St Andrews has a proud tradition of encouraging young entrepreneurs. Several graduates have recently been featured on Forbes’ list of ’30 under 30′, which details 30 people under the age of 30 in various fields, who have already made great contributions to society and are predicted to make a big impact on the world in the future.
Few have been more successful than Rohan Malhotra (MA 2010) and his brother Arjun (MA 2012), who, after leaving St Andrews and returning to their native India, founded an investment company that aids technological start-ups. This year they were named on Forbes’ list for finance and venture capital. Rohan spoke to our summer intern, Francis Newman, about the impact that St Andrews has had on his life.
“I was in a work meeting the other day, and once I told them I went to St Andrews, someone said, ‘You must have had a blast.’ I replied that I did and asked what made him say that? He explained, ‘Everyone who went there always had a good time and never stops talking about it!’ and I think that’s very accurate – I’ll be 30 in 2018 and I haven’t stopped talking about it since I graduated!”
Rohan’s enthusiasm for St Andrews is unbridled. He has achieved many things since leaving the University, but still retains many nostalgic memories about the place that helped shape him as a person and which gave him the skills and impetus to launch a career as an entrepreneur.
“Best four years of my life,” he says unequivocally.
He remembers an early trip up to St Andrews whilst a schoolboy. “It was November. It was freezing cold. We took the overnight sleeper from London at an ungodly hour. We got to St Andrews at six in the morning; we were 17 years old, didn’t have any money, and spent hours wandering around in the miserable rain. Yet in spite of our first experience being relatively hellish, there was this charm to it.”
This unerring attraction to the charm of the place never went away. The visit, he explained, also provided him one of the three main reasons why he ended up choosing St Andrews. “The friends we had gone up to visit spoke so highly of the place. When people that you like and admire speak so highly of something, you’ve got to take it seriously.”
The University’s course structure was another reason for him to come – he was encouraged by having “the luxury of actually taking two years to make a decision on what you want to hone your skills in exactly, while doing an array of subjects.”
The third pull? “Both my brother and I played junior golf for India – we love our golf, so it was almost a no-brainer.” He fondly remembers his time on the green as a student: “we could actually walk across the Swilcan Bridge just to go and have a drink somewhere!”
He’s also very clear about how his studies and experiences here helped him to succeed in his career.
“You realise the value of studying things like Management and Economics slightly later on – as you manage teams yourself, as you’re building companies yourself, as you’re learning how to manage people.”
He also knows how much the relationships he built at St Andrews have helped him along the way.
“For me it’s all about my friends there. They’re still my closest friends and there are lots of ways that we’ve been able to help each other out from a business perspective. We’re all global citizens and we have the luxury of having friends everywhere in the world and seeing the world through so many different perspectives, and that for me is the most exciting thing about it all.”
In career terms, Rohan and Arjun both set out to make a big impact. Their father built one of India’s largest technology education companies in the 80s and 90s. Originally the brothers thought about building a technology company of their own, but decided instead upon “building a platform where we could help scale several businesses rather than just one.”
They are “an early stage investment fund that invests in India-centric businesses,” backing new technology companies that cater to the rapid expansion of India’s telecommunications network and technology sector, and its booming middle class. Since launching their platform, Investopad, in 2014 they have backed nine companies, of which 6 have gone onto raise follow-on capital from larger global financial institutions. Additionally, they sold one of the other portfolio companies at a five times multiple which returned all invested capital back in 18 months.
“Honestly, we love what we do – it’s incredibly exciting,” he tells me. “I’m very fortunate to spend time with people who spend their lives solving problems to make life easier for others.”
He also has some advice for budding entrepreneurs among St Andrews alumni and students. “Find a real problem to solve,” he says, “and make sure that you are the right one to solve it. Don’t be an entrepreneur for the sake of being an entrepreneur. I recommend that people go and work somewhere else for a couple of years after university. I love to see people who stumble upon a problem at a larger organisation, try and solve the problem internally but are unable to for a host of external reasons and then step away, come out of their comfort zone, out of well-paying jobs, and they actually try to build a product to solve that problem.”
Rohan and Arjun on the Old Course on their first ever visit to St Andrews, 1999
He has fond memories of many places in St Andrews. Obviously, with his golfing experience, the Old Course remains special to him – he describes it as “the most sacred place in town.”
But he also loves Sallies Quad. “That’s another beautiful place. You see the PH, you tell the story to someone that didn’t go to St Andrews and they think you’re crazy, but for us it has so much history and such a charm.”
“The pier as well. It’s so bloody beautiful.”
I ask him what his favourite memories are. He remembers his soaking. “The day I finished my last exam, getting absolutely destroyed by my friends outside of the Management building.”
The other memory he enjoys recounting is his graduation. “When your name was called, it’s such a beautiful thing. It’s crazy, it’s such a crescendo, it’s such a glorious moment.”
It is clear, though, what the most special things about the town are to Rohan – as they are to many students and alumni past and present.
First, the people in it.
“I was fortunate to have friends from just about everywhere. The beauty of St Andrews to me, the most important thing hands down, is that there’s no country I can go to and not have a bed to sleep in. And I think that’s a very unique thing about St Andrews.”
Second, the place itself.
“I remember in my first and second years doing Economics and literally sitting in a classroom where all you can see is nothing but the blue North Sea. It’s just like – where the hell am I?
“It’s a stunning and beautiful dream world. I don’t think words can explain what St Andrews meant to me – it was such a special place.”
Photo by Oli Walker