Category Archives: Angel investing

Announcing the angel investor office hours in Bangalore (soon in Mumbai and Delhi as well)

How to hack your seed round in India, got 63 emails, comments and twitter messages asking me to take the post to its next logical step.

The 3 biggest issues entrepreneurs raised were:

1. They dont have the email addresses of these angel investors. Even if they did send them an email, responses were slow or went into a “black hole”.

2. The angel networks in particular have a fairly arduous process to filter, select and decide on new companies.

3. Many angel investors were not proactive in telling them what areas (sectors) they were interested in funding, so entrepreneurs could tailor their pitch to be more specific and target the right person.

I am extremely pleased to announce that in Bangalore (soon in Mumbai and Delhi as well), we will have a few of the top angel investors from IAN (working on Mumbai Angels and others as well, stay tuned) who are committing to office hours each week to meet entrepreneurs and provide them quick feedback on their funding options.

From January 2013, five of the most prolific IAN investors, Venkat Raju, Manav Garg, Nagaraj Prakasam, Sharad Sharma and Sundi Natrajan will hold monthly office hours in 2 locations – the Microsoft office at Lavelle Road and Eka Software offices in Outer Ring Road.

Update: Anil Joshi of Mumbai Angels has also agreed to host office hours in both Bangalore and Mumbai once a month.

Each session will be for 30 minutes per entrepreneur and a max of 4 entrepreneurs will be given time on a first-come-first-serve basis every month. Only one session per entrepreneur per year will be allowed.

Second, after each investment led by these investors they will write a quick note to tell us more about why they decided to invest. This will tell us more about what their thesis was, the trends they were betting on and other relevant details.

Finally each of these investors will share their investment thesis for 2013 and the sectors or areas they have expertise in or are passionate about. For example, Sharad’s an expert in Internet and advertising, whereas Sundi is passionate about education.

I am very excited that they are committing to these office hours. As entrepreneurs we will get a chance to interact with them and get their initial feedback so we can fine tune our plans and strategies to maximize our funding chances.

I do have one request: We’d like a volunteer to help program manage this effort. You should be willing to commit about 1-2 hours per week. If you are interested, please send an email to: mukund at thrisha dot com.

If you are a seed investor and you’d love to join this program, do send me an email as well.

P.S. A few folks have been asking me about other cities, such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, etc. I wont be able to commit to these investors coming to those cities, but will try and get a few more local investors from those cities to hold office hours.

Getting funded by US investors vs. Indian investors – a perspective

This is another post to force the debate. I have heard many Indian entrepreneurs say that they would rather be funded by a US investor than and Indian investor. In fact most would prefer specific Silicon Valley investors.

There are many pros and cons to both Indian and Silicon Valley investors.

Lets do the valley first.

Pros:

1. Investors move quickly. They make no decisions fast and yes decisions faster. Some companies (Cucumber town for instance) have been known to take a few days or upto a month to raise a seed round of $300K.

2. Investors are willing to invest in breakthrough ideas, instead of me-toos. In fact they have deep liking for disruptive ideas.

3. Willing to lead a round, and help you syndicate other investors.

Cons:

1. There’s tremendous deal flow. Competition to get funded by a valley investor is huge. Lots of companies that have 3 to 10 times the traction as their Indian counterparts for the same stage of company.

2. Valley investors dont like funding anything outside the valley. In fact an investor told me “I dont like to drive to the other side of the bridge (I am sure he mean Dumbarton bridge, given how close it is to Menlo Park) to fund a company”.

3. You have to move to the US (Maybe this is a pro for most Indian founders). The biggest hassle is immigration. H1B visas (working permits) are much harder now than 5 years ago.

Now lets look at India.

Pros:

1. Competition is a lot less. There are far fewer product companies in India than US. Some might even say there’s too much money in India chasing too few deals. Entrepreneur’s dont necessarily agree with that, though.

2. There are many funds raised just to invest in Indian product companies. They are willing to provide the same amount of money, as their US counterparts from as low as a few hundred thousand dollars to many millions.

