21 Point Action Plan to Corona-Proof Your Startup Dream

Calling the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis is a gross understatement. It could be a crisis for the established business ecosystem, but it is the equivalent of a tsar bomba for the early-stage startup ecosystem. If all of us do not act quickly, the entire venture capital ecosystem is staring down at years of effort, getting incinerated in a matter of weeks.

When the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, announced the Janta curfew, he talked about blackout drills and wartime curfews to a population where the majority hadn’t witnessed one. It was a reminder of a dark 15-20 period when India went through several wars with Pakistan & China. That ignited a mortal fear in me as well.

I feared that this crisis could destroy the decades of work that it took to provide confidence to young graduates to convert themselves from job seekers to job creators. We had to show years of results to convince Indian & global investors to pour money into startups via venture capital funds, angel networks, superangel syndicates, and venture debt funds. All this effort all this sacrifice, of the tens of thousands of people that make up the entrepreneurial ecosystem viz. over 39,000+ founders, 10,000+ angel investors, 500+ VC funds, several visionary politicians & government officers is on the brink of collapse.

However, real entrepreneurs are problem solvers, optimists, and overachievers. Any challenge, even something that challenges their mortal existence, will help an entrepreneur find another gear within them. As they say, even in adversity, they only see opportunity.

My team and I started to sound out Artha Venture Fund’s founders on the business impact the coronavirus pandemic was about to make a couple of weeks before lockdown. We asked our founders to create new budgets to account for the onset of nuclear winter in the fundraising world, bring their expenses down to the bare minimum, and to show patience along with courage at this time.

It has not been easy to convince the optimist in them to slow down for now and conserve energy to speed up later. Last week we put all our heads together on a zoom call to chart out an action plan for saving their dream – their startup.

I summarized the call in a 21-point action plan to save your startup memo for the founders. My team went a step further to make it into a beautiful & impactful presentation. In the spirit of joining hands during this adversity, I am sharing that presentation with you:


It is important to remember the immortal words of General S Patton:


Together we will win the coronavirus fight in our homes, in our businesses, and our minds. Let’s roll!
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Contact Management Solution for Gifting

This year, I have chosen to simplify several things in my daily life, one of them being my 5000+ member contact list that grows by 100-200 new contacts every month.
Currently, I use FullContact to manage all my contacts. It scans business cards, merges duplicates and scrapes the internet to find and attach all the social media accounts of my contacts to update me on their latest activities.
Additionally, I have been using Accompany. It sends me a daily email digest with the latest media articles involving anyone from my contact list. It also allows me to sync my calendar and sends me a bio of the people that I am scheduled to meet. It usually includes their latest media mentions and articles, giving me the chance to build a strong rapport at the beginning of every conversation.
However, there is one service (or a feature) that I wish there was an app to address. It would save my team and I the time and effort we spend doing this task manually every year.  Every year we go through an arduous process to send gifts to my contacts on their birthdays, anniversaries or religious occasions like Diwali, Eid, Holi, Christmas, etc. A feature or service that could semi-automate this process, providing an easy solution to this problem could be an interesting concept that an enterprising group of individuals could work on.
My idea for this model is:

  1. Connect with my (the user’s) contact list
  2. Scrape through online sources for birthdays and anniversaries of my contacts
    • Also, try to figure out the religion they follow so that a personalized wish can be sent on their respective religious festivals.
  3. A week before someone’s birthday/anniversary, ask me the budget that I would like to allocate to their gift and try to find them an interesting card, bouquet or a gift that can be sent on my behalf.
    • Then the service could send me a variety of options for gifts based on the budget that I had allocated and allow me to pick the one I prefer most.
  4. This service will also need to get in touch with the person I am sending the gift to, for their latest address, a response that the person getting the gift can choose to keep hidden from me or let me update on my contact list with the latest info.
  5. The service can start to learn and over a period, start getting smarter in terms of the budget and the gifts that I like to send
    1. They could also start to classify who I prioritize from my contact list based on the budgets and frequency of gifts that I send that person
  6. A similar exercise can be done before a religious occasion on a larger scale.
  7. As my contact list continues to increase, so does the business for this service

There are two ways the company makes money. Thus, the revenue model could be:

  1. Convenience Fee

If the company decides to charge this fee it is imperative that the quality of the gift and of the service is of the highest order. A low-quality gift or shoddy service will ensure that the user is lost forever due to the embarrassment it would cause him/her.
Secondly, the company should ensure that the prices they provide for their gifts are the best prices in the market. I have tried Wishup and Quintessentially to solve this problem in the past, but they tried to price gouge me, dissuading me from using their service again.

  1. Affiliate commissions

The company can get affiliate commissions from their vendors and then decide to share a part of it with their clients by providing better (cheaper) prices than they could find anywhere on their own. As the number of gifts grows, the relationship built with the vendors and customers would act as a significant moat against competing service providers.
There are numerous articles that can tell you that the size of the gifting market in India is huge. In fact, this research report from Technopak estimated the size of the market to be $40-42 billion, and a more recent article from TOI estimated it to be $65 billion. There is already an abundance of digital players trying to make their mark in this space. However, most of them do not provide as in-depth a solution as I have drawn out here, which opens up a blue ocean in an otherwise red sea.
Karishma Kirpalani from our team is in charge of finding me a startup that provides this service. If you or someone you know is pursuing this, email us on prospects@artha.vc attn: Karishma Kirpalani.

