Vanu Bose: How to Fundraise when You're Disrupting the Status Quo

 
 
Don’t be afraid of not being profitable, be afraid of not having a good story. 

As part of our Speaker Series events in Uganda, we invited tech entrepreneur Vanu Bose to talk to The Africa List about innovation. As the son of the visionary founder of BOSE Corporation, it's unsurprising that Vanu has gone on to pioneer his own technology company, Vanu Inc, as well as being on the board of MIT corporation. He spoke to the community about the entrepreneurial lessons he's learned while working on a novel combination of technical and business model innovation that makes wireless coverage economically viable, even in rural and remote areas. 

Breaking through as a small company

"It's the innovators dilemma - how do small companies become big companies and topple over the incumbents. We're in the wireless infrastructure business where there are really just four big companies - Erickson, Nokia, Huawei and TE. So we decided that if we were going to be innovative in that space, we were going to have to compete on non-consumption. There is a group of customers who can't use the incumbent's service, because it's either too expensive or it's too hard to use, or it's out of reach. If you can use your technology to address that group of customers, then you have a market that the incumbent can't address. You can own that market and start growing from there." 

Fundraising as a disrupter

"For many of you who are entrepreneurs who have tried to raise money, you'll know it's not easy. The further you are away from the status quo, the harder it is to raise money. Investors want things that are different but not too different because that sounds too risky. Either they want new technology with an established business model, or a new business model with an established technology. We’re innovating on both the business model and the technology so people saw us as a big risk. Often you're talking to investors and they might not be experts in what you do so we actually had a lot of trouble getting attention for this. As you know Facebook has been very public about their mission to connect people so I went to them and said 'Look I think I have a model that can connect all those people but the problem is that it’s so different that no one believes it. Help me prove it in one place with a big enough network that people will understand the model works, then I can go and raise money to go and cover India and Africa." They stepped up and are providing the pilot in Rwanda."

Finding the right investor 

"There are two competing things here, and it depends on what kind of investor you’re talking to. There are investors who want you to make money quickly which means you have to focus quite narrowly. But there are investors who are willing to be more patient, particularly when you're looking at larger amounts of money. If they’re putting in $100 000 they'll probably want their returns quickly, but if they’re putting in $30m they want to see how they can 5x that amount in the future which they know takes longer. The most important thing to attract significant amounts of capital is to paint a very credible picture of how this can be a big business someday. And then once you have the path to big business, you can get the money and the time to get there." 

Telling a good story 

"A lot of people miss out on drawing the path to the big story and focus too small which turns off many investors. Amazon didn’t make money until last year, but nobody cared. Having a growth strategy and acquiring major market share can be more important for investors. With angel money, you want to get enough to prove the concept and get data for the proof points in your model that will allow you to go and talk to the big investors. Being profitable is actually a negative for some investors because they want to help you get profitable because that makes them a bigger return."

Find out more about Vanu Bose's work at www.vanu.com.

Update November 2017: With great sadness that since the publishing of this post, Dr Vanu Bose passed away on 11th November 2017.  Vanu’s vision is that everyone can and should have economically sustainable wireless coverage. Vanu once said, “To be unconnected is to be left behind, and we don’t want anyone to be left behind.” We were greatly honoured to have Vanu come to Uganda n 2016 to share his inspiring his story with the community which we know will continue to serve as motivation to everyone who heard it.