“Why can’t a startup from Indonesia raise capital from an investor in Estonia?” Vikram Bharati, Founder, International of Singapore-based Draper Startup House, aims to change this situation with the launch of their funding platform, Draper Startup House Ventures.
“Most platforms are local or regional. In our globalized world, geographic boundaries are starting to get blurred. Companies and investors are starting to go beyond their borders, searching for opportunities anywhere in the world. There are not many platforms that can help startups and investors find opportunities globally. We see an opportunity to place ourselves as a platform that can extend beyond the reach of one’s geography,” Bharati told Digital Life Asia.
Backpacking around the world
Draper Startup House Ventures aims to help entrepreneurs receive better access to funding. This new funding platform provides an opportunity to submit pitch decks to the Draper Venture Network, which has 23 global funds. Moreover, it allows startups to raise capital beyond geographical borders through the funding platform’s worldwide network.
The Draper Startup House story itself is a testament to the fact that the world is moving beyond geographical borders. In January, Bharati’s entrepreneur-focused hostel chain Tribe Theory rebranded to Draper Startup House. This was after receiving a US$3.5M investment from prominent American venture capitalist Tim Draper. The rebranding reinforces the new combined vision: to enable one million entrepreneurs by 2030.
The company has come a long way a few years after Bharati had the idea while backpacking around the world.
“In 2014, I took a sabbatical from my job at JPMorgan to go backpacking through South America. What was supposed to be a six-month sabbatical turned into two years of solo backpacking around the world. I traveled to over 55 countries in six continents during this time and fell in love with the concept of backpacker hostels. Since I was traveling solo, these backpacker hostels were a great place for me to meet fellow travelers from all around the world and build my global network. I worked in hostels wherever I went in return for free accommodation, doing housekeeping, bartending, tour guides, etc. So I got an intimate experience of the backpacker hostel business,” Bharati said.
Pivoting in response to COVID-19
“It became very clear to me that backpacker hostels were terrific spaces for aggregating young, adventurous people from every corner of the world. Most of these travelers are young seekers who are looking to learn new things and find a new direction in life. So I saw that these spaces could be used for more than just travel and tourism. What if these spaces could also offer opportunities to learn new skills, experiment with building a startup, find other people to join forces with to work on a project, or raise capital for a company you already were working for? That’s how the idea came about — from backpacking for two years around the world,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism, travel and hospitality industry hard. How has this crisis affected the business of Draper Startup House?
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for our business in the short term. We had to shut down all of our physical spaces around the world. But it has been a tremendous blessing for us in the long term. This event has made us look carefully under the hood of our business and evaluate our business model. It is clear that we were too reliant on too few streams of revenue, which made our business model fragile. So we are adjusting our business model so that we can be prepared when the next such event happens,” Bharati said.
Innovation and digital transformation
“We’ve pivoted quickly to include more digital products and services. Because we are a mission-driven, community-focused, hospitality business, it is critical for us to engage with our community before they arrive at our physical locations and long after they’ve left our physical spaces,” he added.
Apart from the new funding platform, this digital pivot includes the launch of their Draper Entrepreneur Network online community. They have also unveiled the Draper Startup House Academy that will continue to provide education to their community digitally.
Bharati said the pandemic has forced them to become more innovative.
“We asked ourselves, ‘how can we still get travelers to fly to different countries and immerse themselves in the business culture of these countries digitally?’ So we launched the Global Venture Exchange Program where we flew 300 travelers to 12 countries in the span of three days with zero jet lag. This was a digital program where the 300 travelers landed in three to four countries every day and met with business founders and did live sessions with them,” he said.
Adapting to the post-pandemic world
“We’ve taken everything we do physically on a day-to-day basis completely online. Our New Normal program is conducting daily virtual co-working, virtual masterminds, virtual happy hours, virtual yoga and meditation, virtual coffee talks, virtual speed networking, and virtual entrepreneur-in-residence programs. As you can see, our operations are thriving. We’re just doing it all digitally,” he added.
Bharati is optimistic that people and businesses will thrive in the post-pandemic world.
“We think the world will start to return to somewhat of a pre-pandemic normal in the next six to twelve months. We’re very bullish and positive about the future of the world and of humanity. We believe that travel, hospitality and physical human connections are innate genetic dispositions of the human race built over millions of years. It is our natural state. And we will quickly find a way to get to our natural state as we have always done,” he said.
New generation of startups
The pandemic has forced his company to become more innovative. Similarly, Bharati said he expects this crisis to accelerate innovation in the startup community.
“I think there will be an explosion of innovation post pandemic. There are very smart people stuck at home. They have more free time than they might have had before to think about and work on innovative ideas. These ideas will be unleashed into the world post pandemic. I can’t wait to see all these ideas come to life in the next few years!”
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