Ben: Hi everybody! We are excited to be here today with Asmod Karki. Recently, we connected as fellow Princeton alums, so we met through that network and I was just really interested in Asmod's story. He is based in Kathmandu, Nepal, and is a player in the ecosystem there around entrepreneurship with multiple companies started. We'll hear more about that, in addition to a lot of other very interesting work.
Asmod, maybe introduce yourself and what's going on in Kathmandu right now.
Asmod: Thanks, Ben. Great meeting and thanks for the warm intro.
Hi everyone, I'm Asmod. I'm from Nepal and based in Nepal at the moment. Basically, my story is: until high school I was here, but very lucky to go to campus in the States — in Princeton. From graduation, I came back to Nepal and had a brief stint in China after. Since returning back from China in 2019, I've been largely working in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, largely consulting entrepreneurship research and taking operations in different capacities.
Ben: We were joking earlier that people obviously — like myself — think of Nepal in terms of beautiful mountains. I think eight of the ten tallest peaks are in Nepal. I think about amazing food. We have some great Nepalese restaurants in D.C. Unfortunately, after that my knowledge starts to tail off dramatically. Give us a little sense of Nepal: where it sits in the world and where it sits in the course of its development journey. Just a little Nepal 101 would be helpful.
Asmod: You know, that's one of the hardest questions I continue to face because it's such a diverse country, right? A lot of times, I think Nepal is known for Mount Everest and sometimes maybe for its religion and culture.
To give a 101 to our listeners, Nepal is a small country, I'd say. Between India and China, it’s located in South Asia. The population is around 30 million people, so think of the size of a mid-sized U.S. state. The GDP is roughly the size of — for our U.S. listeners — the size of Vermont; it’s more or less around $35, $40 billion USD. So, it’s not a big country — a small country. It's a mountainous country, for sure. It lives up to its reputation that it's a mountainous country. An interesting fact is around 50% of the population lives on the plains which borders India. It's a landlocked country, so there's India to the east, west, and south, and China to the north. A lot of the population actually lives on the border, like the plains towards the part of India. That's largely the demographics and geographical part.
As a country, it's a pretty diverse country, more than 120 languages. Nepal is one of the...
Ben: 120 languages! Wow.
Asmod: That's recorded, right? If you go unofficially, that would be much higher. It’s a pretty religious country.
Ben: How many languages do most people speak if you walk around the city?
Asmod: Growing up, if you live in, say, Kathmandu — any part — I’d guess Nepali and Hindi. Everyone speaks Hindi because there's a huge influence of Indian movies, culture, the subcontinent, and the food. If you go to a private school — which increasingly many people do — you also speak English, so at least three languages. If you want to boost your skills, because Hindi and Urdu are similar — not in writing but in speaking — you can say four languages. Then, if you are from an ethnic part of Nepal, because there are a lot of ethnic groups, usually you also speak a mother tongue, so at least three to five languages.
Ben: Wow, really neat. I always think it's interesting — these countries like Nepal that are, in some ways, nestled between countries that are larger and have very different kinds of political climates and alliances. If you think about Nepal in terms of being between India and China, how does that manifest itself in the fabric of Nepali culture and economics? What do you notice about being in the middle there?
Asmod: Nepal's history is also very different and unique. Because it's located between two super powerful generations, the way the country shaped — our current borders — is in relation to our superpower neighbors.
Generally, Nepal is very similar to India. Our currency is pegged, meaning we have a fixed exchange rate with India; that really drives the economy. We get almost every drop of our oil and imports from India, increasingly from China also. Culturally, politically, and people-to-people ties, we are very close to India. In recent decades, China is also playing an increasingly prominent role in terms of foreign investment, people-to-people connections, and everything. Because there’s Tibet also, Nepal has historical trade ties. Nepal actually used to be a trading route between India and China, historically, and that's how Kathmandu really became a vibrant city 400 years back. Nowadays, it’s not so much, but it’s very much influenced by two of our neighbors in terms of trade, religion, and languages. There are a lot of similarities.
Ben: I know that a lot of Nepalese people leave and go and work in other countries. Is there a common approach to go and work in… If you want to be a software engineer, a technology entrepreneur, or whatever it might be, is it easier to do that in India or China? Where do people usually migrate to?
