Mid-career and itching to lead a startup? This Singapore venture capital firm wants you

Jungle Ventures’ co-founders Amit Anand (left) and Anurag Srivastava (right) with Indian business mogul Ratan Tata.
Jungle Ventures’ co-founders Amit Anand (left) and Anurag Srivastava (right) with Indian business mogul Ratan Tata.PHOTO: JUNGLE VENTURES

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - It's easy to spot the silver hair among Jungle Ventures' gallery of start-up founders. Look closer and you'll find many have called the shots at banks and Fortune 500 outfits.

That's no accident. Jungle Ventures' strategy involves betting on executive-suite veterans over starry-eyed twentysomethings who dream of changing the world, said Amit Anand, co-founder and managing partner of the Singapore-based firm.

While peers crave youthful upstart vision, Jungle Ventures openly courts corporate bigwigs wondering where to take their careers. Singapore is an Asian base for global banking and technology firms such as Google and Microsoft - and that's its advantage, Mr Anand said. Professionals more accustomed to navigating the corporate jungle than envisioning the next Facebook can become standout entrepreneurs with a little help, he said. And they know how to make a buck.

"If you are a CEO, CTO, CFO, CMO, or have a lot of insights on something, we want you," he said. "You have an opportunity to create a lot of wealth for yourself, for us and for everyone in the ecosystem."

Jungle's unusual approach seems to have paid off: it's cashed out of three startups in four years including ZipDial, bought last year by Twitter Inc. Its tactics have won investment from heavy-hitters like Singaporean state investor Temasek Holdings Pte, International Finance Corp and the wealthy Thakral family. Mr Anand said it's close to raising a new US$100 million fund to add consumer tech and Internet of Things to a portfolio spanning e-commerce, finance and software across Asia.

That Jungle's stable of entrepreneurs skews older is unusual in an industry that tends to favour the fresh-faced over the grizzled. Take Jon Foster, 42, and Raghav Kapoor, 33, longtime colleagues at investment bank Religare Capital Markets. In 2014, they set up Smartkarma Innovations Pte to create a network for institutional investors to share insights. Customers pay to access analysis and data contributed by more than 75 research firms on topics from North Korea's economic prospects to Chinese technology and Saudi oil.

"Rather than simply jumping on the latest bandwagon, like so many VCs, they took the time to understand our space and unique offering,'' Mr Foster said.

Or Vince Tallent, the 49-year-old CEO of Fastacash. After almost two decades as a CFO at various mobile and telecommunications companies, someone pitched an idea: What if you could WhatsApp your kids their allowance? Thus was born one of the first services to provide cross-border remittances through social and chat apps. Today, Jungle-backed Fastacash is among the highest funded online finance firms in Singapore with US$23.5 million raised to-date.

That's not to say Jungle is youth-averse. Rahul Garg fits the Silicon Valley startup mold, heading various operations for Google in Asia before setting up business-to-business marketplace Moglix.com in 2015 in his thirties. Mr Garg was drawn to Jungle's other atypical selling point, its extensive network in India. Industrialist Ratan Tata is a special adviser and many of its partnersand mentors hail from the world's second-most populous nation - a draw for startups hoping to tap that enormous marketplace.

"The Jungle guys have built a strong momentum by attracting more experienced people who are stepping off their corporate jobs," said Mr Garg, who will turn 37 in May and now heads his 90-person firm from New Delhi. "After we met, we realized that we have 1,000 common connections," said the graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur.

Mr Anand and co-founder Anurag Srivastava were professionals- turned-entrepreneurs themselves before they met through Sony Entertainment Television co-founder Jayesh Parekhand started Jungle in 2012. Over the next four years, the pair witnessed the Singaporean startup scene transform from young university dropouts into an arena dominated by mid-career professionals with serious banking and Internet chops.

They were "leaving their jobs, knowing their industries inside out, wanting to disrupt their own industry. More seasoned, more experienced, going after very large ideas," Mr Anand said. "That's something we are going to double down on over the next years, to back more professionals turning into entrepreneurs in disruptive industries, trying to create new industries."

One of the earliest Jungle-backed entrepreneurs was Suresh Shankar, who founded Crayon Data in 2012 at the age of 48 after stints at International Business Machines Corp. and ABN Amro. The firm has raised US$12 million from investors including Mitsui & Co to build an engine that helps people decide where to eat and shop based on their data. He's often picked to moderate panel sessions when Jungle Ventures hosts VIPs.

"I'm the respectable-looking guy," he laughed, pointing to his gray hair.