6 Learnings after 60 days of WFH – for Founders

Yesterday was the 60th day since we shut down our office, but it feels much longer. Partly because of the roller coaster journey I have had with a concept that I could not understand, i.e., working from home. In the last 60 days, I have gone from hating to loving the work from home concept and from working myself to the bone to appreciating the freedom and higher productivity this concept brings to my team and to me.   

There are several posts on how to manage employees that are working from home, but very few focus their attention on the founder that is leading their startup through troubled waters. I had 6 distinct learnings that reshaped the way I thought about working from home: 

 

 

  1. Hyper-productivity has its limitations 

    I was guilty of indulging in this mistake for the first 30 days. Theoretically, I saved 90 minutes of commute time; therefore, I decided that I could take on more tasks and responsibilities. Thus, in addition to my duties as a fund manager, I was reworking budgets with our portfolio companiestook on the chief editor role for Artha’s blogs, and I was conducting multiple team calls a day to keep the team focussed and engaged. 

    It was exciting and new the first couple of weeks, and I enjoyed working myself to the point of exhaustion because it kept all the negativity around the crisis out of my mind. However, hyper-productivity began providing diminishing returns the more I indulged in it. 

    It started with general irritability and slight distractions, but eventually, the focus on work suffered, and the list of tasks pending on me started to pile up. Finally, there was just a general numbness to all the work. The enjoyment of completing one task was quickly replaced by the groan of watching the tasks list continuing to expand

    became aware of the toll my hyper-productive avatar was having on my physical and mental health. Eventually, it started affecting my interpersonal relationships – at work and at home. With some sage advice, I toned down my hyperproductivity ambitions and focussed on quality instead of quantity. I concentrated on completing 5 tasks per day (nothing more or less) and utilizing the extra time to expand my knowledge horizon.

  2. Recognizing and dealing with Zoom fatigue 

    It was fun to be on an endless stream of Zoom calls. The meetings were shorter, I drank fewer calories, and I could do double the number of meetings. Then as Brad Feld put it, I started to experience Zoom Fatigue. I caught myself replying to emails, responding to internal team chats, or editing investor newsletters during these online meetings. I was there, but I was not present

    It did not help that I made my meeting schedule so tightly packed that there was no room for error; therefore, if there was an unscheduled call, it would be a couple of days before I could get back to them. 

    At the start of this month, I reduced the time I allocated for online meetings. Encouraged with the results, I have limited my online meeting schedule to just 3 hours a day from this week. This workaround will give me ample down-time to catch up with my inbox, tasks, and team chat – allowing me to be fully attentive during the online meetings 

  3. Taking a break 

    It is ironic that I would find it challenging to take a break from working while working at home. The opportunity to take a break (my TV) is less than 10 steps away, the bed just another 15 steps. Despite my intense working schedule over my 15year working career, I continued to watch at least 1 new movie a week on averageHowever, in the last 9 weeks, I have watched a grand total of 2 new filmsand I had to split watching each one over 2-3 weeks. 

    The fact that the opportunity to take a break was so close developed a false sense of comfort that I could take a break at any time. That time did not come because there was always something pressing that needed my attention.  

    Although it was late, the benefits of taking breaks finally dawned on me. A couple of weeks back, I took a 3-day weekend (I still ended up working for half a day), caught up with friends, and on my sleep. I had a fresh perspective on projects & a spring in my voice when I resumed work, convincing me that taking a break is an imperative undertaking for any founder.

  4. Setting boundaries 

    When we are done with work, we shut our laptops, stuff them into our bags, we commute back home, switching off all the work-related tabs in our minds and refreshing the tabs for our personal livesWhat happens when that commute is cut down to 90 seconds? 

    In my first month I was taking work calls from 8 am to 10 pm daily, I slept with work and woke up in it. There are several times in a year when VCmust put in those types of hours, especially when we are closing multiple deals. However, this was different.

    I did not have time to work out, I took tons of notes with a mental promise to review them but could not find the time to do it. Many a time, I could not remember what I ate for dinner and in what quantity! These endless hours started to take a toll on the team as well.

    I instituted a pm deadline on myself for all workrelated meetings. Everything that could not get completed by 7 pm would get pushed to the next day. To commit myself to this deadline, I started working out on cure.fit with a partner who would ensure that I did not miss workouts, therefore, ensuring that my work-day had an ending

    Without boundaries, the boon of working from home can quickly turn into a curse. Therefore, it is a good idea to schedule winding up and winding down activities so that there is a psychological boundary between work & home. 

