Startup Asia Bangalore 2014 organized a venture capital panel featuring some of the most prominent names in startups and funding in India discussing tech and innovation in the country. Sandeep Murthy from Lightbox was one of the panelists, along with Rahul Chowdhri of Helion Ventures, Ranjith Menon of IDG Ventures India, Bhavanipratap Rana of Intel Capital and Veena Avadhanam of Mumbai Angels.
Sandeep Murthy, partner at Lightbox, was featured on Live Mint during the coverage of the Goldman Sachs’ event Tech Net, taking place in Hong Kong. Read his thoughts on the current tech euphoria in India below among other news from HK:
Snapdeal, the Indian e-commerce start-up backed by Softbank Corp. and EBay Inc., will keep buying companies as it works toward becoming profitable in two years.
Building everything from scratch is a losing proposition, Kunal Bahl, chief executive officer and co-founder of the five- year-old company, said in an interview.
“We’re not going to be frivolous about it,” he said on the sidelines of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. technology conference in Hong Kong. “If there’s something we can’t build internally, then we’ll do it. If we want to do everything ourselves, we’ll be too late.”
Bahl said he expects Snapdeal to become profitable in two years, once its investments in logistics and technology infrastructure bear fruit. He has bought 10 companies in the past seven months, including most recently app-developer MartMobi, to capitalize on an acceleration in Indian e-commerce over just the past few years.
Snapdeal is eschewing a one-size-fits-all Amazon-style retail strategy in favor of connecting distinct marketplaces: one for luxury goods, another for consumer products and so on.
Snapdeal and local rival Flipkart are competing with foreign entrants alike such as Amazon.com Inc. in a growing market fueled by cheaper smartphones and rising incomes.
The potential for India’s e-commerce market, a vision stoked by the rapid evolution of China’s, is drawing billions of dollars of investment, spurring startups and boosting valuations.
Snapdeal raised 90% of its capital in just the past 11 months and is now valued at about $5 billion, Bahl said. Flipkart’s last round of funding valued it at $15 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A lot of money will go toward the pursuit of growth for now, Flipkart chief financial officer Sanjay Baweja said in an interview on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of investment which is happening, in increasing reach, increasing scale,” Baweja said on the sidelines of the conference. “There’s a sense of a land grab.”
Soaring valuations have coincided with a persistent lack of profitability.
That’s normal in a market undergoing deep changes. Only about 2% of India’s retail sales is now online, versus the double-digit percentages in other more developed markets.
The growth of online commerce may, for instance, require heavy discounting initially that in turn pressures profitability.
“With every disruption, there’s going to be a bubble created,” Lightbox Ventures Partner Sandeep Murthy said in Hong Kong Wednesday. “To get you to change your behavior, I have to give you an incentive.”
Greendust and its founder and CEO Hitendra Chaturvedi got an exclusive profiling on Zee Business’ Big Idea Show. Watch the video below (in Hindi):
Jen Gieser, Chief Everything Officer at Photojojo came to Lightbox to talk about how this little company from San Francisco is using content, community and commerce to engage with photography enthusiasts.
How do I get $Billion valuation was a panel discussion organize by TiE Mumbai, moderated by Anand Lunia (@anandlunia) from India Quotient and included our own Nitin Sharma (@NitinSharma1) as well as Avnish Bajaj (@avnish) from Matrix Partners and Sandeep Singhal (@aaasandeep) from Nexus.
They basically talked on how investors value startups, the valuation math and the different exit strategies.
Nobody starts a venture to exit. VCs look for entrepreneurs who want to build a business not exit. Take money from a believer – @avnish
Valuation formula: get ready to dilute 20-30%, get 3-4M based on how much a VC likes you – @avnish
Seed round: team + concept, series A: product, series B: customers & traction, series C: scale, series D+: profitability – @avnish
Bhavesh (Ola Cabs): “Avnish, jo bhi ho, main Kar lega” – Avnish shared Bhavesh’s determination to perform despite all regulatory odds and his bad-days when he even had to hide-n-run from Mumbai to avoid arrest.
It’s more important to show a scalable model than growth, with a unit model that works.
