Tag Archives: India

Interesting ideas from the #prarambh #IIMUdaipur hackathon

I am in the beautiful city of Udaipur for the weekend to participate in the IIM Udaipur Prarambh hackathon. The IIM itself is only 3 years old and is located within the campus of MLS university in the city.

There were about 70-80 participants from various cities and towns near Rajasthan and a few from outside the state as well. 26 ideas were presented on Friday and of them 6 ideas and teams were formed (ones with the most votes). The city of Udaipur itself was a major draw and it is a delight to be here. The lakes, palaces, food and colors are amazing. The city slows you down with its colors and diversity and that is a great thing.

I was both a mentor and a participant. Here are the final 6 ideas that got the most votes. To see photos from my trip, check out my facebook newsfeed.

1. Anhad: This team was trying to solve the problem of helping students in the the 8th to 12th grade think beyond Engineering and Medicine. In India, thanks to lack of mentors and successful role models, many young students are forced to choose these two fields to study after high school. Ahnad is developing a website which will feature role models from 1000’s of alternative careers and professions. The idea is to expose students to find local role models who they can get inspiration from. E.g. A student in Bangalore wants to become a Radio Jockey, then Anhad will bring a local RJ to the school and have all students who want to be RJ’s attend the session and ask questions, interact and learn from the artist.

2. FindGuru.in Focusing on hobbies, this team wants to help you find a “guru” who can teach you to play the guitar, or tennis in you neighborhood. There are many competing services that do the same, so they want to focus on building a comprehensive profile for each “teacher”. The ideas is that everyone has some innate knowledge or skill, with which they can team someone else, so finding and connecting them is what FindGuru is trying to do.

3. WedWay. This is a pretty cool idea. High end weddings are elaborate affairs in India, with some costing upwards of $250K. Coordinating all the guests pickup, ceremonies, events, sharing photos and the like are currently done by the Wedding planner using WhatsApp. They plan to provide a mobile app to help wedding planners coordinate better. The app will be available to guests as well, to upload each of their photos, checkin to locations, explore local sights, share images from their camera so the entire wedding can be viewed through multiple lenses. There are a lot of other features planned to make sure the right people are picked up at the hotel at the right time, guests can interact and get to know each other, etc.

As an aside I have a perspective on “Use and throw apps” that are a growing category, which I will write more about later.

4. BuzzCaptor. The idea is to capture trends on twitter and facebook to categorize them into streams that are easier to consume. Aimed at PR professionals, the product will help them find influencers and key publications to target by category. E.g. You are Reebok and want to launch a few LeBron James shoe, you can with BuzzCaptor identify the top influential folks who talk about shoes, find out which color and patterns are trending on social media, etc. Another idea that has many competitors existing already.

5. Artin: This is an idea that pivoted from providing art & sculpture as a service to helping high net worth individuals find curated artists who can deliver on commissioned art pieces. Initially their idea was similar to ArtFlute, but since high-end “art as a service” has fairly limited demand they have pivoted to providing a marketplace that helps artists connect with art connoisseurs who want custom art at their home or office every month / quarter / year.

6. HelpmeHelpU. This started as a generic “Find real time answers for your questions” when you need them service to something that’s still evolving. The problem they are trying to solve is when after searching for 20 min and reading Quora, Stack Overflow and other websites you still dont have the answer to your question and need to find an “expert” immediately and get some real time help. They planned to make money by charging a commission to help connect you to the right expert. They were evolving into a book rental marketplace and finally a real time second opinion app.

The eCell at IIM Udaipur won the NEN award for “Entrepreneurship cell of the year” in North India. The event was extremely well organized, they have a encouraging coordinator in Joel Xavier and some very enthusiastic students who were all thrilled to host their first hackathon.

If you get a chance to visit Udaipur either on business or pleasure, dont miss the awesome local food – Pyaajz ki Kachori, Mirchi Bada, Jalebis and other delights. There are several local eateries but we went to the Jayesh Mithai Bhandar, which is a disarming roadside, hole-in-the-wall store which is a local favorite.

