for where we are, is generational struggle and generational ambition.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's not just us, right? We stand on the shoulders. And having seen everything they've gone through to be treated like that, but do you know what was really, really redeeming? Going on a plane to America. So much easier. Uh, and I came back, we, you know, and like, it's this whole element where one of the greatest joys of being [00:19:00] British and Asian is that we're not necessarily properly British.

Saalim Chowdhury: So we don't have to go through the old British hierarchy. And we're not properly Asian. We can't, you know, go do it. Rishi Sunak can't go to his father in law and, you know, uh, I do love Rishi Sunak because all the father in law jokes that are common in Asian society, it's like, well, ask your father in law for it.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's like, well, he can, you know, anyway. So anyway, we can't do that. But what's good about it is inherently because, you know, it inherently means it's easier for us to access new cultures, new markets. Doesn't mean going to the Middle East, Singapore or America or wherever the funding is. And that's the one thing I do find.

Saalim Chowdhury: We have less hesitancy to do that. And we are generally more welcomed because they see us. And then, you know, like what I found really lovely is like, Oh, you're British. Oh, but you're not that British. So any negative prejudices they have about the British, they can kind of forgive a little. And this is one thing I was like, look, In life, you play to your strengths.

Saalim Chowdhury: And I think that was one of the most bizarre things I [00:20:00] found about the British Asian experience from fundraising. Also, one thing I found really exciting during the journey was, I wish we talked more about this, is like, the need to be able to look after yourself to make good decisions. So, the one thing I have I really, really learnt was, if you're not looking after yourself, like, physically, mentally, and having your own check in to make sure everything's okay, everything becomes self consuming. And.

Amardeep Parmar: I'm  going to ask you about this because you mentioned about how lucky you are, but you also mentioned about how you've got these different problems from working so hard as a founder. 

Saalim Chowdhury: Oh my  god, yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: How does that marry up? 

Saalim Chowdhury:  Like, currently going through countless medical appointments, etc. I mean, like, the one thing I'm very open and candid talking about is, like, you need to look after your mental health, your physical health, your well being, your understanding and your sense of perspective.

Saalim Chowdhury: So, It's very easy as a founder to think you are your starter. It is everything. And there's nobody warns you about the perils of being a founder, right? So, you know, the three things that I thought was hilarious. One, dating while being a founder. Really, really impossible. [00:21:00] Just like, like you are not your best self.

Saalim Chowdhury: You are continuously thinking about your product, this, that and the other. And if they have like, they've got like a normal job or, you know, there's like, you know, and you're just like going. In the back of the mind, they're like, Oh, well, so what do you think about this? And in your back, your mind, you're going, Hmm, is that release going to come out on time or not?

Saalim Chowdhury: Whatever. And you just, yeah. So yeah, it's basically, it's just attempting to date and failing miserably. And it's these other struggles around the, but it comes down to making good decisions. So it really comes down to having your own focus, objectivity, and not being sucked into your own world. It's like literally founders are exceptional at being sucked into the good founders.

Saalim Chowdhury: Sucked into that customer's need. what they're going, everything around it. And that's really, really valuable. But knowing how to take that step back and having people that help you take that step back is so incredibly important and valuable. And I wish I had more. And it's like now, you know, in my, in my, you know, grow in my grown up from a grown up phase, but, um, that's what I'm keep trying to make sure [00:22:00] I do.

Saalim Chowdhury: So yeah, one have your squad around you, like have an army of people, some founders, some non-founders don't surround yourself with only founders. Big danger, big danger. Only founders would be a terrible, terrible website. And so you need, you need a full squad of people, a full squad of people. Um, number two is like, if you have a budget, so I've always allocated, I've always insisted there's a line for therapy.

Saalim Chowdhury: in every budget. A hundred quid a session, whatever, it's worth every penny because you'll get better ROI on the decisions you make because you have somewhere safer to talk. 

Amardeep Parmar: I've heard that some VCs are now enforcing that, where you have to get therapy and coaching as part as a condition of getting funding.

Saalim Chowdhury: I think that's a very sensible thing to do. I mean, and like, you know, for years I've had like a credit card on file with a therapy agency that, you know, like, I'm like, I need more money. I need more funding. And it's like, no, go see these come back to me in a couple of weeks. And literally I get much better ROI [00:23:00] by paying for therapy by doing additional top up bridge rounds, but it's not a value for money thing.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's really like enabling the founders to be the best version of themselves. And that's the hardest thing as a founder, because you can't be, because you're doing it strongly. You are in a strained, stressed situation. That's what nobody talks about. And that's, yeah, so that's where I think we can do really help.

