21 Point Action Plan to Corona-Proof Your Startup Dream

Calling the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis is a gross understatement. It could be a crisis for the established business ecosystem, but it is the equivalent of a tsar bomba for the early-stage startup ecosystem. If all of us do not act quickly, the entire venture capital ecosystem is staring down at years of effort, getting incinerated in a matter of weeks.

When the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, announced the Janta curfew, he talked about blackout drills and wartime curfews to a population where the majority hadn’t witnessed one. It was a reminder of a dark 15-20 period when India went through several wars with Pakistan & China. That ignited a mortal fear in me as well.

I feared that this crisis could destroy the decades of work that it took to provide confidence to young graduates to convert themselves from job seekers to job creators. We had to show years of results to convince Indian & global investors to pour money into startups via venture capital funds, angel networks, superangel syndicates, and venture debt funds. All this effort all this sacrifice, of the tens of thousands of people that make up the entrepreneurial ecosystem viz. over 39,000+ founders, 10,000+ angel investors, 500+ VC funds, several visionary politicians & government officers is on the brink of collapse.

However, real entrepreneurs are problem solvers, optimists, and overachievers. Any challenge, even something that challenges their mortal existence, will help an entrepreneur find another gear within them. As they say, even in adversity, they only see opportunity.

My team and I started to sound out Artha Venture Fund’s founders on the business impact the coronavirus pandemic was about to make a couple of weeks before lockdown. We asked our founders to create new budgets to account for the onset of nuclear winter in the fundraising world, bring their expenses down to the bare minimum, and to show patience along with courage at this time.

It has not been easy to convince the optimist in them to slow down for now and conserve energy to speed up later. Last week we put all our heads together on a zoom call to chart out an action plan for saving their dream – their startup.

I summarized the call in a 21-point action plan to save your startup memo for the founders. My team went a step further to make it into a beautiful & impactful presentation. In the spirit of joining hands during this adversity, I am sharing that presentation with you:

 

It is important to remember the immortal words of General S Patton:

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Together we will win the coronavirus fight in our homes, in our businesses, and our minds. Let’s roll!
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Founder Playbook: Getting ahead of Covid-19

The aftermath of the pandemic spread of the Covid-19 virus has hit financial markets where it hurts the most – their ability to bank on the future.

These are unprecedented times as countries close their borders, the Italian government shuts down businesses, and schools, colleges, and universities are shutting their campuses and moving classes online. The disruption in business and how it will get conducted in the near term has created a tectonic shift that is rattling global markets.

When the most capitalized financial market in the world starts oscillating like a 5-year-old getting on a swing for the first time – it is time to sit-up and take notice.

Even we felt the tremors far away, i.e., in the venture capital ecosystem. Sequoia’s calling Covid-19 spread The Black Swan of 2020. This spread is dangerous, and the situation could spiral out of control – quickly.

Therefore earlier this week, Vinod and I had organized a conference call with Artha Venture Fund’s founders to address this growing situation and to work out how we could get ahead of the problem. Here is a brief synopsis of how our founders are tackling this issue (thank you, Arvind, for these notes):

  1. Do not panic but stay vigilant
    1. Keep an eye out for a demand drop in the next 3-6 months
    2. Respond to it quickly and decisively
  2. Remember that a typical downcycle in VC lasts for 18-24 months
    1. Survive this period, and you will thrive when the tide is back
  3. Investors are tightening their belts
    1. Be prepared for long delays in fundraising
    2. Drop-off in valuations
  4. Prepare fresh budgets
    1. Be conservative in revenue estimates
    2. Cut unnecessary & discretionary spends
    3. Find ways to control the burn, i.e., increase revenues or cut the costs
  5. Despite your best efforts if you envision run out of money in the next 6-9 months, then
    1. Raise an additional buffer right away and extend your runway to 15-18 months

As an optimist contrarian, an economic upheaval offers the best opportunity to gain on the competition. One must remember that people will continue to consume goods and services, but the way they consume it is going to change – temporarily.

A founder must watch the customer’s consumption patterns closely, prepare to pivot the business to serve his customer base, and capitalize – even in these adverse business scenarios.

A note: I do not attempt (in any way) to disregard the seriousness of this virus. The severest impact of this is on the part of the population that has pre-existing medical conditions. To me, it means that entrepreneurs are in the higher risk category due to entrepreneurial stress they undergo (I have written about in the past). The recent turmoil is just adding to that stress.

