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!  

My PR Experiment

Yesterday was an interesting day. I started off by tasting different blends of single shot coffee made by a start-up that we have been eyeing for a while now. They have been some gaining significant traction and the tasting culminated in the issuance of a term-sheet. In my next appointment, I visited several branches of a food aggregator that provides home cooked meals in an IoT enabled device. The heavy dose of caffeine from the morning helped me stay awake after an extraordinarily heavy lunch, but I really liked what the company was doing, and so we issued them a term-sheet too. In the last meeting of the day, I was with two entrepreneurs who are looking to fill the niche left open by Bira in the beer industry, and so I ended up tasting their different beers. Their product, taste, packaging and brand positioning are all unique and I’ll be honest, we are contemplating issuing them a term-sheet too. But no, this blog isn’t about tasting and issuing term-sheets, it’s about the commonality I observed in all three funding outlays, which I asked the founders to rectify i.e. instead of outsourcing it to an external agency, build an in-house marketing team to manage social media channels, PR and internal-external communication.

I used to erroneously advocate outsourcing PR and media management, but that viewpoint was permanently altered. I conducted a yearlong experiment in which I discontinued the services of our external PR agency and brought those functions in-house. Not only did I gain more control on what Artha (and I) wanted to communicate, but we also got more media mentions, got covered by the top journalists and were invited to renowned events around the globe. We also started publishing separate monthly and quarterly newsletters for our LPs and well-wishers.  All this effort has paid off through a marked increase in business for all the Artha entities, but most importantly, we achieved all these objective at 60% off our previous costs.

All of our PR (yes, all of it) was organic and genuine i.e. unpaid for. We did not sponsor events, pay for advertising in publications or authored articles. Things are moving so well that this year we are expanding the internal team by bringing in a Social Media Head that can move us from prose to video. Since we understand that the entire process isn’t a one-man job, we are allocating him/her a budget to recruit a team to facilitate this transition.

This massive cost saving got me questioning the PR/Media management agency model and whether it really works for an early-stage startup. I am afraid it does not. It takes many months and a lot of effort to get a brand new startup relevant and unpaid media attention. Unfortunately, early stage start-ups do not have the budget to compensate top-level agencies for their effort or even tier 2 or tier 3 players (unless they can secure a strong referral). Therefore, start-ups end up working with PR firms that themselves are starting up.  These PR firms overload their staff with multiple projects, to make ends meet, distributing the employee cost over the projects to make operations profitable. However, that divided cost also means divided time and focus on each project – a situation that does not bode well for start-ups trying to make a dollar for every penny invested in marketing. In fact, I have seen PR agents pitch 4-5 ideas to the same journalist in a single bid hoping to get any of them published. Is that really how you want your start-up to be pitched?

Another issue that works against the interest of the start-up is when a PR agency works hard to meet the KPIs they have promised and manages to do so in the first 15 days of the month. Having met their KPIs, they go radio silent for the rest of the month. This essentially means that their promised KPIs are the limit and not the base on which the agency works – completely opposite to how founders set KPIs for their internal team. After all, you can only create value for your company when you get more value than you pay for, isn’t it?

Therefore, I have come to a conclusion that PR agencies are useful for short sprints or Big Bang announcements, but the marathon work of building an image and brand for your startup should be done by an in-house team. In fact, even the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing recommends the same!

37/2019

Your 'Growth' is Hurting Your Job Interviews

Currently, I am in the middle of interviews to fill several positions at Artha and one of the first questions I ask candidates is why they are changing jobs? The common answer I receive is that they are looking for growth.  Most of these people have been at their current jobs for less than 24 months, so it makes me wonder whether the growth they seek is truly in terms of experience or in the size of their pay-check. Usually, it is the latter and their feeble attempt at answering this truly important question hurts their prospects with us as it does with most employers. Allow me to explain.

I have been a part of the workforce since I was 16 years old and the first job I got paid for was in my first year of college at the age of 18. In the next 4 years of college, I went through 4 jobs and ran 2 businesses from my room. One of those jobs was selling retail jewellery which I did throughout my 4 years. In that, I found my calling i.e. sales. My next job was door to door sales, a position I held for 5 years before becoming an entrepreneur within the same organisation. When I came back to India, I went through 3-4 jobs in a (relatively) short span of time before deciding to dive full-time into setting up Artha.