Saalim Chowdhury: And as a community, what's really interesting from the British Asian angle is that we are a bit different. Most therapists don't understand us. Like, uh, I've gone through so many, and it's not that you must see an Asian therapist. Not at all. But sometimes you have to get into context and help them understand that their world experience of, you know, Oh, you know, you've got fancy education stuff.

Saalim Chowdhury: It doesn't mean I'm accepted in the same way as them. Right. It's just like, and it doesn't mean that I will get the same reception as they will. Um, and so, yeah, it's really, Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: What was your third point there? 

Saalim Chowdhury: So the third thing every founder should have to your point is, um, [00:24:00] having kill criteria. No startup should last forever, and there are lots of terrible VCs, particularly ones with small portfolios, amongst other things, who will be like, no, keep the company going.

Saalim Chowdhury: I can't blah blah. And it's like, no, yes, it will hurt your IR a little, but spend the time on the companies that are going to really knock it out of the park. And if a company isn't there and the founders start, free them. Let them go. And every founder should have kill criteria. Um, cause you shouldn't be doing a startup forever.

Saalim Chowdhury: Perseverance, grit, determination, doing it for 10 years and not getting anywhere. It's not good for you, your mental health or the investor. So, or anybody to be quite frank on, and particularly your loved ones and your family. So yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: So as we are getting the final phase here, right. So you've had your two exits as companies and then now you've switched modes a bit in terms of with accelerators and investing in other people. What's some of the key lessons you've had there? Like what are your philosophies? 

Saalim Chowdhury: So after about eight years in, so I'm an early stage accelerator person and so I have a very different [00:25:00] narrative to the traditional sort of, to most many investors, right?

Saalim Chowdhury: Uh, so the things I wish is one squad, squad, squad, squad, squad. I keep going on about it, but like, if you're not building good squads, then you're not doing that. Uh, doing well, you need the support army around me. Learn from Taylor Swift, right? She has a girl squad, like, and people go on about how it's models and how it's all people like that, but who the hell else can relate to the life of Taylor Swift?

Saalim Chowdhury: So you need your squad. But also she has her friends from her friends from home, right? She's Abigail, if I remember correctly, uh, 

Amardeep Parmar:  better than I do. Yeah. 

Saalim Chowdhury:  What can I say? I'm a nightmare dressed as a daydream. Um, but the, it's like, you know, she still keeps it real and it's important to have people who take you out of that on a regular basis.

Saalim Chowdhury: Um, I mean, she also has a cats to do that and that's actually a really important thing. As much as you can say, making Taylor Swift jokes, it really is important that you have those, those pieces there. Second part from investing. So I've been very fortunate. I've worked in 18 different countries. And the one thing I've [00:26:00] really realized, like the opportunity is global and people with a global mindset and an ability to adapt to multiple cultures.

Saalim Chowdhury: Superpower, absolute freaking superpower. They're the people who can actually go ahead and build. And last but not least is when you are building. Stop trying to build for your investor. Start building for your customer. Because the problem is, is we too often chase, I must have the capital. I must have the capital.

Saalim Chowdhury: I must have the capital. I must have the capital. But I need the capital. You don't understand. It's the capital. Um, and the problem with that is that you end up not focusing on your actual customer. So you've got, this is why we have these so many zombie games. London is great for this. We've got lots of money, but we don't know.

Saalim Chowdhury: But, uh, uh, oh, but we've got to go raise money. Uh, oh no, we've run out of money. Let's go raise money. And there are lots of people who can go and raise money but like hat's the point of raising money if you're not serving a customer and serving a need and really nailing that and really owning that. And if you're not gonna succeed, well pass the bat onto some bat on onto somebody else.

Saalim Chowdhury: You've started a company not giving yourself a life sentence. [00:27:00]  

Amardeep Parmar: So we talked about before it started as well, how you got. The same number of unicorns as the same country. So the little shout out there a little, uh.. 

Saalim Chowdhury: I'm not sure. I think he may have a few more than me, but like we're not that far, but yeah, I've done relatively.

Saalim Chowdhury: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And you mentioned as well, like your criteria for investing, right? 

Saalim Chowdhury: Yes. 

Amardeep Parmar: Could you go a bit more into that? 

Saalim Chowdhury: So the thing is like most investors are looking at upstream, follow on, who can return, how will it IPO, et cetera. But to be truthful, like, that's great. And there's a market that does that.

