Pawan Lalwani is the Founder and CEO of Language Your Way.
Language Your Way is the first business he worked in full time, with his long-term goal to have ten businesses in ten different sectors.
His previous business was profitable from day 1 and in the 18 months since his involvement, the company has grown from 10,000 to 120,000 students.
He has now exited that business and gives back to the business community by mentoring and advising startups.
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Why do you mentor startups?
Startup journeys are like a roller coaster ride with ups and downs. I believe it’s important to connect with like-minded people, especially those who have walked the path previously.
During my early days at Language Your Way, I attended four networking events a week to learn from fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. I was fortunate to be mentored by some great minds and one of my mentors eventually went on to invest in us.
I can’t stress enough the importance of having a mentor or someone who can guide you when things aren’t as clear to you and your team.
Around 2 years ago, I made it a point to give back to the community and got involved as a mentor at SPARK, a program run by Deakin University to support entrepreneurs through events, workshops, mentoring and funding. The best part about this program is that applications are open round the year.
Personally, it’s a rewarding experience to see startups grow from an idea to generating revenue.
How do you find mentoring opportunities?
I consciously make an effort to share my startup journey and hacks on capital raising, strategy, Chinese market entry and intellectual property at conferences, seminars and similar events.
Recently I was approached by the organizers of TechStars Startup Weekend (Melbourne) to mentor and judge their participants. Interestingly, I was a participant four years ago, learned heaps from the process, and was honoured to be invited back.
Besides physical events, I’ve been approached by over a dozen startups via LinkedIn to mentor them – it’s hard to make time for everyone. I either point them in the right direction or provide advice for them to make better decisions.
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Can you give us an example?
One startup I met last year was looking to raise $250,000 in Australia. Based on their current sales and growth, I advised them that Angel groups would not invest as they are looking for certain revenue multiples and/or growth before they participate in a round.
I can say this with confidence as I’ve been through the process and know their mandate. That advice alone saved them time and enabled them to focus on key parameters which led them to raise investment.
What are the advantages of mentoring?
For me, it’s an opportunity to work closely with startups with the aim of potentially investing in them. In the last 6 months, I have personally invested in 2 startups because I have closely followed their journey, understand the pros and cons of the industry, and can add value.
For example, I recently got involved with Global Esports, a player first eSports organisation based out of Asia with teams established in games like Overwatch, Fortnite, CS GO and PUBG.
As an ex-professional gamer, I add value as a player and from a business perspective. Global eSports’ latest initiative involves rolling out a streamer program focussing on enabling growth for dedicated streamers and content creators and I’m assisting them in Australia.
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Why do you invest in startups and not just mentor?
I’m more than happy to offer my two cents.
One of my investors always says, “You should put your money where your mouth is.”
It’s good when people give you advice, but they’re not in your shoes and they don’t have skin in the game – there are a lot of times where it’s genuinely good advice, but it’s not right for you at that point, and it could backfire.
I always put myself in the startup’s shoes during mentoring sessions and definitely don’t invest in all the startups I mentor. The session gives me an opportunity to understand the industry, the team, how they respond to suggestions and subsequent actions they take, even if they don’t implement the strategy I suggest.
Currently, I only invest if I’m passionate about the space or if the startups aim to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact.
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How have you personally benefited from mentoring?
Two years ago I met Fiona Boyd, the founder of EdSmart, a Melbourne-based Edtech that noticed school administration is largely done on paper and began working their way through digitising administration functions in schools.
My relationship with Fiona was different from other startups. In our 2nd meeting, I quickly realised there was mutual admiration and it was more like peers discussing our startups. There were times when I would call Fiona and say, “I screwed up. This is what’s happening at my end” and she would suggest how to overcome situations she had overcome previously.
Last year, I invested in EdSmart and since then they have been a part of the consortia led by Civica Education to deliver a new Education Management System to the Department of Education, Government of South Australia’s 900 schools. EdSmart is about to do a capital raise which will allow them to continue growing exponentially.