An Entrepreneur With A Cause: Sathish Rames

Most of you would recognise this handsome individual from Vettai 1. When I first met him a few years ago, Sathish was just embarking on his path. What struck me most about him then was an aura of assurance and confidence on his chosen path. He was excited about his idea and he believed in it.

It gives me great pleasure to meet him years later as he shares with us about his entrepreneurial journey, his ups and downs and most importantly how he sees his role in this universe. He credits his parents for his attitude towards giving back as they have always given without any expectations. In his journey, he has discovered that to give is a duty. It is not something you do expecting a return.

An outstanding member of our community: SATHISH RAMES
How did your entrepreneurial  journey begin?
After completing my national service, I was still thinking whether to head to university  or if doing so would just waste my time . Then, my mum was like “If you don't study, you won't have a good life etc” which any mother would probably say at that point . She asked me to go on to do a degree.

I decided to do Banking and Finance since I had done a similar diploma in poly. So I enrolled in RMIT. After having second thoughts,however, I pulled out. I decided then, that for one year, I wanted to see if I can focus on my business and see how far it can go.

How did your interest in business begin?
OK, basically the idea was to create something new. I wanted to do something substantial and hopefully  escalate society to a broader level of thinking. Because you see, politicians might last for 5 years, 10 years and then their tenure ends.But businesses last for 25 years,30 years and these are multinational corporations you see? So they can influence multiple people at one go.  Only business has that ability. This is where the power of money comes in. People can say to make a change, I can lead a revolution but you don't necessarily need to do that. You can actually give people what they want and still get things done. Practical things done, you know.

So let's say, a child needs education. You don't need to take it to the streets and protest that children are not getting educated.. Just go find a way to make some money and get the child educated. You see, wealth is so propped up that the problem is not that there's no money in the world. It's just that it’s not trickling down. To me it's just a matter of getting a portion of that pie and letting it filter down. Only way you can do that is business. Because you see that's the only way to allow multiple people to connect under one branch and accumulate wealth. And then, it comes down to the corporate responsibility of whether you want to let the money go or you want to just keep growing the corporation. There's two ways to do it. Either this way or that way. That’s the whole idea of why I wanted to start this business.

How was the journey when you started? Were there any struggles?
Oh definitely. Stepping into a business is always a risk. I would say the risk-reward nature is always going to be there. Even if you have a job, you never know when you're going to get fired. You know? So the same thing with business. You don't know when things are  going to do down or when they going to go up. The most important thing is to just let go of your worries and give it your best shot . We went into business officially in September 2014 and we trusted in our networks.

We felt we could broker these deals and get things done. But we got burned quite badly in one of our earlier deals. We were still new then and we didn't exactly know how the industry worked so we got a little too excited. So I fronted most of my savings into it and the deal went bad.

Was it to do with profits?
Oh no, it involved brokering another deal. So they had a shortage of shipping costs. It was a big order, a million dollar order. So we thought “ Let's get excited. Let's pay for everything.”  We put in close to $300 000, got burned and started at negative 300 K . So it's all about crawling back after a setback. It took us, I would say, 8 to 9 months to recover.

How would you describe the work that you do? Deal making?
Yup , deal making. Brokering and deal making.

How has your business been doing thus far?
The business is sustaining itself, although we continue to expand and grow. We  just opened up in Malaysia and we intend to go into Dubai soon as well. By third quarter, we hope to be in Indonesia also. So, like I said, it will go on by itself no matter what happens. The purpose at the end of the day,however, is to be bigger.

I'm a hardcore tamil movies and particularly, Thala (Ajith) fan. There is a dialogue in one of his movies,Veeram which says that if you watch out for people around you, the man on top will watch out for you. This is a very cool ideology. If you put your worries aside and start looking at the bigger problem of humanity as a whole , your problems will start to look so small that you're not going to bother about them anymore.

You don’t even need a billion dollars to do it. Let's say, volunteer workers for example. They're not making a million or billion dollars. But what makes them cross borders into unsafe zones all around the world ? I wouldn't do it. I can safely say I'm dead scared to do these things. But that's why I look up to these kind of people. You can talk about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Bill gates is respectable, he's doing good work . But Steve Jobs ? He has nice quotes and all but as a human being , I wouldn't want to live that life. They say Bill Gates is someone who stole ideas. Even better! He stole ideas and look at what he's doing with his money. So be it he’s a thief.  He’s like you know ,what's his name?

