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Category Archive : Inspirational

When Should I Pull the Plug?

When is the right time for an investor to give up working with a venture? 

As an entrepreneur turned investor and very competitive person, I have had to grapple with this question many times in my seven-year career as a startup investor. There have been instances when the decision was as clear as night and day, instances when I have clearly held on for too long and instances where I have given up too early. My team and I have learnt from those experiences and incorporated those lessons in our future investment endeavors. 

However, there is a grey area wherein the venture is doing well, numbers are trending positively, the total addressable market huge but there are certain factors that prevent the venture from achieving the “escape velocity” that separates a good venture from a fantastic one. Some scenarios include businesses that have transformed into a lifestyle business for the founder, the sector becoming heavily regulated, the inability of the founding team to pitch their business well to new investors or invoke the confidence that can drive bigger cheques. It is these ventures that cause the most heartburn because they have all the ingredients to make a great company but just a few factors make them plateau.  

There may not be a 10-point checklist for an investor to decide whether it is time to pull the plug or not, but I’ll leave you with this insightful piece of advice from AVF’s CFO/Growth Partner that helped me seal the fate for a venture that I have been rolling over hot coals for, for the past 2 years. He said, “if after 2 years, this is how they speak to you, how will they speak to future investors 2+ years from now?” and my decision after that, was just that easy.  

58/2018

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How Did You Die

Siri tells me that it took 1,347 days from my first blog post, Dropping Out Of The Rat Race… to my 100th blog post. Thereby, on an average taking 13.5 days to write each blog post. If I remove the 31 blog posts written in 66 days of this year, the average will shoot up to 18.5 days per post, therefore making it evident that things are already looking up for my blog.

In the journey to a 100 blog posts, I have had many interesting & challenging moments. There was a post defending an investee company against a much larger competitor that made it to the Economic Times (without my knowledge). The reaction to this was a screwball approach from their legal advisor who tried to pose as though they were trying to make us their client. That whole experience that was blown out of proportion led to a writer’s block, that made me stop writing for almost 2 months. There have also been times where I wasn’t confidant if what I was writing was meaningful enough for people to read. While reading the Bhagavad Gita over the course of the last 2 years however, I have come to the realization that it isn’t worth stressing over whether people like what I write or not. All I am responsible for, is writing and expressing my thoughts and the way it is perceived isn’t under my control. That lesson (albeit difficult) is something I am starting to imbibe as a motto for all the things that I do in life and hopefully inspire the people around me to pick it up too.

Which is why I think this poem from Edmund Vance Cooke is the best way to express what I have learnt from the journey to 100th blog post, a target that I did not believe I could achieve when I started (my goal was 50).

Now my goal is to just write every week day (my goal is 260 blogs for the year) with no particular number of blogs in mind. The only goal is to write and to keep on writing, come what may cause in the end it is the journey that counts.

How Did you Die

by Edmund Vance Cooke

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way

With a resolute heart and cheerful?

Or hide your face from the light of day

With a craven soul and fearful?

Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,

Or a trouble is what you make it,

And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,

But only how did you take it? You are beaten to earth?

Well, well, what’s that!

Come up with a smiling face.

It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,

But to lie there–that’s disgrace.

The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce

Be proud of your blackened eye!

It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;

It’s how did you fight–and why?

And though you be done to the death, what then?

If you battled the best you could,

If you played your part in the world of men,

Why, the Critic will call it good.

Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,

And whether he’s slow or spry,

It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,

But only how did you die?

 31/2018

The Funded Entrepreneurs Group

I just got back from my trip to Kolkata which was planned in order to introduce the founding team of an upcoming investment to Mr. Aditya Ladsaria of Chaibreak (an Artha investee) and Mr. Miftaur Rahman of Wow Momos (a fantastic venture that I deeply respect but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to invest in). The objective of the trip was to give the new founders the chance to learn from two sets of successful founders that had no previous background in food, yet managed to fund their respective successful food startups from customer capital before raising venture capital. I especially admire Aditya & Miftaur’s razor-sharp focus towards addressing the customer’s needs through constant innovation in both, the product and operations.

I was a mute spectator (for the most part) in the conversation between the new founders and the experienced ones, but thoroughly enjoyed listening to their detailed discussions about operations, product innovations, customer loyalty management, HR, etc and all the other topics that concern building a business, except “how to raise money from VCs”. This experience gave legs to an initiative that I have wanted to launch for the last 8-12 months i.e. the Funded Entrepreneurs Group.

