1. Managing partner of Jungle Ventures.
2. Believes education is the way out of poverty.
3. Funds Ability Aids Foundation in India to provide education to 5,000 poverty-stricken children.
4. Financed and co-founded Billionbricks in 2013.
5. The non-profit, whose Weather Hyde tent has gained global prominence, aims to eradicate homelessness.
[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hen you are given much, you have to give back, says Anurag Srivastava. He knows what he is talking about because his is a story of one deep in debt who subsequently rose rapidly, like the proverbial phoenix, to own companies and bankroll start-ups as their business co-pilot.
He arrived in Singapore in 1993 for a job that paid 10 times more than the $200 a month he was making in India. Within a year he resigned, as the job did not live up to expectations, but he was also $30,000 in the hole in credit card bills. He had a second chance when an American software company, Parametric Technology, offered him a job. Anurag redeemed himself and, as his stock rose, other companies sought his services.
Today, the Singapore permanent resident, 50, has under his wing firms with an international reach that employ over 3,000. Among them are Space Matrix, which his wife Shagufta started and is now Asia’s second largest interior design company, and animation studio One Animation, whose popular sketch-based comedy series Oddbods has topped 250 million views on Youtube.
Anurag’s main driver is Jungle Ventures, which he co-founded in 2011 with Amit Anand. The idea of putting together a venture capital fund to incubate and guide the growth of promising new companies came six years earlier, after he ended a 10-month stint at a software company in the United Kingdom.
But building companies and the wealth that comes with it did not quench the thirst for success he yearned for. Anurag ponders his financial achievements and says: “At some point in life, you start realising there is Somebody up there who is giving you all this, which after a certain time becomes useless, because you can’t spend or eat it.
“Then, you suddenly realise it is a very simple thing to say, ‘I have access to resources – and why not leverage on them for the larger good of humanity.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in being able to help, if somebody needs it and you can offer it.”
Anurag hails from Kanpur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, India, where poverty and death because of homelessness go hand in hand. To keep him and his brother out of this trap, his lower middle-class parents broke the bank and did not have enough for the household, just to send them to the top schools in India.
Education, he says, is a ticket out of poverty. This conviction drove him and Shagufta in 2009 to start funding Ability Aids Foundation in India that helps poverty-stricken children get an education. They are now helping to put 5,000 in school in a southern Indian village, after polluted waters wiped out the people’s fishing livelihood.
Following in his father’s footsteps: Anurag’s son, Krish
He did not stop there. In 2013 he got behind architect Prasoon Kumar, who founded Billionbricks to eradicate homelessness and stem the death tide. Their signature product Weather Hyde, a simple, element-proof tent that provides temporary shelter, is making waves globally.
“Our vision is to find solutions that are scalable to solve the problem of homelessness,” explains Anurag. “Our belief is that human development does not start unless you have a roof over your head. If you go to the slums of Indonesia and India, you find the kids are incredibly talented. But the moment they get a roof over their heads, they start to study, perform and do well.”
“Our belief is that human development does not start unless you have a roof over your head.”
Billionbricks’ focus, says Anurag, is to create solutions that can be passed on to others to build upon. Existing foundations, he adds, had been focusing on many things to alleviate poverty such as food and water, but not many paid enough attention to providing shelters for those without accommodation.
“In the end, it takes money to solve a problem. It has to have a product, it has to have viability, the right team and research to solve a problem at scale. It takes money and we are trying to approach solving the homeless issue like any other firm.”
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Anurag sees his future investments leaning towards projects that solve pressing human needs and says: “I want to do this full time in five years’ time, if I can.”
In 60 Seconds
One of the most important lessons I learnt from my parents is: How not to get tempted when things are not going our way. I think the middle-class upbringing is where you get the value system. My mum could have taken money from her lawyer father, but she wanted to respect my dad and did not. My dad went beyond his means to send me to a top school, making personal sacrifices.
My most prized possession is: My wife, who is my strength. She wants to start her own foundation for people who are unskilled but can potentially be skilled.
The one time I doubted myself most was: In 2005, when I was in London. Iʼd lost all confidence, felt I was going to completely fail and wanted to quit. I returned to Singapore and saw a counsellor, who advised me that if I quit, I would never get out of it. So I went back to London, fought my doubts and, in three months, success came.