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June 24, 2004

Everything you wanted to know (and some things you didn't care to know) about ChrysCapital's Ashish Dhawan

New Delhi-based private equity fund ChrysCapital is vastly different from its former avatar, Chrysalis Capital. While Chrysalis began life (in Mumbai) as an venture capital firm focussed on start-up investments, today's ChrysCapital is best know for its late-stage investments (often in already public companies).

The fascinating part of this transformation is that one of the fund's original partners - Senior Managing Director Ashish Dhawan - has been firmly in the driver's seat throughout the process.

It's a story that needed to be told. As a cover story. Kudos to Business Today for telling it first.

Thankfully, unlike the glowing profiles that BT is famous for - including the one featuring infamous stock brocker Harshad Mehta with his Lexus on the cover - this one has a lot of facts. Some well known. And others less so.

That ChrysCapital's first fund would have been a disaster but for the pioneering investment in Raman Roy founded BPO firm Spectramind is well known. Quite expectedly, the BT article talks about this and takes the inevitable digs at the fund's investments in companies like Cheecoo Networks. (Of course, the article does not mention that at the time Chrysalis was making disastorous dotcom investments, Business Today itself used to dedicate a separate section of its magazine, titled "", to write - glowing, most of the time - about all things dotcom. The section, which actually started quite late in the boom period, has since been given a quiet burial.)

Among the things that are not well known about ChrysCapital is why exactly co-founder Raj Kondur quit. (It was generally assumed that Kondur took the fall for the fund's dotcom heavy portfolio.) To its credit, the BT article throws new light on this as well. Quoting an ex-ChrysCapital exectuive, BT says "much of ChrysCapital's dotcom fiasco happened because of Dhawan's infatuation with the phenomenon". And adds that it was Kondur, not Dhawan, who was primemover behind the fund's investment in Spectramind. "When ChrysCapital started talking to Raman Roy, he was already negotiating with at least six other venture funds and the man who spent the most time trying to woo Roy (once, an entire day on October 9, 1999) was Kondur, not Dhawan," the article says. Kondur actually quit, the article says, because he fell out with Dhawan and was eased out by the latter.

The article describes in detail how, in late 1998, Dhawan (then aged 29) and Kondur (27) quit their Wall Street jobs (at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley respectively) and went about raising their first fund. They received a $500,000 seed investment from executives in the US private equity industry including George E. McCown, Co-founder and Managing Director, McCown De Leeuw & Co. (MDC), a Menlo Park (California)-based private equity fund. (McCown described Dhawan as the best undergraduate analyst the firm ever hired.)

"Over the next five months, Dhawan and Kondur criss-crossed the US, flying cheap airlines and living out of inexpensive hotels, and met dozens of potential investors. A few said a polite no, but most, interestingly, liked their sheer energy and enthusiasm. Among them were people like Henry M. Paulson Jr., Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, Rajat Gupta of McKinsey, Victor Menezes of Citigroup, Gurcharan Das, formerly of P&G, besides companies like Microsoft". In the fall of 1999, ChrysCapital was ready to launch with $63.8 million signed up.

Now for the trivia. Want to know where Dhawan lives? (Since the article appears in BT, you can be sure of one thing: the neighborhood will be described as a "tony borough"). How much his new house cost? Who his neighbors are? What he likes to eat? And even how he chose his wife? The BT article serves it all.

Click Here to read the full article. (Paid subscription required).