MD of Kalaari Capital, a company based out of Bengaluru, India, Vani Kola’s leadership at Kalaari centres around her commitment to the development of entrepreneurs and her conviction that Indian companies are poised to become global players. She brings 22 years of Silicon Valley experience as a serial entrepreneur and founder of successful companies to her role as mentor and enabler for start ups in India. Vani may be called a pioneer in India’s venture capital landscape. Her passion for supporting entrepreneurs drew her from Silicon Valley to Bangalore in 2006, at a time when most observers were still skeptical and unsure about the potential of Indian entrepreneurs to create global firms. Since then, she has plunged deep into the Indian startup scenario and has been involved in enabling funding for more than 35 companies.
Vani has the uncanny ability to identify visionary ideas at an early stage, and is deeply committed to the success of entrepreneurs in her company’s portfolio as well as the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem that is meeting the needs of a newly vibrant Indian opportunity. She serves on the boards of HushBabies, Mettl, Urban-Ladder, Zivame, Myntra, OnwardMobility, LabelCorp, Snapdeal, and VIA. “It’s really exciting to be involved in the awakening of business creativity in India,” says Vani. “Kalaari Capital enables me to engage actively and deliver on my commitment to empower entrepreneurs. I believe that the singular opportunity for a country’s progress and growth is entrepreneurship, because it impacts the broader society through wealth creation and distribution.” As an active talent scout for new investments, Vani is often incisive to the point of being intrusive when it comes to understanding an entrepreneur’s core idea and passion. “In our first meeting, she asked us so many tough questions that I thought the meeting didn’t go well,” recalls Snapdeal CEO and co-founder Kunal Bahl, “I expected never to hear from her again — but she called back within a couple of hours with more questions, saying, ‘I want to understand more.’” That moment exemplifies Vani’s attitude when evaluating a company for its portfolio potential. “There’s a con-nection that I feel to each startup I work with, and to me the process begins with a continuous reminder to myself to be open-minded when I meet an entrepreneur to hear their story,” says Vani.“I like to have the rush where their stream of consciousness, their dreams and aspirations are put on the table.
It doesn’t have to be the perfect powerpoint or even great English; it’s the clarity of thoughts at a kernel-oftruth level about the problem they’re addressing. If I get in synch with their convictions and core understanding of the market, then I’m willing to spend time learning more.” Vani is known for her straight forward style and commitment to transparency and clarity. As a board member, she also commits to a high level of engagement, making sure she’s available to her entrepreneurs at any time. To maintain this level of access, she supports just two or three new businesses per year. “Today the Indian consumer is demanding innovative products and excellent service, which leads to unprecedented opportunity for the entrepreneur. Everything I do is entrepreneur-centric — helping them to fulfill their dreams and visions so the company can summit.” Vani was born and educated in Hyderabad. After completing her engineering degree, she went to the United States for a master’s degree and worked in the technology sector, founding two successful companies in Silicon Valley. After spending 22 years in the US, it took her a mere two months to decide on coming back to India in 2006. She explains, “When the window of possibility opened up to support entrepreneurs in India, it was absolutely clear that this is the next phase in the fulfillment of my life’s purpose.” To clear and focus her mind, Vani meditates daily, runs — without music — and spends time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs. She is an avid hiker and runner who has tackled marathons and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. She practices yoga devotedly and aspires to teach it one day. Vani believes in sustainable living and grows enough produce in her garden to meet her family’s daily kitchen needs.