Therefore stay calm, stay positive, keep your ears close to the ground but keep your hands clean and off your face. 😊

A Pleasant Surprise on the Upside!

While redoing our website, I accidentally stumbled upon an interesting piece of information.

I wanted to create a portfolio filter that would allow a visitor to create portfolio cohorts using factors such as the year of our investment, whether we were current investors, which startups we had exited from, or which sector the startup operated in and so on.

While tagging the startups, my team discovered that 4 of Artha Venture Fund’s portfolio companies had at least 1 female founder, i.e., 66% of the fund’s portfolio! This statistic piqued my interest as I stress the importance of being gender-neutral when it came to choosing our founders. Yet our female founder representation was far higher than the 20% female founder representation reported in CrunchBase EoY 2019 Diversity Report published in January 2020.

I dug further to look into our upcoming pipeline, which told me that out of the 5 deals which were at an advanced stage of closure, 3 deals had at least 1 female in the founding teams – 2 where the female founders held the CEO position!

I still felt that my sample size was too small to form an opinion. So I widened my search. My team & I started an investigation into my previous portfolio that I had set-up through our family office, i.e., Artha India Ventures.

The team keeps granular information on my past performance to report to institutions and family offices that need the information as a part of their due diligence. It took a few hours to figure it out, but 22 out of the 69 startups I had previously invested in had one female founder, i.e., almost a 33% representation!

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The team went deeper to uncover that the female founder cohort delivered a 41% IRR with 4.3x multiple on invested capital in comparison to an overall portfolio IRR of 56% with a 4.6x investment multiple. Though the female cohort performance is lower than the overall performance; it does not tell the entire picture.

Our 330x multiple in OYO skews the numbers in favor of the XY chromosome cohort, but several of our female founder companies are raising new rounds of capital. One of them is months from becoming a unicorn, so it is a matter of when (not if) when the female cohort will be the alpha for the portfolio. While an eye-opener, I am not proud of beating the gender bias – not this way.

What I am proud of is that diversity happened without gender bias in favor of the XX chromosome. I am very vocal in stating that we do not favor a particular gender in our employees or founders. I believe that being entrepreneurial is a gender-neutral trait, and to invest in someone because they have or lack a Y chromosome is foolhardy.

Despite these results, I continue to stand up for what I said in last year’s blog post, Why I refuse to promote Women’s Entrepreneurship. 

The moment that I start treating a founder differently because they are women, it means that I do not see them as equals. I will skew my thoughts to cater to my bias, and it will hurt them as much as it will hurt my bank balance.”

To investigate if my lack of bias was something I felt or did it percolate down to our treatment of our female founders, I asked my XX founders whether they felt any bias from our end. Besides, I asked them why they gave a seat to Artha for their entrepreneurial journey. This is what they had to say:

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The diversity of the artha eco-system is felt in all the events we come together with Artha- where we meet entrepreneurs working on awesome ideas - pushing through- without feeling any differenc

In closing, while global reports state that the penetration of female founders in startups is very low, I have little concerns for the same. People whose investment lens has a filter against a particular group of people due to their color, country, or chromosome will lose out – lose big.

I am glad that our lens is crystal clear and that my team chooses the best people for the founder’s job. We follow an incredibly meticulous approach when it comes to choosing our founders.

Not always do we have the most qualified founders, but we attract the most passionate founders’ with a deep internal drive for the problem they are solving. We trust in our process of channelizing a founder’s energy to win one battle at a time and create category-leading companies.

Now if that means that our winning portfolio has a disproportionately high number of female founder companies – then so be it!

My funding picks from last week (w05)

There were 15 deals in week 5 of 2020 that were available on Traxcn, Inc42, and YourStory,
I sat with our funding team, and after some enlighting discussions, I have shortlisted my picks to:

Name: InterviewBit
Amount Raised: $20 million
Investors: Tiger Global Management & Sequoia India
What does InterviewBit do?
Edited from Traxcn: InterviewBit is an online platform for tech interview preparation. The platform offers gamified lessons with video tutorials, primer problems, and guided solutions for programming, scripting, databases, system design, puzzles, etc. The platform also enables the candidates to get connected with the right companies worldwide based on skills and preferences.
Why do I like InterviewBit?
I like focussed vocational plays. Last year I had picked out GreyAtom as a funding pick as it provided an upskilling platform for data science and web development employees. Therefore picking it isn’t a surprise that InterviewBit got selected even though the $20 million round from Tiger & Sequoia is bigger than a typical Series A round in India.
InterviewBit solves an exciting problem of finding, interviewing, and evaluating tech talent, which is the Achilles heel of the best of Indian start-ups. The CAC for such plays is quite high, but considering the 18-35 lakh rupee salary bracket they target, the rewards may outweigh the costs.
Only request – can someone create a platform for finance and accounting employees! 😊

