Startup Stories: Mohan Belani, Co-Founder & CEO at e27
e27 co-founder Mohan Belani stopped by Startup Stories to chat about his time in Silicon Valley, building a tech ecosystem platform and e27’s remote-first culture.
Mohan Belani is the co-founder & CEO at e27, a startup and tech ecosystem platform focusing on providing tools to entrepreneurs to help them build and grow their businesses.
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Hi Mohan, great to be chatting with you again. For those who may not know, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and e27?
Hello. My name is Mohan Belani. I’m from Singapore and I spent a year in Silicon Valley as part of the NOC Overseas Program. I’ve dabbled in tech from a young age, from building gaming PCs to programming simple games.
In my younger days, I always thought I’d join the civil service or work for a big company. But the year in Silicon Valley made me realise that the world’s biggest problems can be solved by the smallest companies. That set me on a path to wanting to work with startups solving big problems in a scalable and sustainable manner.
e27 is a tech ecosystem platform with the mission of supporting entrepreneurs to build and grow their companies. We provide startups with tools to build thought leadership and to reach out to investors. We also work with leading tech companies to organise business matching programs with startups.
In addition to running e27, you’re also an investor in startups and early stage technology funds. What are you looking for when you’re investing in a company?
I started investing in 2013. I started with early stage funds to learn from the investors who were more involved before investing in startups directly. I view startup investing as a way to shape the world in the manner I see fit.
This view has led my portfolio to mainly consist of health tech investments, as I see that as a major problem globally. One of my more recent investments is in a health tech startup focused on autism care, a large global problem that is underserved.
I’m excited when I see a Founder who is tackling a problem he/she personally identifies with and his/her life has been affected by it. I’m a Founder driven investor, and I feel that the problem the startup is tackling needs to be big enough for the Founder to want to dedicate his/her energy, despite all the ups and downs. Once I cross that, I look at regional scalability, GTM plans etc.
What do you think have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far as a start-up founder, and what lessons have you learnt from them?
A founder’s life is riddled with challenges and problems. I’ve had problems regarding people, fundraising, scaling, layoffs, strategy etc.
Throughout all the experiences, I have learned 2 things that have been really helpful. Firstly, we shouldn’t avoid failures, but we should instead be really good and bounce back from them. When an organisation avoids failures, it does not take enough risks.
It does not go out of its comfort zone and push boundaries, but keeps doing the safe things. It does not dare to make mistakes and be wrong. Failing is fine, but what’s more important is to bounce back from it quickly and fix your mistakes.
Secondly, we need balance in our lives. Balance means dedicating time to work, social (family/friends) and personal care. Balance doesn’t mean working hard all week and partying hard on the weekends. Balance means dedicating a healthy effort to areas outside of work and your startup that develop you holistically.
For some, it’s a hobby like pottery/cooking/art. For others, it could be physical sports or even social work. Growth comes from immersing oneself in positive and productive experiences that develop us holistically.
e27 is a remote-first startup, so how do you find yourself building and maintaining a company culture?
We never set out to build a remote company. In the early days, we needed to find writers in different markets so we hired staff from cities like Jakarta, Manila, Kuala Lumpur etc. And since we used to do our regional Echelon events, we were more prominent in local markets. And people start applying from all over the region.
For example, one of our first designers was based in Ho Chi Minh and he applied after attending one of our events. We realised very early that there’s good talent everywhere, so there’s no need to restrict ourselves to local talent only.
And since we were remote early on, we did various things to ensure that everyone had the same way of working together. This included heavily using project management tools (we are big fans of Asana and use it religiously), having playbooks for pretty much everything we do, being completely transparent in all our plans (Quarterly OKRs, monthly highlights, weekly focus meetings and daily huddles), yearly company retreats and quarterly town hall sessions.
Most importantly, we didn’t treat Singapore based employees differently from the regional ones. Everyone was on an equal standing, we have team leads from the region as well. I don’t think there’s anything particularly differently we did as an organisation.
If you were hiring new team members to join e27, what do you think are your company’s biggest selling points?
e27 post pandemic is a very different organisation from what it was pre-2020. We are more of a mature startup, like an SME, so there’s a certain sense of structure and order to what we do. We are different from an early stage startup that has aggressive goals and a 12 month runway to make it or break it. We believe in work-life balance, and actively ensure that employees don’t work on weekends or too late everyday.
However, during the day, we believe in giving your 101% and getting things done. We have been very aggressive with trying new things and pushing boundaries, so there’s always something exciting every Quarter. We are also deeply involved in the tech ecosystem, so we get to work with some amazing companies and people. Lastly, we are a purpose and mission oriented organisation. I’m constantly challenging my team to think of new ways to fulfil our mission.
One last question before you go, how has the Singapore startup landscape evolved over the past few years, and how do you see it moving forward?
Wow where do I start on this one. The Singapore startup ecosystem feels like a young person maturing and figuring out his/her place in life. It has gone through so many iterations over the years, and the most recent one is the introduction of the Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass. I believe this will impact startups greatly due to the influx of smart people and high net worth individuals, which could be the future angle investors in startups.
Moving forward, I see Singapore becoming a hub for talent and startups tackling humanity’s biggest global problems: climate and food. We are barely at the tip of the iceberg with respect to investments and resources dedicated to this area.
In the next 10 years, we are going to see some of the brightest minds in the world working in Singapore on these issues, driven by dedicated venture funds for these sectors, supported by forward looking government policies.
I also believe that the ecosystem will become more sectoral focused. We have already seen this in the Fintech sector, with dedicated funds, co-working spaces, programs and even events laser focused on 1 sector. As more sectors mature, we will see such focused sectoral efforts. This will lead to more dedicated funds and expertise.
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