Sunil Rao joined Lightspeed Venture Partners’ India team in September this year. Prior to Lightspeed, Sunil worked at Google India and lead various leadership roles ranging from Strategic Partner Development, Developer Relations and Outreach Programs for Emerging Markets . He was clearly responsible for positioning Google as the most startup friendly corporate and was the face of Google in India when it comes to Startups and Developers. He has a stellar history of mentoring startups since 2006 when he set up the Symbian ecosystem , followed by popularising the Nokia Developer Ecosystem in India. Sunil is one of the most popular and well known speaker in the startup circuit in India. He spends a lot of time with early stage startups as he says that it is also a great learning for him when he interacts with founders who are bubbling with new ideas.
In an interview with Entrepreneur India, we asked Sunil as to how things have changed post this new transition and his plans with Lightspeed going forward.
What does he bring to the table at Lightspeed
“Over the last 10 years in India, I had the absolute privelege of working with over 200 startups directly and about 600 startups indirectly in my role at Symbian, Nokia and Google. This gave me the exposure and insight about what kind of entereprenuers and ideas can make it big in the Indian context keeping in mind the limitations that we have in terms of infrastructure, data penetration, disposable incomes, affordability etc.
What I am trying to do now is start a new service line at Lightspeed called Business Portfolio Services and community . We have a successful model in the U.S and we do feel that this model could be clearly replicated here where we would be spending a lot of time and energy working with our existing portfolio companies, understand what their pain points are, provide help in areas of technology, product management, design , go to market. We want to eventually build a community of high quality founders who will help each other and share best practices . The ecosystem as a whole wants to come together to help out one another. “he said.
Focus at Lightspeed
Lightspeed Venture Partners has invested in Indian companies since 2006. We now have an India fund called Lightspeed India Partners with offices in New Delhi. We invest in startups at various stages that are in technology-led businesses across sectors such as e-commerce, food tech, financial services, healthcare and education.
While the team has been operational in India for quite some time now, Sunil’s appointment coincides with the launch of the firm’s Bangalore office .
“The last few hires at the firm have not been the traditional investors. These are people coming with diverse backgrounds. I come with experience in companies like Google, Microsoft, Nokia; Harsha comes from Ola where she was heading product management and Vaibhav is a doctor. We all have different perspectives while analysing a problem statement,” he said.
Lightspeed’s key checklist
“ We look at the quality of entrepreneurs, relevant experience, how confident and passionate they are about solving a big problems, what key insights are they able to bring to the table which others do not have etc., The total addresable market which would make business sense for us to invest in them.” Sunil said.
Fintech – a personal favorite
Sunil is personally very passionate about the fintech sector where he forsees a massive amount of growth just looking at the number of merchants who would come online in the next couple of years.
“Approximately 10 million merchants would come online and use their mobile phones to enable payments which is a game changer. I do feel that digitization will drive consumption and not the other way round, where I am looking at more and more people making payments like this. The provider of such services is able to collect data of buying pattern which will inturn help in targeted marketing campaigns,” he adds.
Peer to peer lending services using alternate credit models and data sources to provide consumers and business to faster access to capital, Personal finance and Retail investment services , Payment services etc are some of the hot areas.