Managed marketplace w/ a focus on building buyer experience + understanding of capital efficiency works wonders – @aaasandeep
The server room doubles up as the meeting hall. Huge aluminium trunks packed with sports kits and training material serve as sofas. Modest cotton mattresses and cushions offer some comfort even as a stubborn AC plays spoilsport. “The remote does not work. We will just switch it on and off to keep us comfortable,” grins Matthew Spacie, 46, founder of Magic Bus, an NGO that uses sports-based activities to improve the lives of underprivileged children.
In a modest office in the narrow bylanes of Parel in central Mumbai — so congested that cars cannot drive in — Spacie is dreaming big. He wants Magic Bus to touch 1 million kids by 2015. Looking beyond mere school enrolment, Spacie wants to make school fun, more holistic and inculcate behavioural change that will help these children — both boys and girls — turn into confident and capable adults.
“Never in history have so many people lived with so little [as in India]. We need to change that,” he says.
Spacie started on his mission in 2001 quitting his high-profile corporate career — he was COO of Cox & Kings and is also a co-founder of online travel portal Cleartrip. “Behavioural change among the young is as important as building a school. Nobody in the world does it on a scale that we do,” he says.
Dreaming a Better World
Ambition isn’t often voiced in the not-for-profit space. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It does with Spacie, for sure. Since 2001, the Magic Bus programme has grown to reach out to 300,000 children in 12 states through 8,500 community volunteers with 800 full-time staff. The children mostly live in slums and go to government or charity schools.
Different impact assessment studies commissioned by Magic Bus reveal that children with the NGO have better attendance, lower dropout rates and improved behavioural skills. About 98% of the girls in Magic Bus schools are going to secondary school as against the national average of 35%, says Spacie. A project in the Mumbai Port Trust slum area saw the school attendance go up to over 80% (from 20%) over 10 years.
It has also shown good results in tackling gender biases, one of the biggest thrust areas. In a study done in the slums of Dharavi and Mumbai Port Trust, it found that a higher percentage of children believed in equal leadership capabilities among girls and boys.
Impressed, many state governments struggling with high dropout rates and poor results are reaching out to Magic Bus for help. Spacie is partnering ICICI Foundation in Rajasthan to work with 22,000 children in 150 government schools to make them compliant with the Right to Education (RTE) Act as part of a pilot.
Thanks to Spacie, Magic Bus today also has an impressive list of partners and donors from ICICI Foundation, Vodafone Foundation, Nike and HSBC to BMW, Reliance Foundation, Bloomberg and Rio Tinto. California-based TOMS Shoes gives away a pair of shoes to underprivileged children for every pair it sells; it sends shoe consignments to Magic Bus every year.
Asian Football Development Project, headed by Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein, is funding the equipment and specialised coaching for Magic Bus’ talented boys and girls. “Magic Bus gives youth in marginalised areas hope for a brighter future. Football has the power to create positive social change, with a special emphasis on helping girls overcome social barriers,” says Hussein.
The Magic Bus Journey
Spacie’s brush with India and its poor began way back in 1986 when he first came as a volunteer with the Sisters of Charity to Kolkata. In 1996 when he returned as COO of Cox & Kings India, he wrote a few cheques as part of the company’s CSR activities. “But I wanted to go beyond giving cheques,” he says. He knew that at 3.5 million, India had a vibrant set of NGOs.
“But they were mostly momand-pop operations. I wanted to build capacity in the not-for-profit sector and focus on children,” he says. Started in 1999, Magic Bus has an interesting genesis. A keen sportsman then, Spacie would play rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana. “While we played we would see these street children watching and cheering us from across the boundary wall,” recalls Spacie.
“I thought about my childhood. How sports moulded me into who I was, and I wanted to do something for them,” he says. So he decided to form a rugby team with these street children, and persuaded the elite club to allow them to play on its lawns. On three weeknights, Spacie would play rugby with them.
On weekends, he would rent a bus, load it with goodies and take it to different slum colonies like Dharavi, get a bunch of children through a network of NGOs and take the kids on their “most incredible weekends of their lives”, camping and picnicking.
Magic Bus, an India-based NGO that is transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of underprivileged children in the country, has been recognised at the Laureus World Sports Awards with the presentation of the Laureus Sport for Good Award.