Some very interesting #startups at the Wharton India Economic Forum #wief14

I am at Philadelphia this weekend, participating at the Wharton India Economic Forum 2014 with Sanjiv Bikchandani, Alok Kejriwal and Rajesh Sawhney. The forum brings together about 100+ students, local entrepreneurs and investors together for a day long session. It is hosted by the the Indian students who study at the Wharton school of business.

This year they hosted 10 startups (5 in the idea stage and 5 with some traction) to pitch to us for both investment and feedback.

It was great to see some very interesting companies from both India and the US. The 5 idea stage companies had 3 women founders as well and some very compelling ideas.

Here is a summary of the companies.

Idea stage companies. This session featured companies founded by Penn or Wharton students.

  1. AmbitionI: Neha and her cofounder are building a product that uses algorithms to help career counselling for young professionals. Imagine you are working at a large company and always wanted to be an Investment banker. It will connect with your Alumni network and LinkedIn to find out who are the folks that have a similar background as you and have already become investment bankers. Then you can learn how they became an investment banker and figure out how to get some advice to make a career change.
  2. Level Counsel: Aditya and his cofounder are targeting Indian and Chinese XI and XII grade students who need advice on which colleges to apply and which major to pursue. These students will be matched with students who are currently studying at the colleges they want to apply to and connect them so they can get mentorship and advice. They are trying to disrupt the existing career counselling services offered who charge a lot of money to help students make choices on college applications.
  3. Travel Gourmand: If you are travelling to a new location and would like to taste local food but don’t know where to eat or if the restaurants are hygienic or not, this app is for you. They pair you with a local “food guide” who will take you on a 1-3 hour “food tour” and take you to some local hot spots and places to eat. Sayeed Banerjee has a team in Delhi who can help you with food tours in Delhi currently. They plan to expand beyond Delhi soon.
  4. Vhelp: If you are looking for some advice from a lawyer, or a doctor but are not able to get a person at the location you are at, then Kushboo and her team can help. VHelp gets you experts at your fingertips. This is a platform that will help you get advice if you are a rural location but don’t have experts available locally.
  5. WishGuise: This app won the Idea stage competition. Tanvi Chopra’s company helps you rent high street fashion and Ethnic Indian wear. Indian women spend a lot of money on ethnic wear, and they end up not using them too frequently. I think they will have a challenge to prevent perception that they are renting used clothes, but if the top designers are willing to sign up and offer their latest, then I can see how this can scale. It is similar to a company called Rent the runway in the US.

Later stage companies. This session featured many companies from India who applied to the program directly.

  1. Qlicklet: Vivek and his team help monetize Wi-Fi Hot spots at various locations in India using advertising. They are currently running at Delhi airport. If you as a consumer want free Wi-Fi and are willing to watch an ad before you get access to free Wi-Fi for 45 minutes, this app is for you.
  2. Targeting Mantra: Saurab’s company provides analytics and tools to eCommerce companies to help them increase their conversions. They currently have 10 eCommerce companies in India including Yehbi using their product to personalize the website for users and increase customer conversions to purchase.
  3. Sammaan: Ifran’s company provides a mobile van that reaches out to remote villages and rural locations which have no hospitals. This mobile van makes money by charging patients Rs. 25 per visit and also makes money by offering discounted prescription drugs and referrals to diagnostics providers. The cost of each mobile van is about $50K and they are currently operating 1 van in Patna.
  4. ZoomCar: David and his cofounder are building the ZipCar for India. They offer self-driven cars for folks that would like to rent a car for a few hours or a day. They currently offer 6 types of cars currently from Reva’s to Scorpios. Operating currently in Bangalore, this company is currently in the Microsoft Accelerator in Bangalore.
  5. Zostel: This company with 7 founders, some of whom are currently studying in IIM Kolkata offers hostels for backpackers. I met the company before in Kolkata and they are currently operating 2 hostels in Jaipur and Udaipur. They offer a very edgy brand and great value for money at Rs. 400 per bed per night. They are currently seeing 60% utilization at their 2 hostels, and are primarily catering to international travelers. They plan to expand to Goa, Mcleod Gunj and other locations. They won the competition for later stage companies.

