The several success stories of Zoho, Freshworks, Browserstack, Icertis who have all reached several hundred million dollars in ARR with most of their product built in India give proof points for the possibility to build large scale SaaS companies coming out of India.
Unlike the 90s when software was a one-time sale, the subscription nature of SaaS pricing ensures that the interests of the customer and the software vendor are well aligned. Today, there are over a hundred thousand software companies serving over two thousand categories with over five hundred billion dollars spent on software purchases. The SaaS industry is just one hundred fifty to two hundred billion dollars, so there’s another three hundred billion dollars of traditional on-prem software that needs to be replaced. Another opportunity exists in creating a product for the customers currently being served by custom software solutions built by the large IT services companies. At the same time, new industries are seeing digitization, creating more opportunities for building software.
In terms of liquidity as well, SaaS as a sector offers significant options- from an active M&A market and active interest from venture capital and private equity to fund growth to several examples of companies going public.
Krish ends by quoting Jason Lemkin, “In a SaaS business, once you cross $10M with good momentum, you basically become unkillable because of the recurring nature of the business”
In the first episode of 2020's #InsightsPodcast series, we take a look back to round up the learnings that 2019’s series left us with.We kick-start 2020’s #InsightsPodcast series with a special episode that offers a quick roundup of our 2019 podcasts and presents the top 12 highly recommended insights for entrepreneurs.
Finding the right opportunity
The bare essential task of identifying the right opportunity is something that every founding team must go through.
1.Farid Ahsan of Sharechat shares how he and his co-founders went about discovering the idea. “We started observing why people were making WhatsApp groups and sharing content on them.”
2.Ritesh Arora of Browserstack shares the importance of thinking global from early on, helping expand the opportunity set for the startup.
3.Kunal Shah of Cred shares his framework on how startups can validate whether their idea is creating a delta change in consumer behaviour and emphasises the importance of picking a market opportunity with good tailwinds. “Great product-market fits even with mediocre founders create a lot of value while terrible product-market fits with great founders can never create value. Fighting headwinds only burns fuel.” Building a team and culture to go after that idea The team forms the building block of any organisation and is an integral contributor to the success of a startup. A good culture keeps the team motivated to keep going after the problem.
4.Naveen Tewari of Inmobi talks about the importance of having a co-founder in the roller-coaster of a journey that entrepreneurship comprises. “Most of the moments in the journey are low moments. The co-founder’s role is to bring you out of these low moments that you’re in and vice versa.”
5.Binny Bansal of Flipkart shares about the importance of being willing to ‘let go’ and empowering your team. “We realised that only way to scale the company was to hire people like us, to do the things that we do - there were going to be hundreds of things to do and we would need hundreds of people would need to work like we work, every day.”
6.Girish Mathrubootham of Freshworks talks about focusing about culture and building a work environment that motivates and inspires the team. “Anybody can create a happy work environment, but the real happiness is when people really feel that they’re playing to their strengths, the job is tapping their potential and giving them an opportunity to learn, and that they have managers who they see as role models.” Raising money and building a sustainable company With a boundless vision comes the need to find the right support, and finding the right investor can really help a startup.
7.Harsh Jain of Dream11 talks about the advantage of meeting investors ahead of fundraising. “Meet VCs six months or a year before raising money and get honest, open feedback. When the journey and progress is shared with VCs, they’re much more vested.” 8. Deep Kalra of Makemytrip talks about the importance of unit economics and scaling sustainably. “Irrespective of the kind of business, you should not be losing money on a variable cost basis.” Key lessons for founders’ growth In the greater scheme of the startup journey, the founder’s individual self often gets ignored. Here are some key insights on keeping a founder’s growth on track. 9. Shradha Sharma of YourStory talks about the founder’s growth journey being more internal and how entrepreneurship is a journey of patience and perseverance. “You have to internally reflect very deeply on what you want.” 10. Nandan Nilekani of Infosys and the man behind the Aadhaar programme talks about the importance of being execution-focused. 11. Ritesh Agarwal of Oyo talks about the importance of perseverance. 12. Dheeraj Pandey of Nutanix shares his valuable insights on balancing family life along with running a startup.
In this edition of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, we have with us Aditya Agarwal and Ruchi Sanghvi, both of whom were early members of Facebook's engineering team.
Aditya was the first Director of Product Engineering at Facebook. He also co-founded Cove, a modern collaboration software company that was acquired by Dropbox, where he went on to join as the VP of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer. He was also on the board of Flipkart.
Ruchi was the first female engineer at Facebook, and went on to co-found Cove along with Aditya and Akhil Wable. Cove was a collaboration, coordination and communication product for organisations and communities. On acquisition by Dropbox, she joined in as the VP of Operations. She also established South Park Commons, a residential and professional tech space that functions similarly to a hackerspace.
Ruchi graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in electrical computer engineering in 2004, a time when it was tough for international students to find a job in the US. While extending her stay at the university so she could interview with more companies, Ruchi became a power user of Facebook, was fascinated about what they were building and went on to join them as their first female engineer.
Growing up in Southeast Asia, Aditya graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in computer science and joined Facebook as one of its first five engineers.
Facebook's hacker culture
Aditya and Ruchi share their Facebook experience, including being part of some of the earliest architecture - the Facebook search engine and the News Feed. Giving a glimpse into Facebook's hacker culture from the early days, Ruchi and Aditya share how the engineers were always into building something- a minimum usable version- much before the concept of MVP was talked about.
Aditya talks about the importance of focusing on tooling and infrastructure to be able to deploy faster even at scale with a conscious effort to improve iteration speed and tracking it just as closely as the business metrics.
Ruchi speaks about the importance of adding light-weight processes that are built for the work environment of your company, and updating these processes every four months to make the product management practice in the organisation stronger.
After Facebook, Ruchi and Aditya decided to start up on their own to change the way organisations communicate and collaborate with Cove. The startup went on to become Dropbox's first acquisition.
Culture of original thinking
Discussing the pros and cons of starting a company with your partner, Ruchi highlights the importance of being cognizant of each other's strengths and weaknesses, making sure that one partner isn't dragging the other along and that both want to participate, and finally having a clear understanding from the start on who's taking the lead.
On the hiring front, Ruchi says, "When companies find product-market fit, everything feels like it is falling apart. You need to hire enough people to keep things going. At that point, most people are often looking for the unicorn hire - someone who is perfect when the company is just 50 people but can also scale with the company when it gets to 100 people, is an individual contributor, and an excellent manager. It becomes impossible to find this unicorn hire at that stage. People need to reset expectations on how this person can help your company today and in the next one to two years, and be comfortable that their roles might evolve over the next few years."
Aditya and Ruchi end by sharing tips on how they manage their personal lives and their excitement for the way the Indian startup ecosystem is shaping up.
In this episode of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and MD of Biocon, talks about starting up and her strategic shift to the biopharma industry, and gives young entrepreneurs advice on innovation, problem-solving, and mentorship.
We continue with the #INSIGHTSPodcast series and on this episode, we have with us Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon.
A pioneer of the biotech industry in India and the head of the country’s leading biotechnology enterprise, Kiran is a highly respected business leader and has been named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. She’s a recognised global thought leader in biotechnology and has been awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, two of India’s highest civilian honours.
Today, Biocon is one of Asia’s largest biopharmaceutical companies — 12,000-people strong with 30 percent women, most of whom are scientists. It focuses on diabetes and cancer as thrust areas and has a vision of making global impact on healthcare by providing affordable access to life-saving drugs.
On this podcast, Kiran talks about her journey, building Biocon, how she started out, built a great team, and went on to take the company to IPO. She also shares insights on how founders can find a good work-life balance by prioritising what matters most to them.
An accidental entrepreneur
Kiran calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur”, starting Biocon when she was discriminated against as a woman while applying for the job of a brewmaster. She set up Biocon in 1978, initially focusing on the enzyme industry, and made a strategic shift to the biopharmaceutical industry as it was a much bigger opportunity — riding the shift in cancer care from chemotherapy to immunotherapy.
Starting up at the age of 25, in a field that was not understood by many, raising capital was not an easy task. Especially at a time when a woman entrepreneur without collateral was considered a high financial and business risk. Hiring talent was another challenge. As Kiran started building her company, she aggressively pursued building the team, hiring people with complementary skills to form the core team, and incentivised them with rich stock options.
A bottomline-driven business
In 2004, Kiran did a lot of roadshows and went IPO, to raise capital for the business. She wasn’t concerned about raising the value of the company, but made sure it was profitable in the last four quarters before going public and had clear visibility on profits in the foreseeable future. She says today’s companies are topline-driven in contrast to her business that is “bottomline-driven”.
Opportunities to learn
On her personal growth, Kiran says she used her team as a think-tank and used her mentors to draw inspiration and for brainstorming.
“Mentors in an entrepreneur’s journey should only help stay focused. I don’t think any entrepreneur should keep going back to a mentor asking ‘what should I do next’? That is not entrepreneurship,” she says.
“Entrepreneurs need to script their own journey, figure out their own things, and solve problems. If you keep running back to your mentor at the drop of your hat, you’re not an entrepreneur. A true entrepreneur is a risk-taker, problem-solver, a person who’s willing to face challenges and failure.”
Kiran says she encourages young entrepreneurs to not worry about making mistakes and see them as opportunities to learn. Adding to her advice, she urges them not to wait to develop the perfect product and to instead go to market first.
Continuing to reiterate how AI can help transform healthcare, she also gives her take on work-life balance. Kiran believes the answer to this question is only one: “Prioritisation”.
Tune in to the podcast to hear more interesting insights from Kiran’s journey of launching and growing Biocon.
In this episode of #InsightsPodcast series, we have Dheeraj Pandey, Chairman and CEO of Nutanix, taking us through his journey of building a generational company, its IPO story, and how he built a culture of reading and learning at his organisation.
As we continue with the #InsightsPodcast series, we head to Silicon Valley to meet Dheeraj Pandey, Chairman and CEO, Nutanix. The company helps customers modernise their data centres and run applications of any scale on the cloud. Dheeraj co-founded Nutanix a decade ago and took the company public on NASDAQ in 2017. Today, the company trades at a $5 billion+ market cap. Dheeraj’s entrepreneurial spirit has been recognised with several prestigious awards including Dell’s Founders 50 and E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year, Silicon Valley.
On this podcast, Dheeraj takes us through his journey of building a generational company, his vision of making computing invisible, and the Nutanix IPO journey. Dheeraj grew up in Patna, finished his undergrad as a Computer Science major at IIT Kanpur, and then decided to pursue a PhD at UT Austin. He completed his master’s and dropped out of the PhD programme to pursue a career in the computer science industry. Before starting Nutanix, Dheeraj spent a decade working in the industry with stints at a couple of startups and one large company (Oracle) building software for data servers.