Magic Bus, founded by Englishman Matthew Spacie and based in Mumbai, aims to take children out of poverty through a programme of mentoring and coaching. Since 2001, the Magic Bus programme has grown to embrace over 300,000 children in 12 states each week and Spacie’s ambition now is to reach out to one million children by 2016.
Magic Bus, which has received funding from Laureus since its inauguration and which has been a strategic partner of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation for five years, is the product of Spacie’s fascination for India which began when, as a 17-year-old taking a break from academic studies, he worked in the Howrah leprosy centre near Kolkata.
Later, while playing rugby for Bombay Gymkhana Club, Spacie sought to use the offer of involvement in the game to improve the prospects of young boys living on the streets and in slums.
Magic Bus, which now looks after both boys and girls, was born out of that initiative and Spacie has plans to extend the idea, centred around sports-based activities and a solid contingent of volunteers, to other countries.
After receiving his Award from Edwin Moses, Chairman of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, in Kuala Lumpur last night, Spacie said: “Fifteen years ago the Magic Bus was started because outside my office there were 15 street boys who one day decided that they wanted to change their journey in life.
“It is now an organisation which has 300,000 children every single week attending our programme on this amazing journey from childhood all the way to livelihood and out of poverty.
“It is a great tribute to the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation that they see the longevity of partnerships like Magic Bus which shape the destiny of so many young people. This Award is really for the tens of thousands of young people in our programme who graduate every year and who have decided to shape their own future,” he said.
“Thank you very much to the Academy. This is a magical moment for the Magic Bus.”
The Laureus World Sports Awards are the premier honours on the international sporting calendar. The winners are chosen by the Laureus World Sports Academy, the ultimate sports jury, made up of 46 of the greatest living sportsmen and sportswomen.
Proceeds from the Laureus World Sports Awards directly benefit and underpin the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Since its inception, Laureus has raised 60 million euro for projects which have improved the lives of millions of young people.
I’m 46!” gasps Matthew Spacie , as if he had revealed himself to be an octogenarian. He’s talking about the phenomenon of CEO burnout, prompted by a survey he read saying that the average tenure of a chief executive officer in a non-profit organization is nine years.
Spacie’s own career, however, has hurtled from project to project since the age of 29, when he came to India as the chief operating officer (COO) of the travel group Cox and Kings Ltd, heading a team of 2,000, in a company growing “at 600% a year”.
Two years later, in 1999, he founded the non-governmental organization (NGO) Magic Bus. In 2005, he added a third string to his bow, co-founding the travel website Cleartrip.com, while still working half his week at Magic Bus, which has grown from 30 children on a single rugby pitch to a quarter of a million young people enrolled in weekly workshops in 10 states across India.
It’s easy to see why he might be feeling drained.
“Just the energy levels for me, personally, in the last 16 years have been immense,” Spacie says, of his various roles as entrepreneur, fund-raiser, social worker and manager. “My life is 24/7 Magic Bus. There’s never a moment when I’m not worrying about it. I have 750 staff to pay and I don’t have a product. I’m not selling anything, apart from the impact of the work we do. It’s just really high pressure.”
His wife, the photographer Ashima Narain agrees. “In January, we sat together with our diaries and worked that we were going to be together for five days in February,” says Narain, who met her husband-to-be at the launch event for Magic Bus back in 1999.
Not the football charity
According to Spacie, much of the difficulty of sustaining and growing Magic Bus over the past 14 years has been the relative complexity of its model, which can be hard to explain to prospective donors and journalists alike. Magic Bus is known as a “sport for development” charity, but that concept is hard to grasp and to articulate in a country where sporting facilities for young people, especially from the poorest communities, are not viewed as a priority and play is still a luxury.
“Out of the last 50 articles on Magic Bus, I’d say two or three have actually got it right,” says Spacie, of the learning concept he developed while working with a group of young men sleeping rough on Fashion Street in Mumbai. “I always get very careful talking about this because we often get referred to as ‘the football charity’, you know, ‘that organization that plays football with kids in the slums’, which we don’t.”