Name: AdonMo
Amount Raised: Rs. 21.4 crores
Investors: Bace Capital, Astarc & Mumbai Angels
What does AdonMo do?
Edited from Traxcn: Adonmo provides an in-transit cab advertising platform for advertisers to reach their target audience. It enables advertisers to place their ads on top of the cab and select the target location and relevant time slots to display advertisements and track their ads in real-time. It uses a proprietary computer vision and hyper-local technology to identify its viewers and advertise.
Why do I like AdonMo?
It was unbelievable that I had created a business plan to provide contextual ads based on geo-location on top of taxis during a 6-7 months stint in Kolkata in 2012 or 2013. I had reached out to taxi-top display manufacturers in China who could provide the hardware required for this service. These plays were very popular for advertisers in Africa as most homes did not have electricity – therefore, taxi-top displays were the primary distributors of advertising. But AdonMo is precisely doing what I could not i.e., EXECUTE on the idea.
I am excited about AdonMo as it disrupts the hold billboard owners have enjoyed for several decades. A moving billboard provides better and deeper reach to advertisers with exhaustive reporting and must work out to be of much better value than a billboard.

Name: YoloBus
Amount Raised: Rs. 4.28 crore
Investors: Undisclosed
What does YoloBus do?
Edited from Traxcn: Yolobus provides an online-based platform for booking intercity tickets. Users can book tickets by giving details like location, date, time, etc. It offers features like real-time tracking, in-cabin Wi-Fi, Toilet, Pantry, CCTV cameras, etc.
Why do I like YoloBus?
There are several intercity bus services. So what is interesting about just another intercity bus service?
There are several intercity bus ticket booking platforms – So what is interesting about just another intercity bus ticket booking platform?
India is home to the world’s largest and fastest-growing middle-class population. India’s growth pulled 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016. It is only a matter of time before India’s per capita income will cross $4000 with and a majority of the Indians will belong to the middle to upper-middle class i.e., aspirational class.
This vast majority of people will have a very different consumption basket and preferences compared to the sustenance living Indian, and services like YoloBus cater to a growing section of the Indian audience.
While Yolo may get considered a bit ahead of its time, if it can keep its costs of operation and customer acquisition in control and sustain – there is a big market for it to capture!
One question, though – why are the investors undisclosed? The first time for me to see a release in which the amount gets disclosed but not the investors!  

Weekly Review Meetings to Create A High Performance Culture

Yesterday, I did my 8th continuous weekly review meeting with Artha’s interns, analysts, associates, and heads of departments. I did a similar exercise during my last year at the family office and carried it forward to the first team of analysts at the fund. Due to specific personal and professional commitments, I broke this habit until my EA reminded me of the benefits of that practice. I re-read Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager in October last year, and immediately, I restarted the weekly review practice in November, adding elements of Tony Robbin’s RPM methodology, something that I wrote about in my first post of 2020.
The format of the weekly review meeting is simple.

  • The meeting is conducted 1 on 1 with each team member for 30-45 minutes
  • Their direct reporting manager’s presence is a must
  • We first discuss the outcomes promised by the team member for the current meeting
    • If the team member misses their committed outcomes, they provide
      • Reasons why did they did not fulfill their promises?
      • How will they avoid this situation in the future?
      • What help or resources they need from us to get to their goals?
    • If a team member meets or exceeds their promised outcomes, they explain
      • Why were they successful?
      • How it felt to achieve their promised outcomes
      • How can they repeat this performance in the future?
      • How could they help others in performing like them?
      • What was their learning from this exercise?
    • Then the team member provides their commitments to delivering outcomes before the next review meeting.
      • The outcomes promised for the following week are recorded on a shared excel
      • It is updated during the meeting and shared in an internal Team’s channel created for weekly review

