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For an entrepreneurial ecosystem to evolve, investors who take a big risk on the idea churners showcase their guts of not thinking about the fear of failure. Their eagle eyes can test the enterprising capability of an individual. To give an ode to such encouraging investors, Entrepreneur highlights the complementing factor between the two. These investors provide the best guidance whenever necessary and at the same time, give them a free hand. The ensuing pages showcase such mavericks. Read on to find out more about the fund managers who make the cut to our list this year.
(This article was first published in the December issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)
The Big Daddy of VCs - Sudhir Sethi
Sethi is a wildlife photographer apart from being one of India's most admired VCs. His search for the right entrepreneurs to invest in or the search for that perfect shot has taken him to unheard places. Though all investments were by design; nothing for him is by chance. Sethi recalls his most popular exit, Myntra whose founder Mukesh Bansal he met in Bengaluru in 2000. "I was waiting for him when I met his team who were enthusiastic about what they were doing. Then Mukesh walks in and says hi. Seeing that I think half my mind was made up that if everything else goes well I must back this gentleman," recalls Sethi. Showcasing the way forward for the industry Sethi states, "The broader thrust for at least us in the next five years is definitely IPO because we have queues of companies lined up for that." Newgen Software is the latest to file for an IPO. About 40-42 per cent of capital in the current fund is formed by the Indian family offices.
The People’s First Investor - Vikram Godse
One of the oldest venture capital (VC) firms in the US, Mayfield, which primarily focuses on early-stage to growth-stage investments in enterprise and consumer technology companies, entered India in 2006. The fund's India arm is spearheaded by Godse, who comes from a hardcore investment domain having been a founding member of JM Financial Investment Managers. Despite his long stint in the investment domain, Godse found it as a new challenge at Mayfield to hunt for innovative start-ups. "You are as good as the entrepreneur you invest in, in this business. But we do believe in being part of good consortiums and thus the right team dynamics is important for us," says Godse. And what does the investor think about VCs exerting too much control over the ventures they invest in? "As a firm, we don't do control deals. If at all there are areas of doubts, the solution is working with them and not exerting control," he says
Blooming the Start-up Ecosystem - Karthik Reddy
Blume Ventures is known to be a maverick fund. When Reddy cofounded Blume, he thought of things differently. The venture took large number of bets rather than some concentrated ones, which is similar to the US-style of seed fund investing. When asked how he manages more than 100 investments in his portfolio, Reddy replies, "All my entries are pre-series A and all of them have almost similar sets of problems. So when we come, we are the most significant of all investors and entrepreneurs seek our guidance." About 12 to 14 businesses, Reddy says are doing pretty well and will be soon turning profitable. Some of his star investments include GreyOrange, RailYatri, Belong, Zopper, etc. Reddy is confident about his focus on business which are tech heavy. "What we have realized that these are 'dhanda' businesses. Half is 'dhanda', half is tech," states Reddy.
When we talk about start-ups, a Paytm or Flipkart will find a mention before Hector Beverages (makers of Paperboat) or Sula Wines. Brands which are truly making the international market sit up and take notice. Tech start-ups have their own charm with high level valuation. On the other hand, product based businesses are looked upon as investment heavy options as huge amount of money goes into product development, sample production, marketing and sales efforts. Moreover, finding capital for production and distribution is never easy. But going by the global trend, the consumer habits of the millennial is changing pretty rapidly. They find big brands boring and constantly explore the new. This behavior has given birth to several tangible products which make the world look at India. These companies don’t play on tech to be disruptive; they focus on building innovative products. Whether it is Raw Pressery giving us cold pressed juices or an Epigamia introducing Indians to yogurt being looked as a snack, new-age concepts like men’s personal grooming or organic babycare products – these start-ups are giving tough competition to the biggest FMCG players. With transparent ingredients and smart packaging, these start-ups are better positioned than their established but conservative counterparts. The future will further see M&As in this space, as start-ups tend to eat into established players’ market share. Today, Indian consumers are willing to pay a premium price for healthier products. And investing on this trend, VC funding on consumer companies has shot up significantly this year. The year 2018 and beyond look even healthier with money flowing from tech to non-tech or the consumer space. Giving perspective to this, Abhishek Kabra, Director, Samara Capital shares, “To create the best consumer product companies standardization and best practices come along with it. Unless you crack that model, you tend to remain a regional player. These skill set don’t naturally come to an entrepreneur. It is more of a team work and requires more expertise. When we enter, some of these things are not well thought through.” Finding an out-of-touch industry has been the mantra for most of the investors. Sequoia India has a dedicated team focusing only on consumer brands, however, when reached out for the story they declined to comment. Last year, a total of $427 millionn of funds have gone into consumer companies. Entrepreneur spoke to some of the leading consumer focused funds which share why it is the trend to watch out for.