  5. Schedule tasks into your calendar 

    There is a big difference between being busy and being productive. One can be busy all day but have nothing to show for their busyness at nightOn the other hand, productivity demands results, it demands focus.  

    I learned an excellent productivity hack that has worked wonders for me. Instead of having a to-do list or a task list – I get my tasks directly scheduled into my calendar, thereby blocking out time to focusThe scheduled slots are limited to 30-45 minutes chunks, with a 15-mins break at the end for contingencies and to report to the team after the job assigned to me is completed. There is an excellent post on Effective Scheduling for more on this. 

  6. Take a vacation 

    It sounds ironic that I would propose vacation time amid an economic crisis, especially when we are working from home! However, a lot of founders have forgone summer vacations due to the way this crisis creeping upon us. As a founder, we must recognize that vacations are essential with several scientifically known benefits of what breaking routines do for our minds & bodies

    While there are minimal options for us to travel for a vacation, there are other ways to take a break from the world and give the body & mind time to recharge their batteries. The Washington Post provided an excellent resource for vacationing at home, aptly titled, The completely correct guide to vacationing at home.

    Oh! You will find the perfect vacation auto-response in my 18-month-old postPerfecting the vacation auto-response.

My Funding Picks For The Last Week (W21)

Every Monday, I sit with my team to review the funding activity of the previous week. From that list, I pick out 3 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.

 

Another 2 weeks of lockdown (probably more for metro cities) should not dampen the investment spirits. Deal activity continues to temper, but it hasn’t completely stopped. Last week saw 13 startups raise $88 million – 8 of which were in the early-stage space.

After sifting through the news (aggregated from Tracxn, Inc42, and YourStory), I picked out these three as my favorite funding news from last week!

 

Name: Refrens

Amount Raised: Undisclosed from Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Anupam Mittal, others

What does Refrens do?

Edited from Traxcn: Refrens is accounting software for freelancers. The features of the product are expanding customer base by referrals, budget planning, creating GST invoices, reminders, and more. The product is free for freelancers such as software developers, logo and graphic designers, digital marketers, to name a few.

Why do I like Refrens?

The recent economic earthquake and the related job losses will give wings to the gig economy. Several platforms help gig workers promote their wares, but not many that will help them with organizing their back-end operations. The stellar angel investor star cast backing this deal should provide Refrens an edge over the indirect competition.

 

Name: Log9 Materials

Amount Raised: USD 164K from Deepak Ghaisas

What does Log9 do?

Edited from Traxcn: Log9Materials is a startup in the nanotechnology space. It focuses on graphene-based materials. Also, it undertakes custom synthesizing orders. R&D is centered on energy-efficient technologies based on graphene derivatives. As of November 2016, the company is developing graphene quantum dot-based LEDs and foldable displays and graphene composite based water purification systems. They have developed ‘Smoke-Free’- graphene-based cigarette filter and claims to reduce the risk of getting cancer by 90%.

Why do I like Log9?

I had looked at Log9 in the past when they were utilizing graphene-based technologies for fuel cells & filtration. However, their new product, CoronaOven could get serious traction as the importance of disinfecting things before using or consuming them is taken seriously. If the technology works as it is supposed to, there is a massive market for this product.

 

Name: Scribble Data

Amount Raised: Undisclosed from unnamed Angels

What does Scribble Data do?

Edited from Traxcn: Their platform, Enrich, helps prep data at scale (feature engineering) for data science, and our consulting services are aimed at turning every data science team into well-oiled machines.

Why do I like Scribble Data?

ML engineers love challenges. These engineers take on projects that test their skills and will build their reputation. Eventually, the projects get completed, and they venture out to find a new challenge, and the cycle repeats – but there could be a better solution. Scribble Data’s ML engineering as a service could offer exciting projects to keep ML engineers engaged but, at the same time, provide continuity at a more affordable & flexible payroll for the company. I have asked a couple of my portfolio company’s to reach out to Scribble and test out this hypothesis – the proof will be in the pudding.

My Favourite Funding News from Last Week (w20)

There is a slow recovery in the funding of early-stage startups. We are still a long way away from the heydays of 2018-19, but the growing pace of activity in angel networks & early-stage funds are promising signs.