The idea is to put a group of founders that have already raised money (seed, angel, pre-series A, series A, etc) into a conference room for a couple of hours every 4-6 weeks to talk about matters that only another founder that has raised money can relate to – ‘how to build the venture!’ The discussion shall take place behind closed doors with no recording so that any founder from any stage of the business growth cycle can ask questions – no gyaan sessions only mutually beneficial universal learning.

I strongly believe that when a founder learns the solution to a problem from a fellow founder who has faced a similar issue and managed to overcome it, the solution seems more do-able and the problem less enigmatic. This will also help form a stronger and more cohesive ecosystem for all entrepreneurs. Going forward, the group can also share business leads or transact with each other and the possibilities remain endless, but for now, lets stick to getting a first meeting done.

Artha helped organise a meeting in an open discussion format for angel investors under the age of 50, with a minimum of 5 investments with a similar objective of learning from each other’s experiences. Those meetings have successfully been going on for the past 11 months with beneficial results for all the participants. Currently, the discussion has graduated to deal sharing and evaluating each other’s investments.

My team and I are excited to be able to organise the first Funded Entrepreneur Group meeting for the founders of our ecosystem. The meetings won’t be sponsored by anyone so that the attendees’ independence will be maintained, but there will be a thorough scrutiny of each person that attends to ensure the sanctity of the event. The exact costs of the event shall be shared between the attendees but I do not expect the cost to exceed 500-1000 per attendee inclusive of tea/coffee and a snack.

So, if you are an entrepreneur who

  1. Has raised outside capital
  2. Are willing to share your experiences to help another founder
  3. Are interested in meeting other founders to build your business

Then email us on feg@artha.ventures with

  1. Your full name
  2. The name of your venture
  3. Link to the article announcing your latest funding round
  4. Your mobile phone number(s)

If there is enough interest, I would love to organise the first FEG meeting in 2-3 weeks (based on everyone’s ability). Email us as soon as possible!

30/2018

Desperation is the Name of the Game

If all things are equal between two candidates that want me to be their mentor, what would be the difference, that would make all the difference? No, it’s not how equity you will give me or how much respect you have for me… The correct answer is – desperation.

I am not referring to the desperation to get time, money or references, but the desperation that burns through the eyes and words of the prospective mentee to succeed. The desperation that cannot be dissuaded by failure, drowned out by rejection or simply because they didn’t get an immediate response from someone they attempted reaching out to for help. I am referring to that desperation that will make a person turn the world upside down to get what they want – yes that desperation.

In a world of unlimited opportunity, this is the kind of desperation I look for, to decide who I should devote my limited time (a precious resource) to. A person must innately want to achieve the skill he is seeking my mentorship for, and not only be attempting to achieve it because he ‘has to’. This distinction leads to a visible difference in the amount of passion and desperation a person exudes.

The lack of this type of desperation and conviction in the importance of achieving that skill doesn’t bode well for my ROTI (Return on Time Invested).

So, if you think I’m being arrogant, standoffish or aloof to your call for help, I am only checking to see if you are as desperate as you are making it out to be.

29/2018

Magnum Ice-cream Ingredients!

As I pulled open the wrapper for an essential part of my movie-going experience ie the Almond Magnum ice-cream, the whiff of chemicals that went up my nose almost made me vomit. Surprised that my innocuous ice-cream smelt like a chemical lab I investigated the ingredients that made this marvel – they induced a second vomiting episode.  

Ever since I read The Wild Diet by Abel James I have started an inquisition into the foods I regularly consumed. What I have found out is nothing less than startling. The more I read into I regularly eat, the less I have been eating of them. The “empty calories” consumption has been replaced with nutrient-dense foods and has led to remarkable improvement in my energy, metabolism, attention span and (most importantly) my waistline. However, I did not expect the Magnum bar to disappoint me as it just has 

Here is the list of ingredients in an Almond Magnum Bar from their website: 

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 5.29.37 PM.png

On first look, many of these ingredients look harmless. However, when I started researching each item I realised how creative writing has made the dangerous look harmless.  

Take for example the “permitted natural colour (beta-carotene)”. WebMD explains that Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet. Beta-carotene can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can also be made in a laboratory 

The explanation taken at face value made it appears that beta-carotene was good for health. However, there is a catch. The beta-carotene in this ice-cream bar was used to make the almonds appear redder than they are therefore this beta-carotene was lab produced and did not occur “naturally”. So, what are the side-effects of this lab produced supplement?  