Betting On The Next Big Thing - Deepak Shahdadpuri
For Deepak Shahdadpuri the move from tech to non-tech has been more out of chance rather than by choice. Shahdadpuri used to work for a hardcore tech fund in London when he came to India to look for some tech deals. He found the space to be very competitive with too many funds focused on one sector. However, he was amazed to see the huge opportunity India offered. He looked at Sula Wines. The second deal he did was Cleartrip, which is a tech company. “For some businesses technology is relevant for some it is totally irrelevant. I looked at business models,” shares Shahdadpuri . Today, he invests in categories that are commonplace in developed markets. Speaking further on this, he says, “My thinking sort of moved very significantly when I moved to India in 2006 and lived here for the next six years.” Incidentally while he was in India, Shahdadpuri had his second child and he struggled to find basic child care products which are easily available in London or Singapore. He says, “The excuse that India doesn’t have the technology or the raw material doesn’t exist. They had the best raw materials but not the products. Over the years, things have changed. Modern retail is finally happening at a pace I would like and Indians now have the opportunity to browse.” Secondly, consumption habits of the younger generation have changed massively. Anyone who is 25 or under and living in a tier 1 city is well aware of the global trends and averse to buying big brands. This is a trend both in the US and the UK. “They want to push away big brands as they see them as lazy, un-innovative and in India, there is a huge opportunity in such categories where there was no incumbent,” he adds. He realized this in 2004 when he did Sula. In 2012, people thought it was crazy to start a consumer focused fund. But for Shahdadpuri, it’s very important to specialize. He invests in companies at a very early stage, sometimes even before they have a product. He says, “Anuj of Raw (Pressery) already had a brand and a product. He was selling a fantastic product with two-day shelf life. It was more about what technology do we use to grow it, etc. On the other side, there is Veeba where we agreed to invest in Viraj before the company was incorporated.” As per Shahdadpuri in 1999, he realised India was changing as the Manmohan Singh government helped the markets to open up. He was fortunate to get to know many young entrepreneurs. On his second day he met Rajeev Samant, who had quit his job to come back to India. Sula was not even ready. They became friends immediately and said let’s set up a world class factory. Shahdadpuri asked how much money you need. That’s’ how he started his first fund on his own. He had a small exit from Veeba and from mswipe. Over the last few years, he invested in seven to eight companies a year. This year looks like it is going to be eight. After investing in early stage, Deepak sells it to another fund or a strategic partner. Post that, he will go and find the next brand to build.
Moving From Tech To Non-Tech - Ash Lilani
Started in 2006, Saama Capital’s first investment was Sula Wines. Subsequently, it went on investing in Veeba, Chai Point and Moms Co. Lilani believes that Indians as consumers are evolving and expects them to be more aspirational, more conscious of the quality of the product and the ingredients used. “We wanted to be at the cusp of this transformation and we believe that India is going to be ready for this phase soon,” shares Lilani. Initially, the fund used to do both tech enabled and consumer investments. But, with their second fund they focused more towards consumer investments. Sula and Satya Paul are two of their initial investments. With Sula they also saw a successful exit. Talking about the stage of investment and categories, Lilani says, “We like to come in early which is Series A & B. It could be Rs three million as the first cheque but we continue to do follow on investments. We like to do food related products, supply chain, retail of course and lots of personal care.” Comparing tech and non-tech, Lilani says, “I feel the mortality rate in consumer space is much lower so it’s less risky. Still more people are interested in coming at the growth stage rather than seed stage.”
Firing Up The Food Space - Kanwaljit Singh
While Kanwaljit Singh was with Helion, he was already dabbling in the consumer space with investments like Hector Beverages and iD Fresh. Singh claims those to be positive experiences and a er he le Helion in 2015, he started investing his own money in companies like Epigamia and Mama Earth. When some of these trends started becoming more mature he decided to raise a fund, Fireside Ventures which till now has made ve to six investments. Talking about his maiden fund, he says, “We are an early stage consumer brand focused fund. The total fund size is Rs 300 crore.” Comparing tech with non-tech, he says, “In consumer space, we are looking at pro tability of a business model. These companies require less capital to reach that point of traction. Our aim is to build the foundation for a growth business.” Talking about the potential exits in this space, Singh claims that a lot of big FMCG companies have started realizing they should acquire a growing company rather than manage everything in-house. He adds, “Acquisition is one of the exit opportunities. Some of the large private equity players have bought out equity investors and further helped them to take it to IPO.” Marico acquiring majority stake in Beardo was one such cases. As an investor, Singh has much clarity on businesses he doesn’t want to invest in. He says, “We stay away from companies which are high burn and grow too fast, ” adding, “Rather I look for attractiveness of the space and quality of entrepreneurs. High pedigree, great education and 8-10 years of experience in market are few qualities the entrepreneur should have.” Sharing his thoughts he concludes, “Consumer opportunity combined with retail access and digital platforms, you can build brands, engage the audience. The growth in last two years has been tremendous. There has been increasing interest of investors in this space. Even family o ces and LPs are interested in it. It is not just the avor of the season but it is also a long term trend.”
