Early Life and Education
Heshan De Silva was born in Nairobi Hospital. His from a middle class christian family, in Nairobi, Kenya, he attended is high school at, Rosslyn Academy, Heshan graduated from high school at the age of 16 years. His parent run a school business, even though they didn’t have much to build it as high as they want it to be. Heshan didn’t have much passion for school, but want to try and fulfil is parents dream on him.
The culture shock was intense, and desperate to catch up with his schoolmates — such as an 18-year-old who drove a pricey Ferrari — he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. He also lost interest in attending classes. “I wanted to stand out and be relevant to those who drove the Ferraris and draw their attention — it was a terrible dream to have,” he told Business Beat.
Silva needed money to bankroll the lifestyle he craved. He quickly realised he could trade his time and natural intelligence for money by writing essays for students who would rather party than study. “They did not want to get sterling results, just an average C grade. I saw the opportunity and wanted to exploit it,” he says.
Within no time, he was making more than Sh50,000 for one night’s work. And with his newfound wealth, he got into drinking, drugs and playing truant. But in his moments of sobriety, he was disturbed as he knew he was going against his parents’ desire that he study. “I saw myself as the most useless person, having disappointed my parents. At some point, I wanted to take my life,” he recalls.
However, his parents came to the rescue and brought him back to Kenya where he was checked into a rehabilitation centre. He later attended another one in South Africa. After recovering, he started going round rehab centres, sharing his experiences and encouraging those going through what he had. It is while volunteering at one of these centres that Silva met three young people who had the idea to sell travel insurance to long-distance bus passengers.
He got on board. The insurance, which was bundled into the bus tickets, cost from as little as Sh5 and could be bought via mobile phone. The four young men registered a company and Silva, with a Sh7,500 investment, held a 20 per cent stake in it. “We created value for bus companies as the passengers and proprietors had peace of mind,” he says. By the end of the year, they had made more than Sh90 million.
He realised that providing capital for promising businesses in return for shareholding could open numerous opportunities for him. This led to the creation of the De Silva Group, the holding company for DSGVenCap, which invests in Kenyan entrepreneurs. So far, DSGVenCap has invested in 22,000 ideas and helped create over 17,000 businesses. “In every business I invest in, my stake is never more than 40 per cent,” he says. With a 70 per cent success rate, he is estimated to be worth more than Sh1 billion. However, he does not want to be deluded by this figure. “If you start thinking so much about money, you will get consumed by figures and it will be hard to grow.”
So what keeps him focused? “I have the desire to outshine others, and that keeps me going. Every day, I need to be the best and I’m competing with those at global blue chip companies like JP Morgan.” He adds that he has learnt to keep his eyes open for the business opportunities that are everywhere. “Hard work separates those who succeed from those who don’t.” Silva works an average 18 hours a day, six days a week:
“How many young people are able to work that long?” And he has yet to go back to school as he says a university degree is just a piece of paper. “Perhaps it gives you a leg up, especially when you are looking for employment. But to think that it’s a guarantee of success today is ridiculous.” Silva, who now considers alcohol and drugs a waste of money, preaches that one’s background does not determine their destiny. “The world does not owe you a cent, but you are worth what you make out of it. Start with what you have and work hard and chances are that it will work out.” His mantra appears to be working. He made it to Forbes’ 2014 list of Most Promising Young African Entrepreneurs, and was last year named among the top 10 African influencers.
Heshan de Silva, 25, is the CEO of VenCap, a venture capital fund invested in 17,000 businesses. De Silva first tried his hand at business with less than $200 and has built a multi-million dollar enterprise over the last seven years. The portfolio of companies under the De Silva Group spans various sectors including commodities, technology, renewable energy, insurance and agribusiness.
Heshan de Silva became famous after he was featured on K24’s Young Rich. People love inspirational stories and a twenty something billionaire is just the perfect bet.
For Njenga Karume’s case, we know he started by selling charcoal, we know the story of Equity bank founders, Tuskys founders etc… but surprisingly, Heshan’s story is very vague.
Apparently, he started the de Silva Group a few years ago with only $200. The version I’ve heard has it that he sold some idea to an insurance company, but I know neither the idea nor the insurance company.
He says that he invests in startups, but really not much information is out there. According to him, DSGVenCap – the company he owns, has invested in over 17,000 businesses, none of which is known.
Seven years ago De Silva invested his 10 000 Kenyan shilling ($116) allowance from his parents to start a small business selling travel insurance to the poor. Going for as little as KSh5 – less than five US cents – it was bundled with long-distance bus tickets and could be bought via mobile phone. By the end of the year he had made KSh90-million, over a million US dollars.
After earning his first million, De Silva moved on to financing ingenious ideas. His DSGVenCap has so far invested in 22 000 people and has created 17 000 businesses
Poverty and Profits
Today Heshan’s company, which has a 400-strong workforce, all of whom are under 23 years of age, has developed a reputation for being one of the region’s most enterprising entities, with holdings in commodities, technology, renewable energy, insurance and agribusiness including companies such as Moran Apparel, AFRClothing, Limelight Media and SASACabs.
One of the businesses DSGVenCap has invested in – Uniq Technology – has developed a GPS-enabled gadget that controls the music and advertising that commuters listen to. The innovation has been globally patented and will be rolled out among the ubiquitous yellow cabs of New York City. A second local success is Gourmet Nomads, which makes and delivers lunches in Nairobi for KSh150-KSh200 ($1.70-$2.30) per meal.
DSGVenCap also has greenhouses across the country designed to leverage on Kenya’s vast tracts of agricultural land, and ease food insecurity. “If you put up a 10×8 greenhouse and start growing tomatoes, then switch over to peppers and cucumbers, these make a lot of money. It’s KSh130,000 ($1,500) to set up a greenhouse and you can net KSh1m ($11,000) every season. The numbers make sense,” said Heshan.
He a net worth of almost $1bn. His partners are New York-based hedge funds, MAS Partners LLC and Moore Capital, whose representatives he met in 2012 during a fireside chat at a lodge in the Maasai Mara game park.
Lesson from Heshan De Silva
- Change your Thinking Faculty; He quickly grasp, what he was suppose to do and how to succeed in life. To my point of view in his journey. Heshan is being enthusiastic of is thinking.
- Being Successful did not require your level of education; Heshan decide university is not meant for him, and think of what to do for, to succeed in life. Today Heshan is one amongst the young promising entrepreneurs in Africa, and well loaded with cash in his pocket.
- Discover yourself at early age; Discovering yourself at the right time, helps and motivate your spirit on what to do. He realised that providing capital for promising businesses in return for shareholding could open numerous opportunities for him. This led to the birth of the De Silva Group
- Exploit the utilities within you; What did you expect from a young promising entrepreneur, for creating a better idea on how to make money. Heshan realised, he could trade his time and natural intelligence for money by writing essays for students who would rather party than study for $200 per page, what an intelligent idea of Heshan.
- Be Strategic; Right from his early life. He has been planning on what to with is life. His strategic method of thinking bagged him lots of wealth and achievement.