Today, I heard that Smaaash shut down as a result of the pandemic. Being a place I had created numerous great memories, this made me sad. However, I quickly picked myself up and realised that its (premature) death still had a lot of takeaways and learnings.Continue reading
Did you know that 97% postal codes in India ordered at least 1 item online in the last year? I found this statistic while researching for a presentation for the budding entrepreneurs of iHub Gujarat. here are some more interesting stats from the report from Bain & Company.Continue reading
A question that haunts founders and funders alike – profitability over growth, or vice-a-versa? Here’s my take on what most people would answer, “it depends.”Continue reading
I look back on my investment in Maximojo on this week’s Flashback Friday and go over why I invested in them, the risks involved, and my learnings fro my 8-year investment.Continue reading
In 2012, I invested in Squeakee Media Pvt Ltd. Here are some of my learnings from my investment…Continue reading
Triggero was an enterprise rewards and recognition services platform. Triggero worked on a SAAS model and was a provider of an enterprise social recognition platform designed to encourage the culture of appreciation. The company’s enterprise social recognition platform was easy to use. A powerful workflow engine that helped in employer could be custom moduled and self-managed, enabling leaders to drive culture and manage change in the organization.
Triggero was instrumental in creating a productive & motivated workforce, energize sales & distribution eco-system. Triggero had partnered with some of the prominent organizations across industries like Telecom, BPO, BFSI, White Goods & IT.
|Founder:||Paras Arora & Abhishek Singh||Total funding raised||USD 75,000/-|
|2020 status:||Shutdown||Number of rounds||1|
Why did you invest in Triggero?
Triggero was a powerful B2B SaaS platform in the HRMS space, looking at creating a rewards and recognition platform for in-house employees. One must remember that Triggero predated the entry of Yammer, Slack, or Microsoft Teams in India, platforms that most of us have made an integral part of our work lives today.
Triggero also provided managers the ability to reward employees by giving them points that could get redeemed at the Triggero store for gifts. It was a unique offering.
What were the risks involved with the investment in Triggero?
I know now (but I did not know when I made this investment) that rewards & recognitions platforms make the best sense for companies that house large teams managed by a well-established HR department. Therefore selling to medium to larger-sized companies carried its own set of risks like:
- Long-tail sales cycles
- Larger budgets to hire experienced B2B sales reps
- They are competing against legacy systems and high switchover costs.
In 2012 employee rewards and recognition were unknown. Even employees associated HR with ‘Holidays and Rangoli,’ and business owners looked at HR as a cost center. Therefore, I realize (now) that Triggero was probably too early for the Indian market. The company should have raised a much larger round of funding to buy itself time, which unfortunately at the time (and possibly even today) was not available.
What was the primary reason behind dead pooling Triggero’s investment?
There were a couple of factors that affected this decision. Triggero lost a major client shortly after we put in the first tranche of investment. The company started to hemorrhage money due to the loss of revenues. This investment also enlightened me on the considerable time lag between billed revenues and banked revenues in a post-paid B2B revenue model.
The founders’ plans to scale fast took a severe hit, and they could not afford the capacity that they had acquired to build their platform. Considering all the issues that the company faced, it did not make sense to continue investing in the company, and I wrote off the investment.
What mistakes did Triggero make, and what was your learning as an investor?
Triggero’s biggest mistake was that they tried achieving B2C growth as a B2B company. Therefore, instead of waiting for purchase orders to build development and delivery capacity, they made capacity and then tried chasing sales – a dangerously desperate situation that any B2B founder should not find themselves in. Therefore, a lot of the expenses got frontloaded before revenues flowed in.
Secondly, I firmly believe that they didn’t raise enough capital. Triggero’s angel round did not give them enough runway to experiment, and (with the benefits afforded to me by hindsight), the founders and the angels should have decided against investing the money. Instead, we could have waited until Triggero could raise a more substantial round to give Triggero the runway to become a significant player.
Third I learned the importance of tranche-based investing. It is an essential method of risk mitigation for early-stage investors in cases where the venture doesn’t go down the desired path.
Would you invest in a similar startup today?
