Artha Strategies founder Jai Thampi with Lord Barron Michael Levy at the House of Lords after receiving the award for World’s Best Emerging Leader last week. Handout photo
Indian startups should consider using Singapore as a stepping stone to tap into the Southeast Asian market, which is now one of the largest in the world, boasting a rapidly rising middle-class population.
This is the advice from Jai Thampi, the founder of Singapore-based Artha Strategies, which has established itself as a notable management and consultancy service in the region.
However, Jai, as he is known, cautions startup founders not to view Singapore as an ATM that will readily dispense money.
“Startups and corporates that wish to use Singapore as a platform to expand into the rest of Asia should be prepared to tailor their approach to align with the specific needs, preferences, and regulations of the Asian markets.”
“They should also remain open to feedback and adapt their strategies to suit the evolving business landscape,” says Jai, who has been mentoring corporate executives and startup founders to turn Artha Strategies into a rapidly growing, successful venture.
With multinational clients such as Diageo (the world leader in premium beverages), a prominent global healthcare company, one of Asia's top banks, and Japan’s leading industrial automation company, his success reflects not only his hard work but also the incredible opportunities presented by Asian markets.
Jai’s efforts have been globally recognised, with New Delhi-based WCRCINT, an organisation that encourages and promotes excellence in the business field, naming Jai as the World’s Best Emerging Leader. Jai received the award from Lord Baron Michael Levy earlier this month at a high-profile ceremony at the House of Lords.
Jai believes that the substantial Indian diaspora in Singapore and the historical links between the two countries present significant opportunities for entrepreneurs on both sides to expand business ties.
Numerous government-level agreements and partnerships have been established between India and Singapore, providing startup founders and corporations on either side with the means to foster collaborations.
Jai understands Singaporean citizens like him, who grew up in Kerala and studied here, can be vital cogs in such ecosystems with their exposure to both environments and familiarity with global markets.
Jai, who grew up in a small town called Mavelikkara in Kerala, still holds that a turning point in life came early for him when he faced a choice between IIT Varanasi and TKM Engineering College to pursue higher education.
“I chose the latter and went to TKM College of Engineering, where I graduated with a gold medal in 1996.”
“During my final semester, I saw an ad that Philips was setting up their first Indian software development centre in Bangalore, and I joined them as a software engineer.”
The young engineer found Philips an ideal platform for upskilling himself, as the electronics firm had a dominant role in the global market at that time and was looking to hire talented individuals from around the world.
“My career took a pivot into the management track in 2001, which is how I ended up at the Singapore HQ to become a global product manager. Philips had a culture of fast-tracking young, diverse talent, and I was assigned to general management and leadership roles in other countries, taking on new responsibilities along the way.”
“From Philips, I moved to Cisco in 2006 to lead their consumer products division for the Asia Pacific region, which required extensive travel and interactions with companies worldwide. It was during this time that I began to notice many companies struggling to adapt to the digital age.”
“I observed a gap in boardrooms and C-suites [middle-level managers], where corporations were grappling with the practical implementation of digital transformation and sustainability into their businesses. I saw this as a business opportunity and established my own advisory consulting firm, Artha Strategies, in 2016.”
Initially, his strategy was to do some pro bono work, helping entrepreneurs, working with startup incubators and accelerators, and advising some corporate clients that he had.
“In 2022, I decided to take a full entrepreneurial plunge and focus entirely on my consulting business as the post-Covid world opened up new and exciting opportunities for me to assist both corporates and startups.”
Now, he mentors clients, including corporate leaders and startup founders, and selects his clients judiciously. After meeting several startup founders during his recent trips to India, Jai feels that a person with global exposure like him can make a significant contribution to boost the startup ecosystem in India.
“Giving back is my core life philosophy, and that's why I named my company Artha Strategies (‘Artha’ meaning purpose). I do this by sharing my most valuable assets – my experience and knowledge – through mentoring and pro bono projects in which I get involved.”
“I believe there are several ways people like me can continue to contribute to startups in India, especially in Kerala, and these contributions could be easily facilitated by local agencies like Kerala Startup Mission.”
“They can organise regular interactions such as virtual coffee sessions and fireside chats with established entrepreneurs like me, with the audience consisting of startups and other members of the local innovation ecosystem.”
Jai is based in Singapore but deals with companies worldwide and believes that the talent available in India is a treasure trove waiting to be exploited. He sees great opportunities for such collaborations in the Asian region.
“Often, Indian startups and corporations view markets like the US, UK, and Canada as easier to pursue. These first-world countries offer a large addressable market size, recognisable customer/consumer problems, and, most importantly, are English-speaking.”
“However, these markets are also oversaturated, with their own home-grown innovation pool and technology solution providers. So, Jai believes that markets in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) present excellent opportunities for Indian firms looking to scale up their businesses.
The key, he believes, is to understand the market and its key characteristics. Most foreign companies find it challenging to navigate the geographic, cultural, regulatory, and social nuances of countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand.
The unique geographies of countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, which consist of thousands of islands, pose significant supply chain challenges, for example, and these issues are further complicated by language barriers.
“If you are an Indian business looking to expand into one or more Asean countries, you must understand the local markets and then work closely with the locals to create the right solutions for them.”
A great first step for accomplishing this could be to partner with Singapore-based companies that can provide Indian companies with an easier entry ticket into Asean countries and beyond.
“Similarly, Indian companies aiming to impress funding agencies and venture capitalists in Singapore must help explain the Indian market and its characteristics, as many outside the country fail to comprehend the complexities that exist in the local business environment.”
Jai suggests that a way to get acquainted with the Singaporean business network is to participate in industry-related conferences, trade fairs, and networking events held there and establish connections with potential partners and stakeholders.
The Lion City also hosts events like the Week of Innovation and Technology (Switch) and competitions like Slingshot for innovators. Jai believes that there should be efforts by government agencies, both in Delhi and Kerala, to facilitate the participation of Indian companies in such events.
This would provide Indian talent with a lot more visibility and enable companies in the Asean region to tap into the talent pool in India.
While the governments of Singapore and India have set in motion efforts to expand more tech tie-ups, Jai has already sprung into action.
During his recent trips to India, he has already initiated the process of mentoring a couple of startups and conducted interactions with young tech enthusiasts, including one such session in Trivandrum.
Jai is now aiming to expand his mentoring activities in Kerala further, which includes establishing a regular schedule for ‘connect and exchange’ with entrepreneurs and providing selective mentoring for Kerala founders who are building impactful businesses.
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