Having cycled through almost 10 jobs I am in no way advocating that a person should not change jobs or look for better salary packages. In a free marketing and capitalist economy this is exactly the type of behaviour that is expected and encouraged. However, I could, as I expect anyone should be able to decide whether they love a company/opportunity/job within the first 6-12 months. Therefore, if I was investing any time beyond that in the company, it meant that I was certain I would make a future for myself there.

It’s not that I didn’t feel like quitting my jobs several, several times. For example, there were times when I felt that I was going to be stuck in my position for ever or that I was getting looked over for promotions or that I was getting jaded, but I stuck it through those times. Then seemingly out of nowhere a new opportunity, office or position would open up and due to the fact that I was there at the right time, as the right person, just like that the juggernaut was rolling again.

So I feel that if temporary situations would have affected my decision to stay with the company, then that should have happened in the first 6-12 months, because in my opinion, that is usually the timeframe when a person should have decided whether they like the job role, the boss and can live with the hygiene factors at their workplace. However, if it takes over 24 months for someone to decide whether their current job will excite them or not, that doesn’t build my confidence in your assessment abilities or more likely questions them.

There could be several situations that could have forced you to change your job (location change, family obligation, bankruptcy) and these might give you a good story to tell that is both convincing and genuine. However, if you are changing jobs for “growth” related issues but it took you more than 24 months to realise it, then you need to have a bloody good story for me to believe you (and my standards are high).

30/2019

Join Artha as an Entrepreneur in Residence

Vinod and I have been playing around the idea of setting up our own version of EIRs (Entrepreneurs-in-Residence) at AVF (Artha Venture Fund). Vinod proposed this idea during our Monday morning pow-wow as a possible solution to the difficulty we have faced in finding an entrepreneurial teams that work in areas where we identify a significant market opportunity or wish/want to deploy funds.  

So, I read about EIR programs and best practices today, and as Vinod has had previous experience with these programs, I believe we could build a similar program at Artha which will be beneficial to both, the entrepreneur and us.  

EIR programs have existed for a while in the developed VC eco-systems,  several CVCs and US universities have successfully utilised the EIR position for their requirements.  

For Artha Venture Fund’s requirements, I found a few articles that provide a good context on what I’m looking for.  

I am convinced that we should try hiring an EIR for a 6 to 12-month period and test out whether this would work for AVF.

The objective for the EIR would be to work on creating a business plan while simultaneously working with the fund team on evaluating start-ups for investments and helping the investee companies. Therefore, the program can only be for people that have been a part of a founding team (or core team) of a funded start-up, big or small.  

While many of the details are yet to be worked out (and I will share them in future posts), here are some that come to mind- 

  • Contract period: 6 months with a mutual option to extend for 6 months 
  • Salary package: 8.00 L / annum (includes a 5% communication allowance) 
  • Work timing:
    1. 9 am to 7 pm
    2. Monday- Saturday
  • Perks: laptop, cell-phone, company paid phone service and a desk 
  • Minimum requirement:
    1. Attending all evaluation sessions 
    2. Helping portfolio companies  
    3. Writing their own business plan  

While most the EIR programs have left the choice of where to focus his/her entrepreneurial energies to the EIR, my fund (as Vinod will rightly remind me) does not have the luxury of millions of dollars coming to its coffers in management fees therefore each penny has to be accounted for to operate a sustainable VC business.  

Therefore, I want to make it clear that we are looking to pick EIRs that have a tech orientation and would like to work in B2B, B2C or B2B2C start-ups (but nothing in deep tech for now).  

Some of the plays that have my team and I interested are:  

If would like to apply for the EIR position, please fill out this form and attach your resume.

102/2018

I am looking for a Recruitment Specialist

With a growing portfolio and 5 internal companies, someone or the other is always looking for new hires. So far we have been managing this position ourselves, in an ad-hoc manner or handing it over to the existing HR manager. The list of people we need to hire is getting unmanageable and I need professional help.
As the recruitment specialist, you will be responsible for the end to end recruitment lifecycle of all the companies under The Artha Group as well as the Startups that we work with. You will work closely with different department heads and their teams to give advice on the best practices and provide the support they need for all recruitment-related concerns.
Your contribution will have to align with Employers:

1. Branding guidelines
2. Their respective social media strategies
3. Technology requirements

What you will do:

