Business Models

The tech quotient in consumer startups

No Author
18th January 2019

More than pure play consumer startups, Lightbox looks to invest in ones that use technology effectively in their business models to transform their industries.

Venture capital firm Lightbox, which has backed startups such as furniture rental website Furlenco and online kitchen brand Faasos, plans to increase its focus on consumer businesses in 2019, after raising its third fund this year.

While Lightbox has backed consumer brands earlier, it is now looking to double down on the segment, which includes a wide range of sub-sectors—retail, consumer internet, food, health and education—said founder and managing partner Sandeep Murthy in an interview with Mint.

“It is far easier to sell a differentiated product to consumers than businesses. They just buy it. A business has a requisition process and various hoops to jump through. There just aren’t enough new consumer brands with deep market share. And the ones that are big have become lazy.”

Lightbox will make nine investments next year from its $200 million third fund. While the first investment in a startup would be between $2-10 million, about $20 million is earmarked per company, including follow-on rounds.

The fund will look to invest not in pure play consumer startups, but in ones that use technology effectively in their business models to transform their industries.

 “If we can find areas where technology can change the equation on how distribution and customer acquisition is done, you can create some really interesting businesses.”

Investing in consumer startups has also been a larger trend, with funds such as Fireside Ventures and DSG Consumer dedicated to investing in FMCG and similar startups only.

Consumer startups however, are said to suffer from excessively high valuations, stemming from large amounts of capital allocated towards branding and marketing. Murthy accepts the issue and concedes that Lightbox is not going to be every startup’s ideal solution.

“Valuations are a concern when nothing else is a concern. We invest early for a big stake. So we can be a little flexible here and there but beyond that if it is not in our realm we don’t do it,” he said.

Murthy added that the firm is cautious of certain sectors like fintech, which have a huge and obvious opportunity because of an underserved market, but can be very risky.

“Fintech is interesting because consumer lending is a big market. But collection is the difficulty. I’m still not sure how all these consumer fintech companies are addressing collections. I’m nervous about the endgame there.” In fintech, Lightbox has invested in Paymate, a B2B lender.


This article first appeared in LiveMint.