The Humble VC - Deepak Gaur
Gaur is among the most hidden or least talked about master fund managers of Indian venture and growth capital ecosystem. Having been with Asia's leading fund SAIF Partners for more than 11 years, investments though didn't happen by chance to him. "I happened to be in investing because it seemed like a good transition from consulting but now over time I like it very much," he asserts. Gaur was earlier part of McKinsey & Company working in consumer products/ services, IT, telecom sector etc. For him, though investing is the most exciting phase of his career because first, it is very complex and unpredictable compared to engineering and consulting and the learning involved is very exciting. Second, one cannot hide his/ her performance. "It is a very long term game and if you have done good deals your performance will speak for itself. There is no way you can position your way to success," says Gaur. Third is because there is long term orientation. "It is a field where it provides very strong intellectual diversity but results come up when you stay invested for a long time," he adds.
The Vigilant Mentor - Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital
Kola is one of India's most prominent fi gures in India's VC ecosystem. She ventured into the investor side after spending more than two decades as an entrepreneur and got involved in the start-up ecosystem when it was still in its infancy. Started in September, the $150 million fund has grown on to secure $650 million worth of investment assets under Kola's leadership, much of which she often credits to the entrepreneurs and the products they built over the years. "I do believe we celebrate funding too much. Instead, we should celebrate products and customer successes," she recently said at a press event. Kola stresses on the need for ventures to innovate to get at par with global players. "We need to move from a knowledge economy to an innovation economy," she adds.
The Nexus For Entrepreneurs - Sandeep Singhal
Like most of the vibrant investors, Singhal's is also an entrepreneur turned VC story. In fact he is a VC-cum-entrepreneur turned VC. The 1987 Stanford graduate dabbled in multiple roles for next 12 years before co-founding eVentures India, an early stage venture fi rm to fi ll the gap in risk capital availability. While at eVentures India, he also founded a healthcare outsourcing company - Medusind Solutions in 2002 and exited from it in 2005. At Nexus that he co-founded in 2006, Singhal held a portfolio of around 13 investments including health app Lybrate, agri-logistics company Sohan Lal Commodity Management, ethnic e-tailer Craftsvilla etc. Among the few must-have for entrepreneurs according to Singhal includes, "First, whether the entrepreneur is passionate about a particular thing. Second, whether he/she has a sense of purpose in doing things in a better way. Third, they must know how to sell their idea. And fourth, they should have the ability to listen to the questions before jumping on to answering them," says Singhal.
Third Generation Investor - Niren Shah
Shah's fi rst brush with investments was during his college days when he spent most of time at Bombay Stock Exchange reading balance sheets. "My grandfather and father were stock market investors. To that extent, I am the third generation investor," quips Shah. His more than 10 year run at NVP began in 2007 when he moved back to India. "NVP offered me to experience both and set up in its India offi ce. Also the cultural fi t was great." He claims that each NVP's member adds entrepreneurial perspective to investment. "We don't do many deals and that helps us engage deeply with entrepreneurs," asserts Shah enjoying his investor stint. "Investor is like a bottle of good wine, as it ages it gets better as you learn a lot," he adds.
The Founder First Investor - Avnish Bajaj
The Venture Builder - K Ganesh
Ganesh is among the most revered stalwarts in the modern history of Indian entrepreneurship. He kicked off his journey as the chief executive officer of Bharti British Telecom and then launched and exited four ventures including IT&T, CustomerAsset, Marketics and TutorVista. His multifold success has earned him the tag of a premium mentor for whom ideating new businesses and finding entrepreneurs, who can run the show, comes easily. He does that through his venture building platform, GrowthStory, that has churned out start-ups like Big Basket, Bluestone, FreshMenu etc. During exits from portfolio companies, it can be tough for a mentor-cuminvestor to wear both the hats. However, Ganesh thinks that it is perfectly fine for an investor to be a mentor, as the investor has deep interest in the success of the company. But, "At times, there are situations where there might be conflict or differing views of an investor who has fiduciary responsibility towards taking care of his investments," he explains.
The Software Evangelist - Sharad Sharma
Sharma has championed the growth of software product start-ups in India. The former serial entrepreneur and head of Yahoo India's research and development wing, Sharma is among the most prolific angels in India. He knows the difference between mentoring and managing the team and the product. "Being a proxy entrepreneur is the best you can do with start-ups," he says. The first rule of being a founder, he adds, is to listen to everyone but do what you feel is right. "Investors are going to thrive on giving entrepreneurs different advices, so that they can freely choose among them," asserts Sharma.