Read to grow
Talking about his transition from engineering roles to that of a CEO to build a business, Dheeraj gives an analogy of how the product and the go-to-market strategy are like the heart and brain of the business and over time he learnt to straddle both ends of the spectrum driven by his passion for building the bridge between technology and business. Dheeraj has always believed in learning from the experiences shared by his advisors and is an avid reader. Learning from other entrepreneurial journeys, he believes, gives one precedence and courage to deal with the highs and lows of the roller coaster ride that building a business can be. He explains that as a company, Nutanix has built an organisation culture that cares about reading. “It gives you courage, parallels, frameworks, and principles to think about. It’s a great de-stressor,” he says.
Disrupt to stay relevant
Switching gears and sharing lessons for entrepreneurs, Dheeraj starts by talking about the importance of disrupting yourself with a long-term view versus becoming irrelevant. He says, “You should act as a competitor to yourself because if you don’t, someone else will, and it will be a lot more uncomfortable to deal with the unknowns of a competitor.” This was realised at Nutanix when they decided to give away their software to their hardware partners allowing them to compete with Nutanix (shaving of 26 percent of top line) and again when Nutanix made the shift from software to subscription. Both the times involved a complete change in business model at the scale of a publicly traded company. These bold moves allowed Nutanix to disrupt themselves and extend their reach, stay more relevant as the customer’s tastes changed.
Dheeraj talks about how businesses/entrepreneurs who postpone gratification and think about long-term gains mostly constitute large outcomes. The largest companies have taken long-term bets, something that the mob doesn’t have the courage or fortitude to do. That said, long-term goals must be check-pointed with short-term ones, without losing sight of the larger picture.
This for Nutanix came out in the form of the 5Hs- Hungry, Humble, Honest, Heart, and Humour.
On a closing note, Dheeraj shares how at the end of the day, family is as much a partner in the entrepreneurial journey as you are. “You are at war out there and when you go home you don’t want to be at war. Hence it is so important to reduce that friction. You have to believe that your professional goal is something that you share with your spouse.”
As we continue with the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, on this edition we have with us Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital. Hans, who is a seven-time Forbes Midas Lister and has invested in 15 unicorns over the last decade-and-a-half, leads the US operations of GGV Capital. Some of his investments include shopping app Wish, second-hand marketplace OfferUp, Chinese social commerce company Xiaohongshu, workplace tool Slack, electronics maker Xiaomi, Chinese super app Meituan-Dianping, scooter sharing company Lime, among others.
On this podcast, Hans shares his journey of witnessing first-hand the three phases of the Chinese startup ecosystem: from PC to mobile phones to high speed internet powered smartphones.
Born in Taiwan and having immigrated to the US at 13, Hans went to college at Stanford and took up a career in finance. After stints in banking and growth investing, and spending a few years as an entrepreneur, Hans saw the value in moving to China where he could make use of his understanding of both the East and the West. He joined Bessemer Venture Partners marking the start of his career in venture capital. He went on to spend a few years with QiMing Venture Partners before moving back to the Bay Area with GGV Capital.
Recalling his China days, Hans talks about how the time he went to China (mid-2000s) was seen as being either five years too late - as the PC internet era started in 1999 - or five years too early - as the iPhone was yet to be announced. He did learn though that the Chinese startup ecosystem was fiercer in terms of competition than the Silicon Valley, contrary to the popular belief that the discrimination against US companies made China a protective turf for starting up.
The Chinese ecosystem grew hand in hand with the consumption pattern of the emerging middle class, urbanisation, and government initiatives focused on improving the infrastructure. By working with internet companies across both the PC era (the likes of Baidu and Tencent) and the smartphone era (the likes of Xiaomi), Hans learnt the importance of providing solutions that are cheap in terms of cost but high quality in terms of customer satisfaction and serving the mass market. While those forming the mass market have lower disposable incomes, they bring in the advantage of having more time on their hands, hence spend more time on a company's services.
This was true in the case of Alibaba as well. Jack Ma's belief was that offline marketplaces existed because everyone didn't have everything. He focused hard on getting more suppliers than anyone on his platform so that over time consumers came to his shop not for cheaper prices but for higher choice of selection.
Having worked with several successful founders, a common thread that Hans has seen across them is that they are all extremely driven, passionate about things they do, and have a vision that is transformational and inspiring for others to be willing to join the journey.
"They tend to be extremely thoughtful and analytical, are level-headed, and open-minded to try a lot of different things and iterate quickly," he says.
On his thoughts on India, Hans shares his excitement for the Indian ecosystem, expecting to see many more companies from India that go global following the lead of OYO.
On a closing note, Hans has a movie recommendation for Indian founders in People's Republic of Desire, and quotes Kobe Bryant:
"A lot of people think like 'if I have to choose between vegetables and ice cream'. I love eating vegetables. I don't mind getting up four o'clock in the morning to train for 20 years in a row. That's the fun part and always being in the heat of the NBA championship year after year. That's what makes me happy."
The best founder has that characteristic in them.
We continue with the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, and on this edition we have Hari Menon, Co-founder and CEO of BigBasket, India’s largest online food and grocery store, which serves 10 million customers in 30 cities today.
In this podcast, Hari takes us through the journey of starting and scaling BigBasket and gives a behind-the-curtain glimpse of the years of grocery business experience that led to building an expertise in grocery supply chain and culminated in building India's leading online grocer.
Starting up in the 90s: too early to market
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Hari graduated from BITS Pilani and chose to start working right away. A few jobs old, and exposed to the internet boom during his stint at Wipro, Hari decided to start Fabmart in 1999, an ecommerce company that started by selling cassettes online, and quickly diversified to books, jewellery, toys, and groceries. This was at a time when the Indian consumer was still wary of transacting online, there were no payment gateways, and deliveries were difficult. The business model was too early for the market and the dot com bust made it difficult to raise more capital from investors. The team decided to leverage the platform developed and the existing warehouse set up to pivot into a physical grocery chain built on a franchisee model that they scaled from 15 stores in Bangalore to 200+ stores in South India before getting acquired by Aditya Birla Group.
Bigbasket: timing it right the second time
The founding team went on to do different things before coming together again half a decade later, when the market had caught up with their initial vision- broadband had picked up, payment gateways were there and Flipkart was demonstrating serious traction in terms of online transactions- the time was right for ‘BigBasket’. Calling upon the supply chain expertise in the complex grocery business from Fabmart days and with a focus on setting up a robust backend technology, the team’s second bid at making Indians shop for groceries online picked steam very quickly.
“We expanded fast because one thing we told ourselves was that if we did get into a city, we would do the entire city. Secondly, we would start with fruits and vegetables because that was the toughest one to solve for in terms of supply chain (due to the highly perishable nature).”
Today Bigbasket is the fifth largest grocer in the country after offline giants D-Mart, Reliance, Big Bazaar, and More. Hari’s near term vision is to take it to top three.
Talking about personal growth as CEO, Hari talks about how valuing trust and attitude over skills and knowledge while getting people to join, obsessing about process (BigBasket’s head of HR has authored a book called ‘Say No to Jugaad’) and being passionate about the grocery business has helped take Bigbasket to where it is today. He says that knowing when to pivot and when not to pivot is something every entrepreneur must learn- instead of being emotional about the original idea which at times goes against the company's interests. Last but not the least, he emphasizes the importance of having an unshakable conviction on the business, something that helped BigBasket survive the test of time and emerge as a successful business today.
“It's all about getting that emotion out and saying, you know let's pivot but you won't get it because you're so emotionally attached to the idea that you're not even thinking right. Then it's important to believe in your model in spite of giants and large investors coming in and pumping money. The whole world was talking about SoftBank, Tiger backing asset-light models but we stuck our ground on the need for inventory control. Since then, there really has been no looking back.”
On a closing note, Hari shares his fondness for cricket and music, something that is well known in the startup ecosystem. Tune in to the podcast to learn more about Hari’s roller coaster journey.
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition we have with us Manu Kumar Jain, Managing Director of Xiaomi India- a leader in smartphones, televisions, and many other products. Manu walks us through the journey of setting up Xiaomi in India and scaling it to become one of the best mobile phone brands in India in a very capital efficient way.
Starting by talking about his childhood days, Manu remembers growing up in Meerut in a large family with a business background, where the ultimate aspiration was to set up shop- the larger the shop the more successful one was. Unlike most of his cousins, Manu decided to pursue engineering from IIT Delhi and then did his MBA from IIM Calcutta, post which he worked with Mckinsey for five years before co-founding Jabong. He ran Jabong for 2 years before moving out and then joined Xiaomi to start their India business.
Talking about Early days at Jabong, Manu gets candid about how his first thoughts on selling fashion online was that “it was a stupid idea”, but after some persuasion from his co-founders he was able to take the leap of faith, only to get pleasantly surprised that a lot of people were willing to buy shoes and clothes online. Riding on the wave of mobile first online consumers, Jabong grew from thousand orders a day to ten thousand orders a day, to become a top two player in the online fashion space.
Hugely fascinated about mobile as a category and having heard about a Chinese company trying to do things differently by online as the primary channel for sales, Manu connected with the founders through his network out of pure interest to learn more about the company’s journey. After multiple exchanges between Manu and the founders, sharing learnings with each other on the China and India landscape, Lin Bin, Co-Founder & President of Xiaomi, offered Manu to join them to start their India business.
At a time when India had more than 300 smartphone brands, Xiaomi went ahead with an online only sales strategy when everyone else was spending huge marketing dollars on advertising and sponsorships. From very early on, the expectation from the board was to be profitable and not burn at a day-to-day operations level. This led Xiaomi to take a product focused approach and leverage social media to take its consumer delight story to the masses. What others spent on marketing, Xiaomi spent on quality of the phone giving the customer a better hardware and a better camera.
“We can’t make more than five percent margin from any of our hardware products by board resolution. We believe in a concept called as honest price. We cut down all possible costs like marketing, distribution, working capital, inventory cost and pass on that benefit to the user without keeping a profit margin for ourselves.”
The social media angle that bolstered Xiaomi’s rise to the top continues to be a core part of today’s focus. Mi community today has more than 70 million MAUs and physical fan clubs in more than 25 cities.
Finally, sharing learnings for young entrepreneurs, Manu talks about the importance of having mentors who do not have a vested interest in your company or you, so that the conversations are brutal and honest. Last but not the least, Manu stresses about the importance of investing in the team and ensuring that good performers grow within the company, from both and equity and cash perspective. Spending time with the team has always been in the top three priorities for Manu. “One-on-one or group sessions are not only meant for year-end appraisals but should be a part of your weekly and monthly schedule time. And these are not performance reviews but to ask how they're feeling, how they're growing and for discussing about stuff informally too, within work and outside work.”
Tune in to the podcast to hear more interesting bits and insights from Manu’s journey of scaling Xiaomi to its today’s scale.
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition we have Deep Kalra, Founder and Group CEO of MakeMyTrip, India’s leading online travel company. Today, the company has become the go-to-site for majority of Indians looking to book flight tickets, hotel reservations, rail and bus tickets.
