Why I Cut the Cheque Rahul Chandra meets founders three to five times in around one-three months before cutting the cheque.

By Sandeep Soni

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Is it tough for you to maintain eye contact while talking to someone, not because you can't but that's how you are? Well, then probably you must work on it before pitching your start-up to Rahul Chandra.

Having spent more than 17 years in VC and corporate development space (in technology products and services in India and the US), Chandra is a veteran of sorts in the Indian VC community. Currently, serving as managing director at Helion Venture Partners, Chandra meets founders three to five times in around one-three months before cutting the cheque. Infact, he talks to the entrepreneur once every week during the product-market fit stage. Is that too much for you?

Crownit Highlight – Build Loyalty For Local Merchants

You probably would draw a blank response from people if you ask them whether they would let go a lucrative deal offered to them; right from feasting at their favorite restaurant, catching up with the first show of a new movie on the first day or booking an adventure package. "In India, it is a massive market because we are always looking for the best deals, which are not always discounts," says Chandra.

Helion Venture Partners backed Crownit first in May 2015 along with Accel Partners in Series A round of $5.5 million. Later in August last year, Freecharge's Kunal Shah and Sandeep Tandon, Freshdesk's Girish Mathrubootham and Snapdeal's former chief product officer Anand Chandrasekaran led its next round. Chandra is again willing to invest in Crownit. "We would be willing to back their success as we are a multi-round investor." Unlike couponing business that tends to go online, Crownit builds loyalty around your local neighborhood for specific merchants while helping users save money on their day-to-day purchases from local merchants.

Railyatri Highlight – Deep User Engagement

Roughly a whooping 25 million passengers are served by the world's fourth longest railway network - Indian railways after the US, China and Russia, every day. For carrying that astronomical mass of humanity from point A to point B, technology has to offer much more than just booking tickets or ordering food through the apps.

There has to be an entire ecosystem built around the industry, which include accurate tracking of train, PNR status, seat availability, confirmation chances of wait-list tickets, time table, train between stations, platform number for trains, guide on intercity trains, nearest help in case of medical emergency and even booking bus tickets.

It is RailYatri, not IRCTC, which is building that ecosystem. "They have 10 million users and I am seeing that there is an increase in demand for information they provide. They are doing a fantastic work," says Chandra. It recently started offering warm milk for babies. RailYatri combines the power of crowdsourced information, GPS and analytics to give 90 per cent accuracy about train's location. "We realized that even after the journey, people use the app for much longer time and sometimes as users to provide information to their family or parents travelling in train," adds Chandra.

Wooplr Highlight – Stickiness To The Network

Among a handful of fashion discovery and personalized fashion networks that have cropped up in India, Wooplr, Roposo and Limeroad, were from the first of the lot that have integrated social network into commerce. But Chandra backed Wooplr for a number of reasons.

"They have built a very sticky social network and seamlessly migrated that to commerce. So the output of that is a very low cost of customer acquisition." This means you don't need to pay for every visit of the customer who might not transact. "That's what bleeds commerce companies," says Chandra. Moreover, he believes, "There is no other network of fashionistas wanting to propagate their fashion style to users."

At Wooplr, currently there are 15,000 opinion makers coming to share their fashion opinion. "There is nothing as big as this," claims Chandra. The company does an average ticket sale of Rs 1,500 and have very low return rate which is quite a differentiator in fashion space. "Why I should be part of a network and why I should buy from it is a product related problem which Wooplr has solved."

(This article was first published in the April issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Wavy Line
Sandeep Soni

Former Features Editor

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