It is clear at the outset that this meeting is not the time to get specific things reviewed. I conduct weekly reviews to clearly define what each individual is doing for the firm and how their efforts get them to their outcomes and (as a result) help the firm reach its outcomes. Therefore the most crucial part of this meeting is the quality of information on the committed outcomes, therefore:

  • Be specific and quantifiable
  • Challenge the individual to continue to grow in different aspects of their job role. For example, an analyst working with me must commit to complete the following outcomes before the next meeting:
    • The number of deals that they will source directly from their efforts and input into Salesforce. During the review, they must
      • List out the deals sourced
      • Highlight the deals they like and why
    • The number of transactions that will be completed and move out of the active pipeline
    • The number of ecosystem events they will attend and during the review, they must
      • Give details on what they learned and how it benefits their job role
    • Give the number of events that they will attend over the next 30 days
    • Read a book, write a book review and distribute it internally for feedback
    • Prepare an essay, presentation, or report on a topic of their interest or on a subject that is essential for their job and have it:
      • Distributed internally
      • Amended and finalized based on peer feedback
      • Present the final version for sharing on the AVF blog
    • List out activities that they are doing for the investee companies assigned to them and provide the latest news on them and their competitors

I like this style of review meetings because it separates the wheat from the chaff. It exposes the team members that are excellent at presenting an image of competence but are slowing down the team. The weekly review system compels them to show me how they are helping the team reach their goals and that they are improving themselves to take on more significant challenges.
As their leader, the periodic review allows me to figure out which team members are struggling, plateauing or spiraling down. I pay close attention to their weekly reports and their overall attitude during the meeting. It allows me to identify issues quickly, isolate them down to a lack of skill and/or understanding and/or environmental problems and create a plan on how to check the slide and get the team member back on track.
Unfortunately, this practice identifies a small subset as misfits for the requirements of the jobs or culture of performance. Those people will quickly find ways to avoid attending the weekly review, scheduling professional or personal appointments, or running away from any reporting that exposes them. I try to reach out to them to the best of my ability, but if the situation does not improve, I must let them go, or they quit. I do not take those losses to heart because a misfit’s departure makes space for some who can, will, and wants to run with the baton.
The new weekly review format has me excited, and the improvement in the team members is encouraging me to make it the central theme of my week. The most significant benefit of this exercise is that it connects me with the person at the frontline of my businesses. I can empathize with their struggles and those of the company and course-correct before things spiral out of control. It also provides me valuable information to decide when I should to press the accelerator or hit the brakes.
Once again I have blocked out a day a week to conduct these reviews, and I am teaching the leaders around me to start doing weekly reviews. It frees up the management from micro-managing and gives the team members the freedom to chose their outcomes and how they will get there. The go-getters love it, the pikers hate it, and the firm enjoys massive gains in productivity!

My Funding Picks from Last Week (W01)

The first week of 2020 was understandably slow for deal announcements with Yourstory reporting a 73% drop in funding from last week. It was slim pickings for me to choose my funding picks, and I decided to choose just one.
Aeron Systems raised ₹2 crores from Bharat Forge
What does Aeron Systems do?
Copied from Traxcn: Aeron Systems focuses on the development of technology, applying its expertise in embedded electronics to domains encompassing aerospace, automotive, renewable energy, and agriculture. The company offers products in two technology segments, Inertial Sensors, and M2M devices. The IoT solutions include wireless data loggers, wireless data gateway, vehicle health monitoring systems, and a wireless weather monitoring system.
Why do I like Aeron?
Artha manages 5 renewable energy projects, and for a long time, I had an analyst to log weather data sourced from weather.com with each daily generation report. We would find trends that gave us a good idea of the next day’s generation. However, the weather.com data wasn’t accurate as it did not capture the weather at the project location but from their closest available weather station.
Therefore and in all honesty, it was their Weather Monitoring Station for Solar Power Plants that lured me into learning more about the company. I asked the Artha Energy Resources team to reach out to them and get a demo for our current and future projects and see if it is cost-effective.
Looking at their product portfolio, getting investment from Bharat Forge is a masterstroke!

I liked FarmERP investment as I am interested in Farming as a Service. However, there was nothing shared on the amount of financing, and since the company is over 14 years old it outside the contours of how I would define an “early-stage” start-up.

Family & Friends – Please Save Your Capital!