Asmod: Let me put that briefly in the historical context for our users. So migration and immigration have been a fabric of Nepali socio-cultural life. In the past, it used to be traders trading between India and China, like 300 years back. Around World War II, when there was the British Empire in India, it used to be martial laborers in Nepal. Nepal is actually — besides Mount Everest — also known for Gurkhas, right? The fighters for our army.
In recent years, a lot of Nepali have been migrating to the Middle East, Malaysia, and increasingly to the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Migration has been a fabric of Nepali socio-cultural life. It's so huge that it’s almost five million people; this is a country of 30 million. So, one in every six Nepali is outside the country, and these are youths. I was reading a report that every other household in Nepal has someone living outside the country. So, migration is huge in the country. It spreads across socioeconomic strata and across sectors — and tech is also one. Increasingly, the sector is growing in Nepal and migration because of tech is also increasing. If you have tech skills, it's relatively easier for you to access opportunities outside.
We are seeing two trends here, Ben. Starting out, a lot of people work in the Nepali tech ecosystem, which is increasingly connected with the ecosystem in the U.S. and Australia, which has significant Nepali diaspora. If you are semi-skilled, start in the Nepali tech ecosystem for one or two years, and then go abroad for education or migrate where you have better opportunities, right? The ecosystem here is still nascent. We're starting to see that trend in Nepal.
Ben: Interesting. In a moment, I want to hear what you see in the Nepali startup community. What made you come back? I think it's an interesting example of someone like yourself that was in the States and then has been excited about what's going on to come back home and start companies. So, we'll talk about that in a minute.
When I was preparing for this, I was giving some thought back to before starting FedTech. I worked in Kenya for a few months. I had this amazing opportunity where another fellow Princeton alum gave me a chance to ride alongside as his assistant. He owned — at the time — what was the largest fast food company in Kenya, which was not an area that I anticipated wanting to work in. I don't know that I would necessarily work in it in the long term, but it was a fascinating chance to see a growing business in an emerging market in the developing world and how exciting that was. I don't recall ever being more excited about the process of starting companies than when I was interacting — in this case, in Kenya — with some of the ingenuity of entrepreneurs there.
I'm curious what you've seen — obviously not an African emerging market — but in Nepal in terms of the ingenuity of entrepreneurs, what you've noticed about the ecosystem, and what you think is exciting or challenging, on the other end of the spectrum.
Asmod: Ben, very thoughtful question. This is also something I've been trying to figure out both academically, through the work I do, and experience-wise right so.
On my spectrum, Nepal is a very pre-frontier market, not even a frontier. When I say pre-frontier, I mean that the institutions are weak, very early-stage in terms of very nascent companies, and the growth stage — especially in tech.
Kenya is actually a very vibrant country in Africa; Rwanda is another. Africa is increasingly getting more prominence. Nepal somewhat falls in the spectrum of…
Say if I have to put the Nepali tech ecosystem on a spectrum, starting with — say — the very mature system of Silicon Valley. Maybe China would fall somewhere in between, then Europe, right? Singapore is a bit emerging, and there's India. After like all of that comes Nepal and a lot of countries in Africa. So, it falls in that ecosystem.
There are a few characteristics that we see in the Nepali market that are prominent. I think as we start to dissect, it's important to know the characteristics, right? So, there are weak government institutions, but strong informal social norms. A lot of innovations happen in these social, political, and economic constraints. What I mean by that is a lot of times, how this manifests in terms of innovation is: say you want to build a company, you want to hire someone, right? How do you do that? Not a lot of vulnerable information out there in the market, right? A lot of time, your network plays a big factor. Who you know, who you connect to, how do you triangulate the information, who do you know in the government? Red tape can really eat a lot of your time and effort. I'm not talking about corruption or anything, but knowing people really can expedite the process, both in businesses and in dealing with red tape.
Innovation comes out of that, right? It comes out of the informality, but within the larger ecosystem constraints.
Ben: What are some common businesses? If you were an entrepreneur with an idea, how hard is it to get going? What kind of resources are available?
Asmod: Largely, as sad as it is to say, Nepal identifies almost two dozen key exports of the country’s sectors and migration/labor is one of them. That's the state.