In this podcast, Deep takes us through his journey of building MakeMyTrip at a time when internet adoption was still early. He talks about how he helped sail through challenging times to eventually list MMT on NASDAQ in 2010 and finally grow it to today’s scale of $2.4 billion market cap.
Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug
Born in Hyderabad and grown up in Delhi, Deep graduated from St. Stephen’s College and completed his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. Later, he took up a career in banking where he spent three years before taking the bite on his first entrepreneurial pursuit- setting up bowling alleys in India to tap into the expected boom in family entertainment. Not tasting much success, Deep decided to go back to the corporate life, joining GE Capital as VP of Business Development, when he was introduced formally to the internet and the enormous potential it had to significantly impact our everyday lives.
Deep decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship again, and in April 2000,- MakeMyTrip (MMT) was born. Convinced that his internet venture was bound for success, Deep looked for business verticals that were ripe for internet disruption. He arrived at travel as the industry that was poised for an upstart to take over using the power of internet and because- “travel is fun”.
Lessons from the dotcom bust
Early into the journey, the dotcom bust happened, making it extremely challenging to raise external funding for a business model that was purely built around the internet. At MMT, the team was constantly working with two to three months of runway in terms of expenses, salaries, rent etc.
However, this tough phase turned out to be a blessing in disguise in retrospect, as it forced the team to focus on unit economics from very early on. Another learning from that phase was the importance of patience. “No great company has been built very quickly. It takes time to set up a decent company in India, and probably 10 years to become something. So be patient. Don’t look back for the first 4-5 years. Once you are onto something tweak, pivot, keep your ears to the ground, pick up messages, do the right thing but at the first sign of winter do not back up. It takes a lot of courage to do it all over again. You probably won’t do it all over again”, Deep says.
Through the tough phase, MMT focussed on the NRI segment who were early adopters due to previous experience of transacting online, but in 2005, thanks to IRCTC, the Indian consumer became more comfortable with the idea of purchasing online, which combined with the advent of Low Cost Carriers in India offered MMT a unique opportunity to revolutionize the travel booking industry.
Going public in the US
Having raised four rounds of institutional funding from 2005 to 2009, Deep decided to take MMT to IPO in the US market, where it was a huge hit, appreciating 90 percent on the first day taking MMT to almost a $1B valuation. The listing enabled MMT to enter the hallowed league of Booking.com, Expedia, and the others. More details on the IPO journey in the podcast.
On a closing note, Deep shares his views on how the Indian markets are opening up making it easier for companies to go public, but that companies need to fundamentally focus on building for scale and not look at IPO as an end goal. “So, I would encourage all entrepreneurs, when they are deliberating an IPO to ask themselves a very odd sounding question- Why do you want to IPO?”, Deep ends with a question for scaled founders to ponder on.
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series with a path-setter: Naveen Tewari, Co-Founder and CEO of Inmobi, India’s first unicorn. Naveen started a product company at a time when most people weren’t thinking about it, went global and cracked the China market, and is now starting a group of companies under Mobi.
In this podcast, he shares a number of great lessons for first-time founders, from how to go through pivots successfully and the role that co-founders play in maintaining morale in an organisation, to scaling internationally and building a culture that is deeply enriching for the employees who’re part of your startup journey.
Naveen kicks things off by talking about the three businesses under InMobi Group: InMobi Marketing Cloud, Glance, and TruFactor. InMobi Marketing Cloud, the group’s business that everyone associates the brand with and that has been built over the last decade, has a strong presence across the US, China, and the rest of the world. The second business, Glance, is an AI-led content discovery platform at screen zero (ie the lock screen) that hopes to change the way content is consumed on mobile platforms. The third business, TruFactor, is a platform for data scientists, a bet on a future where data will drive business strategy, oftentimes requiring data scientists to solve complex decision-making problems for the company.
Rewinding back to the early days, Naveen talks about being born in an intense academic environment with many family members taking up teaching roles at IIT, and how he took a whole different path of joining management consulting instead of the expected PHD or exploring further studies. Post three years at McKinsey, Naveen did his MBA at Harvard Business School, which he calls “the most pivotal two years” of his life, enabling him to go beyond the restrictive thinking of a middle-class boy by establishing belief in his own abilities and that anyone can do big things in life.
After business school, Naveen dabbled in the startup world for a couple of years before starting a venture in the SMS-based search business only to realise that the world was headed towards internet usage with mobiles becoming more prevalent.
He speaks about how this phase, before hitting upon the final idea that led to success, was a very tough one — beset with societal pressure and self-doubt. The failures brought in lots of personal learning, but the phase was nevertheless a painful one, especially in the first two years when Naveen didn’t have co-founders.
He adds, “Always have a co-founder because you know in these journeys there are a lot of low moments. Actually, most of them are low moments and the co-founder’s job is not to really go ahead and hit you on strategy. It’s far more important for a co-founder to bring you out of these moments that you are constantly in, and vice-versa.”
On the early days of InMobi, Naveen talks about how he saw the need for businesses to invest in advertising systems once internet became prevalent, and this is the use case that they went after. They quickly realised that India was a small market at the time and expanded to Asia, before going global. The first markets that they entered were ones where they garnered contacts in, expanding from one new market to another, solving for the immediate next step that was planned out for the next 6–12 months.
In this episode of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have Nandan Nilekani, Co-founder of Infosys and the man who put in place India’s Aadhaar identification system. He tells us about how his time at IIT-Bombay honed his skills, growing Infosys, working on the UIDAI project, and why the ‘thinker-doer’ approach works.
We continue with our #InsightsPodcast, and on this edition have with us one of India’s biggest business legends, Nandan Nilekani, Co-founder of Infosys, its current Non-Executive Chairman and the brain behind Aadhaar while serving as the Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India. He is a Padma Bhushan awardee and was listed by TIME magazine among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006 and 2009. In this episode, Nandan shares experiences from both, his business days and from his more recent journey of public service.
Nandan starts by giving a glimpse into his formative years - of growing up in Bengaluru and then Dharwad, and making it to IIT-Bombay without access to any coaching classes. He credits his IIT days with the social skills and confidence that helped him take risk and build a large company like Infosys. While at the college, he dabbled in the many social activities and played a key role in organising IIT-Bombay’s cultural fest, ‘Mood Indigo’.
Talking about his early days, from meeting Narayan Murthy while interviewing for Patni Computer Systems to co-founding Infosys in 1981, building India’s first software campus in Bangalore in 1992 and going public in 1993, Nandan says the vision to build a globally competitive technology company out of India and the planning for scale by focusing on building an aspirational brand for employees and setting audacious goals for growth helped scale the way Infosys did.
“When we were a $3-5 million company, we talked about becoming a $100 million company. When we were approaching $100 million in revenue, we asked what it takes to reach a billion dollars in revenue.”
Nandan talks about how having a five-year blue sky plan, three-year strategic plan and one-year operating plan helped ensure the right mix of nimbleness of a startup and the professionalism of a large corporate. More on the entrepreneurial journey at Infosys, and reimagining it as a cloud service, in the podcast.
Thinking and doing
Talking about his next entrepreneurial stint as employee #1 at UIDAI, Nandan elaborates on the unique experience of building a team that was an amalgamation of stalwart bureaucrats from the public sector and top tech talent from the private sector, working together to successfully roll out Aadhaar. Citing the famous “thinker-doer” approach, Nandan mentions how his experience in thinking and executing roles in both public and private work settings made him uniquely positioned to achieve UIDAI’s mandate.
Opening up on the personal front, Nandan says that his curiosity to learn new things, being open to learning from others in an attempt to constantly stay relevant, desire to do something new, and willingness to live with uncertainty are all part of the core beliefs that define his value system.
Be frugal with time
Nandan talks about how the dual approach of being execution- obsessed while being able to step back and think big picture is something that’s helpful for founders to think clearly.
On scaling as a founder, Nandan has a simple tip: “Being frugal with your time is important. I am generous with my money, but frugal with my time. Money, you can give it away and make it again. Time is a perishable resource.”
Talking about the present-day startup ecosystem, Nandan is excited and hopes to see the next generation of Kotak, HDFC, TCS, and Infosys emerge to create jobs for millions, and leverage India’s growing $2 trillion economy. He hopes to see leaders spread their power, by delegating, empowering, and sharing the glory.
Tune in to listen to Nandan Nilekani as he speaks about the startup ecosystem, leadership, and the future for India.
In this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have the man of the hour, Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO, largest hotel chain of India that is now operational in more than 60 countries. Ritesh talks about the early days of OYO, how he always had grand plans for OYO and was able to execute them with his able colleagues to scale his company to today’s levels.
Ritesh remembers his childhood self as being the kid who always wanted to do different things. At the age of 13, he was selling sim cards just for the heck of it; at 18, he dropped out of college to start his first company Oravel, and got selected for the Thiel Fellowship, receiving a $100,000 grant from Peter Thiel, Founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook.
Spending time staying at friends’ places for a few months opened Ritesh to an exciting opportunity in the hotel industry. On the supply side, most hotels were passive investments for owners and had a fundamental problem of yield generation, with the asset owner wanting to get away from the daily headache of managing the asset. On the consumer side, there was a clear gap in availability of clean, well-organised, and well-designed hotel rooms at an affordable price. Ritesh saw absolutely no reason to not invest himself into solving this problem, and there has been no looking back since then.
“Whenever I have two opportunities, risking it versus regretting it, I would always invariably choose risking it, because I never want to regret that I did not pursue something that I really wanted to do. So that’s sort of what inspired me to start the first OYO hotel”, he says.
Building the right team
OYO today has expanded to beyond just budget hotels, with its offerings featuring upmarket luxury resorts, a chic mid-market accommodation brand (Townhouse), and others. The core principle though has remained the same: “bringing beautiful living spaces to middle income persons world-wide”.
Leveraging technology to scale
Ritesh has always had a focus on leveraging technology in his business. His 700 engineers in China and 700 engineers in rest of the world are constantly building new products and features that help OYO break the boundaries of language and culture through a superior experience. This, along with access to large capital and resources that come along with it, helped Ritesh understand the challenges and opportunities while entering new markets. Local talent has been a game changer, he says.
One of the most distinctive thing about the OYO story is the fact that Ritesh is all of just 25 years old today, which makes his feat seem even more incredible. He credits much of his personal growth to the management team he spends most of his time with who bring in years of experience across venture capital, consulting and operations.
Always curious to learn
Continuing to be field-oriented by learning from people who’re on-ground has helped Ritesh stay true to his entrepreneurial self and bring value to the table. Having a common mission that everyone was working towards, a transparent work environment that held each one accountable, and empowering his team members helped Ritesh keep age out of the picture when it came to team management and decision making.
On a closing note, the OYO founder talks about how he considers perseverance as the most valuable learning from his journey so far. “I feel that perseverance has no replacement. Remembering that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and continuously investing in the same direction for a long period of time is the most important.”