3. Traction requirements are a lot less. A lot less in India. For a sapling round (assuming you raised a first seed from an accelerator or from friends and family) many companies are getting funded with far fewer customers or users than in the US.

Cons:

1. Indian investors (angel and seed) move very slowly. Slower than molasses in fat. We have a company with a 2 month old signed term sheet, that’s waiting for the money, and expects it will take 6-8 more weeks.

2. Their terms are lot more onerous and they require a higher percentage of the company during the seed round.

3. They rarely add any value after putting money into the company at the seed round, usually only asking for “3 year financial projections” when the product is in beta.

If I were an entrepreneur and I have the ability to go to the US and have some (small or otherwise) network in the valley I’d go and raise money there in a heart-beat. If my customers are primarily in the US, then I’d also consider moving there.

If I have never set foot in the US and want to stay in India or have my market here (for any number of reasons), then I’d be better off raising money in India.

What do you guys think? Did I miss any obvious pros and cons?

Why it is a LOT easier to raise seed money for your startup in India than silicon valley right now

If you are an Indian entrepreneur who is looking to raise seed funding for your startup do it now. There’s been no better time to raise money for technology product startups than this year and possibly part of next year.

I understand the issues entrepreneurs face with Indian investors in the seed & early stage. They take too much time to make a decision, they ask for too much of your company and wont fund anything pre-revenue.

There are 3 major trends that are making it easier to raise capital now than any other time.

1. The number of accelerators has grown tremendously over the last year. There are 30+ privately funded (6+ in Bangalore alone), for profit entities, who are all keen to add bigger batch sizes to their portfolio.

2. Many Venture capitalists, stung by criticism that they are not taking enough risk and are not early adopters are eager to engage with startups earlier in their evolution, and are tweaking their investment thesis to add a few more pre-revenue and pre-product stage companies to their mix.

3. Angel networks, seeing over 15+ VC’s raising over $100+ million funds to focus on India, are signing up new angel investors in droves, and expanding their footprint. 2 years ago only 3 large angel networks existed in India. Today there are 15, and each of them has over 25 angel investors and some have over 150.

Seed stage of the Indian startup ecosystem has never had so many things working for it in confluence.

The demand side of the equation is fairly consistent. Our database indicates that after the eCommerce boom of 2010 and 2011, this year has seen a modest fall in new product startups being formed, from over 700 to little over 600, which means fewer companies chasing more investment options.

Now, lets look at the valley.

1. There has been a boom in new product startups, and the competition is fierce. The number of new startups has increased from over 1700 per year in the valley alone to over 3000. As I mentioned in an earlier post, VC’s are seeing nearly 150+ companies in the SaaS market, each of whom are doing more than $1 Million in revenue. There are 2 times as many companies fighting in the valley for the same quantum of funds.

2. Venture investors, seeing the boom in the seed stage and seeing also far fewer exits are adopting a wait and see approach to series A.

3. The VC freeze on series A in the valley has led to many sapling round investments from seed and micro VC’s and super angels, who are increasingly picking and choosing the companies they put seed money in for an extension round or “sapling round”.

If you are an entrepreneur, raise your seed round NOW. Things will get more “sane” by June next year and there will be many who start to take a more cautious approach to seed stage investments.

The equation on series B in India, is not as rosy though.

Funding for eCommerce companies, many of whom raised series A at HUGE valuations last year has pretty much dried up. Most companies are doing inside series B rounds (from their existing investors) and 3 of the  CEO’s I spoke with claimed down-rounds (where valuation of this round is lower than the previous round).

The rise of the “sapling round” in technology startups

I was in the valley last week meeting with over 23 investors (primarily seed and series A stage). From Andreessen-Horowitz and Accel to Sigma ventures and True ventures, we had a chance to talk to partners who are looking at over 2000+ deals every year to invest in less than 10 (in the case of older funds) to over 50 (in the case of a16z).

While there’s lots of talk in the valley about the series A crunch and its impact on startups, I wanted to bring to attention a new (to me at least) trend that is consistent among all valley technology startups.

It is the rise of the “sapling round” of funding.