What Magic Bus does do is to introduce sport into those slums as a medium for bringing children from different backgrounds together, earning their trust and attention, and then imparting lessons on a wide array of subjects, from hand washing to gender equality, through participatory outdoor activities organized by local volunteers known as “youth leaders”.
For example, at the most basic level, children play games such as dribbling a ball through an open space that contains obstacles, while other children try to distract them. Afterwards, in a review session, the group sits down and is told that the obstacle course was like their journey from home to school, filled with things that might prevent them from reaching the classroom—lack of money or school books, working for their parents, and so on.
“And this was a massive challenge,” says Spacie, “because when you start talking about sport—even I couldn’t articulate it very well at the beginning—most people will say, ‘Why are you doing sport? There are people dying in the street, there’s HIV, why would I ever support you?’ If I’m giving someone a three-liner about Magic Bus I can’t start saying, ‘Oh we use sport as a metaphor in the villages, it’s just…you know…” he laughs, suddenly and explosively.
Spacie did not just face a communication problem: Magic Bus doesn’t tick any of the boxes that usually attract philanthropic attention in the Indian context. It is not specifically focused on a big-money issue like education or malnutrition. It hasn’t spent much money building its brand in India. It doesn’t create tangible assets. Its brief doesn’t fit in with any existing government scheme, so it can’t easily access central funding.
And yet, despite all this, Magic Bus has an almost unparalleled reach both in terms of numbers and longevity—250,000 children are enrolled in three- to 10-year programmes, for a couple of hours every week. And it is scaling this number at speed. Since 2009, it has grown from 3,000 children to a quarter of a million and if it reaches its target of a million by 2015, Magic Bus will be one of the largest child-focused NGOs in the country.
By comparison, in 2012, Save the Children claimed to reach a million children in India across all its programmes (of which 114,000 were in its education programme, 607,000 in its child protection programme and 205,000 in its health and nutrition programme).
“I can tell you how to get a girl of 14 into school,” says Spacie, “but I’m not going to build that school. The whole premise of Magic Bus is to leverage what’s already there. Our programme costs Rs.1,200 per child per year. It’s nothing. We don’t do the delivery, the youth leader does, we don’t build assets, because they should already be there by law. It’s very complex but I’m pleased it’s complex. Getting people out of poverty isn’t easy.”
The rugby boys
The Magic Bus ethos was not always as coherent; Spacie has had 14 years to develop it. As a travel agent living in south Mumbai, Spacie wasn’t the likeliest candidate for a career in the social sector. Born in Cyprus, the son of an army father, Spacie attended boarding school in the UK before going to work for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata for a year between school and university. He returned to Mumbai in the late 1990s as a young professional: “With the context of coming from overseas, you land in Bombay and you see this incredible visual dichotomy of wealth and immense poverty,” he says.
In those days, Spacie spent much of his free time playing rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana Club—he was allowed to play for the Indian national side thanks to his residence permit and the fact that the game was fairly new to India. After struggling, and failing, to connect Cox & Kings with various NGOs working in Bombay, Spacie decided to begin at an individual level and approached a group of about 30 young men who lived on the street outside the rugby club, offering to train them in the sport and set up a team: The Magicians.
“For two years I was their coach, their mentor. The first thing I wanted to do was get them all jobs through my network at Cox & Kings as office assistants, cleaners, at McDonalds, whatever we could find,” says Spacie. He is a restless, mobile speaker, describing little circles and pathways on the tabletop with his forefingers as he talks. “It was an absolute failure! Within two months every single boy left, ran away, because they had no work ethic. Why would they want to do that when they were living on the streets with all the excitement that held? I realized very quickly we needed to work with young children.”
In return for coaching them, Spacie persuaded his rugby boys to volunteer their time at the weekends. With the help of a local NGO Akanksha, the group hired buses and drove into different slums every week, picked up 50 local children, and “drove them off to have this incredible weekend away”. The trips were to the mountains or the sea, involved activities such as kayaking or rock climbing and were mainly just for fun. “I was a travel agent! You can imagine that I had no idea of how to do stuff with kids. What struck me was when we would drop them off on Sunday night, it was devastating because they knew this had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We had to change that.”