Saalim Chowdhury: And there's this horrible myth that everybody in VC needs to be exactly the same. And we all need to like each other and do the same thing and have similar views. If that was true, then the whole market would underperform consistently. Oh, wait. Anyway, my point is that, um, I've always looked at the fundamental for me, I call fundamentals.

Saalim Chowdhury: I'm a, I'm a fundamentalist investor, investor, just being clear. Um, and so the whole point around it is do they, it's really, it's really about the talent and their [00:28:00] understanding. Do they really have, like, lived experience? For me, my whole criteria has always been, do they have lived experience of the problem they're solving?

Saalim Chowdhury: There's nothing more annoying to me than shock horror, the ex Goldman's person who has a MBA from some business school, who's then going like, yeah, look at me. I'm so great. I'm going to build this thing that's going to save X, you know? And they all look at like, I dunno, Travis Kalkanik, uh, as like, yeah, but he did it.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's like, he's a freaking outlier and that deep empathy with your customer. Absolutely the case, uh, lived experience of the problem to big, big thing. The second thing is for me as an early stage investor, like I can't, I'm not just putting cash and I'm doing it. Sorry. I'm working with people. And for me, like the lopsided profile is great.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's not what everyone, everybody got to be super well rounded. It's like. No, because if you're super well rounded, you're going to go work at the corporation that's involved in that. You need to have a lopsided angle, um, or an edge, or whatever, that allows [00:29:00] you to see stuff that other people don't. But you then need a squad around you to help round you out, and that's what I think is just like, a real skill and superpower to have.

Saalim Chowdhury: But lastly, it's also looking at the fundamental of, like, motivation, why they're doing it. How it solves them and how they understand how they relate to the customer is that motivational piece. And I think this is one of the reasons why, you know, like, that's what you often have to look for. And like, when I look at my portfolio, like I did some math and it's kind of I'm not sure whether it's like, I think 85% plus are diverse.

Saalim Chowdhury: The vast maj, the majority are female founded. And you know, like I can go into it, but I think it's like 12. It's like, yeah, it, it's, you know, it's 12% black, 15% L-G-B-T-Q, um, all this kind of stuff. But what really I found, and maybe it's just me. Right. It's that because I'm looking at these fundamentals of do they understand and empathize, et cetera, but also the value [00:30:00] of not being part of the mainstream or the default and how people choose to use that.

Saalim Chowdhury: Do they use it? Are they martyrs to it? Or are they the kind of person that's like, right. What's taken away in one way gives me back in another, I'm going to make sure I take advantage of it in the other and I'm going to get an awesome squad around me and I think that's how I ended up. So I think I don't know.

Saalim Chowdhury: I'm probably like London's most active investor in and in, in, in those sectors, right? You know, female founders, minority founders, um, you know, um, et cetera. So like, yeah. It's not about those metrics though. It's about the fundamentals. And this is why I don't go on bragging about, look at me with my super diverse thing.

Saalim Chowdhury: It's like, look at me with really great founders with really great companies because I'm investing on their fundamental attributes. And because I don't have big amounts of money. You know, I can't write the checks that, you know, I love sending. I get friends, but I can't write, I've never been able to write his checks.

Saalim Chowdhury: I would love to write checks in size. One [00:31:00] day it gives you access to a different, different type of people, but that's the whole thing. And that's the greatest joy about entrepreneurship. There are places for a wide number of people. It's not one type. It's not one thing. And one of the things I love about the work you're doing here.

Saalim Chowdhury: And one of the reasons I joined the podcast is you're showing the diversity of people, even within a relatively small subset. We're all such different people and we're all such different backgrounds and different reasons, but we're all having an impact and we're all building things and we're all making lots of money, which is great.

Saalim Chowdhury: And that's one of the secrets. There is no one size fits all. There is no universal secret. That is the path that you choose to make. And you have to find your squad to help you get to that end route. And that basically is after I sold my last company. That's one of the reasons I got into venture capital so that I could go ahead and enable those people and yeah, I'm probably the least fun [00:32:00] returns

Saalim Chowdhury: minded person some but yeah, it's what my father said follow what you what you love, become really good at it. And everything else will follow. 

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you so much for coming today I could let you talk forever to honest. It's like because you were saying about waffling It's like you're not waffling.

Amardeep Parmar: It's all really valuable and I've really enjoyed it, but I need to put you into the quickfire question now so we don't get kicked out. So first one is who are the three British Asians that you'd love to spotlight that you think people listening right now should be paying attention to? 

