Taking the Risk

Date:   Tuesday , February 02, 2016

Ask sci-fi fanatics, how they celebrated their holidays in the fall of 2015, and the majority would probably say by gaping the latest Star Wars\' episode. And why not since the beloved character Han Solo-played by Harrison Ford-was back again. What an adventurous ride to stardom it had been for Ford, from being a carpenter to becoming the lead actor of the most successful, multibillion-dollar franchisee of all time. All thanks to the visionary, George Lucas-the creator of Star Wars-for taking the enormous risk in Ford and choosing a mere woodworker over other eminent actors for the role of protagonist. Taking risk is the virtue of brave, and just like George Lucas, Nikesh Arora, President, and COO, at SoftBank, trusts his inner voice more than facts and statistics. \"Numbers will not take you to the finish line. To fulfill dreams, one must have the will to take up risks and challenges,\" says Arora. These words-risks and belief-have always motivated Arora, they propelled him when he was the Chief Product Officer at Google and they motivated him again when he recently rolled the dice for the biggest challenge of his life.

\"How much risk appetite do you have?\" asked Masayoshi Son, the Founder and the Chairman of the Board-in a challenging voice to his COO. \" Do you believe you can transform SoftBank into a company two, three, five times its size? Now is the time to take the risk.\" Being a billionaire investor who founded SoftBank and transformed it into renowned conglomerate-Son wanted to ensure if Arora can succeed him and mimic same results. Indeed Arora was the man for the job, but Son wanted to know for sure if he still has that fire inside him that directed about 200 Bn yen worth of deals for SoftBank including investments on startups such as Snapdeal, Housing.com and taxi-booking service Ola.

A week later, Arora came back with a plan to buy 60 billion yen ($483 million at the time) in SoftBank shares, more than any insider purchase by an executive in Japan in at least 12 years-according to Bloomberg data. He would become the company\'s second-largest individual shareholder and borrow heavily to do it. \"I took him seriously,\" says Arora. \"As long as I can protect my family, I am willing to take any amount of risk in my business endeavor.\" It was not just his inclination towards his company that compelled Son to anoint Arora as his successor. Since meeting Arora about five to six years back and engaging with him in conversations and negotiations, he believes that Arora is a peer to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jack Ma.

Arora\'s new gig will present obstacles he has never encountered before. Without ever having worked in venture capital, he is now one of the world\'s most visible and free-spending VCs. His boss and board do business in a language he barely speaks. And he\'s pouring huge sums-almost $4 billion so far-into highly valued, late-stage startups just as other investors, notably Fidelity and other mutual-fund giants, are becoming more cautious. Arora is figuring things out as he goes. \"Every job you get into, you bring 50 percent of the skills you need, and you learn the other 50 percent if you\'re lucky enough,\" he says. However, to make it to 100 percent and to survive SoftBank\'s transition, Arora will have to win over board with the same thing that won him the trust of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin: irrefutable, home-run results.

With almost $80 billion in revenue in the past year, Son calls for a meeting with his 14 member board members to decide the future course of the company. Son looks over to Arora, who was the only one wearing an earpiece to translate Japanese to English with a stern look on his face. There were many topics that were seen hoisted up-from setting up the ground rules to invest in the companies to taking risks in the growing market like India. India is one of the major fields where Arora intends to rappel down his anchor and make investments in millions. He reiterated Uber CEO Travis Kalanick\'s three Bs -Bay Area, Beijing, and Bangalore-the world\'s hottest investing destinations. Not only in India but in the Silicon Valley as well, instead of putting small amounts in early-stage companies, Arora is searching for startups with proven business models backed by motivated and resilient entrepreneurs. \"We first invested in Alibaba 15 years ago and haven\'t sold a single share. We want to work with founders. We are looking for 10 to 15 people who will run billion-dollar companies in the future,\" says Arora. \"I only invest in founders who are willing to be my friends, hang out with me, and build large companies,\" he added.

Business newspapers, technology websites are often seen flooded with conversations or a birth of another startup in the vicinity. \"In an entire day, I hear and see entrepreneurs getting stressed with funding, mergers, firing, or hiring. In contrast I urge the fellow entrepreneurs to remain vigilant towards customers\' problems,\" says Arora. \"Then thinking about raising funds.\" He suggested that if startups think of solving consumers\' issues; investment would follow in its wake.

Lessons Learnt from the Startups

\"In terms of lessons, whether it is big companies, or startups, or startups-turned-(into)-big companies, the lessons learnt are very similar,\" says Arora. \"People who are passionate create great things, and companies that aspire to solve bigger problems do much better than those who just look around for funding and money.\" There is no doubt in the fact that in the coming days, more startups will be seen taking the place of the obsolete ones, creating opportunities, and driving values in their community. However, one can also be sure that Arora will be there waiting to find the superlative, rising companies across the globe, to take their hand and haul them to new heights.

Panel: Heavy Discounting v/s Customer Satisfaction: Nikesh Arora

Nikesh Arora has regularly hit the headlines for his international sphere of influence and investment decisions.

When asked about the Indian startup scenario in TiEcon Delhi 2015, Arora said, \"There is a need of a successful startup in India as no one is \'out of the woods\' yet.\" Although, the year 2015 saw tremendous amounts of funding going to a lot of companies, but it also saw firms being wiped out. The former Google executive expressed hope that sanity will prevail on the e-commerce start-ups and the short-term tactics of \"discounting\" will perish. Arora\'s message to every Indian e-commerce company was not to burn money, but to focus on customers\' experience and rethink on the sustainability of heavy discounting. Because a delighted end customer is the quintessential key to create a great company.

India is on the cusp of an entrepreneurial revolution young, dynamic and smart founders of today are roaring to succeed and are irreverent to the idea of failure. To which Arora advised startups to get away from failure, because entrepreneurship is a state of mind, and the best way to embrace failure is to forget it quickly.