Second Innings - Sanjeev Aggarwal
Aggarwal is the earliest crop of technology entrepreneurs who founded Daksh in 2000, pioneer in business process outsourcing and exited successfully in 2004. "At Daksh, I figured out my intrinsic potential of building businesses from scratch and then scale it rapidly," he claims. He got to do the same with multiple businesses at early stage fund Helion Venture Partners. After 11 years, he feels that the need of the ecosystem is different now and he wants to fulfil the gap with his new fund Fundamentum (co-founded with Nandan Nilekani). "Fundamentum is about scaling up companies as start-up ecosystem is now well established," he adds. And Aggarwal doesn't feel tired too. "India is a good start-up nation but it has yet to emerge as a scale up nation," adds Aggarwal.
The Entrepreneur’s Best Friend - Parag Dhol
The proud redBus investor Dhol has spent around 24 years in VC and PE industry. Post his MBA in 1993, he worked at funds like ICICI Venture, GE Equity and Intel Capital before co-heading Inventus India office in 2008. While the team, attractive and scalable market and a competitive advantage that the company has is what Dhol looks at but as the growth picks up, the bet is as much on the entrepreneur as on the business. "Out of 21 companies, we regret backing only around two entrepreneurs," adds Dhol. For him and most other investors, the job is to generate alternative solutions for any problem. When it comes to exits, again the team and entrepreneur come in his sight. "We invest in a team that can take business all the way to any type of exit like M&A or an IPO in an extra ordinary case. So exits happen at the desire of the entrepreneur," he explains.
The Eternal Optimist - Mohandas Pai
Former Infosys's Chief Financial Officer, investor, advisor, philanthropist, critique of public policies and businesses and noted startup evangelist, Mohandas Pai is an unequivocal believer in the rise of entrepreneurship and particularly technology entrepreneurship. He likes to cut across the eyebrows raised around the potential of Indian entrepreneurs to go big over last 12-18 months. "The next generation in tech entrepreneurship has a certain world view and they are not afraid to dilute their stake and are ready to go global. The risk capital is available. So the educated middle class has seen an upsurge. Failure is not a bad word in India now," asserts Pai. But he is cognizant of the fact that gross merchandise value led business model is a flawed strategy and entrepreneurs are bound to fail sooner or later as cash flow squeezes. "Whether you are a start-up or a physical store, you need to have a business strategy," says Pai underpinning the significance of frugality in business. "Indian start-ups must learn to manage with fewer resources because they don't have that or the money like in Silicon Valley. Indian companies are very innovative but that innovation should be based on technology, customer experience and frugal engineering and frugal costs," he concludes.
Mr Dependable - Sarath Naru
There cannot be any debate on the fact that the founding team and top management team are the most important reason behind a company's success. However, Sarath Naru, Managing Partner, Ventureast, unabashedly says that he still does not know how to make that final call. "Though we do go through the process of spending a lot of time with them, we still comeback short when it finally comes to understanding whether these entrepreneurs are able to deal with challenges," Naru shares adding,"We shouldn't lose our faith in the entrepreneur." But as investor, he has learnt however smart you might think you are, you are guaranteed to miss out sometimes, "Using a collaborative approach in order to achieve the best is important," says Naru.
The AI Fanatic - Manish Singhal
Singhal has been on the hardware side of the technology, developing products on the cutting edge. For instance, he designed hardware for India's first global positioning system in 1992-93 for the Indian Army working at Tata Elxsi. Singhal left Slingbox - TV streaming media company in 2010 to look at supporting product companies as a mentor. He began investing in 2012 with renewable energy company Ecosense Sustainable Solutions and co-founded deal making platform LetsVenture in 2013. "I saw the early stage investment scene pretty broken and entrepreneurs didn't know where to go. It was a lopsided ecosystem and so we started LetsVenture," he says. But he realized need for decent amount of capital to back start-ups he believed in which could happen via a fund. "I invested in logistics automation start-up Locus. sh which got me thinking that how AI and ML can solve real problems and so I launched pi Ventures that focuses on companies in AI, ML and Internet of Things," adds Singhal. His biggest learning is about people as ultimately investors bet on people though mistakes are not avoidable. "We cannot ensure about the people but we can increase our probabilities by doing one-on-one with the founders and then working closely to understand and give them right guidance and don't come in their way," he asserts.