I believe that the world has moved on from R&R platforms, and Triggero would have a tough time finding a niche in the corporate domains where Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, and Yammer dominate communications.
It had the potential to be an Indian version of Yammer (that Yammer/Microsoft could eventually acquire), but alas, we did not get the required scale and adoption.
BookMyCab is an on-demand taxi service with options to rent metered city taxis as well as from their own fleet of cabs. Their taxis are equipped with real-time tracking technology to ensure complete passenger safety. They follow a stringent process of recruitment of taxi drivers and taxis. They also own exclusive rights to advertise on the taxis, i.e., on doors, and inside the taxis.
BookMyCab was founded in 2012 in Mumbai and operated with taxi licenses from state governments and approved taxi drivers only. They acquired CabOnClick, a Hyderabad based online taxi booking provider in Nov 2014.
|Founder:||Avinash Chandra Gupta||Total funding raised||USD 910,000|
|2020 status:||Acquired by Wings Travel Management||Number of rounds||2|
|Co-investors:||Yournest, Centerac Technologies, Mumbai Angels|
Why did you invest in BookMyCab?
It might be hard to remember, but hailing cabs in 2012 was a challenge, especially if you wanted to travel a short distance. BookMyCab offered mobility solutions to a growing target audience of people using smartphones and provided additional income for taxi drivers. The taxi drivers preferred long-range rides since they make more money on those, whereas getting a cab for 2-3 km was quite the task for the consumer. Their platform enabled taxi drivers to find passengers without having to stand in line and wait. Consumers could book a cab which would pick them up, an idea which is standard today. Investing in BookMyCab at the time was a no-brainer since they solved problems for both markets.
What was your competitive analysis for BookMyCab? As per reports, Ola had already raised 4 Million US dollars from Tiger Global when you invested in BookMyCab.
The most significant moat that BookMyCab had was being the licensed booking service for Mumbai. While Ola was utilizing tourist taxis for local travel (technically not allowed at the time), BookMyCab got the local ‘kali peeli’ taxis, licensed by the RTO. The license gave them a considerable competitive advantage in 2012, before the loosening of regulations that allowed Ola and Uber to expand aggressively. While the other platforms were working in a grey area, I thought this competitive advantage would be critical in fighting off the competition. BookMyCab had a fleet of close to 100,000 taxis they could onboard very quickly. In contrast, the competition had to spend copious amounts of capital to acquire drivers and give massive bonuses to keep them sticky.
What did you like about Avinash? Did his IIT Mumbai tag play a significant role in the selection?
More than the IIT tag (I’m not much of a believer in tags), what excited me about working with Avinash was that he was willing to get into the nitty-gritty. He was a part of Financial Technologies with Jignesh Shah, so he had a history of working in intrapreneurial positions. Convincing cab drivers to accept digital cash as payment was a big deal. I appreciated that he was willing to get his hands dirty.
The taxi market in cities like Mumbai and Kolkata is still fragmented (Yellow taxi in Kolkata and Kali peeli in Mumbai). Would you invest in a similar startup today if they are looking to consolidate the pending fragmented market?
Consumer preferences have changed today, and there already clear market leaders in this category. People would prefer to either book an Uber or an Ola due to the standardization of services, timely drivers, the cars are in better condition, and well, air conditioning. I wouldn’t change my decision to back BookMyCab in the past, but today, the market is very different from what it was in 2012. The cream-of-the-crop drivers are already on competitor platforms like Ola and Uber. By the way, both platforms also let you book kali peelis.
What were your learnings from your investment in BookMyCab?
Whenever you invest in an early-stage startup, they must become a market leader to cement their position. 80% of the investment, visibility, and revenue goes to the top two market leaders. Here are the learnings from my investment with BookMyCab:
- Push them to be more aggressive in acquiring drivers. This is not to say that Avinash was not aggressive; I should have encouraged him to be more aggressive.
- Early on, I focussed more on growth over profitability.
- Not to depend on permits as a competitive advantage. I had (too much) faith that the government would protect the license, and the competition operating in grey areas would ultimately be shut down. Public good consistently trumps legislation. I applied this learning in our investment in LenDenClub, which is doing exceptionally well.
