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Category Archive : Venture Investing

Startup Board Meetings 101

Most founders deem that their relationship with their board will be adversarial and combative. I assume that the founders must get sleepless nights before the board meeting. Maybe it provides the founder flashbacks to the nights spent they spent rolling their beds as they tried to present their school report card to their stricter parent, usually their dad.

Why do I think that?

The creative ways I see founders avoiding calling (forget conducting) board meetings as if it were the plague. Founders drum up excuses for delaying the board meetings, much like my classmates and I did to avoid submitting our signed and acknowledged report cards. Founders get sick; then a family member gets sick, then the ICU and next the morgue. Next when the health issues run out, then the team members are blamed; the reporting systems cop the blame – the list is endless. It is comical to witness the founder’s unnecessary creativity. However, the board is not a founder’s dad, waiting to rap them and it does not need to be that way.

That start-up boards must not have an adversarial relationship with the founders. This relationship should not disintegrate into that abyss is the responsibility of the investor board member and the founder.

For starters, the board must not get into the day-to-day working of the company unless there is a crisis, and the board must over-ride the management – it is rare but required. How can a founder avoid this situation is to be honest, in the founder’s hands.

A first step to building trust in the board-founder relationship is for the founder to get into the habit of organizing, conducting and following-up on productive board meetings.

  • A board meeting must be conducted every quarter – at the very least.
  • Some start-ups may require monthly board meetings, but a long-term plan of conducting monthly board meetings is onerous – on the founder and their board.

An important distinction that many founders fail to make is that a board meeting is not an investment pitch, but neither is it the investor update. A board meeting’s purpose is to get into the meat of things that the founders are working on versus the sizzle that sold to current and prospective investors.

If you, as a founder, are confused about what to discuss at your board meeting, I believe that Mark Suster’s How to Prepare for a Board Meeting to Make Sure you Crush It is a must-read for you.

Essential points that Mark delves into are the importance of a well-thought-out agenda, a solid deck and providing enough time to your board members to prepare for the meeting.

Now, if you’re scratching your head on what goes into a board deck, then Bryan Schreier’s post on Sequoia Capital’s website, aptly titled, Preparing a Board Deck should be in your reading list. 

A start-up founder that has an adversarial or a laissez-faire relationship with its board members is losing the plot. The best situation that a founder could wish for is a well-functioning board is their sounding board and guide for the road ahead. The board gives the founder a third party and a bird’s eye perspective on their venture’s progress because founders lose their objectivity in the day to day function of their ventures.

But it is important to note that the responsibility of creating the right board relationship must begin from the founder and supported by their board members – not the other way around.

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Navigating the Indian Seed Landscape

No one can doubt that the Indian PE/VC ecosystem is going through a golden run. The amount of money flowing into the ecosystem is breaking records –records set just the previous year! If I narrow the PE/VC down to just “start-ups” then Indian start-ups have raised $11.3 billion this year – up from $10.5 billion raised last year – the good times are truly here.

This massive influx of money and strong tailwinds make it seem as though raising capital is getting easier. But, with the number of start-ups growing as fast (if not faster) than the money supply, the real picture for a start-up raising money today is – disconcertingly different. The discussion of what metrics does it take to raise a round, what the different stage VCs focus on when you raise, etc. is a polarizing topic. One that I regularly have now with founders who are raising, founders who have raised and with funders of all stages – but there isn’t a silver bullet.

Therefore, when Yuki Kawamura shared Pear VC’s report, aptly titled, Navigating the New Seed Landscape, he could not have sent it at a more opportune time. Mar Hershenson, Managing Partner of Pear VC, created this report analyzing the US VC ecosystem but there are several parallels we can draw for our ecosystem here. For example:  

  • It confirms something that seed investors have long known, i.e., the time, amount and metrics required to raise a Series A round has increased, therefore;
    • The money needed to get a venture ready for Series A has also increased
    • Series A investors want to see positive unit economics and traction before putting in growth rounds
  • Traction has a direct correlation to valuation
  • Second time and successful founders get a premium valuation
  • Where you locate your start-up does affect its initial valuation

There are several other learnings in the report, but the one slide that stuck with me is:

Just replace the names of columns (from the left) with Seed, Pre-Series A (or Angel), Series A, and Public to translate this to our ecosystem’s lingo. However, the vertical order in those columns stays the same
  • A seed investor (like me) backs the team
  • The angel investor backs the traction, and
  • The Series A investor backs the market.

The report then gets into further details as to what your start-up must emphasize when you are raising a new round. It provides a founder the VC view on where your venture must be before attempting to raise that the Seed, Angel, or Series A round. I believe that this presentation is manna for founders. I Whatsapp’d it to my founders in the morning. Now I share it with you!

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

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

Venture Idea: Putting the Custom in Customer Service

One of my favorite entrepreneurial movies is Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year. The movie has a dialogue that goes, “customer ke toh naam mein hi mer likha hai” (the word customer has mer (pronounced “marr” is the Hindi word for ‘to die’) embedded in it). This single dialogue aptly defines the treatment meted out to the billion Indian consumer customers every single day.

All one has to do is go through the Facebook page of any Indian brand and it will not be hard to find the abundant record of horrific complaints and the apathy awarded by these brands to their customers. Although I have been on a crusade against JetAirways for the ad hoc changes to its Frequent Flyer experience, I have seen very little progress in brands making an effort to improve how they treat their customers. Despite the government’s attempt to provide adequate protection to the consumer by allocating a separate consumer court to resolve consumer grievances and penalize erring brands… the problems are only continuing to mount.

I believe that the next ten years will be the golden age of Indian consumerism. With this thesis in mind, I strongly believe that there is going to be the need for a service that goes beyond allowing a customer to air their grievances but actively taking control to resolve these complaints. For a small fee, this service provider can engage with brands to resolve customer’s problems. If that route doesn’t work they should also be able to prepare the legal documentation required to take the brand to consumer court. They can even go a step further to provide the contact details for competent lawyers who can file & fight these cases. As India marches to 1,000,000,000 online via mobile – the market potential will be massive!

I have been on the wrong side of several bad consumer experiences in India and there used to be a company called myakosha.com that was solving my problem. They played the role of a service provider who resolved these issues directly with Idea, Jet, AMEX and other companies that I was facing issues with. I simply loved their service and the way they made these brands come running to me to solve their errors was an experience worth living through. However, for reasons best known to the MyAkosha team they pivoted to another business model leaving a gaping hole in the ecosystem. Now, I am personally motivated to be that agent of change for the way Indian brands treat their customers. I have a design team ready to develop the front end, know a law firm who can provide the infrastructure & know-how for this service and am willing to fund this project out of AVF.

I am seeking individuals who have a strong background in social media marketing, customer complaint management, and a strong tech background. I am also looking for a person with a strong background in data analytics to build out this venture.

Do you know someone or a team that fits this bill?

Email prospects@artha.vc with a cc to karishma@artha.vc.

25/2018