Betting On The Future - Rehan Yar Khan
Unlike most Silicon Valley labelled VCs in India, Rehan Yar Khan is a 'Made in India' VC, who was among the early investors in Ola Cabs at a time when investors were not too keen on software product startups. Today, Khan's bet has paid off with more VCs taking interest in the opportunity, and Ola becoming one of the most value start-ups in India. In fact most of Khan's investments, be it in his early years in angel capacity or through his venture fund Orios Venture Partners, has attracted huge sums of follow-on funding from marquee VC firms like Accel Partners, Sequoia Capital, Tiger, Matrix Partners and Inventus. Khan's latest interest like most futuristic VCs is AI and IoT enabled businesses for which he sees a huge growth opportunity here. "In five years, AI could exist as a layer of capability atop every business and consumer process, from customer service and marketing to product development and sales, across every industry," said the investor in a social media post. "The overall investment in AI should follow this upward trajectory in the coming years and is likely to be a popular area of investment for tech-savvy venture capital firm," he added. Orios, based out of Mumbai has raised close to $200,000,000 in two phases, and invested in close to 20 companies so far. It's biggest and most controversial exit has been Zo Rooms which ultimately shut shop.
The Veteran Startup Man - Kris Gopalakrishnan
Infosys started by seven passionate engineers' in1981, is still India's most successful start-up story and has a market value of nearly $42 billion today--more than the combined estimated worth of India's start-up unicorns. Having been one of the founding members of the company, the zeal to help budding startups came naturally to Kris Gopalakrishnan. "Times may have changed as technology is more connected now and there is a wider scope for finance, but the fundamentals remain same," said the ex-Infosys founder at a press event. The IT veteran along with his fellow Infy co-founder SD Shibulal started Axilor Ventures out of Bengaluru to help seed stage companies grow and make them ready for the market. The venture invests in companies in both pre-seed and seed stages, shelling out anywhere between Rs 25 lakh to Rs 3 crore and effectively. Being from the IT domain, naturally the fund invests in tech-first companies particularly in deeptech, enterprise tech and consumer tech as well. Another Infosys? Despite a growing start-up ecosystem fostering in the country, and some billion dollar valuations by a handful of start-ups like Flipkart and Ola, the success wave enjoyed by Infosys is yet to be seen. "I believe it will," said Gopalakrishnan. "This is the fourth wave of start-ups that we are witnessing right now and I am confident that we as an ecosystem can create multibillion dollar companies from among this lot," he said.
The Early Backer Sasha Mirchandani
Onida Group's scion, Mirchandani, better known for his Mumbaibased early stage investment firm, Kae Capital, puts his life into three buckets - joining his family business, working as a professional and turning entrepreneur. Investments though, weren't out of choice. "During the dotcom era, for all the wrong reasons I wanted to invest in a dotcom comparison website because of the greed to make quick money," he remembers. To see an outof-college entrepreneur go through all the struggles and succeed - brings him the greatest joy. "I don't say that I changed their lives. No one works harder than the entrepreneur," he adds. Mirchandani believes in backing entrepreneurs who are proactive because, "proactive people win in life."
The Impact Pioneer - Vineet Rai
Rai is among the earliest and most recognized names in India's impact investment space. Having started the fund Aavishkaar in 2001 and Intellecap in 2002, Rai draws the line between the social and unsocial businesses. "There is nothing unsocial because even Facebook or anything on the Internet, is the new social." The most important thing for Rai to bet on an entrepreneur is his/her core understanding of the idea. However, to have that understanding is also a challenge. "If you are a first generation entrepreneur with a significant corporate background then it would be very difficult for you. This is because the business you worked in already had systems and processes in place in contrast to setting up of those systems and processes while starting up," says Rai.
The First Lady of Angel Ecosystem - Padmaja Ruparel
Ruparel is the most recognized face when it comes to women in the angel ecosystem. She launched India's biggest angel network - Indian Angel Network (IAN) in 2006 along with ace angel investors including Saurabh Srivastava and VC-turned-entrepreneur, Alok Mittal. "There was a gap in the funding ecosystem between few lacs to around half a million and that became the fertile ground for IAN to start," remembers Ruparel. And it ain't any job for her. Over the last 11 years, investing in start-ups has become her passion. "To me, the power of seed stage investing class and start-up ecosystem is beyond just an activity. For me, it is a cause and a passion and it is life changing," she asserts.
Measuring Depth of Impact - Ruchira Shukla
Shukla is an old timer at International Finance Corporation, leading its investments in South Asia region beginning with infrastructure, followed by technology, media and telecom. Since 2015, Shukla has been heading venture capital investments across sectors. "We like businesses that show strong path to profitability and at the same time have great impact on the society in terms of job creation, healthcare and other social needs," says Shukla. Since last few months, IFC has started investing in early stage start-ups and will be increasing its support to entrepreneurs at that stage. While every business has a social angle from job creation perspective but Shukla is particular about the depth of impact. "More often than not there is an impact because every investment creates employment and solves some problems but if we find the depth or the nature of that impact is not deep then we don't invest."