I absolutely loved meeting with local entrepreneurs and was part of the VC and entrepreneur panel where we talked about the investment scenario in India and the challenges faced by Indian entrepreneurs worldwide. Wharton accepts about 850 students each year for their MBA program and nearly 50 of them are from India, so they have a lot of knowledge about India and problems faced by Indian entrepreneurs.

The rise of student entrepreneurship in India #tatafirstdot and NEN

Today I had the opportunity to hang out with 1000+ student entrepreneurs from over 60+ cities and all states in India at the NEN #tatafirstdot event in RV College of engineering. The twitter buzz gives you an indication of the event’s energy.

NEN has been promoting student entrepreneurship for over a decade now and this was my 3rd event. They do a terrific job of turning the raw energy and talent of students into some great startups. The first dot event had 500+ students applications. Students from Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) to Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) participated and this time they had to present fully formed products / prototypes, not just business plans.

To set some context, in 2008, less than 1% of startups in all ventures were founded by students straight out of college. This year, that number is close to 3%. The number of startups has risen 3-fold during this period. We have over 20 Microsoft Innovation Center’s at various colleges in India that focus their effort on supporting great student entrepreneurs as well. These center’s serve to host hackathons, conduct entrepreneurship classes and encourage students and faculty to pursue building companies instead of “getting a job”.

I had a few questions from NDTV (Bala) at the sidelines of the event. One question stood out as something that needs more explanation and commentary.

“Why is it important for us to have more student entrepreneurs as a startup ecosystem”?

There are 3 main reasons why I am so passionate about student entrepreneurs:

1. Their “lack of experience” is a HUGE advantage. Most folks tend to think that experience is a good thing in entrepreneurship. I am a contrarian. I believe that experience (other than the experience being an entrepreneur) holds you back as an entrepreneur. Older and more experienced entrepreneurs are more in number, they are more successful, but they do not create disruptive companies. (p.s. I dont have data to prove this, just anecdotes) They see a problem, they solve the problem and become successful. Student entrepreneurs see something and are willing to question why? They refuse to look at the “current lay of the land” and find ways to operate within the constraints.

2. Their ability to take risk is much greater. When you are young, single and unattached, your ability to take risk is much larger, than when you have a mortgage, kids, hospital bills etc. The worst thing that happens is that you fail and get acquired by a larger company.

3. Time is on their side. Most mid-career executives wanting to start a company are fighting the lack of time on their side. It is NEVER too late to start a company, but if you measure the number of mistakes per unit time you make, then student entrepreneurs clearly have more chances to fail and finally succeed.

I truly believe that students are going to be the largest part of entrepreneurs in India in a few decades. Until then we have Microsoft Innovation centers and NEN to show us how to get them motivated, excited and focused on building their venture.

Shout out to my friend, advisor, guide and awesome student entrepreneurship champion Sri Krishna of NEN. He is the person to connect with in India for all things student startups related.

Are there too few seed/angel investors in India or is too much money chasing too few great companies?

This is a debate that I keep having with entrepreneurs and investors alike. When you talk to entrepreneurs they correctly point out the # of angel and seed deals done in India are very few. If you remove accelerators, the number of angel funded tech companies in India is about 60 (2013) and the number of Venture deals, which are about 50. Add the accelerators, which add another 60 companies and we have about 150 startups getting funded each year.

Given the number of entities that get started is about 1000 (2013), that seems like a small number. Entrepreneurs also point out the very investor friendly terms (drag along, liquidation preferences) that are given by angels in India and the fact that most angel funded companies give between 20 and 30% of their equity at the seed / angel round, which are common among technology startups.