A couple of months ago, I found my jaw hitting the floor during a start-up pitch. The founder of an early-stage B2C startup revealed that he had previously raised a family and friends’ round of the princely sum of 5+ crores (~$900k). That capital was exhausted in less than 18 months; the monthly burn was over 50L per month with a double-digit staff strength. All this effort was delivered less than 25 lakhs in sales – since inception!
Runaway spending, low traction, running out of cash are situations that I regularly encounter as an early-stage investor. What worried me was the lack of oversight the family and friends had on how the founder invested their capital and their lack of experience steering the founder from avoidable expenses.
For example, precious and expensive capital found itself funneled into:

  • A massive PR & Branding campaign which wasn’t delivery but continued to burn a hole every month
  • Lobbying for international “paid awards” that cost a bomb but did not deliver results.
  • Massive allocation on R&D, but it was a ruse. The money got spent on traveling to different countries to find manufacturers to white label their products to the company
    • I have seen others do it at 1/10th the cost & time

I cannot hold the founding team entirely at fault here too – part of the blame should be on the investor class. They infused excess capital into the business, thereby encouraging the founder to burn the money on things that don’t matter, ultimately setting up things to fail.
My presentation of these entrepreneurial misadventures is not an attempt to rub salt on the wounds of the family and friends’ investors or the founders.
I want to point out something fundamental. Except for unusual situations* family and friends must limit the amount of capital they commit to an entrepreneur. Leave the larger rounds of capital to the professionals. Not only will it save capital for generous family and friends, but it will also save founders from committing hara-kiri with their startup ambitions.
If this were a one-off situation, I would not have written about it, but I am witnessing a marked increase in the number of ventures backed by family and friends and coming to us for a seed round. We like family and friends supported investments because it shows that those closest to the founder also believe in them, but like healthy foods – too much green can be injurious to health.
Most of the time, family and friends judiciously put in a small amount of capital, just enough to get the venture started. However, there were many examples where family & friends have drowned a lean start-up culture with a deluge of capital – killing the enterprise and blowing away the capital.

So, the obvious question that arises is, how much should a family or friend commit to an entrepreneurial family member or friend?
The good news is that a family or friend need not look too far.

The best accelerator programs in the world, i.e., Y-Combinator or TechStars, commit $150,000 (~₹1 crore) for a 7-10% equity stake in pre-seed ventures. Similar programs in India like 100x.vc, Indian Angel Network accelerator, or VentureNursery (in the past) invested between 25-75 lakhs for a similar equity position.
All the branded investors mentioned above have many good and bad investments; therefore, with their experience, they can guide founders on promoting the right and shunning wrong behaviors in their start-ups. So, for inexperienced family and friends’ teams, the correct amount of capital would be between 50% to 75% of what these guys invest, i.e. anything in 40-75 lakh range.
Family and friends can decide where to invest in this range based on the domicile of the venture but ensuring that the founder has 6-9 months to find a professional investor while they continue to grow their start-up. It is the founders’ responsibility to consistently update their investors whether things are going well (or not). Developing this habit is vital but critical in case things are going well, but finding a professional investor is taking time. Family and friends could opt to put in some more capital IF they are comfortable with the start-up’s progress and are objectively taking the additional risk.
However, the family & friends’ capital tap must end at that.
 
* While It is still advisable to leave the more giant cheques to a professional but in certain situations, it makes sense for a more significant allocation from family and friends. These are exceptional situations, not the norm.

  1. If the family and/or friends have in-depth domain knowledge and are objectively backing one of their own
  2. In Meditech or Healthtech like start-ups that require more massive upfront investments and the family and friends’ investors have in-depth domain knowledge

My funding picks of the last week (W49)

Most funds are winding down their operations in December; therefore, there wasn’t enough funding news from which I could shortlist. Yourstory reports that there were 17 deals in total with less than 50% meeting the criteria of the early-stage deals for this section of this blog.
The launch of the first cohort of Sanjay’s 100x.vc should change that this week, and I should have a tougher job to choose my top picks next week!
 

