Manoj Badale talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about investing, motivation and the Rajasthan Royals
Manoj Badale is perhaps best known for being the Co-owner of the Rajasthan Royals, a high-profile cricket team in the Indian Premier League. Despite having had something of a rollercoaster ride over the past few years, it has nevertheless built a strong reputation for discovering and nurturing talent.
In reality however, the Royals is just one of dozens of investments made by Manoj’s venture building firm Blenheim Chalcot, which he co-founded in 1998 with Charles Mindenhall. Over the past 20 years Blenheim Chalcot has built more than 40 digital businesses, including IT firm Agilisys, digital publisher Contentive and free credit report provider ClearScore.
Manoj says: “We have applied the exact same approach to building the Royals as we have any other Blenheim Chalcot business. We regard the CEO of the Royals in the same way as any other Blenheim Chalcot CEO.”
Manoj describes Blenheim Chalcot as a venture builder rather than a venture capital firm because it typically builds businesses from scratch, partnering with entrepreneurs from start up to scale to exit.
He says: “We have a team of over 200 people that support our businesses with funding, people search and development, tax and corporate structuring, as well as property and tech support, so that our management teams can focus fully on their products, services and customers.”
They mostly take controlling stakes in ventures, investing between £2 million and £15 million over a three to four year period.
Manoj says: “We look for businesses that solve big problems, often triggered by a shift in regulation or customer needs, and businesses where a technology platform can fundamentally change the microeconomics of an industry.”
He adds: “Approximately a third of our ideas are generated internally, a third are business models which we have seen work in other parts of the world, but which have not made it to the UK, and a third are brought by the entrepreneur with whom we partner. Asesh Sarkar, for instance, who’s the CEO of our firm Salary Finance, had the idea for the company when his nanny was struggling with debt and he agreed to help her repay her debts and collect the money back from her pay, helping her to save on interest repayments. That’s now the premise behind the company, which provides employee finance and saves the average employee £600.”
A key part of the equation are the entrepreneurs themselves. Manoj says: “We look for people who want to build businesses, who are agile in their thinking, able and curious to learn, but above all who are resilient to the tough environment of building new ventures.”
Manoj studied Economics at Cambridge University and then joined Monitor, the strategy consulting business, before he and Charles co-founded netdecisions, an internet services company which ultimately became Agilisys.
Around the same time the two of them also co-founded several other internet start-ups, including early dot-com successes Madaboutwine.com, which was one of the first online wine retailers, and Woowho.com, one of the first online dating sites. Manoj and Charles realised they had found something they loved doing and Blenheim Chalcot was born.
The company has since successfully built and sold dozens of businesses, often transforming industries in the process. The current portfolio ranges from Avado, which provides companies with digital skills and apprenticeships, to Hive Learning, a digital education platform which connects football coaches.
In that time, Manoj has learnt a lot about how to create value in businesses. He says: “It is a cliché, but people are everything – not just getting great talent, but developing that talent, and often repositioning that talent as the demands of a business change over time. For example, Conrad Withey, one of our CEOs, co-founded and sold The Rights Company with us back in 2006, and has now co-founded a new business with us as CEO of Instrumental.”
He says that focusing on ‘unit’ economics – the lifetime value of a customer minus the cost of acquisition and servicing - is also an effective strategy, as is having a clear focus on profit and cash, which is not always the case in the tech sector.
However he adds: “The most important thing to learn is that the only constant is change – whether that be change in customer needs, changes amongst your competition, or changes in your own technology solutions – and that’s before you get to change in your people. Hence, the ability to manage that change is key to success in building ventures.”
Now aged 50, Manoj is clear about what motivates him. “I think we all have similar drivers – to create wealth, to learn, and to have fun. The only thing that changes is the balance of those drivers over time. As you get older, having a purpose or trying to make a real difference perhaps become more important.”
Drax lead: Graham Roadnight
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