The sapling round is when a company raises between $250K to $2.5 Million, syndicated among  5-15 investors, and is largely (over 75% in the valley) a convertible round.

It is a round that is raised between the seed and the series A round.

The reason why this round is becoming more prevalent is a combination of the rise of startup incubators and accelerators and the constant “raising of the bar” among series A venture investors.

Typically the incubator puts in the first “seed” round of about $25K and provides access to another (in some cases) a $75K through its partners. In case the startup does not go through an incubator, they raise a seed round from angel list or friends and family to the tune of about $250K or less.

Then the startup goes through a 3-4 month program and before or at their demo day looks to raise another $250K to $1.5 Million in a convertible note.

Why?

1. Series A investors have raised their bar for what constitutes their round. All of the investors I spoke with would put $2M to $5M in the series A.

Sean of Emergence Capital, whose firm focuses only on SaaS companies, said he has seen in the last 11 months little over 150+ companies in SaaS with over $1 Million in revenue and they have only funded 2. Another early stage consumer Internet VC mentioned they looked at over 50+ companies with between 2.5 Million to 10 Million active users (not yet making revenue) and invested in none yet. One of the larger firms that does Cloud infrastructure investments and Big data only has seen over 20+ companies with a complete management team, over 20+ paying customers and great market traction to invest in 1.

2. Companies are realizing that “traction” alone is insufficient (in most cases) to get money from the series A investor. While product + traction will still get you a seed round, the later stage investors are looking for revenue and growth in revenue as the primary metric. There are exceptions, but they are rare.

3. Startups are realizing that its taking 12-18+ months to get to that series A, so they are raising more convertible rounds and bridge rounds until they hit those series A milestones. Even in the valley getting to $1+ Million in revenue in less than 18 months for a product startup is rare.

What does this mean for startup entrepreneurs?

1. Most entrepreneurs are in “forever raising” mode until their series A. One even called it “passively always raising” or PAR for the course. They are looking to gain one investor at a time, in chunks of $25K or looking for micro VC or super angels to put in $100K+

2. The teams are lean for longer. According to Ali at Azure Capital, most of them were at 5-10 employees shacking out of a co-working space even at $1Million in revenue.

3. There’s a big push towards breaking even with the sapling round funding, so there’s a constant battle in the entrepreneur’s mind between growth and profitability. One is considered a “safer option”, while another (growth) is what the sapling investors and series A are looking for.

What trends do I see going forward in 2013?

1. The rise of the “priced” sapling round. While most seed round are priced (6%-10% for $25K from the accelerator), and series A rounds are priced as well, the sapling investors are stuck in the middle with a convertible note. That’s definitely going to change next year as they also try to maximize their earnings.

This has major implications on startup funding. If the sapling round does get priced, then it is officially, series A. Which means the current series A investors will become series B. This is consistent with the theme that its taking less money to get to start a company and even less money to get to $1 Million in revenue, than before, so seed rounds and series A rounds will be smaller than they were 3-5 years ago.

2. Early stage VC’s will continue to raise the bar higher, forcing most startups to go for the safer option (breaking even faster, profitability) in 2013, which will lead to the “lifestyle” business discussion popping up, all over again.

3. Many convertibles will convert, without a series A, as sapling investors will try hard to look for buyers of their portfolio company among mid-sized companies in their attempt to get an exit.

P.S. The term “sapling round” was coined by one of the founders in the accelerator, Bhaskar who was at our lunch discussion yesterday when we were reviewing the implications of this trend on our startups.

Indian Accelerators are from Mars and startups are from Venus

Yesterday I was at the AngelPad demo day, invited by my friend Thomas. 12 companies presented their products & traction in a breezy 3 to 3.5 minutes per startup. Overall, super high quality of presentations and a great set of companies.

Some initial impressions.

1. Each had 12-15 slides, crisp transitions and a really good flow to their presentations. Most 90%+ teams were 2 founders, but only 1 person presented when another was standing at the front with the co founder.

2. No live demos, and the pitches had a consistent flow to them. A one sentence “what we do”, a good description of the problem and some market stats, sizing. Some even had screen shots of their product.