After shortlisting the early-stage deals for week 20 from Traxcn, Inc42, and YourStory, we picked out the following as the best funding picks for the last week:

 

Name: Vernacular.ai

Amount Raised: USD 5.1 mn led by Exfinity Ventures and Kalaari Capital

What does Vernacular.ai do?

Edited from Traxcn: Vernacular.ai is an AI platform to manage customer engagement and call center automation solutions. It provides multi-lingual chatbots for automating customer service operations of enterprises using natural language processing and deep learning. Natural language processing helps the bots to extract meaning, context, and entities of incoming messages, thereby enabling companies to interact and engage in any language with customers.

Deep learning helps in pre-training the bot with domain corpus and augmenting with enterprise-specific data to achieve maximum accuracy for the same. The bots developed using the platform can be deployed to multiple omnichannel platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Website, Mobile, among others. Some of the supported languages include Hindi, Gujarati, English, to name a few. Clients include Vistaar, Shriram General Insurance, Exide Life Insurance, and Barbeque Nation.

Why do I like Vernacular.ai?

Voice AI has enormous applications in a world where customer service standards aren’t keeping up with the expectations of customers. Customers want to get personalized treatment and in a language that they are comfortable conversing in. As an early investor in vPhrase, I have seen the vast revenue potential of applying artificial intelligence for customer communication.

 

Name: Mintoak

Amount Raised: USD 2 mn led by Pravega Ventures

What does Mintoak do?

Edited from Traxcn: Mintoak offers a POS solution called DOV that enables merchants to accept digital payments. The solution involves a POS hardware device along with software solutions. Merchants can accept various types of card payments, such as magstripe, EMV, NFC, and secure PIN. It also enables the acceptance of UPI payments. Merchants can also accept payments without internet connectivity through their patent-pending technology that allows a POS to the transaction to be completed using the voice channel, thereby improving transaction completion rates. It also offers a consolidated view of all transactions handled by the device.

Why do I like Mintoak?

Except-Jio, most mobile operators operate on seriously inadequate infrastructure to handle the bandwidth demands of India fintech companies in urban centers. I shudder to imagine how vendors in Bharat, where the network infrastructure is weaker, would cope up. Mintoak attempts to use a data-light technology to process transactions, thereby decreasing costs and improving efficiency – an actual Bharat-focussed tech play.

 

Name: MetaMorphoSys

Amount Raised: Undisclosed amount led by Good Capital

What does MetaMorphoSys do?

Edited from Traxcn: MetaMorphoSys Technologies provides a software suite for the insurance industry. It offers solutions for product development, claims management, risk management, and more. It also features software for insurance quoting, sales & marketing, underwriting, and more.

Why do I like MetaMorphoSys?

Insure-tech will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the post-COVID environment. A CRM focussed on increasing the sales & marketing ability of insurance agents will be a need-to-have utility. Hitting a ₹50 lakh monthly SaaS revenue will be the first port-of-validation for MetaMorphoSys!

My funding picks of last week (w18)

Fundraising activity continues to slow down; therefore, my team and I had a tough time shortlisting our favorite picks with just a handful of deals to choose from. After shortlisting all early-stage deals activity for week 18 from Traxcn, Inc42, and YourStory, we jointly picked out the following as the best funding picks for the last week:

 

Name: QuillBot

Amount Raised: $4 Mn in a round led by GSV Ventures and Sierra Ventures

What does QuillBot do?

Edited from Traxcn: Millions trust QuillBot’s full-sentence thesaurus to get creative suggestions, rewrite content, and get over writer’s block. QuillBot uses state-of-the-art AI to rewrite any sentence or article you give it.

Why do I like QuillBot?

My team and I are Grammarly power users processing tens of thousands of words for our investment notes, meeting minutes, emails, blogs, private chats, and more. I believe that there is space for a Grammarly competitor, especially one that understands the Indianized English – also, can Quillbot (or Grammarly) build a plugin for PowerPoint, please!

 

Name: YAP

Amount Raised: $4.5 Mn led by BEENEXT

What does YAP do?

Edited from Traxcn: YAP offers a white label program management platform. They also issue a Yap Tatkal wallet, which allows their clients to provide their customers physical or virtual prepaid cards linked to their products. They also offer a QR payment solution in the mobile wallet.

Why do I like YAP?

