The new generation in non-business societies mainly tries to find government jobs. With the improvement in life expectancy, a generation of people have started their new career after retirement because they have experience and resources. Now a new herd of entrepreneurs is emerging who are leaving government jobs mid-career to experiment elsewhere. In this interview, life in Kashmir talk to Shabir Ahmad Handoua former deputy income tax commissioner who started his own Angel network.
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): The income tax department is resourceful, offering a lot of experience and visibility. What forced you to leave a lucrative government job in the middle of your career?
SHABIR AHMAD HANDOO (SAH): It was already in my head that the day I have a new idea of what I have to do now, I will say goodbye to my government job. I had already decided that the remaining period of the productive tenure I would use to help my new idea grow. So once I had the idea of what I needed to do, I decided to invest the six to seven years of my productive age in the new idea. So I decided to join the corporate sector so that I could practically work on my ideas. The fact is that at retirement age, energy levels are low and big ideas are difficult to manage.
KL: People live their lives in circles, one ends only to pave the way for another circle. A friend of mine, who is 80 years old and still holds an important position, never found the time to build a house in Srinagar, his hometown, which he left at 17. His experiences never allowed him to devote time to owning a home. By the way, what is the experience you are going to have?
SAH: I worked in the income tax department for almost 30 years and enjoyed quasi-judicial power. My motive for leaving work was to explore the life that existed on the other side of the table where I used to sit. Many have suggested that I stay on as the tax advisor as I have the full knowledge and understanding of the job. I thought if I did, it would keep me around the same table I already had with more power, responsibility, and authority.
After many discussions and brainstorming within the circle of friends, I came to the conclusion that something must be done that can develop creativity in a business environment and act as a positive disturbance. It was important because people in that part of the world study for government jobs because it provides a certain comfort zone. Now, government jobs are fewer and very competitive.
We intended to build a platform where people will be connected for the exchange of ideas, services and investments. We intended to contribute to a new entrepreneurial ecosystem in which different people have diverse roles – investors, entrepreneurs and many people who deliver to various places in the upstream and downstream links of an initiative. These roles that people knew about but were never presented officially.
So we set up a platform, a company, Cashmere Angels Private Limited, which is registered with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA). It’s basically a network where we connect all business-related resources on a single platform. It’s been less than a year. We have managed to attract attention and we are gaining a foothold in different sectors where we are inclined to do so. The onboarding process has begun and we are also in contact with subject matter experts. Well-meaning, very energetic and focused people are linked to this initiative. We have integrated at least two start-ups to date.
KL: How can your company help the younger generation in the future?
SAH: We want those people who actually have new business ideas, who can identify business gaps in the existing business ecosystem for their interventions. We either want a completely new idea that has so far been overlooked, or a niche in the existing business ecosystem where we can help a start-up. We don’t want copies because people trying to imitate success stories have no idea what the promoter is doing to maintain their success. A copier does not have access to this information.
We will help aspirants from the first stage of ideation and later in the implementation. People are not aware of new sectors like solid waste management, alternative energy and alternative financing. They will have to explore all these sectors to identify the niche where they can intervene. For that, they need the research we provide. So the candidates will come to us either with direct ideas or will have to identify the sectors with which they are at ease. We will help them focus on the specific area of the industry where they want to plan their business. Later we will organize their finances by connecting investors, but it depends on how powerful the idea is and how disruptive it is in the mainstream ecosystem so that it receives a lot of attention and acceptability. We will also help with branding and registration and creating a financial model. The reason we do all of this is to help start-ups manage it all under one platform. We will work with start-ups until they break even.
KL: There are no free meals. Will you partner with the new contractor or do you take a fixed fee? There are similar systems within the governance structure, how are you different from them?
SAH: Whatever systems exist, do their job in their domain. The fact is that there are more than 6500 registered start-ups on paper. But we haven’t seen any of these units grow, like Unicorn, in this part of the country. If there is no growth in the startup ecosystem in this part of the country, something is missing. There are obstacles and obstacles that must be eliminated. There are two or three success stories on this front and they are too few. These successes were also supported by Angel Networks, other parts of the country.
Yes, it’s not free. We have a standard procedure in angel networking and we also follow the same principle. We only accept limited liability companies that have a shareholding structure, from which we will take a small part of the shares as compensation. When creating shares, we will take a small number of shares as a commission in relation to the service we provide. This will be an advisory shareholding that can range from one to two percent, or even higher up to five percent, depending on the amount of funds required. No upfront fees need to be paid. It’s always negotiable and it’s a win-win situation for both parties. We will advise the company on the long term, including how the funds will be raised and how many shares the offeror should sell to investors and keep most of the shareholding with them.
KL: We push people into start-ups without giving them an idea of whether or not they are viable based on raw materials, market, and manufacturing and management mechanisms. You are starting from two entrepreneurs, what are they going to do, given the constraints that the market imposes?
SAH: This is precisely why I said that we would discourage copycat ideas and prefer original ideas in which the initiator has worked out all the key factors that will decide the viability of their idea. We will not initiate any business whose beginning will mark the end.
The most important thing is to identify the trading gap. Once identified, you can identify your location and numbers. That’s why we need original ideas backed by research. There is no such research culture in Kashmir and that is why we offer it to potential start-ups. It depends on market research. The more research is done, the more gaps will be identified.
The intervention of the authorities is also important and we also need coordination. In our case, it’s clear that if you don’t have market research, you can’t come up with a scalable business idea. Moreover, all these ideas must be based on technology. We started an agriculture startup that is about integrated farming and is technology-based. You have to understand that only ideas based on technology have a future and only in these can we have future growth. This unit has horticulture, sheep farming and other activities on a large strip of land. Its financial model, its statutory compliances and its marketing are managed by us. By any standards, we consider it a promising unit. The other unit is in the health sector in which the basic spade work is done. It is also a good project.
Our job is essentially to provide an enabling platform where people meet people, experts meet entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs meet investors. So if this platform is created to its optimum potential, things will start to move forward.
There are new projects that have approached us and we are in the process of evaluating them. We are interested in waste management. People should know that some of the biggest companies don’t have real assets but are still big. Some of them may not have offices at all.
KL: What challenges do you see for your initiative?
SAH: Getting people to understand how the Angel Networks work is in itself a big challenge. People in that part of the country don’t know how these things work. People here believe that if the bank rejects a funding proposal, that marks the end of the idea. The point is that banking is just one way to manage resources. There are people who want and are ready to invest. It will take time for people to understand that here.
(Shakir Ashraf handled the interview)