On the buzz I feature this international superstar who believes in giving back, Insaaf Mohideen, a Sri Lankan - American who has had a highly successful career over the past 25 years spanning across finance, management consulting, technology and entrepreneurship, and is one of the initial investors for Instagram. He is currently the Chief Investment Officer for one of the largest International Sovereign Funds managing a multi billion dollar tech fund, and Founding President of a Healthcare company. Additionally, he has invested and advised 100+ storied Silicon Valley startups spanning across Fin-tech, social media, cloud compute, big data and machine learning.
Insaaf received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern California and subsequently his MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.
Apart from all the cool things above, he also loves the outdoors, he is always travelling and now attempting a climb like never before, only 2 Sri Lankans have been successful thus far - he wants to climb the mother of all mountains, Mount Everest without oxygen. Read all about him and what he hopes to do for the youth of this country on the buzz today!
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STARTUPS? AND WHERE DO YOU SEE SMALL BUSINESS IN SRI LANKA HEADING?
Startups and entrepreneurships are core to societal equality, mobility and fairness. Entrepreneurship creates new wealth and opportunities that rival old wealth, incumbent hierarchies and corrupt classism. It’s been the core to American values, society and success. You can be born rich, die poor. Born dirt poor and rise to the highest levels of society.
Sri Lanka has seen successful entrepreneurship and rags to riches stories. But it's few and far apart given the talent pool and energy on the ground. Sri Lankan startups have wasted a ton of energies on me-too startups that replicate a localised model of ideas that have worked in the west. That model works when you’re in China or India with large local audiences. Sri Lanka is too small for me-too.
I’d like to see Sri Lankan entrepreneurs dream big, think big and go big on ideas… new age technology and economics allows us to create and launch products and services that can revolutionise how we work, play and live globally.
It’s when our entrepreneurs dream big, fail big, and succeed big will we be able to attract venture capital and sizeable angel investments.
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST SUPPORT IN YOUR LIFE?
Lots of people have played a role in my life over the years. My amazing parents never hesitated or questioned my pursuit of success. My ex-wife was pivotal in a lot of my entrepreneurial ventures. In fact, startup capital for some ideas came from her when I was broke. Amazing mentors. My daughters have been my cheerleaders as of late.
WHEN YOU VISITED SRILANKA THIS YEAR, WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS?
Over the years, I’ve struggled with Sri Lanka. It’s been a love hate relationship. Mostly hate.
Last summer, I finally got around to enjoying it and building an affinity… appreciating its diversity, unity, beauty, hospitality and warmth. I’m absolutely in love with Sri Lanka. I guess I can attribute it to age and wisdom.
YOU HAVE SUPPORTED MULTIPLE START UP BUSINESSES. WHY DID YOU DO SO?
I have been an Angel Investor – investing in seed stage startups – for over 20 years with investments in over 200+ startups. Some have been storied successes and some colossal failures across Financial Technology,
Big Data, Social Media, Cloud etc. As an entrepreneur, you're wired differently. Startups/ideas fuel your passion and excitement. Be it your own or being involved in them via an investment or advisor role. Entrepreneurs are dreamers. Know no limits. So, it's liberating to be around them. All shackles off!
YOU WERE ONE OF THE INITIAL INVESTORS FOR INSTAGRAM. WHAT DID YOU SEE IN IT THAT MADE YOU INVEST AND HOW ACTIVE ARE YOU ON INSTAGRAM?
With the advent of the smart phone and social media, we are inundated with news/updates/social content /ads. It’s an overload. So, it was apparent that this information curation had to simplify. How do you get your point across visually and how do you filter out the noise? Only visual content worthy of your eyeballs ultimately filter out. That was Instagram!
TELL ME ABOUT PRO HEALTH, WHICH IS BASED IN CALIFORNIA?
Prohealth is a Healthcare company providing Senior Healthcare, namely Home Health and Hospice Care. It was founded out of my bedroom; my cousin, my ex-wife and I started this with a modest budget and a big dream. 14 years later, it’s one of the largest Senior care providers in Northern California employing over 300 doctors, nurses, therapists and healthcare professionals. We continue to have big dreams for it – grow it into a Billion dollar provider.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SRI LANKAN YOUTH ARE MISSING? WHAT DO YOU SAY IS THE BIGGEST ISSUE THAT THE YOUTH FACE TODAY IN SRI LANKA?
Sri Lankan Youth are blessed to be in an amazing democracy with access to all levels of education. With appropriate levels of social funding and enablement, they are not missing out on anything. All opportunities and exposure are available locally.
However, I get a sense that they are not as vested in socio-political discourse and landscape. This is disastrous. When the youth are disengaged, the country suffers.
WHAT MADE YOU VISIT SRI LANKA AFTER THE EASTER ATTACK?
Witnessing those attacks a week after we celebrated my dad’s 80th at Shangri La, threw me into a state of exasperation and helplessness. Oh no, I don’t want a war-torn Sri Lanka again. Remote donations and lip services has never been my style.
I’ve never shied away from hands on help be in depths of Africa, Rohinyga or Nepal.
It’s the first of many visits to help reconnect Sri Lankan society as
“Sri Lankans first” before religion or ethnicity. It’s ours to keep or lose. This is a crucial point in our history where the youth, educated and the powerful need to step up to ensure lasting peace and harmony prevail.
I was frustrated at the inertia and paralyses among local youth and myopic leaders.
So, I packed and headed to Sri Lanka to visit the impacted communities as well as some hot button areas. We had amazing dialogue with the elders, youth, community leaders and religious leaders. We were also able to bring decent sums of relief to those needed. Hosted some Dhansal style iftars etc
YOU HAVE WANTED TO WORK WITH THE YOUTH IN SRI LANKA WHAT IS THE PROJECT YOU’LL BE STARTING?
I’m hoping to host an event that’s not only exciting but inviting to Sri Lanka youth from across the country.
Hoping to orchestrate an ideas hackathon; understand what it is that matters to them across the social, political and economic spectrum. And then develop a youth gazette for Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka 2.0
Idea is to spark innovation and efficiency across the spectrum by getting the youth to care and take a stake in shaping the future.
With Youth invigoration, I can help bring foreign venture capital, ideas, incubators, advisors and mentors to the local scene So, yes, I’ve had a ton of failures and they’ve culminated in success!
YOU LIKE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE, WHAT HAS GIVEN YOU THE BIGGEST SATISFACTION?
I love bicycling. This is a passion that’s developed over the past 8 years.
Recently I rode my bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles: 3 days, 380 miles, 25213 feet of elevation. Rode through beautiful mountainous and beach terrain and equally dangerous and very busy freeways.
When I visit a place… I like to walk around. I can walk a neighbourhood for days getting a feel for its architecture, food, people, style and micro-culture. Riding a bicycle is similar in that you're able to cover a larger span and absorb everything around you.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU’RE ALONE IN YOUR CAR?
Absolutely random thoughts!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ’90S JAM?
Return of the Mack!