Today, the course model lasts for 10 years, from the ages of eight to 18, or as the staff say, “childhood to livelihood”. Once enrolled, the children attend weekly workshops until they have worked their way through the curriculum. By the end, they often become unpaid “youth leaders” themselves, volunteering to train younger children in the community.
“The problem is that most of these kids don’t know how to play. They don’t know what play is,” says Pushpendra Pandey, a 23-year-old youth mentor, who leads a group of 40 children in Tughlaqabad village in south Delhi. “They need to get our messages on a regular basis,” says Mukesh Singh, a training and monitoring officer in south Delhi. “Some Hindu children don’t like to play with Muslim children, and that’s a big problem. Also, for girls there are often religious issues, so sometimes we have to have separate sessions at the beginning.”
The volunteers, who lead the two-hour sessions, once a week, are later helped to apply for jobs, or scholarships at the second level of Magic Bus training. Many of them graduate into paid staff positions. Magic Bus has 750 paid staff today, and more than 8,000 volunteers. Of the first batch of children that Spacie approached, he estimates about half are either working as paid staff for Magic Bus, or have started their own community programmes helped by an incubation fund within the organization.
It took a long time for this structure to evolve. For the first 18 months of Magic Bus’s existence, Spacie worked pretty much alone with his network of friends and volunteers. By 2002, Narain says, in the same month the couple got married, Spacie left his job at Cox & Kings and hired a garage space next to Cadbury House as an office. “It didn’t occur to me that it would ever not be a success,” Narain says. “The kids absolutely loved it. We used to ride a bike everywhere wearing our Magic Bus t-shirts and the kids would come running up wanting to sit with Matthew.”
The organization grew quickly, starting with its first permanent activity ground an hour outside Mumbai near Panvel, built in 2006 with funding from the Kadoorie family and Donald Lobo, part “of Yahoo’s first management team, who paid for our equipment”, Spacie says.
“We were treated so badly by some of the resorts we visited, because these kids would turn up in their chuddies, that we ended up building our own 30-acre outdoor development centre for slum children, with kayaking, sailing, high ropes, low ropes, 200 beds.” But there were still problems—to get parents to agree to send their children away for three days was difficult and the organization relied on the reputation of partner NGOs until it built up teams of local volunteers to intercede on its behalf. There was also a money issue. “One of the big difficulties in start-ups in the non-profit world is that as a board member you can’t be paid, so from 2001-06, I was working in an executive capacity but with a board role. I was spending a lot of my personal funds on Magic Bus and essentially I ran out of money,” Spacie says. “It was a very difficult time. So, between 2005-07 I co-founded Cleartrip with two other guys, and worked three days a week on each. It was a bit of a nightmarish environment for me really…making ends meet.”
One of Spacie’s co-founders and the current CEO of Cleartrip, Stuart Crighton, had watched Magic Bus’s evolution from the beginning and has been an early investor in the NGO. Crighton was a fellow rugby player and shared a flat with Spacie from 1997 to 2003. “We were all playing rugby with these kids, but Matt was the one who really picked it up and took it on, he was very excited about it. He just took the plunge and went for it. Not everyone believed in where it was going but Matt’s a very infectious character.”
The two men had been mulling over the idea of a travel website since the late 1990s, Crighton says. But in 2004-05, the time seemed right. The airspace was being deregulated, low-cost carriers were coming to India, credit card payments were becoming popular, the domestic market was opening up. With funding from Ram Shriram’s venture capital firm, Sherpalo Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB), Spacie, Crighton and a third founder Hrush Bhatt launched the site, a stripped-down version of other travel sites, simply designed, with a light page load to run on India’s irregular Internet speeds. Shriram also supported Magic Bus: “Ram is also our US chairman and supports us financially every year with a matching grant programme,” says Spacie. Cleartrip pays for the Magic Bus website and “pretty much all our flights as an organization”, he says.
At Cleartrip, Spacie’s role was to define marketing proposals. The only one of the team with experience in the travel industry, “it was always understood that his passion was continuing to build up Magic Bus”, Crighton says. “When you’re doing a start-up, everybody does everything. It’s quite hectic. Matt had a desk and a chair and he would be there most days. The key from the beginning was to identify his successor, you want to make yourself redundant.”