The lockdown caught the banks with their pants down due to unpreparedness to go digital. The post-lockdown scenario is bleak for physical banking, and banks must prepare themselves to fully service their customers from the palm of their hands. YAP is building APIs to bridge that gap hence one to look out for.

 

Name: Mindhouse

Amount Raised: ~$680K from BTB Ventures, GGV Capital, Aartieca Family Trust, and Angels

What does Mindhouse do?

Edited from Traxcn: Standalone mental fitness and wellness center brand

Why do I like Mindhouse?

The COVID19 virus reserves it’s worst for those with weakened immune systems. Therefore I expect that fitness (physical or mental) will be on the priority list of most in the post-virus era. Mindhouse attempts to enter the space that mind.fit is operating in. Will it succeed?

Sponsorship Sunday: Savety – The Instant Smart Water Tap

 

As washing your hands for at least 20 seconds has become an essential duty and on an average a person washes their hands at least 10 times, can you imagine the amount of water lost?  A trillion liters!

As the global community responds to the COVID-19 led pandemic lockdown, there has been an increasing emphasis on public health strategies. WHO promoted several health initiatives like keeping a safe distance from each other, staying home, and most importantly practicing proper hand hygiene by washing your hand with soap for at least 20 seconds.

But can we imagine the amount of water wasted as we leave our taps open? We are busy lathering our hands with soap and scrubbing it with great intent; we are wasting precious freshwater.  While you may think you’re taking the right steps to prevent yourself from COVID-19, even touching a tap can be unhygienic due to cross-contamination between users in social places like hospitals, hotels, schools. Railway stations and other cultural areas where self-hygiene is in dire need.

With an urgency to change this situation, Vishwanandh Fego Maladi, founder of Feel Good Innovations, created a campaign called “Savety – The Instant Smart Water Tap.” Savety is an IoT smart water tap that saves the earth by containing a water crisis while also protecting us from the dreaded COVID-19.

With the help of Savety, we can prevent a water crisis by converting your manual taps into automatic taps in just 30 seconds.  Savety is very user friendly and easy to install, plus you don’t need a plumber or any additional equipment and can be fixed in just “30 seconds”.

The reason I like the idea behind Savety is that:

  • It reduces touch pollution
  • It has a first-class water efficiency energy saving and environmental protection
  • It has a simple design and is adaptable to various home styles
  • It has a one-time charge for 3-4 months that lasts for 6 hours
  • It is water and energy sufficient and will, in turn, reduce your total bill in dwellings

As we crusade against COVID-19, let us also remember to practice having good hygiene first. Let us learn to conserve and protect ourselves and the earth and the same, or we may end up with age-old saying

Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink;

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

You can contribute to this Savety – The Instant Smart Water Tap hosted on Fuel-a-Dream

 

Flashback Friday: United Mobile Apps

United Mobile Apps (UMA) developed and published mobile applications software. The company issued software products for mobile devices with a focus on connection management, device management, and data synchronization. UMA marketed its products and services to original device manufacturers throughout India.

UMA had a vision of enabling access to all the User’s data ‘Everything – Everywhere.’ To implement this vision, UMA worked on a cross-platform software called Unify (U5) which had the following modules:

  • USync: Synchronize data from mobile device / laptop / PC
  • UManage: Manage the device remotely
  • UShare: Share the backed-up data

 

Year of Investment: 2012 Total funding raised USD 1.2 Million
2020 status: Shutdown Number of rounds 2
Co-investors: Blume Ventures, India Venture Partners & Mumbai Angels

 

Anirudh A Damani (aD) gives his insight behind this investment.

  1. Why did we invest in UMA?

aD: UMA was trying to optimize the mobile telephony infrastructure by utilizing the correct cellular network bands based on the type of data getting transmitted. So, their solution allows the network operator to use 4G for rich data applications, 3G for emails, 2G for voice calls, and GSM for SMS. The solution also allowed a seamless offloading to wi-fi for data sapping applications.

It was the perfect solution for an infrastructure challenged market like India with its notoriously poor network quality. I also liked the founding team, the right mix of engineers, and businesspeople for a complex infrastructure play.

 

  1. What were the risks involved with an investment in UMA?

aD: There were a couple of significant risks. First, the company must invest a considerable amount of money on R&D, an expense that it could not stop even if sales were slow – which was the second risk. The company had a long sales cycle and relied on the correct alignment of several external factors for its success.

