Residents of Cape Town were treated to sights of a robot dog walking through the CBD as Dwyka Mining Services showcased Boston Dynamic’s Spot….
Cape Town born Tauriq Brown always wanted to be an international businessman. He may claim to be an entrepreneur. But the 28-year-old former Rocket Internet employee is just one of the hundreds employed by massive venture-builder companies to clone and run companies for them.
As a venture builder, Brown (pictured middle, above) has been involved in starting and running at least five ventures, on behalf of venture-builder companies Rocket Internet and Mountain Partners, which is headquartered in Switzerland.
This has taken him to Nigeria, Vietnam and now to Thailand, where he is employed as managing director for 15-year old Thai lingerie company Kyra Mode. Yet he admits he still draws a salary from Mountain Partners.
Cape Town born Tauriq Brown tells how he started and ran several ventures for venture builders Rocket Internet and Mountain Partners
Previously he helped Mountain Partners to launch Indian company Clovia in Thailand. His is one of the over 250 tech businesses that Mountain Partners has been involved in starting and funding since its launch in 2007.
The Indian company was later acquired by the family-run FICO group and merged with Kyra Mode — which the venture builders along with Brown have taken equity in (Brown didn’t want to disclose the value of his stake, but confirmed that it is “above 10%” of the company’s shares).
From Cape Town to Bangkok
It all started for Brown when he began working at Groupon in Cape Town, shortly after it acquired Twangoo. At the time Groupon was partly owned by Rocket Internet. Brown got involved with the German-registered venture builders (valued at US$8-billion in 2014 according to a Forbes article) in 2012 as a business analyst, when they launched fashion e-commerce retailer Zando.co.za.
While he was working there, the managing director of Rocket Internet’s Africa portfolio organised a performers programme where he and fellow employees were tasked with helping the venture builder firm expand into the rest of Africa. There, he joined the likes of Yoco co-founder Katlego Maphai. Brown’s first job was to help set up online retail store Jumia in Nigeria.
“I was there for a few months and then through this programme, one of the then regional directors of South East Asia spoke to the regional director of Africa and said ‘we are we looking for a couple of good guys to come over to South East Asia and help launch the Amazon of South East Asia’ and he took my name forward and did an interview and within a week and a half or something I was in Bangkok,” he says.
“Honestly I didn’t even know where Thailand was on the map… I always had this dream of being an international business guy and had heard of all these ventures Rocket had and my first salary was like $1000 in a place I didn’t know. It wasn’t like I got a fat salary,” he says.
The first company Rocket Internet parachuted him into, in 2012, was online retailer Lazada. In fact, the Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba made a second $1-billion investment in the retailer in June this year.
He then worked for food delivery app Food Panda, also through Rocket Internet, to grow their Vietnam company. He worked there for two years. In that time he built the team from 18 people to over 120 employees and helped the company to exit to Vietnammm (a Takeaway.com BV company) in 2015.
“I took over from the previous director who basically was doing some not good things. There were 15 people in the office and this guy started another company on the side. So I was basically asked to clean this up and get the company going again and bring it on par with the other Asian countries,” he says.
But he pointed out that being involved in a Rocket Internet exit is “not an easy process” and he took some time off in the Canadian Rockies to recuperate.
On his return to Thailand he began working for another company selling luxury fashion online before he began working for Mountain Partners. He joined them to start what he calls “his first real and true business”.
Today he has equity in two tech companies and sits on their board and is also involved in the South African-Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Is he an entrepreneur?
But how much of an entrepreneur is Brown really?
“To me I would say I am an entrepreneur because the Clovia company was started from the ground up… with not a very big budget,” he argues.
However it’s here that the cloning comes in.
He explains that Mountain Partners asked him to look at the 80 or 90 companies in the group’s portfolio at the time and see if he could expand anything there in a new region.
From the long list he spotted an Indian fashion company, looked at their financials and saw the good margins the company was making in India and decided it would be nice to start something similar in Thailand. “The only difference is I didn’t use my own cash,” he admits.
Yet one thing is that unlike many entrepreneurs, Brown can be fired if he doesn’t perform within nine months — and risks even walking away with nothing.
“The equity doesn’t immediately vest — it’s over a few years and it’s based on performance. If I don’t perform, number one I’m fired, and then I leave with nothing,” he says.
It’s no wonder then that he has to pull long hours. Today he says he works about 13 hours a day, beginning at 7.30am from Monday to Saturday. But this is down from the 16-hour days he used to pull when he first arrived in Thailand.
The life of a venture builder is then not as cosy as it seems. “It sounds fancy getting money, but you are put under tremendous pressure, because those portfolio managers or investors, they want a return and they all want to put in their comment.”
Featured Image: From left to right: General Manger of Sofitel So Bangkok Yves Mudry, Sofitel So Bangkok Director of Marketing Communications Suchana Sasivongbhakdi, Tauriq Brown Reebonz General Manager for Emerging Asia Liana Gevaert, Sofitel So Bangkok Assistant Marketing Communications Manager Germaine Chan (Supplied).