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Never underestimate the importance of human capital

Alexander Smbatyan, founding partner, Ayuben Ventures, explains what makes a successful entrepreneur and why the continuous development of human capital is crucially important in realising entrepreneurial visions.

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What makes a successful entrepreneur? There are some common factors such as a belief in what you are doing, refusing to give up and being flexible enough to go back to the drawing board when things aren’t working out. But this said we can all be entrepreneurs in our field if we choose to discard the limitations we chain ourselves with and embrace the concept of continuous development both individually and among our teams.

I run an investment fund called Ayuben Ventures which is dedicated to funding tech start-ups, specifically those with an Armenian connection. I’ve been an entrepreneur a long time and have worked with a lot of other successful entrepreneurs. One of the connecting threads common to all is investment in human capital. In fact, at Ayuben Ventures this is one of the things we do, what we look for in start-ups and what we advise on.

Not a traditional approach

As you may have already guessed we are by no means traditional investors. Each of our partners was and remains an entrepreneur. This is an important message for start-ups.  They can understandably be wary of traditional venture capital men in suits who want to measure everything. While clearly cash flows, return-on-investment, projections and so forth are important, so is the need for developing human capital.

Traditional investors don’t see a company as a living organism. This has no value for them yet it’s one of the most important things. It’s critically important that a start-up can build effective teams and ensure the teams can quickly adapt to changes. At the same time we need to understand that an entrepreneur also places importance on the well-being of his employees and whether the team can also adopt an entrepreneurial spirit?

Refined and subtle

In this sense our approach is much more refined and cognisant of more subtle but important values than those that traditional investors look for. If we distil this approach it is essentially about communication, about creating links between people who have different goals and bringing them together.

The people we invest in typically have good technical skills, outstanding scientific knowledge and visionary approaches to the application of new technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and robotics among others. But, as smart and super clever as these people are they might not have a natural inclination towards management potential and developing entrepreneurial skills which are like the fuel to fire the engine that gets the rocket off the ground.

Learning to dance

So what are these skills? An entrepreneur has a vision and the belief to bring it into reality while also being flexible enough to adapt to shifting sands. You have to develop strategies, change tactics midstream, sometimes forget everything and start again. You take steps forward and sometimes you have to go backward to move forward again. In a sense it’s a dance of sorts, nothing is static, there is always movement. It’s also a dance in which you don’t know the melody, but at some point you begin to understand the rhythm, the logic of movements, the feelings and then you can embrace and move in the dance.

Sometimes we have to teach these skills to start-ups. But that said, almost everyone does have it within them. But we shouldn’t confuse being an entrepreneur with an active life style or a career. An MBA doesn’t confer entrepreneurial status; rather it’s a measure of knowledge and the know-how to apply that knowledge. You don’t study to become an entrepreneur, it’s a way of being but you can also learn the fundamentals.

Continuous development

Being an entrepreneur means embracing continual development, having a constant dialogue with yourself, questioning your ideas and approach, motivating yourself and those around you. You have to jump in and take it on. This is the path of continuous development, one which we advocate at Ayuben Ventures and one which I and my partners have learnt to follow.

We didn’t start out like this, in the early days we would jump in and ‘rescue’ the start up by injecting funds. However, we learnt that the success of a start-up is as much down to the people involved as it is the technology, product or service, and the people must have the right approach, the right attitude and the willingness to change when necessary and bend with the wind when necessary.

Support and encouragement

So in this sense you can say that Ayuben Ventures actually invests in human capital. We create the first link between entrepreneurs and the world of potential that they know is there but can’t quite grasp it but we also ensure that they have a team in place that is treated well and one which in which individual members can learn about and give free rein to their entrepreneurial spirit. Sometimes the components are already there and we just need to support, encourage and help a start-up move in the right direction.

My own journey as an entrepreneur followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. We were the first Armenian generation that had a fresh outlook unhindered by the past. My parent’s generation had a different world view, shaped by the Soviet influenced society they lived in. But my generation grew up on American movies and read Forbes among other things.

Giving it back

We had greater choice and I chose the path of finance and investment. This is one of the reasons that Ayuben Ventures focuses on the Armenian diaspora and companies within Armenia; there are a generation of Armenians who grew up without restrictions and fired with entrepreneurial spirit. And today, recognising this there are dozens of international companies with offices in Armenia.

But I also believe it’s important to give things back. I’ve learnt about the importance of continual development of human capital and this feeds into what we do at Ayuben Ventures. In a sense this is realising my own vision, helping people understand and recognise they have far more potential than they realise, helping them harness it, and showing how, by working together, they can achieve very powerful and landmark results.

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