There is growing concern that taking high doses of antioxidant supplements such as beta-carotene might do more harm than good. Some research shows that taking high doses of beta-carotene supplements might increase the chance of death from all causes, increase the risk of certain cancers, and possibly other serious side effects. In addition, there is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate beta-carotene supplement increases the chance of developing advanced prostate cancer in men. 

And if you are a smoker you should be reading this:  

In people who smoke, beta-carotene supplements might increase the risk of colon, lung, and prostate cancer. Don’t take beta-carotene supplements if you smoke. 

All this just from the colouring used to make the almonds look better! 

To go through all the other ingredients in detail would take up 3-4 pages so I made this table explaining the ingredients in that single stick of ice-cream. 

Ingredient  What is it made of?  Side effects  Source 
Vanillin  A petrochemical i.e. phenolic aldehyde, which is an organic compound with the molecular formula C8H8O3  Allergic reactions, digestive disorders and migraine headaches  
  1. Melt Organic 
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine  
E322 – Lecithin  Lecithin is a fat that is essential in the cells of the body. It can be found in many foods, including soybeans and egg yolks  Lecithin is LIKELY SAFE for most people. It can cause some side effects including diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, or fullness. 
  1. WebMD 
  1. CureZone 
E471 – Monoglycerides & Diglycerides   Monoglycerides and diglycerides are food additives commonly used to combine ingredients containing fats with those containing water, two types of ingredients that don’t ordinarily combine well.  They are similar to triglycerides, the predominant fat in food according to the Harvard School of Public Health, except they are classified as emulsifiers rather than lipids 
  1. CureZone 
  1. LiveStrong 
E410 – Locust Bean Gum (Carob Gum)  Locust bean gum is a galactomannan vegetable gum extracted from the seeds of the carob tree, mostly found in the Mediterranean region. 

 

It is a thickening agent and a gelling agent used in food technology 

Carob is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in food amounts or as a medicine. There don’t seem to be any unwanted side effects. 

 

Pregnancy and breastfeeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking carob if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use in greater than food amounts. 

  1. WebMD 
E407 – Carrageenan   Carrageenan is a common food additive that is extracted from a red seaweed, Chondrus crispus, which is popularly known as Irish moss. 
  1. Research has shown that exposure to carrageenan causes inflammation and that when we consume processed foods containing it, we ingest enough to cause inflammation in our bodies 
  1. Drug investigators used carrageenan to cause inflammation in tissues to test the anti-inflammatory properties of new drugs 
  1. CureZone 
  1. Dr Weil 

 

E412 – Guar Gum  Guar gum comes from the seeds of the guar or cluster bean plant. About 20 percent to 40 percent of the guar seed consists of galactomannan gum, which forms a thick gel when mixed with water  Guar gum is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth with at least 8 ounces of liquid. The water is important because it reduces the chance of choking or developing a blockage in the intestine. 

 

Side effects include increased gas production, diarrhoea, and loose stools. These side effects usually decrease or disappear after several days of use. High doses of guar gum or not drinking enough fluid with the dose of guar gum can cause blockage of the oesophagus and the intestines. 

  1. CureZone 
  1. LiveStrong 
  1. WebMD 

 In a nutshell, my ice-cream included petrochemicals, thickening agents, seaweed extracts and so many things that I shouldn’t be in an ice-cream. I couldn’t bring it upon myself to put that chemical experiment in my mouth, so I threw it away. I suggest you do too.  

28/2018 

The One Thing I Couldn’t Relate to in Padman!

I finally saw Padman on Thursday night and I’ve got to confess, I absolutely loved it! I identify with the struggles and humiliation that Laxmikant Chauhan, the protagonist, goes through as he attempts to improve female hygiene practices ie convince the females in his home and village to use sanitary pads instead of a rag during periods. Even though his wife, mother, sisters and entire community abandon him, forcing him to leave his village, the fire within him continues to burn, driving him to achieve the improbable. Down and out on luck, Laxmikant encounters a lady who resurrects him and joins his fight. Her help transforms Laxmikant from a failed entrepreneur about to be beaten to pulp by his creditors, to one that receives international acclaim and success.  To thank her for all the help and support, he named his product after her. Then, when things were looking up for him his entire community, family, and even his wife wanted him back and he left the hand that took him to the peak to go back to the people who were fairweather friends. This is betrayal or to put it more crassly, spit in the face of those that stand by you and support you when you’re down.

This made me think about how in my own journey, I have encountered several such fairweather friends and colleagues. These people who I thought were my near & dear friends, didn’t take a moment to think before throwing me down the well when I was struggling, but when I seemed to be doing well, these same people touted that “they always knew I’d make it large.” I keep these fairweather friends at a very safe distance because their next attempt to bury me is awaiting the next trough in the long journey of success.