The Venture Debt Builder - Rahul Khanna
Khanna became the name behind structured venture debt financing in India after he founded his venture debt fund - Trifecta Capital in 2014. By then, he had already spent more than 20 years of professional life and seen different sides of table including corporate, VC and a significant part of the start-up ecosystem. Trifecta Capital is what he wants to emerge as his legacy. "I realized that Indian investors had never built an asset class around structured debt. Creating venture debt as a new asset class has been my biggest achievement," says Khanna. In 2004, Khanna came back to India to start a virtual network operator but that was "5 or 10 years ahead of its time," he adds. I approached Future Group's Chief Executive Officer, Kishore Biyani, for fund. "With lot of trepidation I asked for Rs 10 crore and he said ok. I felt it to be ridiculous that he agreed just on the business plan. But I was told that he wanted to own 90 per cent of it. So I thanked him and said that if I wanted a job, I would work for a multinational," remembers Khanna. So, he decided to explore VC in 2005. Khanna convinced US-based fund, Clearstone Venture Advisors, to allow him to set up India office. In 2011, he joined India arm of the US fund Canaan Partners.
The Restless VC - Anand Lunia
Lunia has been a restless soul from the beginning. While at ICICI, he "Was restless at job and couldn't contain myself into it," he says. And the brightest option he had for him at that time was to join his batchmates into launching an education company in 1999 called Brainvisa. In 2003, his restless side again got the better of him. "I didn't want to continue with a small business," he adds. Pravin Gandhi, Founder of Seedfund, later pulled Lunia into Seedfund in 2007. "I started enjoying venture capital and found it to be my personal calling," adds Lunia. But he moved out of Seedfund later to set up India Quotient after Gandhi retired. His eventual goal is to change the VC industry. Here, impact would be more important than deal quantity and amount of capital. "I think of creating a meaningful impact rather than thinking of being the number one VC," maintains Lunia. One such impact creation was the India Quotient Bootcamp - a no equity and no contract program to support entrepreneurs - launched in 2013.
The Archangel - Sanjay Mehta
Mehta is among the archangels of early stage investment in India. A full time angel investor, he has been a first generation serial entrepreneur with two successful exits. Mehta became an angel because it gave him the opportunity for proxy entrepreneurship and mentoring, being close to the technology disruption, leveraging network, creating wealth and last but not the least satisfaction to be part of a unicorn from India. The biggest bet by Mehta remains OYO Rooms. "I invest in teams which have the capabilities to run business and not just build products. So this allows me to overlook start-ups at a macro level," says Mehta.
The Leading ‘Angel’ - Chandni Jafri
Media research and buying veteran in India, Jafri has helped brands such as Madison, TV18, Getty Images and VCCircle from their hey days. She joined one of India's most recognized angel networks - Mumbai Angels early last year. "I got exposed to the investment ecosystem by virtue of setting up new divisions. By the time I worked at out-ofhome media brand VJIVE Networks and VCCircle, I built lot of contacts in PE and VC ecosystem," she recalls. What Mumbai Angels does is aligned to what Jafri wanted to do - a community/collaborative way to invest and help startups scale." Mumbai Angels last year started a series of knowledge and mentoring sessions called Angel Investing MasterClass. This is one of a kind in India by an investment firm or network. "Nobody wants to tell you on how to become a better angel investor and what kind of risk and rewards to anticipate. I am here to set every one up for success including angel investors, entrepreneurs and others," claims Jafri.
In the Spot‘light’ - Sandeep Murthy
Murthy always wanted to be, "Around things that are different and cool and he realized that tech is where a lot of that would be happening," he says. He pursued engineering and later got into investment banking at Credit Suisse for technology companies. In 2000, he launched Unsurface. "We were incubated by the American music company Sony Music to create a virtual digital living room. But soon the tech bubble burst and Sony bought over whatever technology we had," adds Murthy. He later dabbled into food business and later joined media and Internet company InterActive Corp in New York. He moved back to India in 2005 to join early stage fund Sherpalo Ventures. Post his around eight-year stint at the company, Murthy co-founded consumer Internet fund Lightbox Ventures in 2014. "Being an investor allows me to work like an entrepreneur. I have the best job in the world," he said. In December last year, the fund raised $54 million.
VC Calling - Sanjay Randhar
Randhar served at the State Bank of India for 21 years before switching to private equity and capital markets in 2006. But that's not what he wanted to do. His foray into VC market in 2015 happened with Gujarat Venture Finance Limited. "As a mechanical engineer I never thought of being in the finance sector, it was an accident," he says. And he loves every bit of it. "I also thought of being an entrepreneur but being an investor is like being a proxy entrepreneur," adds Randhar. The two years at GVFL has given him more kick than what he did in 30 years. "This is because in VC every day is different with different challenges, strategy development and execution. This is more interesting than doing anything in commodity markets," he asserts. The best part about GVFL, mentions Randhar is its deeply entrenched understanding about the ecosystem. "GVFL has been investing in start-ups since the time when it wasn't even the buzzword." It currently invests from its sector agnostic start-up fund.
