This billionaire tech VC says startup CEOs should 'lead from the front' by being the first in the office and the last to leave

This billionaire tech VC says startup CEOs should 'lead from the front' by being the first in the office and the last to leave

Tej Kohli

Alexandra Dao

Tech billionaire, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist, Tej Kohli.

  • Tej Kohli is the billionaire VC behind Tej Kohli Ventures, which invests in startups in the artificial intelligence, genomics, robotics, biotech, and e-sports industries.
  • Speaking to Business Insider, he said tech leaders need to "lead from the front" by starting earlier and finishing later than their colleagues.
  • "You come in early, you have a very clear mind, you think properly, you get to plan your day, and you execute," Kohli said.
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Billionaire tech VC Tej Kohli says startup CEOs need to start work earlier and finish later than their colleagues.

Kohli made the majority of his money from white-label technology and payment-processing providers clustered around Grafix Softech, the e-commerce firm he built up in the 1990s. In 2007, this portfolio was sold in a management buyout worth $500 million.

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The majority of Kohli's wealth was then invested in the markets and real estate. He also invests in a range of forward-looking industries through his VC firm, Tej Kohli Ventures.

Speaking to Business Insider about how he thinks tech CEOs should operate, he said: "My advice to an executive is that you have to lead from the front, and then everybody follows. You can't just keep giving orders to people and hope that something happens.


"I believe in the American work culture. Wherever I worked, I was in my office at 6:30 in the morning, and I was the last one to leave. For many years I did that. I led from the front, led by example.

Tim Cook


Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly rises at 3:45 a.m. each day.

"I'm sorry, but here [in Europe], when you get to the office at 9, nobody's there. Coming in early is, I think, a very good thing. You come in early, you have a very clear mind, you think properly, you get to plan your day, and you execute.

"It's not only about big ideas. It's about execution. That's more of a challenge. You lead from the front. If you are there by 6:30 a.m., then people have to come in by 8 a.m. at least. So, then, everything moves much faster."

Read more: 7 ways American work habits have changed in the past 10 years


He added: "Passion is a big part of it. Time - starting the day early, wanting to come in early; wanting to come in and conquer the world - just that mindset is very contagious in any work environment."

Kohli says Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are role models for all tech executives

Needless to say, Kohli is not the only successful executive who rises before dawn. Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly wakes up at 3:45 a.m. on a daily basis, and Tesla's Elon Musk says he works 120-hour weeks as standard.

Though those examples may be extreme, Kohli thinks many European executives lack the zeal of their American counterparts.

"I don't see much of that in Europe, to be honest," he said. "It's more in America. In China, I see a lot of it. India, not so much as yet, but maybe one day it'll be there. I mean, younger people are getting more like this, now."

Bill Gates

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Kohli praised Bill Gates' 'demanding' approach at Microsoft.


Kohli views two big-name US tech executives as especially worthy exemplars.

"Look at Bill Gates," he said. "He was the best programmer for a long time, along with Paul Allen, and he owned the third biggest company - it used to be the biggest - in the world.

"Even when he was the richest man in the world, he was the lead programmer. He was there all the time, [being] very demanding."

Indeed, Gates recently said that he worked weekends and never took vacations in the early days of Microsoft. "I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those, those early years," Gates said.

Kohli continued: "In my opinion, he is the greatest human being in the world. He has solved so many problems. But he is a good example, he is a good role model to have. Look at Jeff Bezos. They're absolutely driven, and they lead from the front."