If you talk of the larger economy, in terms of private sector entrepreneurs, health and education are big in the country. Education is largely privatized, and so is health care. Increasingly, we're turning to tech because the initial upfront capital investment is low, usually. I'm not talking about tech sectors with deep R&D that require manpower and skills; the ecosystem is not available in Nepal. Think of something as basic software app development or basic data for which you need a room, a computer, and human brain power. Those sorts of tech companies are starting to emerge. Other than that, hydropower is also big in the country. Nepal is starting to export to India — we’re in talks of exporting hydropower to Bangladesh.
Generally, health and education are there. Migration is a big factor. Then, after energy, comes the tech sector that’s slowly starting to emerge.
Ben: It's interesting. I think in some ways when I talk to folks like yourself, I get more appreciation for how much opportunity there is in the U.S. to start a technology-based, highly differentiated company.
One of the things that we had talked about previously, Asmod, was that there's not a lot of patenting in Nepal. That creates a vacuum where if you look at the idea of turning research into products and companies — which is kind of the world that we live in — it is so much harder than we have in the U.S. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of inventions that are made every year and end up getting patented and turned into licenses and new products. In some ways, it reinforces that. I get very excited; if there are ways to take some of that U.S. infrastructure, from a research standpoint, and marry that with some of the ingenuity of the entrepreneurs in the developing world, that — to me — is a cool idea. We haven't totally figured out how to do it, yet.
Asmod: I guess one of the key factors is innovation happens in an ecosystem as you very much know, working in deep tech space and innovation. There's certain things an individual can do and there's certain things an ecosystem does. In a place like the U.S. — where there's very solid, robust innovation — it's much easier for individuals. What I've seen in Nepal is — and basically for a lot of pre-frontier markets — there's so much onus on individual. If you succeed, sometimes it's big despite of the system, not because. So, there's and irony in that.
Ben: So, backing up, we were at Princeton in different times. I'm not even gonna reveal, I'm a tad older than you. What was your experience? What brought you over? Then, being at a place like Princeton — which is definitely a wonderful environment — it's definitely a high pressure environment. I'm curious, if you can take us back to the the college years, so to speak. Maybe you can skip over the keg stand stories, but tell us some other experiences you had in college.
Asmod: Briefly, even ending up in Princeton was luck. I was trying to go to engineering schools in India and that required me to take the SATs. That landed me in like a U.S. institution, government institution, you know? I learned about a scholarship for underprivileged kids that helps you apply to the U.S. So the deadline was next day; I learned about it today. That's a story for another time.
Luckily, I got in the program. It’s the first time I heard about Princeton in my life. So, this was the year. I had no intention until I graduated from high school to be in college. Fast forward a year, through a lot of practice and a lot of luck, I end up in Princeton. So I think college was really interesting in that it really interesting in that it really opened up avenues.
Ben: Well, back up a little. You literally you find out about a scholarship program. Basically — a one day difference — if you would have missed that, it might have changed the whole direction
Asmod: Yeah, really! I end up in this institution called EducationUSA; it’s a U.S. government body that helps students apply to U.S. colleges. I was very lucky that they had just opened this course called Opportunity Funding that year. It was their pilot year. I learned about it today. I didn't have a computer at home back then. There was load sharing; we didn't have power, supplies, and everything, so I had to go to a place where they helped me type that. So, there's an entire story.
Luckily, I get the program. I was planning to go to an engineering school in Nepal, which is sort of competitive, right? Then I said, “Okay, sometimes in life, you take risks.” Looking back, there was a huge risk in not accepting an offer for a Nepali college. Then, I start studying for the SATs. So, that was a huge risk in itself back when I was in my teenage years.
Ben: I think you're humbly moving through the story, but this is an exceptional achievement to go to Princeton. I'm just happy to hear. It's a good example of a U.S. government program working really well and creating something that is…
I think a lot of students have thousands of dollars of SAT help, consultants that help them write their Princeton essays, and all of that. You came in through a very different route that you're being humble about, but it's very special.
Asmod: Thank you. I do have to support the U.S. taxpayers; they have supported me all throughout college — being in Princeton — where I was in scholarship.
I'm very also thankful and lucky, because there's me, but there's all the support, right? My parents really worked hard. My professors and the entire Princeton institution was amazing. It's just opened the world to me. I got to travel around the world and really explore academically, personally, spiritually, and professionally. Even when I came back — when I was in Nepal — I'm extremely lucky to have these champions around me who are not visible, but who are always there to help. So, I also have to thank that.
