Entrepreneurial and tech circles in Asia were left reeling from the recent controversy surrounding the inclusion, and subsequent swift removal of 19 year old tech entrepreneur, Harsh Dalal, from the inaugural Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list following allegations of deceptive practices at TeamLabs, an enterprise software and teambuilding startup founded by Mr Dalal where he also served as CEO.
Mr Dalal, a Singapore permanent resident and recent graduate from Singapore Polytechnic with a diploma in business administration, was recently honoured with a spot on Forbes’ list of 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in Asia on 20 April. This followed a string of high profile press coverage for Mr Dalal, most recently having been interviewed for a segment on Channel News Asia (CNA) which chronicled his alleged success as founder and CEO of TeamLabs. CNA initially reported that TeamLabs had raised a total of S$9.8 million in venture capital from investors and Series A funding since 2017. CNA’s report also noted from Mr Dalal that the company was valued at US$25 million as of January 2020, and included MNCs like Airbnb, Google, and Deliveroo amongst its enterprise clientele. Mr Dalal also previously claimed that TeamLabs was headquartered in San Francisco, and had around 120 employees globally.
However, following the virality of CNA’s profile on Mr Dalal and TeamLabs, on 12 May this year TechinAsia published a widely shared investigative piece that scrutinised Mr Dalal’s claims, raising numerous queries about the legitimacy of Mr Dalal’s story. For instance, pointing out that TeamLabs’ LinkedIn profile only listed 11 employees, some of which contained seemingly fabricated credentials, and unearthing discrepancies behind Grand Canyon Capital, a venture capital firm that Mr Dalal alleged to have been TeamLabs’ primary backer.
This in turn resulted in a flurry of accusations that Mr Dalal had intentionally sought to mislead investors and the media by exaggerating the success of TeamLabs, leading to fresh calls to investigate Mr Dalal and TeamLabs. Forbes has officially removed Mr Dalal from the 30 under 30 list as of 12 May, vowing to tighten their candidate evaluation process going forward. CNA is also currently in the process of reviewing their piece on Mr Dalal, and will release further updates once they have concluded their investigations.
This troubling incident certainly serves as a timely reminder that we must never take the truth for granted, and cannot afford to neglect conducting our own rigorous due diligence in verifying and evaluating the validity of the information that we encounter on a day to day basis. Especially in the hyperconnected internet age that we experience today, there are no longer any excuses for investors and laymen alike to act without prudence given the vast troves of information and resources readily at our disposal to conduct independent due diligence activities. However, at the same time the onus is certainly also on entrepreneurs to conduct themselves and their businesses with ethics and honesty. Aside from a moral perspective, acting without ethics has detrimental effects on one’s reputation as an entrepreneur, and would only serve to turn away investors and partners who could help support your company’s vision, resulting in certain failure for the company and long-lasting damage to one’s career prospects.
There are many incredibly valuable partnerships to be realised from the meaningful collaboration between entrepreneurs, MNCs and investors. This ecosystem has always been at the foundation of nurturing, realising and scaling the brilliant ideas that will shape the world of tomorrow. Incidents like this will unfortunately erode the inherent trust necessary to sustain the effectiveness of this collaborative ecosystem. We certainly hope that this incident was an isolated one, and that venture partners will not be discouraged from continuing to invest time and resources in supporting the many innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs who have yet to start out.