On the other side, Venture and angel investors point out the relatively few exits (fewer than 10 in the technology sector) and the amount of time it takes to grow companies in India (over 10 years). They believe there is enough money for the right opportunities. I can point to 2 examples of companies we are trying to fund which have 3 competing term sheets at the angel investment stage to confirm that it happens, but is rare.

Which brings me to accelerators such as ours. There are about 30+ accelerators in India, but I am going to focus on the top 5. In discussions with other accelerators, the constant theme I get from most folks is the intense focus on the part of entrepreneurs to “get funded”. First the angel round, then the sapling round and then the series A. I know in our own case that is true.

So let me talk about our case in particular, although I have mentioned it before. We dont want to focus on funding. If that’s the biggest need of entrepreneurs then they should go elsewhere.

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.

We had a chance to review about 800+ applicants this batch 4 for our accelerator. There were many great entrepreneurs and companies, but we could only support 10 – 15. If we were running a fund, similar to a venture investor, we would only select 2 or maybe 3. That’s consistent with our previous batches.

That we believe is a great disservice to the entrepreneur ecosystem. Many more companies could be small, non angel / VC funded businesses, and still do well. I do not like the term “lifestyle” businesses, but these companies do not warrant the money required by rapid growth, quick to scale companies.

So we do not put a lot of emphasis on our companies getting funded. We do help them get connected with angel investors and venture capitalists, but that’s it. In many cases we have worked behind the scenes to push investors we know to get deals done faster and at better terms, but that’s largely behind the scene. Our emphasis is to open doors and opportunities that help them get in front of other entrepreneurs, potential customers and partners and help them understand the discipline that it takes to be a great entrepreneur.

A few of our previous company entrepreneurs dont like that, and we don’t have a problem with that. Our goal is to help the ecosystem grow and allow more entrepreneurs to experience the journey. If they only wish to focus on funding, they are better off going elsewhere.

So, back to the question: Are is there too little risk capital in technology or too much money chasing too few deals?

Unfortunately the answer is clear only from the perspective that you are coming from. Neither entrepreneurs nor investors will be able to see the challenges the other side faces very easily so it is a question that quite possibly has no clear answer.

The best is to keep at the problem and have different parts of the puzzle try and fit themselves as they progress instead of force fitting more funding into companies or the other way around.

The other part of the question comes from the seed fund that we have as part of Microsoft Ventures. We have not invested in any company, in India, so far, but we have 2 in the pipeline. We get questions on why we dont fund all the companies from the accelerator.

The answer is fairly straightforward but very hard for entrepreneurs to swallow in India.

Microsoft Ventures fund is global. Which means we look at opportunities in the US, Israel, China and other locations. We have some fairly standard criteria for our funding – including, but not limited to the following:

1. We only have the authority to put money in a US or UK entity.

2. We can only use a convertible note instrument.

3. We need to have the company’s product’s well aligned with internal Microsoft teams / products and goals.

The accelerator, however, does not have the strict guidelines associated with these 3 criteria.

Finally since we fund all companies globally, the investment committee looks at all companies across multiple geographies and “looks” for traction, differentiation and other metrics and our companies are just not as strong as those in Israel or the US. They seem to need a lot more time, same amount of money, with potentially smaller exits. While that’s the nature of the maturity of our startups in India, that’s not a bad thing overall. We will get there eventually is my perspective.

Until then we have to fight battles on why we should fund a company from India, when the comparable company in the US is much further along.

The argument for China is simple – a US company just does not do as well in China as a Chinese company.

The arguments for a Israeli company are great as well – most of their companies are Delaware entities, have extremely strong technology (which is aided by government) and they have at least 100% more traction (customers, revenue) than comparable Indian companies.

What do you think? I’d love your perspective on what I am missing.

The toughest choice for an entrepreneur – Slow and committed vs. Fast and apathetic

Another day, another debate. This time it was Ravi Gururaj, Raj Chinai and Rajan Anandan vs. yours truly.