- I learned a harsh lesson when Ola offered to acquire us, but the board declined the offer. Ola’s offer value grew by almost 15x over the next 2-3 years. If I had taken the deal, BookMyCab would be the biggest winner in our portfolio, but the lesson was learned. Therefore, if consolidation cements the number one position, then take the offer.
Every Monday, I sit with my team to review the funding activity of the previous week. From that list, I pick out three companies that I would have loved to invest in or find founders that are doing similar things. Click here to know about my rationale behind this weekly exercise.
While the funds raised by India’s startup ecosystem (barring Jio) fell, it was heartening to note that we continued to maintain 2 deals per day average with 13 startups raising $27 million. Out of the 13 deals, 10 were in the early-stage (compared to 13 last week) rounds, which made the cut for my weekly analysis.
Name: Myelin Foundry
Amount Raised: Undisclosed from Pratithi
What does Myelin Foundry do?
Edited from Traxcn: Myelin Foundry is a video distribution solution provider. It helps to deliver ultra HD zero-rebuffering streaming, on any network and reduce the time and cost to market and deliver AI-powered content.
Why do I like Myelin Foundry?
At first look, Myelin reminded of Pied Piper from the show Silicon Valley. However, after checking out their products page, I am very excited about the tech stack that Myelin is attempting to build. If they can stream HD content through EDGE network – it could be a game-changer!
Name: Ameliorate Biotech
What does Ameliorate Biotech do?
Edited from Traxcn: Ameliorate Biotech develops recombinant therapeutic proteins and diagnostic kits. They have developed their technology to produce a recombinant protein in an antibiotic-free process. They are developing biosimilar products for treating oncology, Autoimmune disease, ophthalmology, and nephrology.
Why do I like Ameliorate Biotech?
I am not a fan of biotech startups because of the long development cycle and high mortality rates of these companies. However, I like the experience the team of Dr. Rashbehari Tunga & Dr. Binit Tunga has in this field, and I’d want them to succeed.
Amount Raised: $3.3M from Nexus Venture Partners and India Quotient
What does YoloBus do?
Edited from Tracxn: YoloBus is an online platform for travelers that provides intercity bus services. Travelers can select their route, choose pickup/destination, enter travel date & make bookings via the app by making an online payment. Their app is available for iOS & Android devices.
Why do I like YoloBus?
This one deserves another mention as I had shortlisted this deal in February 2020. Intercity travel must start once again, and I expect domestic tourism to boom first. However, the quality will trump cost when it comes to matters of health, and YoloBus has a great chance to capitalize on this new trend!
BrandIdea is a business intelligence tool for marketing and sales information. They offer a SaaS-based business intelligence enterprise tool that helps companies analyze their markets & last-mile sales data. It Integrates and models data from a multitude of sources and client’s internal data to provide analytics to gain insights & maximize the ROI of marketing campaigns.
Using advanced Data Science techniques, they generate visually enriched granular analytics streams that are dynamic, deep, and point to precise directions that help companies to make the right decisions. Critically, these analytics are granular – at the micro-market level, thus creating a bottom-up, aggregating impact of customized marketing actions. So not only can the companies re-visit their decisions at short intervals to course-correct or shift priorities periodically, they can do so at every geo-location, creating the bedrock for growth.
|Founder:||Suresh Pillai||Total funding raised||INR 2.25 Crores|
|2020 status:||Operational in Chennai||Number of rounds||2|
Why did you invest in BrandIdea?
In a market as broad and diverse as (pre-digitalized) India, information at the last mile was always challenging to collect, and the data that existed was inaccurate. BrandIdea provided a solution using which large brands could gather granular and in-depth information about that last mile. This information not only helped the brands with their marketing efforts but also their inventory and other aspects of their business.
BrandIdea was the first enterprise tech company that I invested in. The decision was driven by the fact that their enterprise clients had massive marketing budgets and teams that would be willing to pay for that level of granular data.
What were the risks involved with an investment in BrandIdea?
