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New York-based Kanin Asvaplungprohm ("Asva") is a fund manager with a difference –beaten drowning, turned his back on a privileged Thai-style life, and now making it on his terms in business.

Kanin Asva
Kanin Asva Kanin Asva

The cross-fit and weightlifting enthusiast likes to turn things on their head. Drowning? He got back in the water to become a PADI-approved scuba diver. Told he wouldn't make it in finance? Managed $200m across his career before single-handedly launching early-stage venture capitalist, Robust – naturally.

He likes to swim against trends. While most people from the West head East to find themselves spiritually, Kanin headed West to find his own compass point in life.

Kanin said: "Launching Robust has raised the stakes. Nobody believes in you, and there are many doubters out there. I don't know how many times I've been ridiculed or laughed out of the room for trying to raise the fund. But it's thriving, and we are talking seven-figure sums from high-profile investors. I am not a quitter."

This peaked in 2022 when he presided over two deals, firstly Offsight, a construction project management software company; and Symbiome, a revolutionary, US-based microbiome-nourishing life sciences company in the skincare sector.

The successes, he readily admits, are largely forged through the lows he has experienced throughout his life. That lesson came early on. In 2001, the Thai-born ten-year-old nearly died in a traumatic drowning incident.

"One minute, I was swimming underwater in a pool. Next minute I remember being hauled into ER," he reflects. A two-week ICU stay and three months of rehab followed. "Little did I realize that such a traumatic event early in life would build self-resilience, independence and mental strength."

But Asva has the desire to trump the impossible. From drowning, he could have walked away from the water at any time. Instead, he got back in and transitioned to being a competitive long-distance backstroke and freestyle swimmer. "I fully confronted my drowning by becoming a PADI open-water certified scuba diver."

Coming from a family of successful entrepreneurs, he admitted: "I grew up in a strong family unit, and it looked like I had it all. It was tough to figure out what I wanted in life when I was constantly told what to do. Every little aspect of my life was planned for me, and while things looked good on the outside, I faced crushing pressure."

A world of extracurriculars – from learning Mandarin, swimming and horseback riding to chess, tennis, and golf – followed by what he describes as a comfortable lifestyle. But it was also grating.

The impressionable and resilient teen needed to broaden his horizons away from the comfort of home. He decided at 18 to leave Thailand, turning his back on everything he knew and left for the US in 2010 to study engineering.

"Growing up in a rigid environment made it difficult to explore my interests without feeling like I was a disappointment. I was confused and lost for a long time," he said. "Thankfully, the entrepreneurial spirit and air of liberty in the US lit my spark."

He naturally excelled: he holds a Bachelor's Degree in Management Science from the University of California, San Diego and a Master's Degree in Financial Analysis, summa cum laude, from the University of San Francisco.

Despite settling in the US – first California and latterly New York - Asva continues to draw on his Thai background and entrepreneurial past to propel him through business life.

Ironically, his career straddles both continents, having spearheaded risk management for a premier provider of Meterological and Agricultural Tech solutions in Thailand. In 2018, he headed up Dynafolio, a small-cap US private equity firm, primarily focusing on turning around distressed companies. Dynafolio generated about 25% per annum in returns for investors before he exited in 2021.

Having taken the knockbacks in his earlier life, Asva is now resolute to challenge and change. He said: "Words from a former colleague who told me I would never make it on my own as a fund manager were the fuel to my personal fire and ambition."

Asva's defining characteristics are his fearlessness and singular determination. So, it is almost fate that at the start of 2022, Asva became the Founder and General Partner of Robust, an early-stage venture capitalist, uniquely positioned to bridge the economic and technological gap between North America and Southeast Asia.

At Robust, by fusing traditional Asian sensibilities, global vision, and western savvy, he advises startups and growth-stage companies on the Southeast Asian regulatory landscape and tech ecosystem.

Asva is a rare breed of fund manager, one of the few solo General Partners who successfully launched an early-stage fund that straddles North America and Asia.

He single-handedly built Robust – a truly remarkable feat by any measure. Asva admits: "Robust is a product of my blood, sweat and tears. I relied on my incredible network of advisors and peers. I owe them a debt of gratitude."

Asva remarked: "The biggest uphill battle is raising the fund. Honing the investment thesis and convincing investors worldwide to part with their money. I'm still very far from the summit, but it is the hardest thing I've done to date."

He reflected that Robust was a marriage of familial expectations and his ambition. "I have been fortunate to work alongside my family, who are in infrastructure and government contracting in South East Asia, on specific portfolio companies that want to expand to Thailand. Robust invests in transformational technologies and assists with global expansion. It's a perfect marriage between what I want to do and their expectations of me."

Asva believes that good design is a pillar of success. Steve Jobs once said: "Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it's this veneer. Design is how it works."

"I have been and always will be a champion of good design. Even so early on, Robust has won an award from for its branding. For me, good design is good business because how you do anything is how you do everything." For Asva, that means being strategic and thorough to the very last detail.

He added: "It's not just looking the best. Design is about systems thinking – a process that spans entire organizations. It's how the elements in a unit fit together cohesively. It can be applied to mathematics, law, architecture, and equally, you can construct an investment portfolio according to these principles."

"The companies we invest in have synergy, and we hedge the portfolio by having minor positions in dividend-yielding assets. The perfectionist in me pays attention to minute details because it's how you portray yourself to the world."

His ambition is to establish Robust's reputation among high-profile and institutional investors, but also to remain small and nimble. "This is where Robust stands out; we are judicious capital allocators by optimizing quality. As a boutique fund, we can achieve this."

Asva concluded: "Coming from a family of successful entrepreneurs, where each generation took over the last, I deviated. I needed to make my mark first. My legacy is to prove I have what it takes, and still make my family proud. Robust balances my family's expectations, their business, and my goals. Through different synergies, or by design. I'm getting there."

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