3. It was a packed house and I had a chance to meet (and reconnect with) over 60+ investors. Most of the investors were impressed with the presentations and also with some of the ideas themselves.

I also had a chance to meet with 9 of the 12 founders. They had really excellent follow-through and I got 7 emails this morning to schedule time for follow ups to discuss their fundraising.

I also got to ask them what they really liked about the program, the schedule and the help Angelpad provided.

Many stated Thomas’s personal involvement and his passion to help companies first. They were so happy to have his time and guidance, that they had felt privileged to have him as their mentor.

A few of them mentioned the location and some of the other mentors as the second best thing in the program, followed by the group of other startups that were in the same batch as them. They felt they were truly motivated by the other teams and a sense of camaraderie was obvious.

As part of the Microsoft accelerator we have reached out to 28 accelerators in India over the last few weeks to get everyone together for a day of best practices and sharing. The event itself is a closed door, 1 day session at Bangalore, and over 20 of them have committed to being here. Our intention was to understand how other accelerators viewed success so we can help figure out our engagement with them and startups overall.

We get many questions about our accelerator and the top one is why we don’t give startups money.

In speaking to entrepreneurs, investors and other accelerators in the US, the TOP item they felt startups need is mentorship and advice to get many things right.

In my small sample of Angelpad startups they seeme to value the same thing.

In India, most (not all) startups only value money. Its a small amount really, ($10 – $25K), but somehow that small amount seems to indicate a sense of “skin in the game”.

I can totally understand that, but for an accelerator such as ours, that small amount does not really make us committed to the startups any more than without the money.

Second, the angel networks and investors in our mentor program don’t like the fact that Microsoft puts money in at the early stage, which creates a perverse incentive for us to “get a return from our investment”.

Third it creates an issue for other strategic investors (such as Qualcomm, which has looked at one of our companies for an investment) and venture investors, who prefer clean capitalization tables.

Unlike other accelerators which are not a corporate program, the key value to Microsoft from our program is startup engagement. We take pride in engaging with the startups and are extremely happy if they are successful, but the financial return from our investment is going to be largely negligible to us. Even if 1 of the 11 startups “makes it big” and we owned 6-10% of the company when it went IPO or got acquired, it would not be a significant dent to Microsoft by any means.

I understand why most Indian startups don’t value mentorship, the space, free food, customer traction, marketing planning, PR with blogs & press, full time design help and credits on technology platform.

I have learned from Angelpad that our primary motivation should be to ensure the next batch of companies value those things more than an investment of $10K to $20K.

I understand the bar is much higher to provide mentorship to the same level as Thomas, but that’s the goal we are aiming for.

Why I am investing in 500 Startup’s India fund

Quick post since I got many emails and calls from folks asking why we (Vinita and I) are not a part of Indian Angel network or Mumbai angels but are LP’s in 500 startups India fund announced today.

We like Dave, Paul, Pankaj and their team. A lot.

We like their hands on approach to helping startups as opposed to just giving money and asking for quarterly reports.

We are thrilled they move fast and help entrepreneurs by making decisions quickly.

That’s it.

We are totally excited to participate in their India fund.

Commitment delivery percentage – an indicator of future success of startups?

Here’s an interesting new term for entrepreneurs to be aware of – Commitment delivery percentage. I dont know for sure but I think in a year from now, most startups will start to follow this metric more seriously than others. Some investors are already claiming this metric to be the #1 indicator of future success of startups.

At the Microsoft Accelerator in Bangalore, there are 11 companies in our current batch (Sep to Dec). Every week I send our reports to all our mentors with the weekly commitments that startups have signed up for and how many of them have met their commitments.

Since startup discipline is something I am very passionate about, it goes without saying that I track everything at the accelerator.

Commitments fall into 2 buckets – product and customer. Overall we focus on 3 areas in the accelerator – Product development, Customer development and Revenue development, but initially revenue development is largely ignored since most folks are building MVP and getting early adopters.