Sarva.com raised ₹20 crores from Fireside Ventures

What does Sarva do?
Sarva is a wellness start-up that offers a wholistic ecosystem for mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing that utilize the ancient practices of Yoga. Sarva’s website claims to provide 25 forms of yoga taught through studios in 14 cities and has membership plans similar to Cure.fits memberships.
Why do I like Sarva?
The success of offline plays like Cure.fit and Bombay Shirts have brought back confidence in the augmented real estate brand plays.
Yoga has a mass appeal, and while Cure.fit does offer Yoga classes, I like the specific niche that Sarva’s is pursuing. Several Yoga schools in various cities provide personal trainers, but very few (maybe none) have tried launching a national brand like Sarva. The rest of the ecosystem is fragmented and regionalized.
I am a frequent user of Cure.fit (when I am in town) I love the flexibility of choosing classes that work with my schedule at a location closest to me on a given day. I suspect that with their war chest full of money, Cure.fit could quickly launch a Yoga studio vertical too. However, I suspect that the difference could be in the execution.
I found a Sarva studio in Nariman Point, and I will take a trial class to compare the two before I say any further.
 

Indyfint.com raised $2.1 million led by Saravanan Adiseshan

What does Indyfint do?
IndyFint offers a plethora of bank-like services for businesses (as per their website) as well as a marketplace to provide loans to merchants, employees, and students (as per the YourStory article.)
Why do I like Indyfint?
I am a big believer that the Indian banking system is ripe for disruption. Banks use IT systems, policies, and operating procedures that are decades behind the business requirements of today. Previously (and in frustration), I had written a wish list for what I would like for a bank to do for me (as a corporate customer).  Therefore I have a soft spot for those attempting to take on the big banks!
I am not 100% sure that IndyFint is attempting to become an alternative-banking platform but I like the services they offer on their website. Just like them, several other start-ups are trying to break the stranglehold created by Indian banks. I support the disruption, and I forward to helping one of these disrupters with our money as well!
 

Dhruvaspace.com raised ₹5 crores from Mumbai Angels

What does Dhruva do?
Dhruva builds nano-satellites that work with ground sensors (also produced by them) for applications in agriculture, weather monitoring, infrastructure, etc.
Why do I like Dhruva?
Space is the unclaimed territory. Nano-satellites flattens the playing field that was previously occupied by big corporations or large governments. With billions of dollars at their disposal to send up massive satellites, their money power acted as a moat to fully exploit real estate a few hundred kilometers above our heads.
Nano-satellites and alternative delivery mechanisms democratize access to space. They provide access to applications that were (until now) were outside the reach of most of the world.
I believe that the market for nano-satellites will be worth tens of billions soon and add to that this is an Indian company that is attempting to compete in this space (pun intended). It is difficult not to love that!
 
Artha India Ventures invested in Kratikal’s Pre-Series A round. The announcement took place last week, but I chose not to review that investment in this section.

My Funding Picks from Last Week (W48)

I am back with my favorite funding news of last week! I had shared my purpose in starting this weekly post, and I have received much positive feedback. Therefore, I was eager to dig into the top news from last week to share with you today.
Last week was a stellar week for fundraising, with over $1 billion raised. There is some deviation in that number as YourStory claims that the total was $1.18 billion, while Inc42* claims that the total was $1.08 billion. However, both agree that over 90% of the money comes from the $1 billion round for Paytm announced through VSS’ twitter handle.
However, Paytm does not fall under the parameters of an early-stage start-up; therefore, within the early-stage funding news for the week, these were my favorite:

Tripeur.com – $1 million from SenseAI, Better Capital, Patni Wealth Advisors, Incubate and Rajul Garg and Alacrity India

What is Tripeur?
Tripeur is a cloud-based corporate travel expense management solution. They utilize AI/ML technology to reduce corporate travel expenditure by 30% (as claimed) with better reporting and productivity gains for the travel admin. They claim to have served over 50,000 business travelers and booked 1.4 lakh trips for them through their online platform.
What do I like Tripeur?
I have slowed down investing in travel over the past few years, but it still makes up almost 25% of my overall investment portfolio. We evaluate travel start-ups as it continues to be a significant investment theme for AVF.
Within travel, I have found corporate travel to be the ripe space for disruption. I had identified corporate travel as the number 1 pain point to solve in my October 2017 post on the travel space.
While I haven’t utilized the Tripeur platform yet (I sent them a demo request over the weekend). However, I can speak from experience that a decent corporate booking platform can expect a very sticky customer base. They must provide access to the best prices with easy booking and cancellation options along with accurate reporting for the finance team.
These pain points are widely prevalent across all corporations, big or small. Therefore, people would readily refer customers to Tripeur if they can do what they promise, providing significant savings on CAC.
Tripeur could find much value in associating with many of my portfolio companies – Confirmtkt, Repup, OYO, VistaRooms, and others.

