Vikas Shah MBE is the CEO of Swiscot and a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and investor.
From fresh-faced web designer to industry guru, Vikas has led an unpredictable career - powered above all by his curiosity and focus.
Vikas had a vast amount of wisdom to share with us on our podcast - from his thoughts on his varied career, to what he looks for when investing in startups, as well as common issues entrepreneurs should watch out for. We share our top highlights in this blog.
Vikas didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur. He wanted to be a pilot - but he needed to find a way to pay for flying lessons.
A self-confessed tech geek, Vikas taught himself web design and scoured the Yellow Pages for potential customers. He was an early entrepreneur during the dotcom bubble, and before long his business took off.
The bubble didn’t last and his early “rock-star period” ended with it, but Vikas already wanted more variety. He bought his family’s small textile business with his savings and threw himself into building it up. His impressive career since then has taken him to unexpected places, such as investing, teaching and philanthropy.
Through it all, Vikas has never had a book of aims and objectives like some entrepreneurs do - he likes to follow threads he finds interesting. “That’s what fires me - the curiosity of seeing where things go.”
Did Vikas succeed in becoming a pilot? “Yes! Though now it’s a hobby instead of a career.”
Balancing life and work
It sounds like Vikas is always working on different ventures, but to him, making time for yourself is crucial.
“I make time by having really good people on my teams,” he says. “They handle the day-to-day work, leaving me time to focus on strategy, growth and, most importantly,
“I think protecting your time is really important, and especially how you focus it. Business isn’t always enjoyable, but if you’re ruthless, focused and efficient with your time you’ll be able to free up space for things you enjoy.”
Focusing on results
In his career, Vikas has seen many entrepreneurs with great ideas become distracted by events and speaking engagements. Ultimately, they lose precious weeks or months of time that could have been put into developing their business.
“I think the entrepreneurial scene discourages focus and creates an environment of hype, where attending 10 events feels like a substitute for work.”
To Vikas, this may well be the best time to start a business - by applying focus in the same way as industry centres such as Lisbon, China or the UAE, it’s never been
easier to build your startup. “If you really want to build a business, you’ve got to get your head down and do it.”
The makings of a great startup
As an angel investor, Vikas has to decide who he wants to invest in. What’s the crucial factor for him? Execution.
“I’d rather invest in a great entrepreneur with an average idea compared to an average person with a great idea,” he explains. “I need to be confident that the person can actually deliver.”
Vikas likes to see entrepreneurs that have already laid the groundwork before coming to him - they have a great idea and a prototype, and have conducted some research to prove that it can work. All they really need is an investor in order to scale it up.
With a plan on how they’ll achieve this next step, and some checks and balances to ensure it happens, Vikas feels confident to invest in startups like these - and he still enjoys the “early days” hustle of them.
Planning for mistakes
Vikas believes trying to avoid making mistakes is the mistake. Everyone makes them. “If anyone tells you they’ve never made a big mistake, don’t believe them.”
This is why startups should think about potential risks for their business. “The biggest risk,” notes Vikas, “is cash flow. People run out of money.”
A startup that plans ahead will be prepared to deal with a possible crisis. “If you ran out of money tomorrow and didn’t have a plan to deal with it, that’s a crisis. Having a meeting to prepare for this will give you actions to take.”
It may feel like the uninteresting bureaucratic part of the business, but it can make the difference between a successful startup and the ones that never get off the ground.
The importance of philanthropy
Vikas added philanthropy to his list of interests after meeting US business owners early in his career. He was struck by their strong giving culture and the way they put
back into their communities.
Vikas decided to copy this approach and was delighted that he could make an impact. “Why wouldn’t you? It’s a selfish life to do nothing for your community.”
When he looks into charities, he asks himself whether he can add value with his knowledge and contacts, and whether the charity makes an impact.
Interviewing the world
As if Vikas didn’t have enough on his plate, he also hosts Thought Economics, a “hobby gone rogue” in which he interviews world leaders, entrepreneurs, thinkers, creatives and entertainers. He considers it one of the biggest privileges of his life to talk with such influential and interesting people.
In addition to big names such as Sir Richard Branson, Buzz Aldrin and Rita Ora, some of the interviews he’ll never forget have been with Holocaust and war survivors.
Despite going through some of the worst humanity is capable of, their humility and appreciation for life gives Vikas hope for the rest of the world and its future.
This year he plans to track down non-household names: the extraordinary people changing the world - that no one’s heard of.
Vikas’s key advice for startups
“The most important business skill you can possibly have is resilience. Entrepreneurship has its fun bits, but it’s hard, stressful and often requires difficult decisions to be made.
“The earlier you start giving yourself the space and training to be resilient, the better. That could include being more mindful, drinking less, exercising more or improving your nutrition. Resilience will get you through the bad parts, and give you the energy and drive you need to get through the really big scaling periods as well.”
Want to hear more of Vikas’s wisdom? Listen to the podcast in full.