Ben: When you got over, had you been to the U.S. before?
Asmod: It was my first time on a plane. When I came to the U.S., I was lost. It was my first time outside the country. So, there were a lot of new experiences. I was lost when I came to the airport — I think it was in Newark.
Ben: Wow. So, walk us through what were those first few weeks like?
I was a competitive athlete. I was the #1 fencer in the U.S. so I was definitely not fully at Princeton for my brain power as much as my athletic prowess. So, I remember the adjustment that I had to make of what it took to really keep up. I'm curious; how were your first weeks and months when you got onto campus?
Asmod: So, I was very lucky; there's a matter of luck involved. I had to come to the U.S. a couple days earlier. I didn't have housing and I couldn't afford a $200 hotel room, right? Someone who interviewed me, Sey Von Skivic. I still keep in touch with him. He’s in the class of… I won't say the exact wrong class; I don't want to mess up. Anyway, he's way older. He was very kind and he apparently sends out an email to this Princeton local list saying, “Hey, this guy from Nepal; is someone willing to host him?” So, a guy called John Beyer — class of 2006, computer science — hosts me. He says, “Hey, I'm willing to host.” That happens. The first time I land in the U.S., I don't know anything. I go to John's office — which haven’t met the person once — and he gives me a tour of the campus and it’s really pretty very different from Nepal. It turns out that he lived in the same room at Rockefeller College. In Princeton, there are six colleges, the same college within the same dorm room, right? So, it’s a matter of luck — room number 30 or 31.
Ben: I was a Rocky person when I was early on.
Asmod: Oh, really? Which building?
Ben: Holder Hall.
Asmod: Me too — 31.
Ben: Cool, okay! It got nicer when you were there. I think they redid the whole thing. Wow — small world.
Asmod: Very small world.
Anyway, I tell this story because there's a lot of matter of luck. John and his family kind of adopted me and they became host families. I used to celebrate my vacations with them and also got to go to John's wedding. I still keep in touch with him.
So, anyway, that opened up one part with each mistranslation over the course of four years. I was very lucky to have no Nepali on campus, so that really meant I had to blend in in a lot of ways. That was one cultural part.
The second part was academic, which I realized that although I did well in testing and everything, I wasn't prepared, you know? I didn't know I had to select classes until a few days before, and I saw one of my friends — the friend who actually came to Nepal a couple months ago, he’s from Germany — picking classes. I was like, “Oh, really?” I didn't know I had to pick classes until the day before, so I scrambled. It was a lot of learning; my English wasn't great. So, something like being fluent was also a big part. Academic is very different from colloquial.
The cultural adjustment was huge; academic adjustment was huge. Over the course of the years, the first year was difficult, but I really learned to use the resources to thrive. I think the last two or three years were really amazing.
I learned how to not pull all-nighters after a year, how to work sustainably.
Ben: Oh my goodness, so much.
Asmod: So much respect for athletes, also.
Also, Ben, you said you're a fencer. I had a fencer friend and that life is something, is just— I have so much admiration. I don't know how they pulled…
Ben: Well, it was just such a different experience. In high school, I did okay, but also spent a lot of my evenings either fencing or watching the Simpsons. It was a different experience when everybody — for us, at least — would get done with practice at 6:30, go eat really fast, and then everybody has the library and plugs in until 1:00 or 2:00 am studying. It was shocking — that level of preparation and how talented folks were. It took a whileand it sounds like you had a similar experience, right? You catch up. You — like all things — pick up the pace.
Am I remembering correctly that you ended up actually winning an award for your senior thesis?
Asmod: I got a couple grants to do my senior thesis, but that part I missed. Upon graduation… I don't know; there's always a matter of luck. So, in my final year, there was a fellowship called Ullman in honor of a professor who used to teach there. They had opened up a fellowship called the Ullman and it allowed you to design your own international project for the people in Woodrow’s and it was a competitive grant. I, again, was very lucky and was the inaugural — the only undergrad — who received that award the first year. So after graduation, I ended up very lucky.
Ben: That's great. It's huge.
For those of you that don't thankfully know about the Princeton senior thesis process, Princeton has — I think — the somewhat unique distinction of they only let you graduate after you write a 100 page paper called the senior thesis that typically takes you all year. It's not unusual for people that are in their 60s and 70s that still have nightmares about their senior thesis, not turning it in on time, not graduating and all of that stuff.