Lets have a twitter debate copying @rajananandan and @ravigururaj as well on your thoughts.

The debate is about the type of investors that entrepreneurs need now. I believe in the last 18 months, the Indian entrepreneur has changed dramatically. They now prefer a slow, but committed investor as opposed to a fast but apathetic investor. If they could have the best of both worlds, they’d like a fast and committed investor, but that’s as rare as a blue moon. Ravi is of the opinion that speed is the need of the hour.

Here’s the background:

Startups that are getting funded by accelerators are largely (there are exceptions) getting a better shot at getting funded that those that are not. Coming out of an accelerator, most startups get a few angel investor to put anywhere between 50L (or $100K) to 2 CR (or about $400K). This is their seed round. In the US, nearly 27% of companies raise the series A after this angel round of funding. That ends up being a $2 Million to $5 Million round. In India for 2013 that is < 5%

In India, because customer acquisition is slow and laborious, the next round after a seed round, is actually a sapling round (or bridge round) during which the entrepreneur raises anywhere from $500K to $1.5 Million. After this round is when most startups raise their series A in India.

So compared to the US startup, Indian startups have given up 7% on average to the accelerator, 25% to seed investors and another 30% to sapling round investors. In the US most startups go from 7% for the accelerator and 20% for seed investors before their series A.

The “sapling round” is very critical. The reason is that VC’s look for market, team, traction, space and competition before they invest in the series A. Most companies (over 90%) in India are clearly not ready after their seed round, with a complete management team, enough traction (aka revenue) and sufficient product differentiation to support a $2 Million round at a valuation of $4-$5 Million.

Say you are an entrepreneur and you want to raise a seed round and are given 2 choices:

1. An investor willing to move quickly and give you 50L in less than 6 weeks, but not commit to helping you fund the next round, either because they assume you will have enough to raise a series A, or because their investment thesis only allows them to put 50L per company and not more.

2. An investor wanting to take 2-3 months to make a decision (to get to know you, or because they are busy, or because of any number of useless reasons) but committing to give you 50L now and earmarking another 1 Cr to 2 Cr for 20% of the companies they invest in for a future sapling round.

Which one would you prefer?

Most entrepreneurs 18 months ago believed that a fast investor was better than a slow one. But I believe that’s changed now.

Why?

The time to raise a round is increasing, not decreasing. Most entrepreneurs are hearing stories of how some Venture investors are taking over 6 months before making a decision since they have enough good quality deals to pursue. They are also seeing their peers raise a bridge round of financing 12 months after their seed funding raise and realizing that a committed investor is better than one that is apathetic to a 50L investment.

I wish there were fast and committed investors, but that is just not possible.

Why?

The time taken to make an investment increases with the amount of capital involved. It is that simple.

For a Venture investor, $250K investments are quick, but $5 Million take more time. Similarly for an angel investor, $100K investments are quick, but $500K take more time, because you better be sure.

The reason for the $500K is that they will put $100K first, then commit to putting another $200K to $400K as needed in 12-18 months. They are committed to seeing you through a series A if they believe in your company.

Angel investors in India are realizing as well, that most (over 90%) of their investments need more money than they put in at the seed stage before they are ready for a series A. Given that 30-50% of their portfolios will fail, close or shut-down, due to any number of reasons, it is important to let the winners “win”. So they need to support their “winners” with more cash.

I’d love your opinion on this topic. Please let us a comment or lets debate on twitter. I am @mukund. Copy @ravigururaj and @rajananandan as well.

How the risk appetite of entrepreneurs affects their exits in Silicon Valley, India and Africa

I run this fun experiment each time at most events I speak at. I ran is again yesterday at the CII event yesterday in Bangalore. The experiment is to gauge the risk appetite among entrepreneurs. It is not scientific nor is it structured. It has though, given me a sense for the risk appetite among the entrepreneurial class.