 

  1. How long did you plan to invest in UMA?

aD: For a long time, I  had a conviction that UMA would be my first unicorn. I had planned to hold onto it forever as UMA’s business model would make it a cash cow. Unfortunately, unfavorable market conditions dashed my expectations.

 

  1. What was the primary reason behind dead pooling UMA’s investment?

aD: As I had said earlier, the company relied on external factors for its success, e.g., the quick rollout of 4G networks to be a viable solution for network operators. The network operators would then ask handset makers to install UMA’s chip in the handset and pay a royalty to UMA per device per month.

However, the 2G spectrum allocation scam in India led to a slow 4G rollout in India. Though unconnected to India, different regions around the world also witnessed a slowdown in rolling out 4G. This stalled the company in its tracks. The company tried pivoting to a new business line, which met with moderate success, and it needed additional rounds of capital to survive the delays but failed at raising a new round.

 

  1. Are you satisfied with the efforts of the founders?

aD: Absolutely! I believe that the founders gave it their all, and factors beyond their control led to their eventual demise. I continue to have a ton of respect for the founders, and I look forward to investing in them once again!

 

  1. What mistakes did UMA make, and what was your learning as an investor?

aD: It would be incorrect to blame the founders for making mistakes for situations beyond their control. The most significant learning for me was to ensure that the founders held (at least) 60% equity before raising a Series A round.

 

  1. Would you invest in a similar startup today?

aD: Absolutely!

 

 

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!

MicrosoftTeams-image

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:

IMG_8029

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-09 at 7.24.53 PM

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!  

Funding Friday – Team Vaayushastra

A group of students from  Fr. Conceicao Rodrigues College of Engineering formed Team Vaayushastra in 2012 to compete in SAE Aero Design East competitions. The students have competed well against teams from Georgia Tech, Michigan Ann-Arbor and Concordia to name a few and ranked 5th in the competition in 2017.
SAE Aero Design East competitions provide undergraduate and graduate engineering students the opportunity to work on real-life problems. Here is how the SAE website describes the competition:
First and foremost, a design competition, students will find themselves performing trade studies and making compromises to arrive at a design solution that will optimally meet the mission requirements while still conforming to the configuration limitations.
I love initiatives that encourage youngsters to innovate and take risks. I am contributing towards this project through Ketto.
Here are video highlights from the 2018 SAE Aero Design East competition:

The Udupi Approach

In many cases, food-tech founders extend their line of products to capture as many customers as possible, if they aren’t convinced about the size of their target market. There is a business case for extending into multiple product lines to provide complementary options to a loyal target market, but the decision to go wide right at the start is like opening a new udupi restaurant in Mumbai  that serves all cuisines to cater to  every guest but loses its core of serving the udupicuisine. Therefore, I jokingly call a ‘go wide’ approach of an early stage founding team as the ‘udupi restaurant approach’ as this approach is harmful whether you are in food-tech or not.

Let’s be honest, sales matter. But when you have limited resources in an increasingly noisy world, the quality of sales matter even more. Therefore, it is important to build a niche and own that space in your target segment. That will make your customers your best salespeople i.e. they will recommend you to their network which will bring in tons of new customers. For example, when I randomly asked people in my network for the best place for South Indian food in South Mumbai the answer was Muthuswamy, for people in Central Mumbai it was Madras Café, in Bangalore it was MTR and in Hyderabad it was Chutneys. These people were willing to advocate why their recommendation was the best.

However, when I asked the same audience for the ‘best food place’s in their vicinity, – they were stumped. They almost immediately questioned me about what my preferred cuisine is, whether I was looking for a family restaurant or a date place, what my budget was etc. They did not know how to answer the question until they had some clearer direction. Can you imagine (now) what happens when your start-up does everything? Even your best and loyal customers will not know what to recommend you for!

What is dangerous is that they could be recommending you for something that isn’t even the path you planned.  More dangerously, the customer who is promoting your product may not even be in your target segment. And most dangerously, they may not be promoting you to people who fall under your target segment. Such a sale is more toxic than beneficial!

I understand that it is scary to be focussed but there is a lot of value in doing so. Customer feedback focussed on a concentrated product line will indicate whether you should pivot or accelerate your build-out. However, when there are multiple product lines catering to several audiences it pollutes the feedback, creating a lot of noise, making it hard for you to tune out the disturbance and assess what’s important in order to drive decisions – much like choosing what to eat at a Udupi restaurant at mealtime!

36/2019