I keep close and regard those friends, family members and even colleagues who stood with me when I was struggling the most. People like Laxmikant Biyani who let me use his office rent-free when I didn’t have the capital to pay rent (and he has refused to take rent even now), my Chacha, Ramesh Damani who provided endless moral support over and above his investments in/with me and finally my team that started Artha when it was just a dream and stuck around when that dream struggled to breakthrough. Whenever I write my memoirs (and I will), they will feature prominently in it.

So, that was my peeve with Padman, why leave those that support you at your worst and go back to those that will be with you only when you are doing well? What lesson does the movie impart to the other Laxmikant Chauhan’s have been vilified by their own support system for doing things that are out of the box but continue the fight? What is the lesson to those people that have the heart & courage to support someone else in their fight?

I loved the movie until this plot twist occurred… the writers should have had the courage to script a new ending instead of opting for a Suraj Barjatiya type of impossible, unrealistic happy ending.

I wouldn’t go back, in the movie and in real life.

27/2018

A Sunday Treasure Hunt, for a Good Cause

I am the Vice-Chairman of Mumbai One Round Table 221 (M1RT221) which is part of Round Table India. One of the objectives for our table this year is to host an enjoyable philanthropic event that while contributing to a noble cause will provide an interactive and enjoyable Sunday afternoon with family and friends.

Our first such fun event for 2018 is the “Carwars: Treasure Hunt” that is taking place on March 11th, 2018 from 9 am to 12 noon at National Sports Club of India (NSCI). Participants will be given a set of clues to decipher, which will take them around Mumbai to parts of the city that they haven’t been to in a while or never before. The last time we hosted a similar treasure hunt in 2015, it was a resounding success. We have a ton of memorable pictures of participants posing as statues at Hanging Gardens or hidden signboards around Fort. I am sure that this year will be better than the last one J

The entire proceeds from this event will go to Reevive of Cancer Charity Trust. Reevive an organisation that helps financially challenged cancer patients to fight this horrible disease by giving them access to quality treatment. Their zero administration cost policy is what sets them apart. The organization supports patients from the Tata Memorial Hospital and the money that is donated to them gets directly deposited into the Hospital’s treatment account so that it can only be used towards the treatment costs and medicinal expenses of patients. This ensures that any money contacted to Reevive directly reaches the hands that need it the most.

This event will be a Sunday well spent with family & friends for a cause to help those in need.

Breakfast will be provided at the venue before you go off on your hunt so get there early! There will also be lunch after the hunt (so make sure you make it back!)

To register for this event click here: http://imojo.in/6t6gzz

If you would like to be a sponsor for this event or donate (because you’re an awesome person) email me by clicking here

This event is supported by the Young Volunteers Organisation.

26/2018

Fluff Metrics

An interesting phenomenon has been noticed in startup presentations over the past few weeks. Founders have come up with innovative ways of showing large numbers that have nothing to do with what counts as revenues to the startup.

Let me share a few examples with the explanations as provided.

  1. Gross Transactional Value: this the value of the transaction that is taking place because of the service provided by delivering the service. Therefore, a simple example would be that if a truck delivers 5 MT of steel the GTV is the value of the 5 MT of steel which has no correlation to the revenues of the trucking company since that is dependent on the route or no of kms
  2. AUM (Assets Under Management): the value of the videos that have been uploaded to sell to customers. This has no correlation to the revenues as they are made on a pay per click model. How the videos are being valued and by whom – I have honestly no idea
  3. MRP Sold: the sticker prices of the items that were sold. These were very different from actual revenues as there were coupons and discounts that were given. So, if I stick the price tag of a Mercedes on a Maruti the MRP sold would be ginormous but the actual number would be a fraction. These MRP’s are set by me so MRP sold is also in my hands. Do you feel fooled just yet?

Do founders really want to attract investors that are awed by such numbers? Of what use will those investors be who themselves don’t understand that these numbers are useless?

My sincere request to founders is to have the courage to tell me the real numbers. They may not be as awesome as the fluff metrics, but I’ll respect you for your honesty and I’ll work with you until your actual metrics look like the fluff metrics that your peers are showing me.