In this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have Harsh Jain, founder of Dream11, India’s largest fantasy sports platform with 70 million registered users and 10 million paid users. Harsh talks about how he achieved product market fit after multiple pivots while persistently following his passion.
After answering a quick round of rapid-fire questions that reveal his loyalty for Manchester United and Mumbai Indians, Harsh gives a preview of the scale Dream11 has grown to today and the journey that led up to this. He reminisces his high school days in London when he first picked up fantasy football and how it helped him keep in touch with his group of friends in Mumbai over the course of 2 years in London and 4 years of college in Philadelphia. Unwilling to join family business in real estate, Harsh’s itch to do something different and the hype around IPL at the time led to starting Dream11 in 2008, not the version we see today but more of a cricinfo++ with too many features and too little traffic. They moved to an ad driven business model only to realise that CPM rates in India were too poor to build a large business out of it and reached a stage where they ran out of money and had to run a services company on the side to keep the engine running at Dream11. Finally in 2012, they moved to the version of today, removing everything except the core business- fantasy cricket!
It was the time when Airbnb, Paypal and Facebook where in their growth phase and ‘growth hacking’ was a buzzword doing the rounds. Harsh left no stone unturned as he read up everything he could put his hands on around growth hacking, learning about A/B testing, cohort analysis, retention etc. along the way to finally understand what product-market fit was for his business, Dream11 would be an entertainment, fun product rather than an ROI driven product, a platform to multiply the fun of watching sports manifold at a nominal spend.
Harsh adds about the importance of founders knowing their numbers in and out and being crazy about a problem. “If you jump into a market when it’s hot, there is going to be a time when it’s not and you will be the first one to leave as well, because you never came in with passion, you never woke up every morning saying that this is what I want to do with my life, Founders need to enter this journey only when they wake up every morning thinking about this problem and they have a tough time to sleep at night because they’ve not had a crack at it. You have to have that passion because the journey is full of potholes and barriers and if you don’t have that passion, you won’t be able to survive.”
As a last thought, Harsh says, “Just fail, just go for it. Stop sitting, stop thinking, just start. Fail early, fail fast and be open to continuously pivoting and finding your way. Don’t wait for that big idea and more importantly do NOT not share your idea, speak to others and get feedback.”
In this episode of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, Divyank Turakhia, Founder of online advertising business Media.net, speaks about why entrepreneurs should focus on the right things, keep risks in mind, and must always be nimble.
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition we have with us Divyank Turakhia, Founder of Media.net, one of the largest online advertising businesses worldwide, which he bootstrapped till he eventually sold it in 2016 for $900 million.
Divyank starts off by talking about his early days growing up in a small apartment in Mumbai, and how he started reading his dad’s collection of books at the age of five. This love for reading is something he attributes his success to.“I spend somewhere between 800 to 1,000 hours a year reading, and I’ve done that for the last 20–30 years of my life”, he says. The learning goals became more specific as he progressed along his entrepreneurial journey, but even today, you’ll find him trying to get every bit of information possible on a topic that is relevant to a business problem he’s solving.
On being asked how he went about picking ideas for his startups, Divyank stresses on how it was never about coming up with a truly original ideafor him, but about coming up with a large space to focus on.
Being a techie, Divyank was looking for a large industry that had something to do with the internet: ecommerce and online advertisingwere the most obvious businesses that came to mind. He went ahead with online advertising as it was closer to his domain experience (the fact that he didn’t know much about logistics, which was at the heart of ecommerce also influenced the decision). He started with the niche space of domain advertising, leveraging his knowledge on domain names from his previous startup, as well as the relationships he had built. As he expanded from domain advertising to mainstream online advertisingat Media.net, he made sure he used the same strategy: owning a nichebefore moving to the mainstream part of the online advertising industry.
“If I directly started competing with the giants on day one, I would obviously fail because I don’t have the same resources in any form. The idea was to pick a nichethat some of the giants were not paying as much attention to, so that once you grow in it, you know enough,” Divyank says.
Sharing tips for young entrepreneurs, Divyank talks about the importance of keeping an eye out for the risks that the business faces. “As you build a business, you need to keep thinking about what are the top 10–20 risks that exist in your businessthat could wipe you out entirely and have a very rough plan to tackle them.”
He adds that having success metrics and measuring them on an ongoing basishelps prioritise efforts and resources on the most important problems.
Talking about dealing with failures, Divyank mentions how he keeps working on the problemuntil he’s solved it. That said, he urges entrepreneurs to reprioritise when needed. “Whenever you come across something that is more meaningful and that deserves your time and the time of your team a lot more because it’s a larger opportunity, you need to have that nimblenessand you need to be okay to let go off certain things that you’ve been working on. The industry changes all the time, events happen all the time, the marketplace changes all the time, needs change all the time, newer tech comes in. You need to benimble to change and constantly change.”
Towards the end of the podcast, Divyank urges entrepreneurs not to fuss about market timing. “There’s no such thing as perfect timing. All timing is perfect. The more important thing is to get started.”
Tune in to listen to Divyank share his views about startups, growing them, and the need to be willing to change.
In this episode of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, Ashwin Damera, Co-founder of EdTech company Eruditus, speaks about the effect the 'founder-startup fit' has on scaling a company and the importance of a mentor.
The #INSIGHTSPodcast series continues with Ashwin Damera, Co-founder of Eruditus, an EdTech company that makes Ivy League education affordable and accessible to the world.
Eruditus offers a wide portfolio of customized and open programs delivered in India, Singapore, Dubai, and other global locations. It also runs Emeritus Institute of Management, which provides short-duration online courses. The company currently has 30,000 students across 85+ countries pursuing certificate courses, diplomas, or online degrees.
In the podcast, Ashwin, who belongs to a South Indian family and was 'expected' to work for an MNC, talks about his journey into the world of startups. He recaps his college journey at Harvard Business School and how studying in Boston in an Ivy League institute changed his perspective about education and life.
He also talks about the origin of Travelguru, his first startup, and the risks he endured to start the company and run it for five years before it was acquired by Travelocity.
While every founder talks about product-market fit, Ashwin speaks about the 'founder-startup fit' and the radical importance it holds when it comes to scaling a company. "Somebody maybe very good at starting a company and taking it to $10 million in revenue, but from $10 million to $100 million, is that founder still a good fit for that company, at that stage?"
Ashwin envisioned Eruditus as he firmly believes education is transformational. He credits it for teaching him to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. With Eruditus and Emeritus, they decided to solve the problem of lack of high-quality education.
"How many people from India, Southeast Asia, China, or Mexico can pack up their bags for two years, spend more than a crore, and get that education. In most cases, even though people want to, the schools only accept five-10 percent. Accessibility is a huge challenge. So, one of the things we set to do was solve this challenge," he says.
As Eruditus scaled, Ashwin speaks about the launch of online programs through Emeritus and providing education that is completely opposite to the massive open online course (MOOC) model. He emphasizes on learning from their mistakes and understanding that classroom audience and online audience may not always demand the same product - in their case, courses.
The path Eruditus took, in 2016, by accepting capital was completely different from the one they had previously travelled for five years as a bootstrapped startup. Ashwin tells us why capital was essential to grow and scale.
As a founder, he also speaks about doing something you are passionate about, while also trying to find a big business space which allows you to launch a new S-curve every two years.
Comparing travel to education, he explains why it is crucial to building a sustainable enterprise over the years. The team that builds a startup and the team that is helping it scale is extremely important, Ashwin says.
He also emphasizes the importance of a mentor and the guiding angel they can be through this journey. On finding work-life balance, he says: "If you are running your startup as a marathon you will cover 24 km, but if you sprint you will cover 100 meters. To run it as a marathon, you need to have work-life balance."
Tune in to listen to Ashwin share his knowledge about the startup culture and the exceptional growth of Emeritus in eight years.
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition, we have Ritesh Arora, Co-Founder and CEO of Browser Stack, a mobile and web testing platform. In this podcast you will hear about Ritesh’s journey as a young engineer how he pivoted through a few startup ideas before landing on the BrowserStack idea. And how he bootstrapped the startup to more than $20M in revenue - a humongous achievement for any founder.
Ritesh comes from a family background in business, and always had an eye for venturing
on the entrepreneurial journey. Teaming up with his roommate from IIT Bombay, Ritesh started his first startup in final year of college: building a product for sentiment analysis in 2005, which involved him picking up machine learning and natural language processing way before AI/ML became fashionable. “I read probably about every research paper published on the topic at that time, about 76 of them. Went through them multiple times and came up with our own algorithm.”
Unable to come up with a go-to-market for the product, Ritesh and Nakul decided to take up jobs, but the desire to build something consumer-facing got them started soon on their second venture, in the space of information aggregation on the internet. This time around they were even able to gain traction, but monetization and identifying the right business model proved to be a challenge.
Ritesh and Nakul spent a year brainstorming before stumbling on the problem that BrowserStack solves today, while consulting with companies that were seeking their help in building machine learning solutions. ‘Testing website on internet browsers’ was a challenge for thousands of developers globally and something that Ritesh and Nakul experienced first hand as developers .
Ritesh and Nakul, set out to simplify the journey of developers by helping them test and debug their website on different browsers (mainly Internet Explorer at that time). The traction they got this time around was explosive, starting with 10K beta users in three weeks (thanks to John Resig’s tweet), moving to a paid offering soon that grew to $20K monthly revenues in about 4-5 months and $1M annual recurring revenue at the end of year one- all this when they were just a team of two, working out of a coffee shop in Mumbai!
The focus on global market from day one helped them scale to $20M annual recurring revenue in a span of four years with just a 50 member team. They realised the need to scale up the organization to be able to sustain the growth and decided to get advisors on board who can help mentor the team in the right direction. The fund-raise for BrowserStack was more about finding the right partner than about raising money. Ritesh speaks about the value that a good investor brings on board especially in the scaling phase, because the founder is always doing it for the first time while the VCs have helped many such companies scale.
Apart from talking about the journey of choosing the right investor, Ritesh shares learnings for younger entrepreneurs, from the early days and emphasizes on focussing towards solving large problems, getting feedback from customers, not solving for monetizing in early days and building a great product that makes the customer’s journey frictionless. “When your customers use your product, they should feel that it has changed their life” he says.
Tune in to the podcast to hear Ritesh’s phenomenal journey which has become an epitome of bootstrapping your way to success.
On this edition of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, we have Rahul Pangam, Founder of Simility, a fraud prevention and risk management platform that was acquired by Paypal late last year.
In this podcast, Rahul talks about his early days working at Google, how he met his co-founders, started off with a focus on building solutions for e-commerce companies, which became interesting enough to pique the interest of larger banks as well as Paypal. And of course, the entire phase of the exit.
