Anupam Mittal: The Bull Shark

In an interview with Entrepreneur India, Mittal talks about his entrepreneurial journey so far, what he looks for before investing in a startup and more

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‘An Accidental Entrepreneur’. That’s what founder and CEO of People Group, Anupam Mittal likes to call himself. 

The accidental entrepreneur, however, went on to launch many businesses such as Shaadi.com, Makaan.com, Mauj Mobile and People Pictures under the People Group and also invest in around 225 startups so far.

In an interview with Entrepreneur India, Mittal, popularly today called the Shark, from Shark Tank fame, tells us how. “I was pretty happy working and living in the US. But, because I come from a business background, I suppose there was always this thing of wanting to do something of my own because my dad is a businessman and entrepreneur. So, one of these times when I lived in America, I came home to India, and I was very influenced by the consumer internet because it had really started to take shape in the mid 90s in the US. It was this shiny thing, this toy that everybody was playing with, kind of like what's happening with web 3.0 today “

During his trip, Mittal met a pandit who had come with a lot of biodata to find a match, a life partner, for him. But he thought it kind of limited one's choice of a life partner. So, he thought why not just put this on the internet and take away all the geographical and spatial limitations. This is how the idea of Shaadi.com was born. He then delved deeper into the internet economy of India to launch more businesses. 

Internet's Early Days

While Mittal was keen on exploring the internet economy, he also knew that it would take a lot of time for the internet to become a norm in India. “I think what happened in the west and what happened in India are very different tales of internet adoption. In the US, the internet started in the mid-90s and very quickly, internet service providers emerged, and they did a tremendous job at marketing the benefits of the internet and the US is also a very technology-forward country. And so they started adopting, and they didn't have the last mile issue that we had. For them, landline internet was pretty ubiquitous. Every home had landline internet either through the phone line or through a cable network," he said. 

He further added that in India, most people didn't have a telephone line in their homes and because India was a low-income country, internet connection was also very expensive. “From 2000 to 2010, every year we used to think this was the breakout year for the internet. But frankly, what happened was, it was barely growing. In 2000, there were maybe 10 million internet users or collections. And in 2009, there was only 20% or 30% more," he said, adding that this led to entrepreneurs launching multiple businesses to reach more users. 

He explained how the internet in India is just three-four years old. “Two changes happened. By 2014-15, 3G started to take off and so you saw the first wave of internet users, going from maybe 10-15 million users to 40-50 million users. Once 3G became a thing, the bigger wave came with the Jio dramatically dropping the prices of data. And that's when internet really became affordable and ubiquitous. So, I think India's journey in terms of internet adoption has not been as rapid as the West because of affordability and accessibility issues,” he said.  

A Founder For Founders

Mittal is one of the few founders in the startup ecosystem who has seen the success and failure of many businesses and had the first-hand experience of meeting many entrepreneurs over a period of more than two decades. Talking about the changes he has seen in the ecosystem over the years, he said, “Founders are fundamentally restless. People who have a passion and are very stubborn. Junoon, jidd and jigyasa, that is something those founders who started a business then and those starting out now have in common. We also have jugaad in our genes, which makes us hustlers." 

The differences, he feels are, that founders today are a lot hungrier as they are younger. "They start out in their 20s and when you're in your 20s you're invincible. You feel like you can take on the world and nothing can break you. That makes you very hungry. The other thing is the infrastructure. You have everything in place, technology, delivery systems, payment systems and others as there is a massive internet user base. More than 70 per cent of our payments used to come by cheque or cash that was collected from people's homes," he said.

The last and biggest change, according to Mittal, is the access to capital. "I think people understand now that if you have a good idea, you can demonstrate your ability to succeed. Capital is not a problem so people can think and dream bigger. This has enabled the ecosystem and allowed a lot of founders to become very aggressive and very entrepreneurial in mindset," he said. 

Two other changes, he believes, are the availability of a big talent ecosystem, which is a plus and heavy competition, which is a minus for founders. “The talent ecosystem is finally in place. When I started out there was no concept of Product Management. I could not put out a job description of product management because nobody knew what a product manager was. User experience was a new word. So you couldn't find UX specialists. There was no front end and back end, there were only engineers. But today, challenges are many. Whatever space you go into, there are 20 people who have already raised capital," he said. 

Mittal is one of the few first angel investors in the country, but feels that they are not angels. "We are also opportunists looking for a capital.

Lastly, talking about how he cracked the investment code, he said, "Unfortunately, it's not a science, it's really an art because it doesn't matter how long you've been investing, the variables are so many that you will never even bring them down to a formula. Because not only are you betting on that founder and that space, you are also betting on the fact that other founders will not be able to beat them."

He then shared with us his T4 model, which he follows when investing. T1 is TAM, total addressable market. "It's a market. If its not there today, at least in the future should be very large. And when I say very large, I mean, it needs to be at least 8- $10 billion because when you have large markets, they're very forgiving," he said. 

The second T is the team. "Many of my successful companies are actually not the companies that started out with the model that I invested in. They are companies that eventually pivoted. So because the team was strong, they pivoted quickly," he said. 

The third is timing and the fourth is traction."But sometimes there is no traction because the company is pre-product and pre product-market fit. Then we focus on the first three."

Lastly, for Mittal, four things that matter the most in a founder are integrity, if he or she has the business acumen or can have a co-founder who does, hunger to win and perseverance. 

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