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Asian startups: I see dead people—the story of iGene

Zafar Anjum | Dec. 19, 2013
Mathavan A. Chandran, 45, a Malaysian entrepreneur, has brought IT a little closer to the morbid frontier of death by pioneering a system of digital autopsy that is finding favour in far corners of the world.

Chandran exhales and then takes a stab at his own story with gusto.

"After I finished my bachelor's degree from the Agricultural Univeristy of Malaysia, I got my first job doing R&D in a lab," he begins. "My background was in biochemistry."

Like most young men, he kept working for a few years and changed companies thrice.

"All along, I had excellent bosses who told me that I should do more than what I was doing," he tells me. "They saw potential in me. I couldn't grow much just by sitting in the lab, they used to tell me. You have to learn other aspects of business, they would tell me."

Gradually he was given exposure into quality control, into production, and then into technical services. He was also given the opportunity to be a part of the sales team and do sales. And he spent sometime with the general manger of the business, gaining an overall insight into the business.

"I became like the handyman of the top boss," he says.

One day his boss told him it was about time to leave. He told him he was a bit too big for where he was and he should look for other opportunities, work at companies that could teach him other things and there were new things that he could learn.

Chandran looked for jobs for six months but did not get lucky. At an early age, he had become too successful to be hired for a similar position in other companies, he reckons.

After he received an inventor's award from PETRONAS, he got a call from a head hunter. He hired him for Peregrine, a Li Ka-shing company. It was a regional role.

He worked for them for four years. During the job, he got a well-rounded exposure of international markets. When the economic recession hit Asia (1998), he again had to look for a job.

This time he got a job in a Belgian company that was into pharmaceuticals. While working there, he saw the boom of IT and biotech. Unfortunately, there too he could not stay for a long time. When he had a misunderstanding with his boss's boss, he quit.

A new beginning

Soon after quitting his job, he founded an infotech company, Infovalley. He wanted to take a cheap and rapid approach to building his business as he did not have the billions needed to start large-scale operations. He adopted a low headcount approach. "I wanted to bring the digital angle to life sciences," he says.

He had one employee as an administrator who was his colleague at Peregrine. That was Sheela. After a few months he was about to let go of her because there was no money in the company. However, Sheela wanted to stick to the job. 'Pay me when you can,' she offered him. That wouldn't be fair to her, he thought, and offered her some shares of the newly-minted company. She agreed to his terms. They became partners.


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