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Having Invested In Over 30 Start-Ups, This Is What Keeps This Angel Investor On His Toes Apart from investing in personal capacity, 32-year-old Utsav Somani is also responsible for bringing AngelList to India. The platform connects investors and entrepreneurs and also helps the former create a VC fund for a single investment.

By Debroop Roy

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Utsav Somani

Blenders Pride Reserve Collection Presented Entrepreneur India's 35Under35 2020 list which includes some leading names from the field of entrepreneurship and Utsav Somani made it to the coveted list.

"I firmly believe that only the paranoid survive and I wake up every single day thinking of how not to let anything take this dream run away," says Utsav Somani, partner at AngelList India.

Utsav was consulting with certain firms for a few years and had been involved in the start-up ecosystem as an angel investor when he came across a podcast. That was the moment he discovered AngelList, a platform that connects investors and entrepreneurs and also helps investors create a venture capital fund for a single investment.

The US-based company was founded by Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi in 2010 but it was only in 2016, through Utsav, that the platform made its way to India.

"I did a cold reach out to Naval and said I am super interested," says 32-year-old Utsav.

Once hired, he worked with several law firms and markets regulator SEBI to ensure the platform found its place to flourish in a start-up ecosystem that was just taking off. His initial job was to map out the regulatory framework for the platform to come in with its pop-up VC structure and enable venture investing at scale.

"Then we truly pioneered this concept, there was nobody else doing this."

When the platform finally launched in the country in 2018, after a few slow months, people started taking note of its potential. Utsav says he reached out to serial entrepreneurs and industry veterans to join as advisors, which was followed by a flurry of deals. As of last month, he says they were doing three deals a week on average.

In just two years, the platform has facilitated investments in over 120 start-ups in India and now boasts of more than 1,000 unique investors.

Journey So Far

About the beginnings, Utsav says, "It was like a dream that came true. One day I woke up and I was captaining this ship that has turned out to be an impactful force in facilitating how capital, fundraising and investor access has worked in the earliest stages of venture capital and startup investing."

But what made it such an attractive platform?

"For the first time, capital and judgement were unbundled, allowing merit-based fundraising and monetisation of deal access," he says.

While the established brand name did help a lot, Utsav said it wasn't too easy convincing the first few angels to come onboard.

He says, "angel investors who are investing in a company they said that we have typically invested directly into companies, why should we come into a syndicate or pay a carry...so those were tough questions to answer."

Over time, however, they have on boarded some of the best names in town including 3one4 Capital, Binny Bansal, among others.

Going forward, Utsav says the plan is to scale their venture business in India and help more investors invest in top-tier start-ups alongside institutional investors through their fund "The Collective'.

From the Investor's Perspective

"I wish the kind of passion that people are seeing in me for what I am doing, I want to see the same amount of passion in what everyone else is doing," says Utsav, responding to what he looks for before investing in start-ups on a personal capacity.

His portfolio consists of more than 30 companies, with some of the stars being BharatPe, Testbook and Mall91.

He says there needs to be that love in the entrepreneurs for what they are doing and "one needs to have experienced the problems themselves to be able to think deeply about it and solve for it."

Typically, Utsav invests in companies for the long term.

"You really have to just stay invested in the company, because I think the journey becomes even more exciting later on, and what you can learn along this 7-8 year investment is probably worth more than the money in some cases."

As for how much an investor should contribute to the day-to-day operations of any company, Utsav firmly believes that it is the founder who should be in the driver's seat. He says only they have the intuition and foresight to take the turns that cannot yet be validated by numbers and data.

He counts the social e-commerce start-up Meesho among his misses. Last year, the company raised an $125 million round led by Naspers. "I have learnt to have an open-mind and erase my biases whenever I feel I am getting too opinionated."

As for his biggest strength as a relatively young member of the investor ecosystem, he says it is the ability to empathize and relate to budding entrepreneurs.

"I treat them as peers from day zero and I have always come out learning something exciting from each one of them," he says.

Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.
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