• Develop and maintain strong working relationships with departmental heads and founders to create successful and credible partnerships, that satisfy their requirements
• Drive the end-to-end recruitment process and ensure both speed and quality of hires
• Leverage all recruitment channels, including internal career sites, college events, traditional and alternative sources to identify and recruit the very best candidates
• Use face-to-face behavioral-based interviewing methodologies to interview internal and external candidates
• Actively improve recruitment processes
• Manage stakeholders in an effective way, work towards the highest level of stakeholder satisfaction
• Coaching departmental heads in interviewing techniques and tactics
• Take responsibility for own project initiatives

This position is for you if you have:

• 2 years of end-to-end recruitment experience, preferably in a multinational or shared service environment
• Fluent in English (both written and verbal)
• Excellent communication and stakeholder management skills
• Knowledge about the Hungarian SSC market from a recruitment point of view is essential
• Flexibility and ability to work in a rapidly changing environment
• Familiarity with assessment techniques and closing recruitment processes
• The passion to continuously evolve yourself and your processes
• Creativity to identify new recruitment processes
• Bachelors or Masters Degree (preferably in Human Resources)
• Experience in recruiting for a niche and/or highly technical area is a distinct advantage

Why should you join us:

• Internal coaching/mentoring culture
• Unravel your continuous process improvement mindset – new ideas are always heard
• Support of career aspirations and personal development
• We provide a laptop and mobile phone

To apply, send in a one-page resume and cover letter to careers@artha.group.
 
81/2018

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
 
 

The Hunt for a PR & Social Media Manager

Last year we outsourced our PR to an agency. Although it worked initially, we found that the agency model was not feasible in the long-term for a start-up like us! The lack of personalization and gap in communication made it hard for Artha to explore all the possible PR opportunities that it could have. Therefore, I made it one of my goals for this year to build an in-house team to strategize and manage the PR and Social Media for Artha.
Before I get into our requirements for this position let me offer a disclaimer – getting PR for a startup brand like ours is difficult, very difficult. My team and I won’t make it easy because we are difficult to pin down whether it is for meetings, interviews, reviews, and all the other things that a person seeking this job will expect from us. So expect to beg, borrow and steal our time , pitch ideas, drive execution, be a self-starter & self-learner with the clear expectation that you will receive accolades for results – not effort. And that’s just the way it is.
The entities that the PR & Social Media head will work with (initially)

  1. Artha Group
  2. Artha Energy Resources
  3. Artha India Ventures
  4. Artha Venture Fund – I
  5. Artha Bazaar
  6. Artha Creative Studios
  7. InFac (more on this in person)

All these entities have different managers, investors, requirements and even funding allocated for PR and social media activities. To give you a better idea, you will be running a PR agency that caters to one client, Artha. Eventually, I expect that some of our start-ups will also be interested in using these services.
As a PR and social media head you will be expected to lead the following

  1. Ideate & execute PR & social media strategies for each Artha entity
  2. Create company and individual profiles of Artha companies and team members
  3. Cold-call journalists, reporters and bloggers to pitch stories on behalf of Artha
  4. Manage incoming requests for quotes, interviews, articles and editorials
  5. Lead incoming and outgoing requests for speaking, advertising and panel opportunities
  6. Effectively create, plan, curate and manage all content
  7. Ensure that the consistency of the Artha brand is reflected across all channels
  8. Communicate internally and capitalise on feedback received from online & offline channels
  9. Devise distinct strategies for online and offline activities, track and report the impact of these activities
  10. Edit what anyone on the team might have written and (most importantly) ghost write for us when needed
  11. Organise all press meets and conferences
  12. Handle all social media platforms and actively share content to gain traction/followers
  13. Recruit, motivate and retain a team to manage Social Media and PR

To be successful at this job you will be expected to have the following:

  1. Previous PR and social media experience, preferably diverse and with start-ups
  2. Evidence of successful PR and social media strategies
  3. Social media expertise across platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Medium etc
  4. Development of KPI frameworks and the ability to communicate results to a variety of stake holders
  5. Problem solving and performance marketing in a result-oriented environment
  6. Working knowledge of PR & social media tools and techniques and the ability to use them creatively
  7. Well organised and ability to work on multiple projects at the same time
  8. Excellent verbal and written communication skills (English)
  9. Demonstrate blog & copywriting skills
  10. Creative, innovative, confident, proactive, enthusiastic and diplomatic (yet firm)
  11. Have a sense of humour (good, bad, dry or wry will work)

Compensation: Highest paid hard work or the lowest paid easy work
Interested applicants can email hr@artha.group with an attention to Debolina Chanda.
7/2018