Robin Hood?
Yeah, Robin Hood. I would consider Bill Gates another Robin Hood.The most important thing to remember is that without you or me, there's not going to be a market for any products anywhere . So,  if we're not going to help sustain humanity ,there goes your market . Everybody is just trying to create the next big thing. There are so many apps today to solve every other problem but the problem inside. I mean, if you can find an app for that, I would band a group of investors together and pump money into it.

Lots of youth today want to be entrepreneurs and have the next great business idea. How did you land on this idea of yours?
The first thing I did was to go and talk to people. Bankers and friends. I did banking and finance in Poly and some of my friends went on to become bankers. I also knew a couple of insurance agents, property agents etc. So, I started talking to them and opening up that network.  But, the problem was that while everybody had a network, these networks never connected.

For example , A and B have 10 sets of contacts but A and B don't want to meet, or don't have the time to meet. But I have all the time in the world. I will go and talk to A . I will also go and talk to B. Then I'll meet everyone that A has and B has and C,D have and what not. I have 100 contacts in my hand after I talk to 10 people. So, I mean then I get to know who needs what. Then I realise one of my friends has the solution to a problem that one of my other friends has. So it's just a matter of connecting people. It's about spending time,meeting people, finding out who they know and bringing them into your database.

Moving forward, I realised that what makes you money is not money itself, but rather the information and data base that you have. So  it's just getting the data base and matching the people that could help one another .These contacts opened up contacts overseas so we got into Dubai, Australia and last year , the US as well. So it's about building a network bit by bit. It’s like how you know on social media you connect with people? This is just me connecting businesses . That's about it. It's just basic connecting of human beings.  If you ask what skill sets are required, it's mainly just loosening up and going out to meet people.

Your first downfall, the deal that went sour, how did you overcome that? How did you come back?
Desperation. Because you need to get out of the situation. You are already 30 ft down. It's either you stay here and die or you get out of that hole. I started building my network even more rapidly to see if I can match more deals. So I was just running around crazily getting more contacts and eventually , I scored a few deals that pulled us out of that loss and allowed us to break even. From there, people knew we could pull deals off  and then we started profiting. You learn from the job so the next time it comes up, you know when a good deal comes  or when someone’s trying to screw you over.

Since you are in the business of matching businesses, any memorable ones ? Good moments?
Oh yes. Many actually.  Some VIP deals overseas, a few businesses that we matched. We matched  massive amounts of money and commodities . Definitely highlight moments.

At 28, do you consider yourself on track to achieving what you set out to do?
I have guidelines on what I should be doing and where the company should be going and things like that. But on a personal level,  I'm not someone who sets by this time, I need this and by this time, I need a house and all that . When huge profits come in, I have this principle, which I learnt when I was exploring Islam at one point - zakat.  The principle of zakat is where those who earn are encouraged  to give a proportion of their pay or profits to others. I believe in that. I don't believe in setting too many goals.

The only certain goal you will definitely hit in life is death. That's the only goal I know I'm definitely going to hit. But before that, I want to do whatever I can with my life . Like making a difference however I can. I'm not sounding noble here. The reason why humanity has gone to a desperation point where people are not even able to get shelter or food is simply because we forgot that it is our duty to give. We've come to think that giving is something noble and I can safely say that I'm from noble. This is just simple duty.

Everyone is supposed to do it. Let’s say everyone starts giving out a portion of their pay, i don't see a reason why humanity will be having these struggles.. Why is there hunger still in the world today ? Because the wealth is not trickling down. Sadhguru once said that if you have a glasshouse and someone besides you is living in a hut, he will definitely throw stones. He will want to get something out of you. Why don't you just build a house made out of cement, build him one as well  so that he doesn't throw stones at your house. Simple as that right? So if you have, just give abit.