Building fraud detection and risk management systems at Google led him to the thesis that there would be a greater need for new ways of managing the risk of fraud as more and more businesses went digital and the conventional methods lost relevance. He found great complementary skill sets in his future Co-founders Kedar Samant and Uttam Phalnikar, with Rahul taking charge of the business and operations, Kedar leading data science and Uttam heading infrastructure and engineering.
Rahul talks about the team's thought process at the time, saying, "We knew right off the bat that we were a self-contained unit that could build a POC (proof of concept) and sell the product. The three of us could build a company without needing a fourth person, for at least first 1.5–2 years"
So, Simility started off with the vision of using the power of machine learning to detect and adapt to the constantly changing fraudster behaviour. They decided to first chase ecommerce companies, as they were the easiest with whom the team could build early traction. Moreover, e-commerce was a space that Simility understood better than banking or any other industry in terms of customer pain points.
As Simility scaled, they hired sales, marketing, and user experience teams out of the US while the engineering and data analytics teams were based out of Hyderabad. This was possible thanks to Rahul's network from his days at Google and the incredible young tech talent present in the city who were excited about working for an enterprise startup.
Simility's success with ecommerce players led to inbound interest from fintech players and banks who collaborated to customise the product for the banking industry. As Simility gained traction in the banking industry, investors began showing an interest. Accel, one of their early investors, helped connect Simility to Paypal, who saw great promise in Simility's technology.
The road from Paypal's participation in Simility's Series B funding in December 2017 to the final offer of acquisition at $120 million less than a year later was full of twists and turns, but resulted in a happy ending for everyone involved - investors got a quick return at decent multiples and the folks at Simility found a new and equally loving home at Paypal.
Tune in to the podcast to hear their story.
On this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have our youngest guest so far, Farid Ahsan, Co-founder of ShareChat, the most popular company in the Indian languages, i.e. vernacular, space. It has over 100 million monthly active users, a feat that they have managed to achieve in less than four years.
On this podcast, Farid talks about his early days at IIT, what motivated him to start up, how he and his co-founders came up with the idea for ShareChat, what has helped them scale, and his learnings from the journey so far.
Growing up in six different cities because his father's job involved regular transfers, Farid became adept at adjusting to new environments and making new friends. At a very early age, he became cognizant of the differences and the commonalities between people of different cultures. He also began to understood the nuances that come with diversity, which lies at the core of ShareChat today.
Farid jokes about the job prospects for his stream, Material Science, not being the best, which meant he had to look at investment banking, consulting, analytics, or joining an early-stage startup as possible career options. Farid did an internship in investment banking, which helped him understand the foundations that made a company successful, but he also realised that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. More on how that came about in the podcast.
Farid sums up his learnings right in the early days in three simple points:
1. It's not the idea that makes you win. Is your product a 'good to have' or a 'must have'?
2. It's important to understand how big the opportunity is
3. Executing your vision is key
"A company is much more than a set of features or products, it is a way of building and solving problems," he says. He talks about how his team was able to implement some of these learnings. For instance, they shut down their initial venture, 'Opinio', a debate platform which they quickly realised was a 'good to have' product for a niche customer segment.
Talking about how they stumbled on the idea for ShareChat, Farid shares the story of how his co-founder Ankush Sachdeva figured out an anomaly on Sachin Tendulkar's Facebook fan page, where a staggering 80,000 people shared their phone numbers so that they could get added to a WhatsApp group.
Farid, Ankush and Bhanu Singh quickly wrote code to create 600 WhatsApp groups and decided to observe user behavior: why were they on WhatsApp, what their problems were, why did they share content on WhatsApp, what was the bragworthy proposition behind sharing content on WhatsApp…and more.
This led them to the core idea that people wanted to find content, were not great at searching for what they wanted, their vocabulary was limited, and this audience was excited about the prospect of interacting with new people. "Group kisi ka bhi ho, dhamaka humara hi hoga, (IT doesn't matter whose group it is, we'll be the ones making waves)", he says, citing the common user mindset.
For the new-age audience who communicate in their own language, the mobile phone with an internet connection has become the gateway to a new world outside their immediate social circle in the past few years. What the trio realised was that, all that this set of people wanted was a platform that helped them with discovery online - and this was what ShareChat was going to be.
Given their success, the strategy has obviously paid off. But between then and now, the road has hardly been an easy one. Farid talks about these and other challenges further in the podcast: Hiring - who are the kind of people they bring on board and why
1. The financial freedom that the ShareChat team has
2. ShareChat's culture of innovation and experimentation (while keeping things efficient)
3. Optimising the founders' bandwidth and helping each other grow
He closes with his take on success and how it is achieved. Listen to the podcast for these and other insights.
In this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have serial entrepreneur Meena Ganesh, Co-Founder and CEO of Portea Medical, the leading provider of in-home healthcare services in India. Meena has had an illustrious career spanning corporate and the startup world. We talk to her on what has helped her scale across these various environments.
Growing up across the country owing to her father’s job in the Indian Railways, Meena believes her initial days of studying in Kendriya Vidyalaya served as a very good indoctrination, and helped shape how she treats people today. “Studying in a KV really makes you very egalitarian, and you learn to respect people from every background,” she says.
Meena had always been a good student in school, and decided to pursue her undergraduate in physics with the intention of becoming a nuclear physicist, before realising that she was more of a generalist and didn’t have the mentality for research. She pursued a masters from IIM Calcutta and soon after graduation, married her classmate Ganesh. Growing up in an environment where the idea of women having careers was uncommon, the question of whether to continue a career after having children always lingered, But Meena was clear that there were no second thoughts about continuing her career: it was as important as family for her.
Tutorvista reached a scale of managing 35 schools that housed a total of 35,000 students and was eventually acquired by Pearson.
In 2013, Meena set out to look at different focus areas that offered the next big opportunity and felt there was a lot of disruption that could be done in the healthcare space. She observed that there had been a lot of investment in the healthcare provider space in the form of new categories: multispecialty, single specialty and quaternary care hospitals, but not a single well-known brand existed in the outside hospitals space that served as a partner for patients in their long-term healthcare journey.
New to the healthcare sector, other than her experience of being a user while helping her father through his cancer treatment, Meena spent the first six months identifying market problems and realised the importance and need for an ecosystem in the continuum care space.
Convincing hospitals to hand over their patients, convincing patients to adopt a traditionally unknown concept of healthcare delivery at home, and convincing medical professionals to see this as a legitimate career option were all challenges that Portea had to overcome to reach today’s scale of 4,000 medical staff on their platform across the country in over 16 locations.
This need gap quantification, and aligning the opportunity with Portea’s capabilities proved crucial in its success. The visionary in Meena is evident as she shares the one question she’s constantly asking herself, “Does your solution make a big enough impact on people’s lives?”
Summarising her learnings from a plethora of experiences, she says the willingness to shed your ego and learn from everybody, along with the ability to look at the 30,000 ft view as well as work with colleagues in doing ground-level work have been important in helping her scale. Meena’s advice to fellow women professionals is simple, “It is important to prioritise. Work towards making things work at home as well as career, but never second guess yourself. Be open to reach out to people in your circle and ask for help”.
We continue the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition, we have the ever-inspiring and charming Shradha Sharma, Founder & CEO of YourStory. In this podcast, we uncover Shradha’s journey from being a young girl from Patna to building the media powerhouse that YourStory has become today, with a team of 93 people, 80,000 stories published, 1 million subscribers and 20 million readers reached.
Being on the other side of the hot seat for a change, Shradha reflects on her successes and how she scaled as a founder over the past decade. From starting off as an idea to tell positive stories (something that she saw was lacking, in her experience at established media houses) to reaching a stage where the Prime Minister called out to the nation’s youth to read YourStory for inspiration, it has been a long journey for Shradha, where staying true to the vision proved crucial.
We get a peek into Shradha’s childhood: growing up in a family with four daughters and a son, raised alone by her mother while her father was away on work in the Merchant Navy. Shradha was a go-getter from the start and left no stone unturned to give her mother ample opportunities to be proud. She went on to major in History from St Stephen’s in Delhi, where she discovered her love for communication and writing, and also met the love of her life.
Shradha did stints with The Times of India and CNBC in Mumbai and climbed the corporate ladder before finding her calling in sharing relatable stories of common people, which she felt needed to be celebrated. Shradha recalls the struggles in the early days – not just to convince investors that she was not building an NGO but also in getting friends to join her. She was ridiculed, everyone said it wasn’t going to work, but she always had the conviction. In fact, the constant undermining helped stoke a fire in her belly, she shares.
“I chose to be the heroine of my story and not the victim. I used every stone thrown at me. I knew my business was not going to be an overnight success, and that it will take time to build. I wasn’t chasing big money or building a unicorn but drew joy from the work, it was what I loved doing.”
Talking about lessons learnt on both professional and personal front, Shradha has creative acronyms MNM (Mind, Network, Market) and 3Ms (Meditation, Medication, Mentorship). She says it’s important for founders to control their “mind”, invest in building a network with a focus on ‘giving’, and for the market to align with you. She illustrates on how increasing digital penetration and the coolness quotient associated with starting up provided tailwinds to YourStory’s growth.
At a personal level, Shradha has benefitted from both meditation and medication to overcome the agony of personal tragedies. She emphasises the importance of mentors and being open to asking for help from young and old alike. She laughingly points out that entrepreneurs become comfortable with being shameless in asking for help, thanks to the innumerable times they get no as an answer. Things change for the better, though, as one treads along the path to success, “Aaj kal toh mere acche din aaye hue hain (My good days are here!),” she jokes.
Shradha adds that the ability to communicate well (storytelling) is extremely crucial while building for success and that the narrative should evolve as stakeholders change. She talks about how investors have been a positive force in her journey, helping her shape into a better CEO by ensuring for discipline, rigour and accountability.
Just like any other founder, the journey has not been an easy one for Shradha and has involved making some hard decisions and surviving through tough times including those in personal life such as the unfortunate tragedy of losing her mother, who was a major source of inspiration.
In this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we are joined by Kunal Shah, Founder and CEO of Cred, and Founder and former CEO of Freecharge.
Freecharge was part of the first wave of ecommerce startups in the country, along with the likes of Flipkart and Paytm. It was acquired for $450 million by Snapdeal in 2015, making it the biggest startup M&A in the Indian startup ecosystem at the time.
In the podcast, Kunal starts off with talking about his early days, and how he started working at the early age of 15 to help his family tide over a financial crisis. He juggled a full-time job while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (which he chose based on class timings given his work commitments) and some freelance work in the evening, making him financially independent at a very young age.
He talks about his journey from a being a freelance designer and programmer to building a small SaaS company that pivoted many times to eventually become Freecharge. After the acquisition of Freecharge, Kunal had a couple of stints in investing, before deciding to start up again in 2018 with Cred.
In true entrepreneurial spirit, Kunal jokes about how he has done almost everything under the sun - from selling music CDs and mehendi, to running a SaaS business and even a BPO company. He also had a laptop import business for a while before finding his calling with ecommerce.