By 2007, Spacie was back at Magic Bus full time and it was then, Narain says, the scaling up accelerated. “There were a lot of international reports, and researchers, who were coming to study the curriculum of Magic Bus, saying they’d never seen anything like it before,” she said. “I think he hadn’t considered what all this meant—he was just doing it. Suddenly people were telling him this is a unique thing, not just in Bombay but internationally as well. Then, he became keen to find somebody who could take it national.”
The hunt for the man who could take Magic Bus to scale took a year, Narain says. Eventually, Spacie head-hunted Pratik Kumar, an Indian Institute of Technology graduate and a former Indian Administrative Service officer who had quit a job in the ministry of health to work for the United Nations. Kumar joined Magic Bus in 2009 and began to look at opportunities to establish it in other Indian cities and expand it into rural areas.
In the Indian philanthropic community, it is well known that sport doesn’t sell, and at first almost all of Magic Bus’s funding came from abroad. This seems to be changing, albeit slowly, according to Deval Sanghavi, co-founder of philanthropic organization Dasra, who says that Magic Bus has been able to leap this hurdle for two reasons. “They realized early on that they needed a solution which would engage youth directly and I think Matthew coming from a business background has been at the forefront of hiring high-quality professionals into the organization. They have one of the strongest management teams in the community today,” he says. Spacie is a board member of Dasra.
Kumar had never heard of the organization when he was approached for the job. “I did three months of research into the idea of learning through play before I joined, trying to understand how the outdoors is a place of learning. For me, that was the first of its kind because I’d not been exposed to anything beyond the classical pedagogy.”
He was not alone in his bemusement, according to a yet-to-be-published study by Dasra, in association with the Omidyar Network and the Australian Sports Commission, called The Power of Play. The study says that only 14% of Indian youth has access to a playground, that one in four adolescent girls is married and that 70% of employers find Indian youth unemployable in spite of a degree. These facts are related, it says.
“In the past few years, sport has proven, more than any traditional medium, to effectively attract and retain youth in development programmes, enabling long-term sustainable change,” says the report.
And sport is fun, Kumar says. “It’s something they never get bored of. I get the opportunity to exchange knowledge as a given, because I can call upon them again and again to be my audience.”
The organization relies heavily on its volunteers to grow, says Kumar. “Magic Bus is not a rich organization, so we needed a cost-effective solution to grow. Unfortunately, I don’t know half the people who work for me, but every volunteer is my baby, you have to be worried about their goodwill all the time,” Kumar says. “If we don’t take care of them, why should they bother about us? Matthew is a visionary but then the beauty of the thing was that he let me do what I wanted to do, which is unheard of, especially in a founder-led NGO.”
However, the next challenge for this founder-led NGO is removing the founder from centre stage, according to Spacie. “Now, we are getting into the danger zone where I’ve been there 14 years and it’s crucial someone else runs the organization. I think it’s very dangerous when organizations rely on one person—that’s part of my obsessive succession planning. How do we fund-raise differently? We’re going to be looking at retail funding, different ways to take the dependence off my relationships with funders.”
While Magic Bus continues to expand, moving into Singapore and Pakistan within the next few months and eventually Indonesia and China, according to Spacie. “Our expansion model will be a franchise one,” he says. Spacie himself is busy planning his next move: “I don’t like to put a date on it, but it’s imminent. My role will change into an executive chairman role for a time to oversee the transition. In five years time, maybe I can play a strong strategic role in terms of fund-raising, I think there’s things I have to do, go back, write the book, make the movie as they say.”
For now, though, Spacie and 20 of his friends are pooling their resources to build a village outside the training centre in Panvel. “We have all bought plots and it’ll be a respite from where we are with a common green and pool, everyone has to bring something different. I’m doing bees. I don’t know anything about bees, but I’m going to learn,” he announces, beaming. “It’s my new hobby. I need a hobby. I’m 46!”
We like to be deeply involved operationally in the startups we invest in. We are passionate about company-building and like to support entrepreneurs in areas ranging from product, strategy, hiring, branding and digital marketing, fundraising, etc. This cannot be done effectively if we follow the typical VC strategy of taking a high number of bets (20+) in a given fund; hence, we plan to invest our most recent $100 million fund across only 8-9 investments.