FirstU.in – undisclosed round from India Quotient, FirstCheque and Farooq Adam

What is FirstU? 
FirstU is an online platform that provides subscription-based periodic services for automobiles. Users buy monthly subscription plans and avail regular services such as vehicle inspection, repairs, washes, accident assistance, etc.
Why do I like FirstU?
Several start-ups attempted to solve the problems of the fractionalized vehicular maintenance space. Most of them tried to upgrade your neighborhood mechanic, but the cost of retraining and retaining them far outweighed the benefits provided to the revenue accounts. The few that have been attempting setting up a company or franchise-owned multi-brand workshops have done better, but even then, they continue to burn money.  Their LTV / CAC ratios are quite unfavorable as there is a long time gap between repeat services. Therefore, the start-up must resort to deep discounting to attract new or repeat customers.
I have written about my love for subscription start-ups as they develop the habit of their customers paying them. Once they form this habit, it takes a massive effort for a newcomer to “break” the psychological pattern of paying the same company. It creates the ideal “sticky” customer relationship. It is precisely the spending relationship that I love to see my start-up get into with their customers.
Once FirstU expands outside of Bangalore, I’d love to explore a B2B association between Everest Fleet and OneWay.Cab and them.

GreyAtom.com – $1.2 million from Montane Ventures, Pravega and Ritesh Arora

What does GreyAtom do?
GreyAtom provides a boot camp for learning data science and web development. The “students” work on real-world problems, get reviewed by their peers, which accelerates their learning curve. The claim to have upskilled over 35,000 learners with 87 percent making a career pivot of their choice.
Why do I like GreyAtom?
That working knowledge trumps the knowledge learned at a prestigious school is a known phenomenon. Therebefore the GreyAtom platform providing the workers of today the opportunity to upgrade and update their skills, but alongside their current roles is the need of the hour.
GreyAtom creates a win-win for the individual and the corporate. For the upskilled individual, it means better prospects at their current employer or the ability to switch over to a new role for which they were previously unqualified. For a corporate, incentivizing their existing team members to upgrade their skills would reduce attrition, improve job satisfaction, and reducing hiring and training costs. There is a lot to like about GreyAtom!
All I could wish for is that someone would come up with a similar platform to improve the skills for finance and marketing people. I’d be their first investor and a corporate customer for life!
*I am an investor in Inc42 through Artha India Ventures

Is the Karvy scam the knockout punch to the fintech boom?

Waking up to the unearthing of a 2,000 crore scam at Karvy Stock Broking was precisely the sort of news fintech entrepreneurs and investors did not need. Ironically, this news would flash within a few hours of Andreessen Horowitz’s Anish Acharya and Seema Amble publishing a brilliant discussion on Does Zero Fee Trading Pay Off. Seema and Anish share their views on the impact that a start-up like Robinhood brought to an age-old business-like Chares Schwab and whether zero-fee trading can make money, or will it eventually lead to the demise of the incumbent.
To give you some context:
On October 1st, Charles Schwab announced that they would no longer charge any trading fees or commissions to their customers. On the day of the announcement, their stock fell 15% as the news spooked investors as to how the move would affect profitability. However, the investors had their fears allayed as a mid-November article said that the brokerage saw a surge in new account openings. The news led to a stunning rebound in the stock as it surged almost 50% from the bottom!
The incumbent’s response to a disruptor was to copy their strategy and transform their own business! It led to a win-win situation for them as Schwab earned new business, increased assets under management, revenues, and their investors have become more prosperous. The incumbent’s move to recognize that way of doing business had changed speaks volumes to the sort of culture that must exist at the upper echelons of Schwab.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the business houses in India. Their shady business tactics, lack of ethics, and underhand dealings have cast a shadow on their industries and as a result of that, on the newcomers.

It is a known fact that the IL&FS fiasco cast doubt on the entire NBFC space and led to an exodus of top-tier professionals. The pressure intensified as a host of top-tier NBFCs defaulted on their obligations leading to an almost blanket freeze in lending or investing to companies in this sector – including start-ups, which were the hardest hit.
Now, this Karvy fiasco will cast doubts in the minds of customers of start-ups like Groww, PayTM Money, and many others that are attempting to disrupt the investment space. I estimate that we are a few months away from the same freeze in funding investing tech that was witnessed in lending tech this year.  All I can tell fintech founders is that they must conserve resources. A cold hard winter is setting in on their space.

Only the fittest will survive, but they must endure.