The Rational Investor - Apurva Damani
Unlike other private equity investors, Damani works in family-office culture along with her brothers, Anirudh and Animesh. Her job at Artha is to manage the firm's portfolio of more than 50 companies in India and the US along with deploying capital into 12-15 new ventures every year. For Damani, investment did not have happen by chance. "Making the decision to invest is a choice, as is choosing not to invest," she says. For Artha, if the investor has taken the role of a lead or mentor in the start-up, then it is their duty to be involved in the business. "They should actively monitor the start-up, conduct periodic meetings, nurture them and help them plan," she adds. For example, Damani shares that Artha conducts surprise audits at their startups to confirm the veracity of their statements. "We conduct monthly meetings and quarterly visits to their premises to ensure that they are on track."
The Accidental VC - Amit Anand
Anand always wanted to be an entrepreneur. He launched his animation and gaming company Ettamina Studios in 2006 but it shut down in 2009. His journey as a VC eventually began in 2010 with Jungle Ventures. But, even today, he calls himself the accidental VC. "I wasn't even fully aware of what VC means until 2008," he says. Anand believes mentorship comes before money. In fact, he treats himself to be more of a mentor than a VC because he says, "Those who fail become mentors and those who succeed become investors."
The Gen-X Investor - Pranav Pai
Being Mohandas Pai's son, the business and entrepreneurial streak came naturally to Pai. But he did not want to be known as just Jr Pai. Even though he started his investment streak on a personal capacity and assisting Aarin Capital, the fund co-founded by his father, he knew his strengths and wanted to carve a niche for himself. "I will never be Dr Mohandas Pai, I am Pranav Pai and want to be known as that. He has his own list of achievements which I can't match, but I too have my skill set which he is not familiar with," says Pai. Managing the fund with his younger brother Siddharth Pai, he feels it's too early to compare the investment ecosystem for startups in India to that of the US. However, India is doing better than expected. "US has always been a capital intensive country. Our goals and priorities should be different," he says. He, however, feels the limelight on VC funds and start-up funding depends purely on the numbers, which takes away the focus from the actual work being done. "I believe it's important to work in the background rather than make much noise. We have done that from the beginning and want to continue that way," he concludes.
The Futuristic VC - Varsha Tagare
Tagare heads Qualcomm Ventures's $150 million India fund. With over 20 years of operating and venture capital experience in Silicon Valley and India, she believes that Indian start-up ecosystem is just getting started. "It is difficult to compare the ecosystem here to other geographies. Rather we should compare where we are right now versus the situation 10 years ago," she said at a press event. Tagare also feels start-ups need to move beyond the typical e-commerce model, which has floored the ecosystem to an extent that many of them had to shut shop in 2016. "Technologies like mobile and IoT are forward looking and the quality of entrepreneurs among these companies has significantly gone up" she said. Investing in India since 2007, Qualcomm Ventures globally has over $500 million in assets under its management.
The Mentor-Investor - Amit Somani
One of India's oldest VC funds, Prime Ventures, which started off as Angel Prime, has come to specialize in funding incubation stage and seed stage start-ups. With just one shutdown and one exit, Somani feels elated about the fund reaching a stage where they have been able to identify some unique business models. He earlier had successful leadership stints at MakeMyTrip, Google and IBM. "Funding is just the beginning. Investors need to be mentors at least till the venture is able to gain substantial ground. This is a major reason why we like picking up ideas that can be nurtured and stay with them till the pre-series round of funding," says Somani. For him, no idea is bad or wrong, but it's the timing of launch that makes the difference, especially for a market like India.
‘For Profit’ Investor - Ben Mathias
Vertex, the venture capital arm of the Singapore Government-backed investment company - Temasek, is headed in India by Ben Mathias who was previously partner at New Enterprise Associates and has been on the board of more than 10 companies. "To get picked by us, the venture has to focus on a large market-based tough problem that no one else is solving," he says. Mathias believes Vertex has been careful in not investing in business models that do not make money. "Profit making can take some time but ultimately every business has to make money," he adds. "This is the prime reason why we stay away from capital intensive models," asserts Mathias. The firm's strategic planning has led them to successfully close their third fund in South East Asia and India at $210 million, 40 per cent higher value than originally targeted.
The Anti CopyPaste Investor - Vikram Gupta
Investing in early and growth stage companies, IvyCap is the largest home-grown VC fund in India with close to Rs 300 crore of investment value. The fund was launched by Gupta who holds over 16 years of experience in private equity, business consulting, M&A, strategy and operations believes in investing in value creation through its investments. "The first year of being an entrepreneur is the toughest. If an individual can sustain the early stages and create value with the right learning curve we are all up for it," says Gupta. But he cautions both investors and entrepreneurs about how challenging Indian market is compared to the west. "Be it a VC or an entrepreneur, they need to realize that cut, copy, paste model from the west does not work here," he says. When asked about how he deals with the fact that exits in the VC space in India have not been transcending to returns as seen in the west, he says, "The core reason for VCs to get into the game is that they exit someday as they are investing at an initial or growth stage. But the ecosystem here is new, something similar to what it was in the US some 20 years back, so VCs have to be patient and invest for a much longer term to see those kind of returns."
