Meet Vani Kola, the unicorn hunter, at Global Trends Festival 2020

Meet Vani Kola, the unicorn hunter, at Global Trends Festival 2020
Vani Kola - Managing Director, Kalaari CapitalBusiness Insider Global Trends Festival
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Scaling new heights comes easily for serial entrepreneur Vani Kola. After all, she had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a decade back. However, she is better known for her penchant to start, grow and sell companies in the Silicon Valley.

What got this middle-class engineering graduate from Hyderabad to make a mark in Silicon Valley is pure grit and determination. As the founder of RightWorks, a web enterprise computing company in the 90s, she sent her pitches to Fortune 500 CEOs on a large sized cardboard. It’s too big to throw away and impossible to crumble! She later sold the company for a whopping $657 million in 2000, and repeated the same success story with yet another company she founded, Certus Software.

In 2006, Kola made a life-changing decision to come back to India. It was tough since she has been living there for 22 years with her husband Srinivas Kola with whom she travelled to the US for masters degree, and two daughters. But Kola who is now based out of Bangalore, during a visit to India and saw ‘how much’ it had changed since she left it.

A cab ride that brought her back home

The epiphany came when she was taking a cab ride. Her cabbie told her that he is planning to take his family to Bangkok for a holiday, which shocked her. “I have never heard my own father (who is an accountant) say that he has been working hard and needs a vacation,” she said in an interview to Business Standard.

After looking at how consumer behaviour was changing and that India was ripe for innovation, she set up Indo-US Venture Partners in 2006 with yet another serial entrepreneur Vinod Dham and former head of Intel India Kumar Shiralgi. The venture went through management changes to be rebranded in 2011 as Kalaari Capital, named after Kerala-based ancient martial art form Kalaripayat.

Breaking the boy’s club

Since inception, Kalaari Capital has invested in many e-commerce firms like Snapdeal, Myntra and Urban Ladder. Among her top investments are YourStory, Dream11 and Curefit. Among her top investments and exits is one of India’s first online lingerie stores, Zivame. In the founder of the startup, Richa Kar’s own words, Kola had grasped the concept in half an hour. With others, it would have taken two weeks across many meetings.

It also helped that Kola was one of those rare women in the boy’s club of venture capitalists, and she was the first that Kar came across. Even now, the number of women who seek investments from Kalaari are a mere two percent of the total number. Yet, Kola believes things will change.

In the 1980s, she was part of another boys club, called engineering. She was amongst one of the six girls in a batch of 400! Now the ratios are much well balanced and these women, she hopes will become CEOs, investment bankers and also venture capitalists and the so-called boys club will not remain so anymore.


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