It's not like you should give everything away. Live luxuriously with all the comforts in life. I'm not a sage to say that I'm going to give up everything. I too love fast cars but I find that beyond me , there's something greater. If you ask me what's my personal goal, it’s  to completely realise myself  and find out what's my purpose in life.

Practically , if you talk about goals, currently we are working with orphanages in India and hope to make communities and societies around the world more self sufficient by introducing hydroelectric energy . Now I’m working with people to find out how to make these communities self-sufficient so that  they can sustain themselves. We are humans, beings of high intellect. They don’t need to depend on the government. Of course, there are challenges  working in these areas such as the bureaucratic red tape and the country’s politics. These are the challenges we need to overcome to get there.

Any role models that you have  looked up to in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Bill Gates. Corporate responsibility today has come to a point where if you donate to an organisation , your company gets tax rebates. So it's starting to look more and more like a business. I mean I completely support the government's initiative to do this because only then will more people come forward to give. But then you see it's not whether you give but the the mindset with which you give? What happens if there’s no more tax rebates given? Will companies stop donating?

So,  corporate responsibility should be a personal initiative out of a sense of service to community and not to pay less taxes. That's why I admire Bill Gates because once you see the man on top giving his wealth away freely,  everyone else down the chain will follow suit. For a man of that stature to think that way, there must be a reason for it. He saw where the world was headed said if  “I don't do something,  then who else”

What are the steps that your organisation has taken to give back to society?
Even before I started my company, I worked with the Heart to Heart Society which was started by the late Theresa Hsu. What we did was to distribute dry rations to one room flats in Singapore. My passion was always in helping children. I feel if you start early and solve their problems fast, they will build a better society when they grow up. We went to Namakkal district in Tamil Nadu and sponsored rations for kids in orphanages there. But that’s not a long term solution. We also sourced out kids who want to further their studies and sponsored their degree and higher education programs.
Sathish's Father in the Center in Blue and his Mother at the Far Right in the purple shawl

I plan to expand this program into Thailand, Cambodia and especially the Middle East. I want to create a better understanding of the role that women can play in Middle Eastern societies and hopefully  help equip kids there with the knowledge and experience which they can then use to influence change in their own countries.

Final question . Nowadays, entrepreneurship has become trendy among youngsters What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would say the first question you should ask is “how well I know myself?”. Once you know your skills set ,your weaknesses and your strengths, you can then position yourself for the right career. Understand who you are . After that, look into whether you want to start a business. The most crucial question you need to ask yourself  is “Why?” . Because businesses are about solving problem.

Don't go into business just because you want to be the next Steve Jobs. Then, you will become exactly like Steve jobs, creating copies of his products and you won't succeed for long. Because, you are just waiting for someone to create something and then copying his idea. There is no difference between you and them. Let's say you want to launch a product. Ask yourself- Why would I want to buy this in the first place? What problems is it going to solve?

First thing you do is go and look at the problems that the world is facing today. It can be something very small, maybe a small community's problems.  Or  it could be as big as the world's problems. Whatever it is, find the problem. Maybe list about a 100 problems that you can source out and see which one you can solve. At one point of time, people were saying that moving things around on your phone with your finger only existed in science fiction.

Today, we are all using smartphones. So, there's nothing that is impossible to achieve. The most important person you have to convince is yourself. Once you convince yourself, you have already overcome the biggest hurdle. Then comes the basic business set-up.

How am I going to manage my finances? Ok, maybe I cannot do design work but I know that any product needs marketing so let me talk to someone who can come on board with me and can work out the marketing part. I'm not good with finances so let me get an accountant. Business is not about you sitting right on top, commanding everyone like puppets. It's about working as a team. Like how Napoleon Hill puts it in his book, Think and Grow Rich, find your mastermind group. You need to find the right five people and then you go into business.

But nowadays,  nobody takes the time to develop these things. People just say I need to make a million bu this year and a billion by next year. People like Mark Zuckerberg didn't start out with a vision that they were going to be billionaires.  They were simply excited by their ideas. You have to be excited by your own idea first. Not get excited of being a billionaire.

I call upon every aspiring entrepreneur to think of a cause to fight for, build your business with corporate responsibility as a cornerstone, not because it's a profitable decision but because it's your duty. 


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