Saalim Chowdhury: Okay, shock horror, they're gonna be my founders that I've backed, biased, obviously.

Saalim Chowdhury: So first out would be, uh, Areeb Siddiqui. He was on the pod before he, so, um, what I love about him is he is one of the most kind, humble, sincere. He like lifts people up along with lifting himself up. Um, and it's that spirit of we, a rising tide lifts all ships. He's just, you know, just, uh, an amazing human being.

Saalim Chowdhury: Next up would be, uh, [00:33:00] Nabeela from RAML. Uh, Nabila Begum, she is, uh, founding an amazing, um, AML, um, startup making easily and simpler. And she's like one of the, she's like a legal ex, one of the leading legal experts in the field, but she's just brilliantly unassuming. She's like that. She just cares deeply and passionately about what she's about.

Saalim Chowdhury: What she's doing, like, I've never seen anybody get as excited about AML. It's just like, how would you get excited, right. And you know, like it's, you know, like I think about her enthusiasm and I think of Charlie from comply advantages, enthusiasm, she knocks him. She's like 20 times more enthusiastic. And last but not least, British Asians that we should be looking at.

Saalim Chowdhury: Ooh, UEC. Actually, so Maroof from Quick Genius, or Pelago as they are now. Again, just one of these amazing human beings. Like, I remember meeting him and he was like, yeah, I've got this great thing. And like, I was like, take my money, take my money. [00:34:00] And it's been a good return. And so, and you know, he's like,

Saalim Chowdhury: it's that his ability and tenacity to just make friends with anybody, his humility and the mission driven nature. It's like, these are people that you just have to sit back and, you know, all three of them are like, I just wish I could be more like them. And in many ways, depressingly makes for a great investment thesis.

Amardeep Parmar:  Yeah. So people want to find out more about you and what you're up to now which they go to, um,

Saalim Chowdhury: I keep a load of my lectures and stuff on saalim. org and I'll, I need to go update

Amardeep Parmar:  On ones on there, isn't it? 

Saalim Chowdhury: Oh yes. The, the fundamental, yes. The fundamentals of entrepreneurship, uh, is definitely there. I feel like I should actually do a recorded version when I actually present it at some point.

Saalim Chowdhury: Um, and that's basically where you can find stuff. Uh, I'm on various social media, but I tend not to use it very much largely because I don't want to be that investor that's like, Hey, you know, like I'm, you know, um, I, I'm let the founders do the talking, but that said, I'll probably change at some point.

Saalim Chowdhury: I'll probably have to give in, but yeah. Um, or yeah, you find me on LinkedIn, [00:35:00] whatever, but yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: Is there anything that  the listeners could help you with or you're looking for right now that maybe they could help you with?

Saalim Chowdhury: Honestly, the number one thing I'm most excited about is like. I feel like I'm turning into old man territory, like, you know, I'm having my midlife crisis, you know, I bought a, I bought a, I bought a stupid car that I shouldn't have bothered with, but you know, it has doors like this, not doors like this.

Saalim Chowdhury: Uh, I, I fell into that trap. 

Amardeep Parmar: That's going to  be the rule, by the way, just you doing that.

Saalim Chowdhury: Yes. Uh, reminds me of the Ikea. Did you hear the Ikea in Tottenham is becoming a nightclub? 

Amardeep Parmar: Oh, wow. Oh yeah, I did hear this. Yeah.

Saalim Chowdhury: And I'm just like thinking that think about all the Ikea dances, you know, you, you could do that, you know? So not just like that. Anyway, I can digress a lot. Um, so my whole thing is that how can I, what I want to do is like, if you're, if you're a founder and you're early stage, help me understand where you feel the bottlenecks are.

Saalim Chowdhury: Help me understand what is stopping you from doing stuff. But only if you're a founder that [00:36:00] has lived experience of the problem. Um, please reach out to me, um, salim at saalim.org, shockingly easy available. Uh, so it's two ways. Um, but yeah, um, please feel free to reach out to me by email, uh, love to chat.

Saalim Chowdhury: Um, and I host regular open access office hours, uh, over, uh, we work in Opus on York road. So. Uh, very happy to come and chat to people.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello. Hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. It makes 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 five star review, it makes the world of difference. And if you believe in what we're trying to do here to inspire, connect, and guide the next generation 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 [00:37:00] so much for supporting us.

Other episodes you may enjoy: