This week we talk to Naveen Anandakumar – CEO of P1F – a design, development and investment firm, using real estate development as a vehicle for change. Currently based in Sri Lanka, Naveen is taclking large-scale societal change to make an impact in developing countries.
TechRound (TR) – What is Your Name and name of Your Business?
Naveen (NA) – Naveen Anandakumar and P1F.
TR – Where is P1F Based?
NA – I’m living and working in Colombo (Sri Lanka) and the company is registered in London. The industry is Real Estate Development but my mandate is in post-conflict reconstruction and redevelopment.
TR – What is Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Redevelopment?
NA – That means it is redevelopment in a country that’s experienced civil war and led by the private sector.
TR – I don’t Think Everyone’s Familiar with the Recent History of Sri Lanka – Why is This Important?
NA – Up until recently Sri Lanka had been under 400-500 years of colonisation followed by its independence in 1948. There was a sort of political reform after that from independence and through that there was volatility and a civil war broke out as power hungry power plays are happening. So between 1983 and 2009, there was a civil war and after that, it’s been peacetime. However, the government doesn’t have any money to fund the redevelopment of the country.
In my opinion, to make sure that the country doesn’t go back to war people need to be happy, they need to feel that they’re being successful, that they’re experiencing progress and that can really only be delivered by the private sector. So the mandate of the company is to essentially help make people rich and redevelopment is, is the broad terminology for that.
Real estate is a great way of bringing quality foreign direct investment in big chunks. And so that’s one method. But then redevelopment can also be an app that delivers mentorship or agricultural exports as a vehicle to reach citizens.
TR – When did you Start With This? For context, Naveen was living in London and Working as an Architect. What Made you say I’m Going to Book a One Way Ticket to Sri Lanka and Start Exploring the Idea?
NA – The idea started for sure when I was 15 – to do redevelopment in Sri Lanka. That was the reason I studied architecture. The aim of going to Sri Lanka has been there for a long time, but the private sector approach, only came into play in June 2015 when I went out with my previous company to look at opportunities and they were the ones that said look at commercial opportunities, don’t look at NGOs.
It was out of that trip that I realised the private sector really has to take leadership, not the public sector because the public sector doesn’t have any money. They can’t do anything, only control and regulate the private sector.
TR – And How Old Are You Now?
NA – 30, in three weeks or so!
TR – We’re talking about you talking earlier about planting seeds. It’s interesting to see that an idea for a lot of people can be there and it manifests in different ways and you’re working on it and you test it for years and years. Then you go for it full time. What was the first step you took to test this broader idea?
NA – The first thing was a building and I designed the building called ANYA and I sent it to investors.
TR – Was That Really the First Step?
NA – To be honest that’s the only answer I can think of. The building was the embodiment of the vision and was the embodiment of the end game. In other words, whatever it represented you know, how much capital it will bring in, what type of team that you’re building. Obviously, these things mature over time. It was like the symbol of what I believe post-conflict redevelopment looks like or what it should look like to encourage all this other stuff to happen underneath.
TR – What do you Think was Your Biggest Challenge When Thinking How to Apply This?
NA – The irony is that in the beginning, I saw fewer obstacles. Right now I can see all the things that can go wrong, more than I could in the beginning and less than I’ll see in ten years time.
At the beginning, the only obstacle was whether I quit my job and leave, or do I stay. It certainly wasn’t like I’m not going to get the funding or how am I going to build the team? None of that was the question, it wasn’t even a doubt. It was binary – should I quit or not. Should I end my relationship? I wrote my resignation letter and I had on my desk for like a week before was that and it felt very weird as I’d made the decision and it was just timing at that point.
TR – You ended your relationship, moved country, quit your job. It was very much a clean break. Did somebody in your previous company motivate you to do this?
NA – 100 percent. There was a chap called Andrew Tindsley who was a principal at BDP and he essentially took me under his wing. He encouraged all these ideas. At first, I wanted to continue my research with BDP.
Andrew had been in the company since he graduated and was in the design team. He’d opened offices around the world with the company. I’m was very interested in this kind of thing, however, the company didn’t support research, so he essentially guided me through that process.
TR – Are you still in contact with Andrew?
NA – I owe so much to him because when everyone thought I was crazy he was encouraging me. He introduced me to the chairman of the company and he found it really fascinating that I had these ideas and encouraged it even to the detriment of my day job. Managers weren’t happy that I was doing this stuff because it was distracting from the core job. And he would always be like, you know, make sure that your day is tough because he knew that I was fucking up my day job. I still send them Christmas presents but none of them reply.
If I had an employee like this I would say you clearly shouldn’t be doing this and here’s a budget to do what you think you could do. If I can get something out this as well and that’s great, but we’ll give you six months if it works. It works.
TR – If you came to yourself in this situation, what would you tell yourself?
NA – He (Andrew) never told me that I was wrong or that my idea was stupid. Like he always encouraged the idea and never doubted that. He would always say you’re an adult, you need to find a way to evaluate this, this is your life, you’re the one who’s going to have to do this?
TR – Who/What do you Listen to That Inspires you?
NA – Tony Robbins for sure, his material is excellent. I’ve learned to like not rely on it so much anymore. In the beginning, I used to listen to it every night. His story is fascinating. It’s amazing to have gone from being homeless to where he is now and how he’s done that.
At the moment I love Conor McGregor – a lot of people absolutely hate him. I’m not judging him as a person, but he has such certainty that about his goal, and it’s not a goal to him, it’s his destiny. If I’m going to dedicate my life to this I am doing it to be number one. I don’t see any arrogance. All I see is hard work and, and focus.
TR – What do you see the end Goal for What You’re Doing?
NA – The end goal is that P1F has to be recognised as the best design and investment firm in the world. It is about design, architectural design, development being actually develop in investment decisions and being able to make great investment decisions.
My short-term goal is that we have to be recognised as a leader. This doesn’t mean you have to be the biggest, just recognised as one of the best and having the highest quality product and deliver the highest quality value.
Shorter, shorter term would be that we’re opening up a co-working office space in Columbo (TR note – between the time when this interview was recorded and posted, they opened their office space in Colombo). I know it’s not core to the vision but it is an interesting one around building community and you’re getting other interesting entrepreneurs in the building.
We want the office to be a wonderful house and have a good energy to it. We’re using the space to host our art exhibitions, stand-up comedy jam sessions, and using this as a platform to encourage the young up and coming artists. We can them help them with exporting their work globally – because that’s when it becomes profitable for them.
When you can take your soft-influence globally like what we’ve seen with the African American community in know in America with def comedy jam, rap and hip-hop, you can send a really powerful force out to the world.
We need to think about these things because this is how I think about a more secure country or a more sustainable growing country with great influence. Switzerland for example, it’s a tiny country but has a huge influence.
Sri Lanka is a small country but its neighbours are the two biggest populations in the world, China and India. The opportunity is ridiculous.
And back to the office, I really need an office, so if I can make it useful to other entrepreneurs then I’m going to do that.
TR – Where Can We Find Out More About P1F?
You can find P1F at www.p1f-ltd.com. www.appymentors.com