As with any B2B SaaS play, there are a few issues we knew we would face.
- One of them is the long decision-making timelines that large conglomerates like Colgate, Tide, HUL, Unilever, etc. have. However, it is worth being said that once the partnership is complete, these partnerships can be very lucrative.
- Enterprises have long gestation periods to make a decision; therefore, another risk with Enterprise SaaS is the sales-cycles are going to be extended. You need to maintain firm control on the burn and accommodate for completing those decision cycles.
- Another risk is that Enterprise SaaS companies can become profitable but not scalable. This could turn it into a lifestyle business, where the founder makes enough money to live comfortably but doesn’t grow, and as a VC investor, you’re stuck. B2B SaaS plays need to move quickly towards $1M per year in revenue before they can be considered a moderate success. The longer it takes to get there, the lesser the chances of it getting further VC interest.
What are your learnings from your investment in BrandIdea?
As I mentioned earlier, there are long gestation periods, and it’s a lot of relationship-building with enterprise SaaS companies. It takes a while to get a lot of clients, and the slower that process is, the worse it is for a VC investor.
This was also the first time we invested in a family-operated business, by Suresh and his daughter, and his daughter eventually left the company.
We learned how to evaluate such companies better. If a company gets into a lifestyle-business model, how do you, as an investor, get your money back; or get good enough dividends. We are still learning that.
Would you invest in a ‘BrandIdea’ if it came to you today?
When it comes to enterprise SaaS, we’ve learned that it’s a long process to build a company, and as traditional investors, our IRR expectations are upwards of 75% per year. While BrandIdea didn’t burn too much capital, they didn’t grow fast enough for our liking. Therefore, we don’t think that we are the right investors for them, and they aren’t the right investments for us.
What are the exit opportunities that can be foreseen for BrandIdea now?
The possible exit opportunities would either be a founder/company buyback, or the business gets rolled up into a large company offering a suite of products to similar enterprises.
Several founders wait with bated breath as the Indian economy reopens after a 76-day hibernation. Many of them wait in anticipation that there will be an outbreak of indulgence consumption or revenge buying that will flood the empty coffers of revenue starved companies. It is (however), not the time for founders to get complacent. There is a long road ahead once the dust settles and we will see the clear signs of permanent behavioral changes after this temporary hysteria fades away.
I believe that we will see permanent behavioral changes starting from the way we lead our lives to the products or services that we consume (and the way we consume them.) Although I agree with Fred Wilson that companies in telehealth, food delivery, and work from home would benefit from these behavioral changes, I would add a few more for those of us living in India.
One of them is online education. In the past, most online education platforms suffered as the instructors were camera-shy when providing instructions to an online audience. Many instructors also found the technology tools daunting and they avoided using them. However, I do not expect parents to enthusiastically send their children back to school. The lockdown provided an extended incubation period pushing instructors to overcome their fears and shortcomings. I believe that the imparting of education through online mediums will continue to expand. Vocational classes are next, then hobbies and even working out, creating great business opportunities. I have current and prospective investments that will benefit from this behavioral change.
Another one is neobanking. It is a travesty that our banks continue to function with 20th-century design and tech infrastructure. I had hope that the lockdowns would have forced them to take a relook at their online banking offerings and improve services for customers. However, our banks are too big to move quickly. This creates a great opportunity for neobanks that add a friendlier design and process layer over the old banking infrastructure. The next 18 months would be crucial for neobanks to scale massively before the traditional banks catchup. I have current and prospective investments that will benefit from this behavioral change.
Another one is multiplayer online gaming. Social distancing is disrupting the hospitality sector especially the nightlife industry with authorities in Japan going as far as demonizing nightlife districts. However, the human need for socializing is driving us online and onto apps like Ludo, Houseparty, and Tambola. Ludo King reported a 4x increase in DAUs with more than 50 million users interacting with their app daily. I believe that the joy of online gaming companies has just begun.
Like Fred mentioned in his post, the next 6-18 months will be an interesting period to study these behavioral changes. It is an important period for founders as they must navigate these uncertain waters, readjust, once again achieve product-market fit and then start scaling up again.