Risk everything to become an entrepreneur or play it safe by taking a well-paid corporate role? That’s the dilemma for many business school students eyeing their next move after graduation, but not for Vishnu Chundi. He joined London business School (LBS) in August 2015 to gain a full-time MBA – and to use the two years to launch his own venture.
Chundi wants to work on his startup AssetVault – which allows consumers to catalogue, protect and unlock the value of their physical and digital assets – after graduating rather than work for someone else.
"Even though most new ventures fail, I wanted to give my business idea a real go,” he says. But he admits that balancing study with the rigours of launching a business has been tough. On the upside, Chundi can immediately apply lessons from the MBA, such as marketing, the customer journey and brand awareness, to his new venture.
The challenge comes from trying to finance both the MBA and the startup. Chundi believes greater support from business schools would encourage other students, either during or after their studies, to take the plunge. “There has to be more incentives for students to go down the entrepreneurship route,” he says. “At the moment it’s not a level playing field and the current system of huge upfront investment (tuition and living) forces you into a return-on-investment mindset that tempts you to accept a well-paid corporate job,” he says.
“The LBS Incubator Programme, where it all started, E100 angel investor scheme and entrepreneurship visa support for students are fantastic initiatives. They help many alumni to pursue their goals after graduation. However, the School can do more to encourage students during their studies such as offering bursaries for their startups, loan rebates and perhaps delayed start dates for repaying student loans. The top 10 business schools have programmes to help student entrepreneurs.”
As Co-President of the Entrepreneurship Club, Chundi wants to encourage more alumni to support initiatives for LBS student entrepreneurs. “I’d love to see LBS helping future MBA students,” he says. “People think they'll come here, do two years and then become entrepreneurs; it’s difficult and that’s putting it mildly. There needs to be an initiative to increase the pipeline of students who want to launch their own companies.”
Chundi accepts that starting a business is extremely tough. But the idea that anyone would swap their dream of becoming an entrepreneur for a steady job is alien to him. “Ambitious and courageous are two LBS values that I find very inspiring,” he says. “I feel that this is the best time to take the plunge as there will be more responsibilities in future and it will be harder to manage family and other costs. There will never be a time when I feel fully ready.”
The idea for AssetVault was conceived and executed in Chundi’s first year at LBS. “I already had 10 business ideas before joining the School,” he says. “I spent two months in 2015 thinking about a student loan venture, which I tested with some of the faculty but killed it when I realised there wasn’t a real need for it.”
That lightbulb moment came in November 2015 at LBS Hackathon – a three-day event bringing together entrepreneurial minds, hackers and designers to create software and programmes that address current and future business issues.
“My hypothesis for the venture was based on 55% of all global wealth being locked up in physical assets,” Chundi says. “After that weekend, I knew there was no point in waiting for another good business idea as this one was good enough.”
A family feud over assets was also a factor. Chundi’s uncle was a successful businessman working in New Delhi and Dubai, who died aged 55 without writing a will or leaving any record of his assets. It took Chundi’s family four months to locate everything. Some of his relatives subsequently fell out over what they felt they were entitled to.
Chundi and co-founder Farid Haque believe AssetVault helps solve this problem. People can secure their assets through digital wills and make simpler insurance claims for anything lost or damaged as everything is accounted for. Moreover, they can record anything ranging from financial statements to birth certificates, property, vehicles, jewellery and art.
Along with 1,200 other companies from 33 countries, AssetVault spent three months in May 2016 pitching to startup investor TechStars for funding. Chundi was supported through the process by three LBS Masters in Management students who helped him validate the hypothesis with real customer interviews and feedback on his prototype. The venture eventually secured funding, making AssetVault one of only 11 companies to receive backing from TechStars.
Since then, AssetVault has catalogued more than £75 million worth of assets and received orders exceeding 60 for digital wills. The company has also secured a place at the Munich Re accelerator in Madrid and been selected as the only non-US company to pitch in the finals of the SXSW Accelerator Fintech category in Austin, Texas.
Moreover, Chundi has secured pilots with some of the world’s largest banks and insurance companies to distribute AssetVault to their customers. He now plans to approach members of the LBS network to learn from their experiences. “You’ll find LBS alumni in C-suite roles or at senior levels everywhere,” he says. “I would love to get their coaching and feedback on our strategy.”
Chundi says that the LBS community has already shown great support for his venture. Students from the 2016 and 2017 MBA classes have encouraged Chundi to follow his dream and never give up. “I’m really grateful to all the students,” he says. “When I told them about my idea, no one ever said, ‘Don’t do it’ or ‘Do you have a plan B?’. That was never the conversation. It was always, ‘Hey, this guy wants to do something. Let’s help him out’.”
He adds that the LBS faculty have been instrumental in helping him get AssetVault off the ground. “Professors Jeff Skinner, Nader Tavasolli, Simona Botti, John Bates, Keith Willey, Rupert Merson, Michael Bikard, Anna Pavlova and many more have been so supportive,” he says. “I also have to thank Jane Khedair and David Morris for their help and mentoring. The advice and guidance I’ve received from everyone has been invaluable.”
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