Inside a society where face value and making impressions are everything, authenticity has become an almost rare commodity. But for venture capitalist Ozi Amanat, there is nothing more important than relationships – especially in the realm of deal-making.
It was through this – he had coffee with “a friend of a friend of Twitter co-founder Evan Williams” – that led to Amanat raising US$25 million (S$34 million) to invest in the social media company, an amount that ballooned to more than US$100 million when it listed in 2013. He counts notable families from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore as investors in his four-year-old VC firm K2 Global.
“What sets Ozi apart,” says Andrew Schoen, principal of prominent US venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, “is his authenticity and humanness. It is extremely refreshing in the VC world, which has lately become dominated by an excess of posturing, hype and flashiness.” Amanat sealed his reputation as a bona fide deal-maker when he got his hands on a large Spotify allocation. Investors are sitting on returns of over 300 per cent.
There’s no magic trick, says the 40-year- old. It’s about being “as helpful as possible”. “When I first started, there were people who didn’t want me to go forward because that would also propel other minorities (he’s of Indian descent) and change the status quo. I never thought about it as breaking into an ecosystem. I had to continue to look at different opportunities. Bit by bit, the headwinds turned into tailwinds. It comes from your track record, which is quantifiable.”
“I think there’s generally a great deal of selfishness in humanity. If you can look beyond that and approach it in a ‘what can I do for you?’ manner, it pays in undeniable ways. I don’t mean it in a monetary way. You will find help in places you cannot imagine. In the Twitter opportunity, it was just being helpful to one person and another. One meeting led to another.”
In 2012, he moved to Singapore, and set up K2 Global in 2015. Today its portfolio spans the breadth of blue-chip technology companies including Uber, Impossible Foods, Spotify, Airbnb and mixed reality start-up Magic Leap. It has also been a long-time investor in India-based digital payment platform Paytm, which was recently bought into by Softbank, Alibaba and Warren Buffett. Last year, Spring Seeds Capital, the investment arm of Spring Singapore, named K2 as a co-investment partner in early stage start-ups over the next eight years.
When it comes to evaluating potential partners, he credits the regimen of “analysis, research, being thoughtful and thought-provoking, the sensibility of not being reactive or hyperreactive” that was inculcated in him during his years as a Harvard student. “Who else is invested? What does the team look like? What do others say about this team? Then you can really draw a map of the person and his journey, and what other companies are doing in that space. That’s a multi-dimensional and multi-functional view of the founder, company and competition.”
“Living in Boston was particularly formative, in the person I would ultimately become. People don’t realise that it is probably the most diverse place in the US because of its student population… and entire education ecosystem/culture of all the schools there, not just Harvard. That was what led me to think beyond my immediate surroundings, the regular American trajectory and being Americentric.”
Singapore, he believes, is the centre of the next technological evolution. He is in the process of applying for permanent residency, following which he and his family of four will apply for citizenship.
“Silicon Valley has had some 50 good years in flourishing technology endeavours. But, if you look at the future, Singapore is the neutral geographical gateway that grants one access to Asean, in addition to China and India. If one can understand the social and economic ecosystem of the Far East, then that gives rise to the greatest opportunities we will ever see.”
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