Each of these 2 buckets of commitments is not something the startup comes up with alone in a vacuum.  I typically discuss the commitments at our weekly all hands and it is a fairly public affair. While some teams try to lower the bar for their commitments, most are aggressive with what they commit to.

Product commitments are delivery of new set of features, versions or changes per a customer / early adopters requirement. Since many companies have mobile or web applications, most startups at the accelerator become customers of other startups so the feedback loop is quick and immediate.

Customer commitments are a combination of # downloads (if mobile app), or active users, engaged users or user feedback. Since I fundamentally believe that nothing’s possible without customer’s (who have a problem) at a startup, most companies have customer commitments from the first week. During the early days it was mostly meeting customers to get feedback and showing mockups, wireframes, etc.

The weekly report I send out to all mentors (currently over 70 folks) are to people who are committed to helping these startups and are engaged with them every week, either making introductions or reviewing progress and trying their product.

As with most reports, I can tell quickly who has read the report and who has not. On average 30 mentors (less than 50%) read the reports each week. They dont take more than 5 min to read and review.

Most of the investor mentors were reading the reports (of the 13 investor mentors, 8 were diligent and even asking questions every week to clarify certain points).

Over breakfast and a few lunch meetings I had a chance to get & give some feedback to some of our mentors. One question most people asked me was:

What % of commitments were being met and which companies were best at meeting commitments?

The answer is a surprising 70% of commitments were being met consistently and 63% of companies were consistently (with 1-2 exceptions per company max) exceeding their commitments on both product and customer traction.

Most seed-stage investors in India have a revenue requirement (not all, but most) so I was surprised they were the most aggressive in asking me questions about commitments. Seems to me, thanks to the early visibility, investors, were willing to make earlier bets, but needed some sense of the team’s performance.

What better way to judge performance than see the team making commitments weekly and delivering on them?

Investors have mentioned to me the in their experience the #1 indicator of a venture funded startups’ success is crisp execution and if they are going after a large market, then fantastic execution makes a good team great.

So how can we help more companies get on this instead of just Microsoft Accelerator companies?

We plan to release a version of our startup connection system (internally called The Borg) to all Indian companies by mid January 2013. With this solution all companies (who opt to do so) can make their commitments and report them to over 250 seed and early stage investors, mentors and advisers. And yes, its free to all startups.

The next experiment is to see in June of 2013 if the improved visibility into a startup’s execution increases the chances of funding for entrepreneurs. We are currently tracking that as well, and will be able to report in an automated fashion.

One person can change the world – How Dave McClure being in US is disrupting Indian early stage investing

Last week over dinner with 4 top Venture Capitalists in India, the thoughts turned to early stage funding in India. As most entrepreneurs will tell you, seed stage investments in India are hit or miss. Entrepreneurs struggle to get angel and seed stage investors to move quickly. Most AA rounds take 3-4 months to close. Early stage (Series A) takes 6 months. There are angel networks that take longer.

I have been privy to several discussions that entrepreneurs have with their investors and its hard to help them close faster because many Indian angel networks and investors believe they want risk-free investments.

That all is about to change to a large extent.

The VC’s initially told me they were thrilled Dave was making these $50-$100K bets in Indian companies, since it gives them a bigger pool of good startups to fund.

Little do they know that most of the Indian entrepreneurs have different ideas.

Over the last week 500 has announced over 10 investments in the India (in less than 6 months), have hired Pankaj Jain full time to invest in Indian entrepreneurs and have publicly declared their intent to invest in 50 startups in 2013.

Just so we can all understand the magnitude of this commitment:

In all of 2011 angel and early stage investments went to 52 companies in India in the technology sector.

500 will match that in less than 1 year and will possibly do more than all other “angel networks” and individual angel investors in India – COMBINED.

I have talked to all the 19 company founders, who have received money from 500, yCombinator, TechStars, Startup Chile.

They have no intent to come to Indian VC’s to raise their series A.

They have access to US investors who move quickly, respect their time and are willing to make decisions with very little information.

Does that mean Indian VC’s are done for?

No.