So, that's a big deal to get selected for a fellowship like that.
Fast forwarding a little, Asmod. So, you left Princeton; when did the entrepreneurial bug start to bite you? What was that process like, in terms of when did you realize that you wanted to do something and especially build a company in Nepal?
Asmod: Yeah, I think there are three stages to it. One is before my Princeton experience, one in Princeton, and after that.
As I said before my Princeton experience, briefly, was my dad was also a migrant worker outside Nepal. So, growing up, I saw people — him and the larger family — leaving for jobs outside Nepal.
In Princeton, my senior thesis was on migration in Nepal. I took a class on migration, economics, and tried to get a sense of why people migrate. Among many things I found, one of the reasons people migrate — among many things — is opportunities and jobs. That was the realization part.
The third part was come the time of graduation fellowship, I was like, “Okay, what can let me understand this more and what can I do to create jobs?” That was the understanding. I was very lucky — I got this fellowship, came back to Nepal, largely working in rural entrepreneurship, because in Nepal maybe like 60, 70% of people live in urban areas, rest of them in rural. That's the official stat. A lot of people actually — beyond two major cities where there's five or six million people — more than 20 million people live in some rural part. So, I traveled extensively around one-third of the districts of Nepal, all on buses, public transport, like sometimes hike for five hours to get to a place and really listen to people's stories like, “Hey, what do you do? Have you have migrated?” Almost every household has a person who has migrated. So, I really go to explore Nepal that year.
Ben: What did you learn? What were some of the stories that you heard?
Asmod: A lot of stories were about… You dig down and learn some of the people I talked to were truck drivers who were basically on drugs, driving trucks for like 48 or more than three days in India. They would say, basically, it comes down to income a lot of times. There's one.
I also noticed there's a social aspect to migration. Especially for young people, if you have everyone around you — your friends, your colleagues, everyone around you — migrating, that's also a push factor. We’re especially starting to see that in terms of student migration outside Nepal. Australia has the third largest Nepali migrant student population, after India and China. In the U.S., the Nepali migrant population in terms of students is the 12th largest. So, there’s a pretty big migration phenomenon.
What I academically verified is you really need to create jobs, be it in rural areas in Nepal. It’s a major reason people migrate. The stories vary, but economic opportunity became the goal.
That really pushed me to say, “Hey, I've been in the U.S., I’ve learned about it. I've been in Nepal. Let me explore my neighbors and see what's happening.” That pushed me to China, part of where I did a degree in economics and management. I said, “I've had experience in nonprofits. I've had experience academically. Let me work on the tech side.” This is when I started to really pivot in the tech entrepreneurship scene, working at a ride-sharing company in China.
Ben: You worked at basically the Uber equivalent in China, right?
Asmod: Yeah, it's called the Didi Chuxing. At that point, it was like the third largest startup in the world, I think. It acquired Uber and did 30 million rides a day. Pretty big.
Because I didn't code, but I wanted to be in tech, I figured using my skills in business and marketing was a way which allowed me to see the tech in China. Being at the heart of China's Silicon Valley allowed me to at least get a glimpse of that experience.
Ben: Share a little bit about that, Asmod. I think for a lot of listeners, the idea of being an employee at a Chinese rocketship-to-the-moon type of startup is tough — at least for me — to envision what that's like. What was the experience? What were the days like there?
Asmod: It was a hyper-growth startup. They started in the early 2000s and by the time I was there, they had like 13,000 employees, you know? They grew really rapidly; I was in the English division part, which is kind of small. Something they call in Chinese— it’s called 007 culture; basically, you work seven days a week from midnight to midnight.
Asmod: It's actually called 996. It's 9:00 to 9:00, six days a week. I had a friend who said that it's not 996 — it's 007, the James Bond. A lot of young people in the tech sector, a lot of foreigners… It's not common for foreigners to be in Chinese tech companies unless you speak very fluent Chinese. I was lucky that although I spoke some Chinese, I got a part in the company. It’s very intense; the work starts late, but there’s a lot of — I think — drive.
Ben: Well, 12 hour days every day for six days a week was common?
Asmod: Yeah, it was very common, at least I can speak of the company that I worked in — not everyone.