On how he achieved the product market fit for FreeCharge, Kunal says it started with the simple idea of offering a mobile top-up (which was the largest selling product at the time) free of charge to draw enough customers on the platform to potentially build a business. This was very much on the lines of the ‘loss leader strategy’ adopted by grocery stores to attract footfall. Kunal says he saw big opportunity in the mobile recharge space, which had a use case for 99 percent of the population who were on the verge of getting comfortable with online transactions, thanks to IRCTC.
That, along with reduced interest among merchants who were selling mobile recharges offline due to diminishing margins, made it a no brainer for these transactions to move online. As Kunal puts it rather nicely, “I saw recharge as the gateway to a transacting India.”
He calls himself a mediocre founder who found a great product market fit, and adds, “Terrible product market fits, even with the greatest founders, can never create value. Fighting headwinds never creates value, you only burn fuel.”
In the podcast, Kunal also talks about how it is challenging to get investors and team members on board when dealing with original ideas that do not have any global models to serve as comparables. Interestingly, it is these original ideas that have disproportionate wealth creation opportunities.
Kunal also gives the listeners a glimpse of the philosopher in him as he explains how platforms with a high frequency of transactions almost always win because the trust and habit built over many transactions enables such categories to expand faster in a mistrust democracy like India.
He also speaks of his famous Delta 4 theory, which encapsulates the need for new products to create significant delta in value creation for the customer through superior product/ service experience, making the switch from old behaviour to new behaviour irreversible, instead of giving massive discounts to infuse the delta in value creation for customers which is not sustainable without systematic change in consumer behaviour .
Answering a few questions from the audience, Kunal shares some words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs to succeed in a rapidly changing world. “Founders that try to fit in don’t raise the bar. So, if you want to be an outlier, don’t try to fit in.”
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast series, and on this edition we have Girish Mathrubootham, Co-founder & CEO of Freshworks. Freshworks scaled from $1 million Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) to $100 million ARR in five years and two months, making it one of the fastest growing companies in the ecosystem, and one of the first VC backed software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies in India to achieve this milestone.
In this podcast, Anand and Girish discuss Girish's early life, and the series of events that led to starting Freshworks. They speak about how Girish's ability to translate even the most mundane stories, his product training, and focus on culture has helped build a successful organisation poised to grow even further.
Girish talks about his upbringing, and about how he was an average student in school and college. But he really loved to learn; just not in a classroom environment. He attributes most of his learnings to after college as he could learn through practice, not confined to tests and a specific set of topics. Teaching is something close to his heart, and he is always looking for innovative ways to teach or communicate. This has honed his storytelling ability.
His learnings from Zoho, and his ability to tell stories has helped him immensely as he scaled Freshworks. This is especially so when it comes to hiring (Helpdesk is very boring, he says), and selling his vision for the company to a new hire.
His motto for fundraising is very simple and is something he's been meaning to tweet for a while: "Data is your enemy, story is your friend".
Girish further delves into how he got into products at Zoho, and later how business models influence products and not vice versa. Company culture is very close to his heart - Happy "work" organisation is his motto, and he's always had an eye on how to build the organisation's culture. The importance of culture fits within your organisation, and gearing the organisation to stay true to its values is further highlighted.
We end the podcast in true Girish fashion, discussing the next leg of growth for Freshworks - the jump to a $1billion business, and how he believes that Freshworks is not an aberration in the Indian product space but is just the beginning of India producing great global product startups, with a simple, yet intriguing story.
We continue with the #InsightsPodcast Series with a conversation on the evolving role of a Founder-CEO with Elad Gil, serial entrepreneur, investor and most recently, author of High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People.
Elad Gil has had a lot of experience with super-high-growth startups, having grown Google from 1,500 people to 15,000 people in just over three years. Following the stint at Google, Elad started a company called Mixer Labs, where he expanded the team from 90 to 1,500 in just a couple of years. The firm was acquired by Twitter in just a few years.
It was around this time that he started contemplating high growth and how to build a machine that can recruit 10 people a week instead of one person a month. What was supposed to be a blog post became a massively successful book. Elad is also involved as an operating executive, investor or advisor to private companies such as AirBnB, Coinbase, Gusto, Instacart, Optimizely, Pinterest, Square, Stripe, Wish, and Zenefits.
In this podcast, we talk about the role of the startup CEO. Until very recently, the Founder was CEO only until they could get the company off the ground. After that, professional management took over. Mark Zuckerberg changed that, establishing a tradition where the Founder and CEO became the mainstay with a very strong executive team backing them.
Elad tells us about the importance of the Founder-CEO, and the vision and entrepreneurial spirit they bring to the table. He also goes into greater detail about the evolving role of the CEO.
While hard work is important for success, avoiding burn-out is even more critical. It is important for founders to take a break and make some time for themselves. Founders should focus on building relationships outside of work, because this will be their support system when they go through really hard times at work. The typical image of a Silicon Valley founder is that of an individual who works very hard. What we don't hear about is the vacations and breaks they take that allows them to push that hard.
As startups scale, it is important for the CEO to play multiple roles, but it is even more critical for them to realise their weaknesses and hire for those positions. They also need to be willing and open to learn from the next level. The "growth mindset" is extremely important for founders to lead the company and make it a truly generational one. Learning from your peers, and being able to trust them with their work and letting go is key to taking the company to the next level each and every time.
In the first episode of the #INSIGHTSPodcast series for 2019, I had the pleasure of speaking to Binny Bansal – his first ever interview after his departure from Flipkart.
The pace at which Flipkart scaled remains unparalleled in India – it inspires both envy and awe. The pitfalls of scaling too fast are well known but scale is what every startup aspires for. It’s what Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal wanted, and it’s what they achieved, that too in just a few short years.
With scale comes having to let go – something that most entrepreneurs struggle with. It requires a level of trust that is not easy to give. But Flipkart wouldn’t have been what it is today if the founders hadn’t made that leap of faith.
In this podcast, Binny takes us through his childhood growing up in Chandigarh and how that moulded him, his early interest in computers and how he was "lucky" to join the Computer Science Department at IIT Delhi.
We get a glimpse of his life in IIT Delhi, his love for the "not so popular" courses and how a very unique set of circumstances had him meet Sachin, a year senior to him, as well as the woman he would marry.
He talks about the businesses that he and Sachin considered going into before zeroing in on ecommerce. Coding was easy, convincing distributors to sign up with them was not.
Binny also talks about why Flipkart bought Myntra (and the one reason they wouldn’t have done so). He’s candid about the acquisitions that didn’t work out. When it was time to plan the next leg of growth, what it took to decide to bring in the likes of Kalyan Krishnamurthy (now Flipkart CEO) and Ananth Narayanan (until recently CEO of Myntra).
Binny also discusses his next venture and the role he plans to play in India’s startup ecosystem – one that was synonymous with Flipkart for the longest time.
In this episode of #INSIGHTSPodcast Series, we focus on Cross-Border startups - particularly software startups that are cross-border in nature from early days. Dinesh Katiyar, our Accel India partner who is based in Silicon Valley shares some of his key learnings from working initially as a cross-border entrepreneur and now as a VC who focuses on this sector.
There is a range of important topics we cover in this podcast:
Sub-sectors in cross-border startups: What are the various sub-sectors within Enterprise Software that Dinesh is excited about? What are some of the nuances of each sub-sector and developing and scaling cross-border startups in these sub-sectors?
India advantage: Is there an India advantage while building Enterprise Software products out of India for the globe?
Product Market fit for cross-border startups: Does building a product for India first and then scaling to international markets make sense? What else startups need to think about in the early days while talking to potential customers of cross-border companies.
Enterprise customers: How can you service Enterprise customers sitting out of India. What can you do differently for these large enterprise customers vs. small-to-medium customers?
Getting the team right: Right hires in the US for an early stage startup with a majority of the team is based in India? Does it make sense to find a co-founder in the US?
Multi-cultural team: How do you build a multi-cultural team and why is that super important for a cross-border company?
World class products out of India: Israel is seen as a hub for tech startups that go global- is there a scope for India to build such a hub and if so how? Some examples of world-class software products built from India.
We continue with the #INSIGHTSPodcast Series and in this episode, we focus on the healthcare sector and discuss opportunities and the market landscape using examples from the Accel portfolio. To talk about this exciting topic, We have Barath & Radhika, Principal & Sr Associate at Accel whose core focus investment areas are in Life sciences, Medtech and digital health.
On this podcast, we discuss the healthcare landscape in India using examples from the Accel portfolio and what to look for while building out a healthcare company from India :
Examples from Accel portfolio on problems being solved in healthcare for global markets
What is life sciences - the model of an IP led lifesciences company solving global problems
Mitra Biotech -
Why did they choose to start in India?
The solution to an age old problem - How do you understand the effects of drugs on tumors without bombarding a patient with the drugs
Building a platform to develop molecules for improving drug delivery to cancer cells
The problems with the healthcare delivery in India
Moving care back to the home - counter intuitive insight and how Portea plugs the gaps in the delivery space
Onco.com - using digital distribution to disrupt the current value chain and deliver better care for patients
Using AI to deliver healthcare in the diagnostics space - How sigtuple uses digital distribution and AI to deliver healthcare and diagnose correctly.
The Indian Advantage - Why healthcare is attractive in India
Capital efficiency from being in India
3x-5x advantage in capital required from building from India
Talent, Infrastructure arbitrage from India - The Indian pharma story for next wave of lifesciences
Speeding things up - How India helps speed up development
The regulatory advantage - lesser regulations for initial development of drugs
Using the initial momentum and taking the drugs to more regulated markets for trials - the difficulty of trials in the Indian market
Examples where the thesis on cost and time plays out
The estimates from Axio - getting to market with 1/10th the capital and 60% of the time to get to market with a great product
Setting the standards in India so the product goes global - no compromise on quality
The healthcare business - things to consider while getting into the healthcare sector
The trust process - building trust, and the time and effort it takes to build trust
Importance of IP - having a good IP and using peer-reviewed publications for validation and marketing
Patent portfolio and defensiblity of patents - defending incremental IP and not infringing existing patents, and filing patents to get it out in the world
The team - building a team as the company grows, and the expertise required; the differences between life sciences, and non-life science businesses
The Indian story - shift from communicable to chronic disease, infrastructure gap, mobile first country and the advantage technology provides in such an environment.
We continue with our discussion on building for India in the #INSIGHTSpodcast Series and in this episode, we focus on selling to manufacturing SMEs. To talk about this important topic, we have Narayan, Co-founder of Power2SME, a "buying club" for SMEs. Narayan is a serial entrepreneur and before starting Power2SME, he was the founder & CEO of Denave, India's largest technology powered sales enabling services company. Previously he held various leadership positions in companies like Oracle and Microsoft.
