How this university drop-out built a multi-million dollar empire

However, he says managing the thousands of businesses is difficult, comparing the group’s portfolio to a zoo. Yet more entrepreneurs are keen on joining.

“The number of requests that we get every day is phenomenal. Our company email is shredded. Managing all that and sticking to our principles is important,” says De Silva, adding that he relies on his team of 400 who listen to pitches and ensure that ideas presented to the company are executed.

De Silva says his group takes lesson from the success of Toyota which employs 1m people in Japan. VenCap has planned for 50,000 businesses a year and has access to up to $2bn over the next five years. The firm works in partnership with two New York-based funds.

“There are 11m people here unemployed who are sitting somewhere wondering what they are going to do. Imagine if you can impact a fraction of those people, how fast would this country grow across many sectors?”

Instant success

The VenCap boss is motivated by the “drastic” change in the lives of his entrepreneurs who just a few months ago struggled to put food on their tables but today can afford to dine at high-end restaurants, educate their children and create jobs for other people.

However, this instant success can have negative effects.

“Some of the people went into drugs when they started making money. That was something I never wanted to create. I don’t want to make you rich so you can go and waste your life. I want to make sure that people are responsible,” says De Silva, adding that the fund works closely with its entrepreneurs to avoid such cases.

De Silva knows about spending money irresponsibility, having experienced the same at the age of 23.

“When I started making a decent amount of money… I bought a house in Lavington (upmarket suburb in Nairobi) for KSh. 170m ($1.9m). Then I bought a house in Palm Beach Florida, and then in South Africa and in Sri Lanka. Then it became planes. It was ridiculous. There was no limit to how much I just wanted to throw at stuff. It was very irresponsible. It went full circle and I decided to live a simple life. I don’t need anything fancy. I believe very much in stewardship.”

University drop-out

Before his spending spree, De Silva faced even bigger challenges. He dropped out of an American university after a short stint, started abusing drugs and attempted to kill himself. He eventually managed to turn his life around and stopped using substances.

De Silva enjoys encouraging other youth and motivating them to aim for the stars regardless of their past. He hopes to change the perception that one must have a university degree to succeed in life.

“If you don’t have a degree, if you don’t have even a high school diploma, you will succeed if you plug a need. You don’t require a piece of paper to be certified to do business,” he says.

“I think education enables you to open your mind to a lot of possibilities but at the end of the day you are very narrowed to what you have studied and you lock out everything that is going on around you. The counter to that is that people like me are not narrowed to anything; we see opportunity everywhere.”

He advises the youth not to wait “for a golden ticket” to venture into business.

“Don’t scratch your head saying there is no financing. With what you have, what can you do to achieve your goal? Investors like people who have taken that initiative.”

Passion, he adds, is a must have.

“You really have to love what you do. If I care more about your business than you do there is a problem.”