It means a big chunk of the best and brightest who want to build global, scale-ready and capital efficient companies in Cloud, SaaS, Mobile and consumer Internet will go abroad and get money from investors in the US.

And Boom – just like that, Dave, Paul and Pankaj have changed the equation for Indian startups.

Sitting largely in the US.

Yes, that Pankaj is in Delhi is not lost on me.

One person can change the world – Believe you can do it and get it done.

Technology product startups, angel and venture market comparisons – US and India

There is a lot of activity and interest in technology product companies in India, as there is in the US. I spent some time reviewing numbers from NVCA, VCCircle and pulled some numbers specifically in the areas of Internet, software, technology products and eliminated services companies. Here is a simple table to keep things in perspective. All sources are at the bottom.

USA

India

Total number of technology (Product & services) companies formed annually (average)

24,169

412

# of companies that secured angel funding

15,233 (1)

65

# of companies that secured seed / early stage from VC

1,682

58

# of companies that secured late stage funding from VC

658

31

I am yet to do any “analysis”. Right now the data validation process is what I am going to embark upon.

What is your analysis.

Relevant Links:

1. Crash Dev – eye of the needle

2. UNH center for angel investment research.

3. NAV Fund John Backus

4. Product Startup Landscape in India from Zinnov . (Thanks Pari!)

5. NVCA National aggregate data for US investments (Excel spreadsheet)

What should a series A funding process look like? Step 5: due diligence and transfer of money to the bank

Please read series A funding plan and strategy, the first step of the process - the introduction to an investor, the 2nd step - first meeting and follow up, step 3 - present to the partnership, step 4 – Negotiations and Legal Discussion and now the final step: the due diligence and money transfer.

After the investor offers your a term sheet, they will mention that the final money transfer is subject to clearing their “due diligence”. Anecdotal evidence from 4 people in my VC network suggests nearly 10%-15% of companies which get a term sheet do not clear the due diligence. That’s a very high number.

What is a due diligence?

Its examination of the facts stated by you to ascertain if they were true.

The due diligence checklist (sample: pdf file), typically consists of anywhere from 10-15 (short) list of items to 10-20 pages of items. The items include your incorporation paperwork, tax and regulatory compliance, IP rights ascertainment, contracts signed, customer verification, and a host of other items.

Everything you mentioned in your presentations before (including customers you signed, revenue you currently are booking, etc.) will have to be verified.

Typically if you are a small startup doing little revenue, this might take 2-3 weeks, but if you are a larger entity it might take a month or more. Usually it is done in parallel with the term sheet negotiation, and will take up (in India) 1/2 time for that period of any individual. It consists of bringing together multiple documents and paperwork that you may have missed, filed or recorded.

This is one of the main reasons why fund raising becomes a full time job for one of the cofounders. I would also recommend you giving a heads-up to your Chartered Accountant or your lawyer so they can help you with these, but realize you (or someone you assign) will have to project manage this entire task.

Most investors (both in the US and India) prefer to transfer money in full to your account once the paperwork has been signed. Sometimes as part of the negotiation, you might get specific milestones that you might have to hit for more money to come to your bank. That’s typically called investing in installments or “tranche“.

Within 1-2 weeks of your final negotiation, you will be expected to put a “90 day” and a full year financial model and plan. You will be expected to hit these metrics (preferably go above and beyond). You should also expect a monthly (at the minimum) review of the key metrics (revenue, customers, hiring, etc.).

What might go wrong and how to fix it?

1. Your are missing certain items in your due diligence list. The key is to warn early. Tell your investors you are either missing or have lost or dont have a few items. You will be given time to get those fixed or in some cases they might waive it – it depends on the nature of that item.

2. There are some discrepancies between what you mentioned during your initial presentations and the documents you submit. That happens more often that most investors like and is probably the cause of most of the term sheets being rescinded. My personal suggestion is to be totally transparent and upfront with your investors before the due diligence so you can avoid this situation.

3. Some of the items in the due diligence dont apply to you, or they dont make sense or you dont like to share them. If they dont apply, ignore them and communicate. If they dont make sense, learn. You dont have a choice but to share everything with the investor.

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