An Esteemed Personality Delivering Customized IT Solutions
In an interview with Business Brainiac, Ken Ehrhart, Co-founder, and General Partner at SunBridge Partners and also the Founder and CEO of Paracosma Inc gave some insightful answers highlighting the influences made by his company, service offerings, winning honors, and current and future goals.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a Cofounder and a General Partner at SunBridge Partners a Venture Capital (VC) firm that specializes in bringing leading US enterprise software companies to Japan and establishing their subsidiary companies there as a Joint Venture. I am also the Founder and CEO of Paracosma Inc an Augmented and Virtual Reality Service Provider that offers content creation and application development to US and Japanese enterprises from its main development center in Nepal.
What does it mean to you to be a Founder & Chief Executive Officer?
A Founder has to have passionate confidence in their vision for a company and its future opportunities in the industry. They are determining that the ingredients exist to build a business and that the market is ready for it. Whereas, a CEO is responsible for executing that vision and the operational requirements of actually running and growing the business.
How has your work experience prepared you for this position?
As a General Partner in VC, I have invested in more than two dozen startups and have sat on the Board of Directors of many of those. I also co-founded five Japan-entry Joint Venture companies and negotiated multiple international distribution agreements. That experience is primarily as a negotiator, guide and mentor. But, with Paracosma Inc, I founded and I am directly responsible for building and running the entire business as an operating CEO, not merely advising and helping the CEO. The skills and experiences from each role reinforce and guide my decisions in the other. But, as a CEO my instincts sometimes clash with what my advice as a VC General Partner would be. It is certainly beneficial to experience both perspectives.
In addition, as a co-founder and Director of TalentA, one of our portfolio companies focused on HR and Talent Management, I have been involved in those industries for over ten years. That provides direct insight into the evolution of AR and VR as the leading business and industrial training platforms of the future.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
Cofounding Concur Japan and Marketo Japan and serving on their Boards of Directors has enabled me to observe and assist in growing their Japan businesses from the first employees to become the largest international markets respectively for Concur, which was acquired by SAP for $8.3 billion, and Marketo, which was acquired by Adobe for $4.75 billion. Working for and with some of the World’s most successful software companies to expand their global markets has provided the experience to grow other businesses including Paracosma. It has also provided a critical understanding of how to support Paracosma’s large enterprise clients.
Tell us about a challenge or conflict you've faced at work, and how you dealt with it.
As a VC since 2000, I have had opportunities through the necessity to directly take operating roles at three of our portfolio companies when they faced a major business crisis. In one case, I became interim CEO and managed to sell the business while retaining some strategically valuable assets. In another, we had to completely reorganize and restructure the portfolio company due to a change in strategy of a key partner and successfully transitioned its business to new products and partnerships. In the third case, I focused on downsizing, fundraising, and M&A opportunities for a then-struggling company with the result that it is still in business ten years later. These were all cases in which I had to act decisively for the survival of the business with the fate of its employees and investors paramount in my mind.
What your take is on the role of a leader with regard to achieving success?
Engineers, salespeople, all employees, can work for many different companies. There is an open market for labor that is often very competitive. It is up to the leaders to convince them why they should be working for their particular company and to inspire them to give it their best work. Without that motivation then the company has no opportunity to or advantage in hiring the best people and no ability to generate the best results and products from those employees. So, the leader’s passion and vision become crucial elements of success. That is why Founding CEOs have an advantage because they first imagined the reason that the company needs to be created. If they can convince investors, employees, partners, and customers of the significance of their vision and the purpose of the company and the potential for its success, then they have a chance to realize that outcome. Without that leadership, employees are just filling a seat for a paycheck, and that won’t lead to greatness.
How do you strategize your game plans to tackle the competition in the market?
Competition exists because more than one company saw an opportunity in the market. In that sense, it is motivating. It shows that the business was worth pursuing. If a company has developed the best solution to a market problem, then it will succeed beyond other solutions. So, the answer is really to hire the best and brightest employees and to continue to innovate better solutions that will serve future markets for which there is not currently the best solution. At the end of the day, if we can produce a superior outcome at a lower cost, then our clients and our investors win.
How do you accelerate your personal growth with volatile technological trends?
Every company I have invested in, cofounded or lead has been in response to technology trends. Understanding technology trends was my responsibility as the Director of Research for the Forbes-backed Gilder Technology Report. It is the basis for our VC investment strategy. And, it is the reason for founding Paracosma. To me, there is nothing more inspiring than to look at accelerating technology innovation and to envision how it will impact business and society. That drives my passion and inspires my actions. We are able to contribute in some small or significant way in advancing technology for the improvement of business and society, then there could be no greater reward.
Where do you see yourself in the near future?
At SunBridge Partners, we continue to focus on bringing global best-in-class enterprise software companies to Japan, the world’s second-largest enterprise market. We are in discussions with several fantastic companies about their market entry strategy. With Paracosma, we are expanding long-term business partnerships through repeated client engagements. Those relationships are driving growth as fast as we can hire and train engineers and artists. Ultimately, AR and VR have the potential to disrupt every industry and social sector. Choosing where we can make the greatest contributions and building our strengths in those areas is critical.
Quote that best describes your approach to business and your vision:
“If it was easy then anyone could do it.” and “The harder you work the ‘luckier’ you get.” Which both really suggest that “The greatest rewards derive from the greatest efforts.” Our competitive advantages come from the fact that we are very good at delivering results in areas that are very difficult.