We are very selective and once we invest, we are betting that working together with the entrepreneur, we are going to navigate various challenges to make the venture a success. We start with an investment of $3-6 million in Series A funding, and also continue investing in follow-on rounds. We look for technology-driven businesses where data, product and the user experience are a source of competitive differentiation. We spend a lot of time – in some cases, as many as 2-3 days a week with a given company – to strengthen our relationships with our startups and bring tangible value to the table. Talent is especially a key area, and we also love to hear from highly driven, high caliber professionals who are looking to be part of disruptive startups. We are not shy about taking larger Series A bets very early – in rare cases, even a concept – if we believe in the entrepreneur and the idea.
The two biggest lessons have been that (a) it’s all about the right entrepreneur, and (b) actually putting oneself in the shoes of an operator and appreciating (hands-on) the day-to-day struggles makes one a much better investor, versus just playing with powerpoints and spreadsheets.
I recently heard one of my colleagues in the industry say that this business is not about billion-dollar companies but about looking for the billion-dollar entrepreneur. We’ve talked about Snapdeal as a “deal that got away”. When Kunal Bahl (co-founder, Snapdeal) first came to Sandeep Murthy (who I work with), Snapdeal was a very different idea, which pivoted from a couponing business to a daily deal business to inventory owned e-commerce, finally to a marketplace. Kunal’s agility and tenacity was a key factor in continuously adapting that got him this far. Similarly, InMobi’s Naveen Tewari, who we backed early on to create the world’s largest independent mobile ad network, is a billion-dollar entrepreneur who could aggressively expand internationally and maintain a culture of product excellence.
We like to be quite informal and approachable, and can be reached through our website. We like to be active on social media. Most of the serious opportunities come through our networks. We spend a lot of time building a genuine relationship with the founding team. We do a lot of independent work on each market, also pooling in our global experience and networks. We talk to customers, suppliers, employees, etc. as we judge the scalability and long-term value in a business. The actual formal process is short and simple, since we are a relatively small and flat team.
It’s the golden age of tech startups in India. The whole theme of creating tech-enabled brands is appealing to us whilst owning the end-to-end experience. We are excited about a whole category we call “engagement apps”, which are seeing exponential growth. This includes mobile-first models in gaming, dating, video, news, reviews. We’ve also looked at healthcare and financial services quite extensively.
People, this species make planet earth interesting subject to live on.
Meeting diverse group of people helps simulate the thinking beyond our limited scope and sometimes set routine. Source of an ideas could be the most unexpected space when we give up inhibitions, allow our subconscious to go beyond. Trigger could be a most unorthodox source. Designers, Artists, Start Ups, Creators, Does — thinks and entrepreneurs are such people who always excel on their own way.
A chance to listen to them was “The Goa Project”. Having heard a lot about it, I decided to be present this year “#TGP2015″. So, truly this conference was ‘un-conference’ as they call on their website starting from organiser’s mood to, seriousness of schedule. Speakers screening came out as poor choice at some end but on the other end some rare people and their even rare ideas came in light as new opportunity and door openers. As they say life isn’t a perfect match of all so wasn’t ‘the goa project”. But then it is “Goa” which inspite of being in India takes you away in another orbit.
City attracts art and free minded so quickly that in most unstructured way that I met some really amazing souls who quickly became friends, already friends became more personal, social media acquaintances became known … and I learnt a bit of life, mental peace, along side friends for life.
Where does it all take my start up ?
Perspective, gaining a fresh outlook to what you are doing in routine and what new one needs to be introduced.
Disconnecting with your own start-up to allow it to go in auto mode, helps you to identity and plug the area where you need to work harder.
Amongst all, there are few sincere speakers who bought in light their rare and amazing initiatives that open our mind to possibilities that a thinker can bring to society. You can plan your city’s next version, you can train your mind to empower possibilities, making a documentary on subjects that goes to explore fan’s of Rajnikant, VCs know how to play games better than you not just in real like but on board games too. Design is not just design but chance, a thought , a change, a science. A role play could be so real that you reflect you life in most comic way. I wish we had a little bit more of such but at the end it is at “Goa” so can’t complain much.
So , is there next time for us ?
That is also going to be as un-expect as the event was.