Just remember this immortal quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

359048-Abraham-Lincoln-Quote-You-can-fool-some-of-the-people-all-of-the

24/2018

KISS for your Investors

Imagine that you have been invited for a stand-up comedy show of a well-known comic. You are excited about the show, arrive well dressed with a date in arm, get your favorite drink and are sitting in the front row with bated breath. Then your comic comes on stage, everyone starts clapping (including you), the atmosphere is full of excitement and anticipation. Just as the comedian begins to speak, you realize that his act is in Russian, Spanish or Klingon i.e. whatever language is completely foreign to you and the audience. For the first 3-5 minutes, you try hard to understand what he is saying then look around to see a similar look of bewilderment on everyone’s faces. Some people leave almost immediately, and the remaining make heckling sounds, the artist looks bemused but act continues, rooms starts emptying out and finally you, who has checked out mentally a while ago, decide that it had been enough and join the beeline to the exit. How inclined are you to attend a show with that comic in the line-up the next time around?  

Unfortunately, several founders are guilty of being that incomprehensible comic. Using acronyms or words that only your peer group understand may give the smart founder several accolades at startup events but leave investors (like myself) flummoxed about what the business really does. In fact, I feel that if a founder cannot explain what they do in layman’s terms to someone who has no knowledge of the technical jargon of that industry, then the business is too complex for me to invest in. A founder may feel short-changed because as an investor, I am supposed to be “in the know” but the truth of the matter is that I am not supposed to be the knowledgeable person in the room about their industry, the founder is!  

This video from the show Silicon Valley aptly explains what I fear as an investor 

A founder that is unable to explain what their business does to me in terms that I understand, is running a business that most customers won’t understand. To educate a customer entails a long sales cycle, and I find it is best to avoid such long-tail plays. However, when a founder is able to explain a complex model in simple terms, it gives me immense confidence in the fact that prospective customers will understand it too and therefore not hesitate to adopt it. Not only that but also the founder will easily be able to train lay people on selling his/her product or service and achieve targeted sales without hiring expensive talent. For the investor to have such confidence has tremendous value.  

Here are some of the tools that founders can use to explain complex business models:  

  1. Paint a picture of what their target customer currently does to solve the problem and how their product/service will change their life  
  2. Dumb things down by using simple everyday terms that anyone can understand 
  3. Use check-backs like does that make sense? to ensure that your audience hasn’t lost you 

There are many other techniques that founders could use to present an impressive but comprehensible pitch. The best way to test a pitch is to present to the most challenging audience i.e. people that wouldn’t understand their business at all. These unfriendly audiences will force you to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) for the investor, which is exactly what we are looking for!

So, don’t try to challenge the intelligence of the mere mortal investor and just KISS for us!  

23/2018 

Why We Must Become that Asshole Investor (from time to time)

2018 started off with a bang for Artha India Ventures. 4 of our portfolio companies successfully raised new rounds with pre-money valuations of more than $5 million. As a team, we are very happy with the solid multiples that we received on our investments and it validates our thesis of getting in early, building solid value and increasing wealth for all shareholders. These are the times when we look forward to celebrating with our founders for a job well done and to wish them luck on the new journey that has just begun (with the incoming investor).

However, there are a couple of founders that bring forth disturbing issues at the time of signing documents that hold up the entire round of investment. Usually, I can classify the issues that force this reaction into two buckets. The first and most contentious issue is the diktat issued by the incoming investor to disallow any of the previous investors from participating in the new round.

As an investor who invests in multiple stages, we have specific clauses in our investment documentation that allow us to participate in future fundraising rounds of a company. Whatever the logic the new investor can provide (more on this in a later post) we as the early backers of the venture expect the founders to stand up for us and remain loyal to their word and contract, that were negotiated and signed when we initially decided to back them. While many founders ensure that we get to participate in the new round (thank you to them), we do not have sympathy for those who behave this way even without being coerced by another investor.

At the time when these founders needed the money, they eagerly signed the documents with these terms clearly being stated, but when it comes to actually following through for a follow-on round they want to cry foul. To completely sell yourself to the incoming investors and screw over your earliest backers doesn’t bode well for our ecosystem. Firstly, the new investors will only put in stronger clauses to ensure the same doesn’t happen to them in the following round and secondly, the later investors will be way more cautious and hesitant when considering the opportunity to participate because of your past behavior towards investors.

Unfortunately for them, Artha does not respond well to oppression tactics and while we can understand the occasional tough spot a founder finds himself/herself in, the founder cannot always cry wolf.

To be involved in a bitter conflict at a time when we should be celebrating victory is a situation I want to avoid at all costs, but founders need to understand and respect that just like them we too are running a business and to deny us the rights that we mutually agreed before entering the relationship, tinkers with our business model. Just like they would not like to tinker with a business model that is doing well – neither do we!!

21/2018