On this podcast, we discuss the need for a “buying club” for the Indian SMEs, the role of credit in the economy, the life of a few and inescapable market effects:
Identifying a value proposition that can scale
Solving the right problems - choosing a problem which is a real pain point for customers
Importance of aligning with the interests of all players in the ecosystem
Building out the marketplace
Building out a marketplace for large sellers and small buyers
How is the market structured, and the quality of supply in India
Onboarding small unorganized players onto an organized marketplace
Turning Skeptics to believers - getting your first large seller to take you seriously
Working capital for SMEs
Challenges with getting credit for SMEs and the challenges for banks to underwrite and service SMEs
Why is working capital a big issue for SMEs? Potential for innovation
Taking on risk with NBFCs to enable credit for SMEs
The ILFS, liquidity crunch and how the credit system operates
Lessons learnt from running a startup
The ups and downs of running a startup - dealing with market effects
Effects of policy and regulation on business and SME
Diversification of portfolio of customers and lenders
Advice for startup founders - the importance of building a strong leadership and mentorship network
We continue with our discussion on building for India in the #INSIGHTPodcast series and in this episode, focus on building an eCommerce company for Industrial India. To talk about this important topic, We have Rahul, Co-founder of Moglix, a B2B marketplace for MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Operating Supplies). Before starting Moglix, He has held various leadership positions at Google in Asia Pacific and is a graduate of ISB and IIT Kanpur.
On this podcast, we discuss building a B2B marketplace for the Indian Industry:
Choosing the problem — How do you think about the problem to go after? How do you evaluate B2B market opportunities?
Importance of market size and, conversely in especially large markets figuring out what is the value proposition and the market-segment you can address with this value proposition
The chicken and egg problem — what comes first in a marketplace — solving for what comes first on your platform — identifying the size of buyers and sellers and determining the build-out of your marketplace
Contrasting between B2B and B2C — buying behavior and differences in customers
The difference in the decision-making process of B2B and B2C customers and ticket size changes and the way the product must be built out
Cash flow — B2B runs on credit while a B2C is on cash being paid upfront; rethink cash cycles for your business
Winning in the space — How Moglix is building a well-loved and resilient business
Building a tech-first marketplace to handle scale in the future
Surviving the initial few years and emerging as a leader in the space
Hiring the right talent for the team, and hiring for B2B
B2B businesses are not glamorous — finding the right talent means finding people with a passion for the business and the problem you are trying to solve
Hire a diverse group of people who bring complementary skill sets to your team — juggle responsibilities till you find the right hire for the role
In the next few podcasts, we will dive deeper into startups in the Indian Business Sector. If there is any feedback on this podcast or questions for the next set of episodes, please do share as a comment below or tweet us at @Accel_India
We continue with the #INSIGHTSpodcast Series and in this episode, we focus on tackling the Indian market, why selling to Indian businesses is an exciting untapped opportunity and how one can build for India. To talk about this important topic, we have Prayank, a Principal at Accel who invests in B2B, Consumer Brands and Fintech. He has invested in multiple startups solving problems specifically for Indian Businesses across sectors.
On this podcast, we discuss building for the Indian Business and how to go about building it out:
Indian Business Sector — Why it is an exciting space to build technology enabled startups
Picking a sector — What to look for and things to be wary about while picking a sector
Handling capital in a B2B business — payment cycles, working capital and managing your finances
Dynamics of a marketplace — Building supply, demand and building robust marketplaces
We continue with the #INSIGHTSPodcast Series on importance of execution and in this episode, we focus on the myriad problems and decisions founders face while scaling. To talk about this important topic, we have Dhruv Agarwala, a successful serial entrepreneur who has built companies across multiple Industries.
On this podcast, we discuss what to expect when we scale, and potential conflicts that arise and how to resolve them:
Early days - the thesis for Proptiger and figuring out the core value proposition for the business, and the focus areas
Achieving product market fit quickly - The importance of MVPs and integrating feedback into a scrappy, yet functional product
Scaling the business - What is the right time to scale your technology and refine processes, how did the org structure evolve with the business
Acquisitions - How do you look at acquisitions and achieve synergies. Importance of being prepared and timing your acquisitions
Strategic investments vs financial investments - How and when do you choose a strategic investor vs financial investor.
Dealing with problems as a founder - How do you deal with exits of leaders and co-founders, tips to manage emotional volatility
If there is any feedback on this podcast or questions for the next episode, please do share as a comment below or tweet us at @Accel_India
We continue diving deeper into the importance of execution in an early stage startup and how to get it right. We discussed this topic with Srikanth Iyer, co-founder and CEO of HomeLane in Episode #14. In this episode, we dive into the Education industry and look at execution from the lens of an experienced EdTech entrepreneur Vamsi Krishna, Co-founder and CEO of Vedantu.
In the first part of the podcast we dive into the following questions regarding execution in an EdTech startup:
Challenges of execution in early days
Importance of Minimum Viable Product and speed in execution
Focusing on one product and nailing it and the importance of that
Customer delight - to get to Product-market fit - what metrics did Vedantu use to achieve this
What changes after product-market fit?
When do you bring in specialists for specific roles?
Role of founders as specialists are brought it to take their roles
In the second part of the podcast, we dive into the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) approach that startups can use to stay focused on what matters for the company in the near to medium term. This methodology is very clearly articulated in the book "Measure What Matters" which is a great read for startups founders.
Measure what matters
What are OKRs and why does it matter?
How many OKRs at a company level and how do you roll it out?
Stretch OKRs vs Committed OKRs
What are the benefits of rolling out OKR process?
What are the challenges to watch out for?
Next episode will be the last on the series "Importance of execution" and how to get that right as a startup founder. If there is any feedback on this podcast or questions for the next episode, please do share as a comment below or tweet us at @Accel_India
We continue the #InsightsPodcastSeries and in this episode, we focus on the importance of Execution and how to get it right in the early stage of a startup. To talk about this important topic, we have Srikanth Iyer a successful serial entrepreneur who has built large companies across multiple industries. Initially in Education with Edurite (sold to Tutorvista/Pearson) and currently founder and CEO of fixed furniture eCommerce startup HomeLane.
On the first part of the podcast, we discuss the importance of execution and specifically the following topics:
What is execution and why is it important?
Early days — how to get things started, how to figure out must-haves vs nice-to-haves and focusing on must-haves
Speed vs. getting things right — what is more important?
Customer delight — to get to Product-market fit — how to go about it?
Role of product/tech — how important in early stage vs once you are focusing on scale
Launching with a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and then continue refining the product/tech
Why scaling prematurely can hurt your startup?
We also discuss a book that has really inspired Srikanth to deliver outstanding service to his customers. The book is “Uncommon Service” and highly recommended for founders — particularly startups that involve services. Here are some of the key takeaways from the book and we discuss a couple of them in the podcast in the context of Srikanth’s experience.
Uncommon Service — key tenets:
Tenet #1: You CANNOT be good at everything — to be great at something its ok to be bad at something else — how do you decide on what to be good at as CEO?
Tenet #2: Someone has to pay for it — what does that mean?
Tenet #3: It’s not your Employee’s fault — but they are the ones executing?
Tenet #4: You must Manage your customers — how do you do that?
Tenet #5: Now multiply it all by Culture — talk to us about the importance of this one?
In the next few podcasts, we will dive deeper into the importance of execution and how to get that right as a startup founder.
In this final episode on fundraising, we hear from a master story-teller — Ashish Hemranjani, co-founder and CEO of BookMyShow, India’s leader in entertainment ticketing.
Ashish recaps his journey from founding the company in 1999 all the way to 2018 and the various phases of the business ups and downs he has seen over this time period.
In particular, we discuss the following topics in great details:
- Early days of BookMyShow including launching India’s first cash on delivery (COD) service
- The tough years post the 2001 dotcom bust and how they survived those tough years
- How to pick your investment partner — and the importance of that in the battle called entrepreneurship
- How to think through valuation while fundraising
- Hiring bankers or not while fundraising
- How to become a good story teller as a founder
Difference between building a good company vs a great company
Having an empty chair that represents your consumer in every meeting
Why Ashish appreciates being known as a mongrel more than being a Unicorn
And most importantly how to run this marathon called a startup while still enjoying your life and coming back every Monday energised to build your startup!
Today, we are looking at the same topic from an entrepreneurs’ perspective. We are chatting with Abhiraj Bhal, co-founder and CEO of UrbanClap, a path-breaking company in the Home Services space which has grown from zero to over 300K transactions per month in just over 3.5 years and still growing at a phenomenal pace (3–4x per year).
We are again going to divide the topic into two sub-topics — 1) picking who to raise funds from and 2) the process of fundraising. Key topics covered in this short 30 minute podcast are outlined below.
Picking who to raise funds from
What are the factors to consider before picking who to raise funds from?
How did Abhiraj connect with his Angel Investors and VCs?
Importance of having an experienced Angel as an investor
Avoidable mistakes while picking your initial source of capital
Tips on the fundraising process
How long should someone budget for fundraising?
Tips on preparing your investor pitch — the What, How and Why methodology
Importance of story-telling as a founder and how to practice that and get feedback
Being completely open with the investor and why that is important
Best way to connect with the investor
Initial pitch to term-sheet — the process from an entrepreneurs’ perspective
In the next episode, we are going to hear from an entrepreneur who is a master at Story-telling — a very essential skill for fundraising as well as for recruiting and retaining employees. If there are any specific questions that are top of mind for you, please do share as a comment below or tweet us at @Accel_India
As a first time startup founder, fundraising can seem overwhelming. Many have gone through the process without too much knowledge about who to raise funds from and how to go about the process - particularly as it relates to the Indian ecosystem.
In this podcast, Abhinav Chaturvedi from Accel demystifies fundraising and addresses most of the questions that are probably going through your mind as a first time founder. Here are the topics covered in this podcast:
Picking who to raise funds from
When should you start the fundraising process for your startup?
When is it good time to go to an Angel investor vs an institutional investor?
What's the best way to reach your top investor choices?
What are the common avoidable mistakes that first time founders do while figuring out who to raise funds from?
Different types of companies - B2B vs B2C and any advice on how they should think about funding differently?
Tips on the fundraising process
What are the top reasons investors are compelled to invest in a particular startup?
What are some of the best pitches Abhinav has heard and funded - what stood out in those pitches?
From the first pitch to getting to a term-sheet -what to expect, what happens behind the scenes in a VC fund?
What are the common avoidable mistakes that first time founders do in the fundraising process?
In the next two episodes, we are going to hear from a couple of entrepreneurs who have gone through this fundraising process a few times and tips from them for a first time founder. If there are any specific questions that are top of mind for you, please do share as a comment below or tweet us at @Accel_India
In a startup ecosystem that runs on a culture of “move fast and break things,” Varun Dua took the path less traveled to establish Coverfox in 2011, an online insurance aggregator platform . Seven years down the line, we look back at his startup journey and the lessons he learned from plunging into the Indian insurance market as an entrepreneur. We also learn more about his newest venture: Acko, a general insurance company developing an innovative, more efficient age of insurance.