I also saw, as a human being, if you are working 12 hours a day, a lot of your hours aren't very productive. I also saw there's a culture of showing your face, and not leaving before your boss. Usually, maybe the actual productive hours would be two, three, four, five hours. Then — a lot of time — it's just face-to-screen time. That really allowed me to see the distinction between what actually happens and what's the facade. I'm not saying that that was the entire Chuxing operation, but at least from what I hear in a lot of companies is that's also very common: appearing to be productive versus actually being productive and how the resources are actually being spent in a company, which is also very different, right? Just because you have a lot of funding doesn't mean you're spending the resources in the best possible way. So, I got to see a lot of nuances and made a lot of friends, so I really saw the system from within.
Ben: Yeah, it's fascinating. I can see both sides of the coin. I've heard that about Chinese and Indian startups how hard people work, burnout, and the negative parts of that experience are profound. It's one side of the coin, right?
Also, what's interesting is I think in the U.S. is sometimes you maybe have a little bit of an underestimation of what it takes to compete with some of that level of commitment. You always want your hours to be productive, so if you're only having two or three productive hours out of a 12 hour day, that's not good.
I always try to stress, especially to first-time entrepreneurs, the whole world wants you to fail as an entrepreneur, right? I'm saying I'm exaggerating, but how hard you have to push in order to be successful on an early team that's trying to create a new product into the market. If you're leaving at noon on a Friday to go do whatever you want to do, there's somebody on the other side of the world that's building a similar product who’s literally one hundred percent committed maybe at the detriment to their own life and sanity. It's just an interesting observation that I've had.
Asmod: True, Ben. I think — like Ben very much rightly pointed — there's that part, but the other part is like the piece of innovation which I saw, right? In 2017, I saw like someone was begging in Beijing using a QR code. It was a joke at that point, like where does a beggar put a QR code, like there’s nothing. That's an analogy to the extent to which technology has penetrated society. I had friends working in the tech ecosystem. In a large corporation at some point, it becomes different. Especially in early-stages, if a founder, founding team, the teammates — when it's small — to not push with passion. Even in a large startup, meaning the startup is a big thing, there's so many products. There's constant competition, right? If you are not constantly pushing the boundaries with the hard work, then — in a market like China, you said — it goes down. In any place of the world now, the products are becoming global. In any markets, there's so much funding available and so much competition. Without the hardware part, I think any venture, any team — even within a large company — it's ultimately what you put is energy in a team. If you don’t do that…
Ben: It's hard to win.
Tell us: you're in China, you obviously see the good and the bad of a major startup there. Then, I know you started multiple companies, now on your own. What did you apply and what did you learn? What went well or what did not go as well for you, as an entrepreneur?
Asmod: I guess my journey has been a bit typical and atypical, right? First, I started working in the entrepreneurship ecosystem building things in a very disadvantaged part of Nepal with extremely low resources. A lot of people migrated, so it’s a very underfunded place; I started my experience with that. I ran a tech company for a year, so that really allowed me to see the ecosystem part and the running a company part. The company is doing well, established; it’s not a big team, but a sizable team which is running for almost a decade. So, that really allowed me to get an outsider view.
For the last couple of years I was trying to do a few ventures. One of the key learnings was — especially in starting a company — there's funding, there's everything. One key lesson I took was the team you build, the people you hire is extremely critical. I can't emphasize that more. It's not the product, it's not the service. It's the people because the product we might bring in the market will change. You can't have the same product in which you built a prototype or MVP. It's the people in your team and the collective vision. Of course, there's the funding part, there's other parts, but I realized having right team, the persistence, and grit — sometimes it is very important than having like…
Ben: Was that harder to find in Nepal? I think the it's immensely hard to start a great company by yourself. You need early-stage employees, co-founders, whatever you want to think of it as. I imagine that it might be harder to find that in Kathmandu than in San Francisco.
Asmod: I guess there's a matter of serendipity in that and a matter of using the judgment. One example was kind of an intrapreneurship example. One of the things I built when I came back to Nepal was a case writing center from scratch at an established business school. Basically building a new center where the product would be writing cases, right? So, I was starting something from scratch and there, one of my co-founders — although not with the title — was actually one of the students. I started on my own, of course, with the support of the college. I met someone by serendipity who came as an intern, but over the course of one year, he was trained well. There was a point where I felt I could pretty much leave my hands off and the training and the case writing part would do. So, that part was serendipity, but a lot of — I think — investments in relationship is also very crucial in founding a founder and the trust factor.