I have run this experiment now over 30 times and have had fairly consistent results. If there are over 100 people in the audience, I ask folks three questions and request a show of hands.

Q1. If I gave you a 10% chance of making $2 Million from your startup, how many of you will take that outcome? I get a show of hands at this point.

Q2. If I gave you a 1% chance of making $20 Million from your startup, how many of you will take that outcome? Show of hands again.

Q3. If I gave you a 0.001% of making $1 Billion from your startup, how many of you will take that outcome? Final show of hands.

Over the last 3 months, I have spoken at 2 conferences in the US, 1 in Zurich, 1 in Africa, Singapore and over 5 in India.

The results give me a quick sense for the hypothetical risk appetite for entrepreneurs in that community.

In the US at both the conferences, the distribution was 30%, 10% and 60%. In Zurich it was 60%, 30% and 10%. Africa was very close to the US surprisingly, at 35%, 15% and 50%. It is almost as if Africans have nothing to lose and Americans don’t care for small outcomes, but both end up at the same place.

In all the conferences in India, it has been 70%, 25% and 5% (and that’s being generous in 2 conferences including yesterday, where 2 out of 150 people opted for the 3rd choice).

Rather than draw quick conclusions about the risk appetite, I thought I’d think about it more and understand why Indians are happy with smaller outcomes.

Given that the effort over several years to create a $10 Million outcome at your startup is the same as one that has a $1 Billion outcome, why dont we focus on the large opportunities?

  • Is it fear of failure?
  • Is it that we are “happy” and content with even the small things?
  • Is it that $2 million is such a large change in our lives that the $1 Billion does not seem worth it?
  • Is it that we really don’t aim big? Notice I did not say think big, I said aim big? Nuance, but a big difference
  • Is it lack of exposure to large markets?
  • Is it that we are not hungry enough?
  • Or is it something else?

I don’t quite have an answer. When I mentioned that I dont have an answer to the moderator Mohan Reddy yesterday, he expressed dismay. He was looking for an answer – was it our cultural background, our education system, our values, our government – someone or something had to be blamed.

I dont know the answer, but have a deep desire to find out.

Why?

As we start to invest in the early stage startup ecosystem in India, it is important to calibrate the possible returns and allocate funds associated with the returns. If most entrepreneurs in India are okay with smaller returns, it makes sense for us to allocate fewer fund here than China, Israel or Africa.

From our experience at the accelerator, where, over the last year we have “invested” our time, resources and energy in 23 startups, we know that the risk appetite is much lower among startup founders in India, compared to those in Israel for example.

We have already had 2 small “exits” and 3 closures in India. Israeli companies are still out there, fighting for their series A and beyond, while 1 company had pivoted dramatically in Israel, only to start again.

Is the reason something completely different? Is it that we are realists and don’t think the billion dollar outcome is even possible?

As Henry Ford said:

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Off topic: Totally useless observation on Angelo Mathews

For those folks that dont follow cricket, this wont matter at all.

Angelo Mathews the captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team seems to have a case of “What he said”.

In the last 3 matches he has lost as captain, his post-match comments, have been a “replay” of what the previous captains said after matches they lost a day or two before. Bizarre. Its almost as if he prepares for the post match press interview by reading the newspaper in the morning of what the loser from the previous match said and repeats that.

After losing the semi-final match against India in the Champions trophy preliminary game he said Sri Lanka “Choked” – identical to what Gary Kirsten and South African captain said of their semi final loss to England a day before.

After losing the earlier match against New Zealand he said it was “a bad toss to lose“, an identical statement to what Misbah ul Haq, captain of Pakistan said after that team’s loss to West Indies a mere 2 days earlier.

Again at the Celkon trophy final, his team lost to India. He chose to focus on the fact that his team “showed character“, which were the exact same words said by Virat Kohli the stand-in captain for India a mere 2 days ago.

Now, I dont know Angelo too well, but seems to me he’s got a case of photocopy-itis for post match conferences.