Vani Kola is an entrepreneur, engineer, venture capitalist and not to mention, an avid fitness admirer. She is best known for being the founder and Managing Director of Kalaari Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Bangalore, that aspires to fund passionate and visionary entrepreneurs who are certain to make a terrific impact on today’s society.
The primary objective of Kalaari Capital is to enable and encourage entrepreneurship. Kola has trusted and invested in over 200 companies and some of the major investments made include Zivame, Myntra, Bluestone, Dream11, CashKaro, WinZO, Snapdeal, Urban Ladder, etc.
Early Life and Education
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, Arunachal Pradesh, she graduated from Osmania University in Electrical Engineering. Interestingly, she was one of only a few women among 400 other students who were admitted to the course.
After graduating from Hyderabad, she decided to take a gutsy leap at just 20 years old and moved to the USA for further education and ended up graduating with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Arizona State University.
To move to the US when none of her family members had ever been there, at such uncompromising times in India, was a fearless step for her. She definitely credits the supportive environment that she grew up in and says, “I had a nurturing home environment that was always encouraging me to be my best self.”
Studying Engineering and being one of the very few women in the 1980s to do so meant that she had to face inescapable sexism from her peers. She says that she experienced a lot of bias from her male counterparts but she eventually managed to get out of it by self-advocating for her achievements and rights, and to this day, she encourages other women to do the same.
Life Before Kalaari Capital and Other Ventures
After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in Silicon Valley which is home to hundreds of high-tech companies such as Meta, Apple, etc., and worked at several renowned companies like Empros, Control Data Corporation and Consilium Inc.
In 1996, she founded her first-ever company called RightWorks and was the CEO for 5 years. Later on, she went on to be the CEO of Certus Software for 4 years.
“Entrepreneurship is all about the mindset. When I started my company in 1996, I realised my personal physical and mental well-being was the most important thing for my success because you need stamina,” she says.
Startup Story of Kalaari Capital
In 2005, Vani sold her second company and in 2006, with the question, “What’s next?” revolving around in her head, she made another gutsy life-changing decision to move back to India in hopes of reconnecting with her roots.
After 22 years of working in the USA and at 41 years of age, she came back to a promising, more hopeful India. She says, “It was a different India, it was a young, confident India where anything was possible.” This India was full of endless possibilities as compared to earlier, and she managed to establish herself even when entrepreneurship in India was still looked at with perplexity.
She founded Kalaari Capital in 2006 and has successfully funded over 200 companies to date.
The name Kalaari stems from the word Kalaripayattu in Malayalam. It is a martial arts form which, for Vani, represents incredible entrepreneurial traits like commitment, strength, persistence, and perseverance, hence the name Kalaari.
Fitness and well-being
Extremely passionate about all things health, she takes her fitness seriously. She says, “I like to do things outside my comfort zone. If you keep doing safe things you get complacent and plateau.”
And probably with just this statement in mind, she dared to climb the humongous Mt. Kilimanjaro which sits at 5,895 meters above sea level. She has also run several marathons and her endurance is truly hard to top.
Passionate for health, she meditates daily and has been into it for decades now. She’s a firm believer in sustainable living and is fond of gardening to produce food organically.
Advice to Young Entrepreneurs
“Unless you put yourself into uncomfortable places, you don’t have growth.” She could’ve easily gotten an engineering job right after graduating, but she tapped into her potential and didn’t want to leave her varied interests behind.
She realised that she had so much more potential in her than solely sticking to one thing at a time, and moved to India in hopes of establishing herself in her home country, which she did.
“You might fail, but for every eight times you’ll fail, two times you’ll have phenomenal success, and you owe that to yourself. It’s important to be able to put yourself in situations you might fail”