Though Varun only fell into insurance coincidentally, he was quickly sucked into its world and discovered everything about the market’s complex inner workings. Then it wasn’t long before the itch to startup got to him. In his own words, “I started off not really clear about what I wanted to do, but I definitely didn’t want to do what I was doing.”
Varun therefore talks to us about how he identified his vision, and in true startup fashion, the critical ways he pivoted his initial idea to solve more imperative problem statements. What originally started as a B2B software service company for insurance providers grew into Coverfox. Through tedious market research, many hours of fine tuning, and a hasty wake-up call about his technical understanding of product management and process development, Varun changed the way insurance works in India’s ecosystem.
His Coverfox journey was all about asking the important questions that providers and aggregators simply weren’t addressing. For example, do we really want our customer to go down to their car park, unlock their car, open their glove box, find their soon-to-expire car insurance policy, and log back onto the website, just to enter their policy’s expiration date into a field on our online questionnaire? We are sure you are tired just reading that sentence, which is why Varun streamlined this process to make closing a deal faster and simpler. It is no wonder then that Coverfox has become one of the leading online aggregators in India. More importantly, Varun gained a better appreciation for business processes and product management - two aspects he advises all startup founders to pay attention to, especially if they are eventually interviewing product managers only to have no idea what questions to ask. (True story! Hear it directly from Varun.)
This is what makes his journey into the nitty gritty world of insurance as a provider with Acko so important to him. He first sought to turn the insurance market on its head - but you can’t add a new coat of paint and expect the building to suddenly become brand new; You’ve got to change the rails and the plumbing too. “And if you really want to change the plumbing, you’ll have to start manufacturing it,” he states. Thus, he established Acko, an effortless way to find insurance, because it goes where the consumer goes, whether that’s Amazon.in or the Ola app. Join us on the latest INSIGHTS podcast as Varun discusses how he responded to those crucial questions, his product-market fit research process, and the key takeaways from his journey at Coverfox that all those looking to startup should know.
In 2007, Myntra founder Mukesh Bansal left California for India after spending ten years building his career in Silicon Valley. Accompanied only by the ambition to make his startup vision a reality and the unwavering conviction that India Shining was a truth about to be realised, he took the plunge. This week, we take a look at how Myntra took India’s e-commerce fashion market by storm and learn more about Bansal’s newest venture, CureFit.
Once Bansal arrived in India, his team referred him to Subrata Mitra, one of our founding partners at Accel. He easily piqued Mitra’s interest; “What was very interesting was the big commitment to come back [to India], and the second thing was [that] he was willing to put in his own money,” said Mitra. A startup founder unwilling to wait for investors was just as rare then as it is today. Therefore, the deal was closed and the cheque deposited. It was time to get to work.
Since then, Myntra has been numerous things. A personalised product company. A sports apparel firm. A travelling mall kiosk (yes, really). So what was the entrepreneurial journey that led to the Myntra that we have all come to know, browse endlessly, and love today? It took many a market pivot, a whole lot of patience, good ol’ commitment - and a lonely walk in a shopping mall. Trust us, this is a story you’ll want to hear because it truly goes to show that inspiration can strike at any moment.
Following Myntra’s success, Bansal planned to take a six-month vacation… Only to return less than a month later with an idea for a brand new venture: CureFit. After surveying the health and fitness market, he recognised its key issues and is now transforming the industry by bringing it to the 21st century.
Like many of us, you’re probably wondering how Bansal generates such innovative yet essential products. As Mitra puts it, “If you don’t live the experience, it’s not authentic.” Since 2007, Bansal has dedicated his career towards building brands with authenticity. In this podcast, live the experience with Bansal and delve into his entrepreneurial journey; from combining Myntra’s fashion and tech DNA, to why culture is such a vital aspect of any company, unearth his perspective about the critical influence of timing, market positioning, branding, and mergers. All before learning about Bansal’s newest venture, CureFit, and how it is revolutionising the health and fitness market in India today.
Subrata Mitra, one of the founding partners of Accel, has been a part of (and has even helped design and engineer) the startup ecosystem in India as it stands today. This week, we take a look at his exciting, ten-year-long journey as a hands-on investor. From the gaming industry to the fashion e-commerce market, Mitra has a world of knowledge to share.
Discussing how to find the perfect product-market fit, Mitra says, “If there is one customer who has a need that you can satisfy, that’s where you begin the product-market fit. Identify that one customer or company.” The problems, then, only arise when an entrepreneur attempts to scale. And trust us, Mitra has a lot to say about scaling; Behind every successful, groundbreaking project that seems like common sense now, exists a fair share of research, trial-and-error, and even failed attempts.
Whether it was Myntra’s initial stages: personalised mugs with your photo on them, or the very beginnings of Common Floor as a community-creation platform, finding the perfect product-market fit and its appropriate scalability model has always been a fruit of research and development. Like Myntra and Common Floor, you’ll be surprised to find out where and how some of India’s most prosperous startups, such as MuSigma and Virident, actually began. All this, right from someone who was on the ground, learning about the market, and influencing each company’s decisions.
Subrata also shares some valuable insight into the qualities of an entrepreneur who can turn a synergetic product-market fit into a scalable and monetizable venture. “There are outward facing and inward facing entrepreneurs,” Mitra says.
“There are a certain set of people who solve hard problems better and are also good entrepreneurs.” Could you be one of those “certain people” in the industry today? Well, if you’ve got the characteristics that Mitra identifies, that may be a possibility.
We also hear from one of Subrata's early portfolio founders Mukesh Bansal, who spent ten years in Silicon Valley working for startups there. After quitting his job and moving from Chicago to the Bay Area in California, Bansal “bounced around, sleeping on friends’ couches” just so that he could learn more about startups. Well, today, as the founder of two successful startups Myntra and now Curefit, we think his plan definitely played out well. Not that you should be bumming off your friends as a startup founder, but listening to Bansal’s advice will certainly help. All this and more on this weeks #InsightsPodcast.
“You can’t get bigger than Messi,” Anjana Reddy says. Less than two weeks ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Reddy, founder of Indian fashion company Universal Sportsbiz Private Limited (USPL), reflects on her entrepreneurial journey from a sports e-commerce brand to a national fashion industrialist.
A sports fanatic and forward-looking business mogul, Anjana left her town in Hyderabad to attend university in the US, where she discovered something she had never seen before in the Indian market: Dogs wearing team jerseys at sporting events. Well, everyone wearing team jerseys - and drinking from team-branded beer mugs. At pep rallies, football games, and after-parties, every single attendee had a way to let you know exactly which team they were supporting. That’s when she struck gold and decided to combine her two favourite things.
With India’s craze for the game - whether that’s cricket, football, or entertainment - Anjana decided to bring the business model to India in early 2012 through Collectabillia.com, a celebrity-based e-commerce merchandise and memorabilia brand. For this brand, she signed legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, and Rajnikanth. In 2014, she even managed to sign Lionel Messi right before he played the World Cup (despite a run-in with the Spanish Embassy; you’ll have to hear her story to believe it).
After her initial success, she developed her business even further, scaling it to include women’s fashion and youth-oriented clothing in both online and offline markets with WROGN and Imara. Though she was unfamiliar with the clothing industry, one of the oldest trades in the country, she spent nights studying the entire process from yarn to final product at factories, and analysed the market for years in order to position her brand effectively.
USPL is a lesson in market disruption, customer valuation, and how a little entrepreneurial drive can make a world of difference. Join us as Reddy, now on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list, discusses the importance of market analysis, distribution, and funding. And don’t forget your Accel-themed beer mug. (We’re kidding, but, Anjana, let’s work on that?)
Every entrepreneur has gone through the dilemma of quitting a well paying, full-time job and starting up. It is not as easy as it sounds and requires much thought before taking the plunge. In this episode we chat with Raghu, co-founder of TaxiForSure on his journey with TaxiForSure and particularly the early days and how they went about evaluating the market opportunity.
Some Advice For Entrepreneurs
As a successful entrepreneur, who exited his business successfully and now an active Angel investor, Raghu has a few tips for first time founders:
Be Close to the Market: Talk to as many people as possible in the market (actual supply, demand, etc.) to really understand the market
Don’t hire from the industry: Especially if you are trying to disrupt an industry using technology, avoid hiring from the industry (since they might be stuck to the ideas of the incumbent)
Focus is key: Focus on one core problem at the seed stage. During Series A stage, focus on scaling to multiple markets. Only post Series B, when you have established yourself as a brand in the core space, do you look for adjacencies.
Let it Go: As entrepreneurs, one of the most important things is the hard and tough call of letting go of certain people. However, these are the calls they have to take, primarily if it is affecting the business. Another aspect of letting go, is letting go of certain responsibilities to more capable people who you can hire in — the specialists. He added, “You have to become the jockey, not the horse.”
Ability to say no: Learning to say no as an entrepreneur is very key — to employees, to investors, to the Board — are all critical and figuring out what things to say “No” to is essential for the success of a startup
Every entrepreneur understands the importance of market evaluation, but not every market is the same and the ever changing dynamics adds to the entrepreneur’s dilemma. Prashanth Prakash, Founding Partner at Accel tell you how to ace the market evaluation, in this podcast with Anand Daniel.
Ideas don’t build a company but converting them to something tangible does. The first step towards this is understanding the market potential of your idea. Every startup knows the importance of market research towards making the product/service successful. But the way you evaluate the market is crucial. If an entrepreneur doesn’t know his market in terms of size, demographics, and the customer’s needs, then it will be difficult for his/her venture to sustain long-term. Also, market evaluation is one of the key factors for any venture capitalist to consider the potential of a startup. Not all markets are created equal, and what works in one geography doesn’t necessarily mean it would work in another. Especially when it comes to Indian markets, the dynamics are different in comparison to global markets.
Prashanth Prakash is one of the founding partners in Accel, who has been investing in ventures like BookMyShow, QuickSilver, RentoMojo, and CleverTab since 2004. In this podcast series, he talks about evaluating markets from an investor as well an entrepreneur’s perspective, especially for the tech sector.
BlackBuck, a startup focussing on the Full Truck Load (FTL) segment and the B2B space, has been charting new territories for online freight aggregators. Now, a lot goes into getting a startup from its genesis to becoming a successful company. For founders, the journey of their hard work and initial struggle is more than a sense of accomplishment. BlackBuck’s story is no different. So, what led to the initial idea of driving into the fragmented logistics market in India? What were the challenges? How the team grew from 3 founders to over 1200 employees? Joining us is first-time entrepreneur and co-founder Rajesh Yabaji, who will trace his journey to the initial days of conceiving BlackBuck.
It takes much more than ideas and passion to build a successful startup. Shekhar Kirani, an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist and Partner at Accel, shares his insights on how to build a successful startup by mixing the right ingredients like having great founders, critical skill sets, right team size, amongst others.
The Podcast is hosted by Anand Daniel, Partner at Accel