The Unitary Backer - Rahul Chandra
Chandra, the veteran VC at one of India's leading fund, Helion Ventures, earlier this year launched his own $100 million early-stage fund called Unitary Helion to invest in businesses in logistics, healthcare and financial services. "The focus of Unitary Helion is the marketplaces where lot of the informal trade happens which leads to transactions between businesses and consumers. This when comes to a formal marketplace, which then has access to data, it applies to multiple verticals," explains Chandra. The new fund will invest in companies which are product and data centric. Chandra meets founders three-five times that take around one-three months before cutting the cheque. In fact, he wish to speak to the entrepreneur every week, during the product market fit stage. But he doesn't believe in handholding. "At the early stage, we add value by keeping a tight discipline around growth. We break plans into shorter modules, from weekly to three months wherein our engagement is very intense," adds Chandra.
The Impact Enabler - Srikrishna Ramamoorthy
Ramamoorthy has mostly been a microfinance and impact investment guy for the last 14 years or so. In fact, he was among the founding members of perhaps India's biggest microfinance firm, Ujjivan Financial Services. Investing in impactful ideas since 2009, Ramamoorthy says that he is able to connect with entrepreneurs who show genuineness of intent, earnestness and integrity and last but not the least sense of humour. "If you are not able to laugh and laugh at yourself then challenges won't be easier to climb," he says. Ramamoorthy stresses on creating significant differentiation in what entrepreneurs do to get a great head start before competition could catch up. "Why to start a metoo where it is difficult to acquire a customer particularly in the B2C game," he says. Unitus is seeing lot of opportunities in education and fintech because it largely remains unreserved markets.
New Kid In The Block - Taizo Son
He may be known amongst many as the youngest brother of SoftBank magnate Mayaoshi Son, but over the past decade, Taizo Son has come to build a niche for himself. The Japanese serial entrepreneur and investor, who recently shifted his base to Singapore, wants to approach innovation in investment in a more holistic and long-term way. By collaborating with GSF, a leading tech accelerator founded by Rajesh Sawhney, and Infobridge, an Indo-Japan business consultancy, he launched "Gastrotope", a new Agrifood tech accelerator in India. On being asked why he chose a sector like agri-tech he said, "I feel, globally India has the potential to make the biggest impact in this space with the help of innovative technologies." He is currently the CEO of Mistletoe, a company that he founded in 2013 that has made over 90 investments globally that are worth $160mn. Mistletoe has made three investments in India which include Innerchef, Ninjacart and Kisan Network. He is also the founder of Japan-based mobile gaming company, GungHo, whose market value in 2013 was $10.4 billion.
The Unintentional Angel The Emerging Investor - Anand Ladsariya
Ladsariya, 59-yearold promoter of Everest Flavours (manufacturer and exporter of various fragrances and flavours) began angel investment around nine years back. But that wasn't intentional. "I started liking the energy and dreams of the youngsters. Being a first generation entrepreneur myself, I know how businesses can grow if the founders' are responsible and work with passion," he says. Five things, he says, that an entrepreneur must have includes - first, passion, a quality and that drives the founder and his team; second, the business, its ability to scale and market size; third, whether the founder can execute everything and actualize the idea; fourth, the possibility of exit or whether business would raise next round of funding and fifth, not to put too much faith on any idea as these are high risk investments. Moreover, once invested, Ladsariya is happy to have one meeting per quarter with entrepreneurs unless they want to meet him for mentoring or guidance. "I don't keep a track of my companies on a day-to-day or weekly basis. For me once in a quarter meeting is more than enough," he adds.
The Emerging Investor - Prasad Vanga
After being an entrepreneur and a business transformation coach for almost 18 years, Vanga decided to foray into venture investing and founded Anthill Ventures with Sailesh Sigatapu and Doug Shinsato. Wanting to bridge the gap between accelerators and angel investor, he decided to focus on investing in several aspects of a venture including early-stage market positioning, sales partnering, technology refinements and metric management investments. "For us it's less about investing and more about scaling up the companies. Contrary to the popular belief, money is not the most important criteria for scaling up. It is the team composition and the go-to market strategy that a start-up has to scale up," he says. But does it not amount to too much interference with the venture, a trait VCs are often accused of. "It really depends on the stage that you invest in. The late-stage ventures don't need your guidance. It is important to coach the new entrants so that they make the right moves," he says. Anthill's fund has been operational for almost three years now, and has invested in 21 ventures so far across India, Singapore and the US.