Serial entrepreneur Adarsh Radia speaks to GrowthBusiness about his latest venture, WiderPool which helps tech entrepreneurs bridge the scale-up gap
The road to entrepreneurial success is littered with mistakes. However, in the case of fund manager-turned-entrepreneur Adarsh Radia, all that he touches is gold. Born into an entrepreneurial family in Kenya, Radia grew up seeing his father start and grow multiple businesses.
The next few years were a whirlwind. Radia joined Merrill Lynch straight out of university, and quickly left the job as a fund manager for the life of an entrepreneur and, increasingly, an innovator.
“I’m hugely respectful of people who can make a change if they feel trapped doing what they don’t like,” he said, remembering what made him take the plunge. “I confided in my dad and brother, who didn’t judge me at all. In fact, I bounced a lot of my ideas off them,” he told GrowthBusiness.
His first venture was a highly successful series of Subway franchises, at a time when the American sandwich shop was starting to pick up the pace in the UK. “Banks understand the franchise model, and back then, it was ‘open season’ in London, which was seen as everyone’s territory to start a business,” he explained.
In two and half years, Radia’s franchises grew to 29 sites across the UK. “It’s painful to grow a brand for someone else, and to see a huge chunk of your top line taken. We also felt that we wanted to be more creative than a franchise environment would allowed. But the experience helped us understand the F&B space.”
It may be surprising to hear that a slew of well-wishers and experienced entrepreneurs warned Radia and his partners not to go into the restaurant business. Embracing the inherent risk of being an entrepreneur, Radia co-founded Dishoom, restaurants that pay homage to Bombay’s old Irani cafes and that have become synonymous with London’s eclectic cultural cuisine.
“Coming into an industry without experience can be a benefit. Don’t accept the status quo. It’s good to challenge things, but it’s also important to be humble and avoid complacency,” according to Radia.
Radia then moved on to launch Telenomics, a retail business that helps companies find the right technology to grow their business. At this time, he capitalised on the power of networking, and joined the YPO London Chapter in November 2012.
With Telenomics up and running, Radia ventured into the competitive world of innovative eyewear, founding KITE. At this time, he was also toying with the idea of furthering his education, lured by the ingenuity of Silicon Valley start-ups. For Radia, this was a watershed moment.
KITE at Westfield Stratford
“The eyewear industry is fascinating. Designers sell to distributor networks and no one has control over design or pricing. I realised that someone needed to shake this tree, and KITE came about to challenge the traditional proposition,” Radia explained. Even now, Radia glows when talking about KITE and the opportunity for innovation in the eyewear space, as the next frontier for wearables. His hunger for knowledge of new technologies and its cross-sector applications led him to Singularity University in Palo Alto, founded by modern-day visionaries, Dr. Peter H. Diamandis and Dr. Ray Kurzweil.
“To me (Kurzweil) is on par with Elon Musk as a visionary. I got really into artificial intelligence, health tech, 3D printing, and how these technologies are what we should be thinking about. Singularity University was a turning point for how I think about the world,” he said. And it set the wheels in motion for Radia’s current, arguably most ambitious business: WiderPool.
Sat next to Ignacio Macias, the man behind Spain’s leading accelerator, Top Seeds Lab, Radia realised that small businesses and start-ups rarely appear on the radar of top VCs. “We had more than proof of concept. There are so many good technologies in the market, from good entrepreneurs, but there’s an inefficiency. We realised that these businesses were in the wrong place with the wrong traction,” Radia explained.
And so, an early iteration of WiderPool was formed, aiming to ‘connect the dots’ in the global growth ecosystem between growth-stage tech companies looking to scale and global corporates that are struggling to innovate.
“It’s an absolute slog to build your business, and it’s largely dependent on your network. If you have to network traditionally, you’ll be sending decks via email, hoping for your idea to take off. Someone needs to create a ‘dating app’ for innovation!”
Breaking away from the cookie cutter approach, WiderPool addresses the innovation and investment roadblocks most start-ups face due to lack of access to global networks, lack of capital, and a lack of knowledge to keep the momentum going once they’ve scaled up enough to meet with VCs and investors.
A step-by-step look at how WiderPool catalyses businesses
“WiderPool essentially matches the supply side with the demand side,” Radia explained. “For example, at KITE, we were really passionate about facial mapping. For eyewear, this is almost necessary technology. Instead of building this technology in-house, we would rather find a company to take this project on for us. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! But the thing is it’s really hard to find businesses that are already doing this. They don’t have a voice,” Radia said. “WiderPool wants to connect people that should be connected, help them scale and be a supplier to larger companies.”
Leaning on his extensive connections, WiderPool’s advisory board is comprised of C-level executives – 80 per cent of whom are also YPO members with in-depth knowledge of key markets and industries.
Following the first global call for businesses, WiderPool decided to scale the programme up further.