Ben: Oh yeah.
Asmod: That's one modality I leveraged. The second part was actually working with people you know, have built a common norm with, or whom you share values and vision. The last startup I did was VikasaTech. So, VikasaTech actually was the people I met through different ways like being in Kathmandu, same social circles; they're investors and I was actually leading the operations on a day-to-day basis. There, it was a group of people who really had the same vision and also, the thing we brought to the table complemented it. I was doing more on the operations side; they were doing the investments and also opening the network, so we blended well.
Ben: What was the product? What were you actually selling?
Asmod: VikasaTech — we're doing this software outsourcing. It’s trying a different model in that usually with software outsourcing, you have your own in-house team and you pitch to the clients outside. In Vikasa, we do a different approach in that we're trying to build a B2B aggregator. Rather than have our own in-house team, we work with existing tech companies. The ecosystem is fragmented; just to get three tech companies in the same platform was a challenge, so there’s different problem-solving in that part.
Ben: Interesting. Definitely a big market. Thanks, Asmod; all fascinating stories.
To finish and put a finer point on some of what we discussed, we always ask the guests on this podcast to offer some advice to our community. If you had two or three things that you'd advise a young entrepreneur on entering an emerging market, as an entrepreneur, what would you say? What would you tell somebody over coffee if you were talking to them?
Asmod: I guess one thing is there's so much — I think, usually — focus on even the term being an entrepreneur, right? First, I'd urge people to think of entrepreneurship in a very broad way. Entrepreneurship doesn't mean you have to start your own company because sometimes that can also mean liability. Entrepreneurship — in my thing — means doing the best you can and leveraging the resources you have around you. That means entrepreneurship can happen within your community and within your team. So, if you are already working in a firm, you can be an intrapreneur; you can be an entrepreneur in that sense. I'd urge young people — even people generally — to broaden the horizon of entrepreneurship. It doesn't mean you have to start a new company. It can be starting a new wing. It can be starting a new service. There's so many ways to think. So that's one.
Second thing is building team relationships. Of course, there's product, there's service, but what you ultimately do has no defined hours, right? So, some days at Vikasa, I would take up calls at around close to midnight in Nepal. There are short days to this. So many erratic hours you'd work on the weekend and actually you enjoy that part, right? So, it can take a toll on — I think — your personal life and everything, but learning to balance that and really enjoying what you do. I don't say that you'll enjoy everything you do, but a lot of times, I think it's glorified. Maybe when you speak somewhere as a founder, the titles are interesting, but a lot of things you do are not enjoyable and you have to enjoy that, right? Oh, writing a contract, talking to people, talking to the finance guy, making sure the taxes are filed, making sure you don’t get fines. Sometimes, it’s doing the basic things that you can't hire extra help for. I think learning to enjoy the process is key.
First would be — I think — rethink the concept of entrepreneurship. Second thing is learning to enjoy the process. The third thing is — I think — persistence, for which team is important. Yes, there's an urge — especially in the early stage — at some point you realize you need a team, right? A person, no matter how great, awesome you are… You can build a website on your own, but if you have someone like a tech co-founder — for instance — if you're not one, maybe you can expedite the process.
Learn to cheer with the team. Team is extremely… They also give you momentum and energy, because a lot of times, you don't know where you're headed, right?
Ben: Sure. Absolutely.
Asmod: So, that means you need to have an environment around you who are constantly championing. That means colleagues, because you'll be spending more time with them than your family.
Ben: Certainly true. Well, talking about putting in the late hours, we're approaching 11:00 am here on the East Coast. What time is it in Katmandu right now?
Asmod: 8:40, so a quarter to nine.
Ben: Oh, okay. We will let you get on to the rest of your evening, which hopefully involves some sleep.
Asmod, thank you so much for your time and perspective here today. Congrats on what you've been able to achieve and I really enjoyed immensely hearing your personal story. We'll leave it there, but thanks again.
Asmod: Thank you, Ben. Thanks for the opportunity; thanks for this space to reflect. Thanks to the team also behind the scene who really put this together. Thank you.
Ben: All right.