Founders: Lawyers aren't your Moral Compass

One of our investee companies made a significant change to their cap table without any proper intimation or disclosure to the existing investors. Not only did they make the change, but also went ahead to complete the transaction, keeping the remaining investor pool in the dark. What the founder failed to consider is that these things cannot remain in the dark for long. So, when the news came to light, I was upset at the way the entire transaction had taken place. A couple of days later, I had a face to face meeting with the founder to understand why such a crucial mistake had been made.
During the meeting, the founder admitted that he had made a mistake by not informing the investor pool about the changes. However, instead of owning up to his mistake, he retorted, “my lawyer told me it was okay.” After hearing this, I asked him if he genuinely thought his decision was morally or ethically correct and his reaction said it all. He couldn’t even look me in the eye or deny his lack of responsibility.
As human beings, knowing the difference between right and wrong is our basic instinct. Therefore, we should not rely on the shoulders of service providers (read: lawyers) to defend our actions (or as in this case, inaction). The critical trust between a founder and an investor is not based on the paper that is signed. The paper only defines what the individuals have agreed to do in the worst-case scenario of a complete breakdown in communication.
Thus, I believe that it is my responsibility to go above and beyond the minimum standards that I have committed to in the investment documents. Hiding behind the cloak of a legal professional’s advice is a smoking gun and founders that do so simply weaken the trust their investors have in them.
For the record, the advice given by the lawyer was incorrect so legally speaking we can sue the company for violating the investment agreement. Not only that, but the founder has also lost all credibility among the investors & what price can you really put on that?
All of this could have been avoided if only the founder had openly communicated what he/she was doing. If you, as a founder are reading this post, remember that communicating with the investors about both, the good and the bad things going on with your company, help to build trust.
In fact, I would go a step further in suggesting that you communicate the bad news quicker if not as quickly as the good. Not only will this help reduce the damage that it can cause but it is also just the right way to do business. Nothing harms your business’ growth like the loss of an investors’ trust.

Artha Corporate Connect

During my 3-week, 3 continent tour I fell out of the habit of writing my daily blog posts. Even after I returned I kept putting off restarting until “tomorrow”. Then last night on the drive home, I heard Shashi Tharoor’s interview on the radio, announcing the launch of his latest book. During the interview, the RJ asked what advice he would give to budding writers that are just starting out their careers. His answer encouraged me to climb out of the procrastination vortex and start writing again. His exact words were, “the only advice I would give to a budding writer is to keep writing”.

So, thank you, Mr Tharoor… and here we go again!

Today Artha will be publicly testing out service for our 57 (soon to be 61) startups to connect with

  • Larger companies
  • Other startups in our portfolio
  • Legal, compliance and service professionals

Over the past 3-4 months, we have been testing this out internally with excellent results for the startups and companies that we connected them to. Now I am making a public announcement to invite companies of all sizes to look through our portfolio and see if they want to work with one or more of our companies. If you are interested, reach out to us on corporateconnect@artha.group specifying which company you are interested in working with, and we will be happy to facilitate the connection.
This initiative will be led Artha’s very own networking ninja aka Sanjay Gandhi. He will be backed by the support of the Artha India Ventures & Artha Venture Fund investment teams.

PSA: On the lookout for Consumer Brands

The Indian wallet is growing larger. A recent estimate predicts that the per capita income for India will rise to $4,000 by 2030 from the current figure – $1,650. The consumption habits, as well as the points of consumption, will undergo significant transformation due to 3 major factors i.e. better supply chain infrastructure, ease of doing business under GST and penetration of the internet.  
Internet penetration will hit a significant milestone in the next 12-18 months when over 50% of Indians will be connected to the internet, primarily through a mobile device. These mobile internet connections are quickly transforming into consumption nodes through which the Indian wallet gets access to new consumer brands that provide alternatives to the brick and mortar brands that are available offline in Tier 2, 3, 4 towns.  
Although the demand for alternative brands has existed for a long time, poor infrastructure and complex inter-state trading laws prevented entrepreneurs from pursuing such ventures. As an early stage investor, I too avoided investing in such ventures as these companies required significant capital expenditure to create the framework to supply goods across the country. Secondly, founders had to generate a ton of illicit funds to pay-off tax & bureaucratic terrorists that always found fault in operations.  
GST broke down these barriers and made it easy for start-ups to set up a warehouse in one state and supply their products across India. In addition, the improvement in supply chain infrastructure & connectivity, help in paying off rich dividends for ventures. Therefore, our fund team is actively looking out for consumer brands to invest in, from mattresses to packaged food. 

Answering the question about Founders' Salaries

When a founding team of 3 founders expects a salary of 3 lakhs per month (each) in a funding round of 2 crores for an 18-month runway, just the founder’s salaries make up 81% of the total investment outlay! Funding a startup so that it can afford founder’s salaries does not make any sense to me. Therefore, there are 3-4 deals in AVF’s current pipeline that are being held up even though we are interested in investing in them, due to a mismatch in founder’s expectations of salary and their venture’s capability to pay them that amount.
The common objection raised by this founding team is that they are taking a cut on their previous salary or from what their market rate salary currently is. This argument doesn’t suffice since the last company or any company that could afford to pay the founders that exuberant amount is not a start-up, but invariably a company in the growth or more mature stages of its life cycle. The capabilities of that company and the startup that they currently working in are very different; additionally, those employers would not give them the title of Founder, any time soon.
In my opinion, the total Founder salary bill (for a 2 Founder startup) should be capped at 15% of the total round that is being raised or 25% of the total annual salary bill for the startup, whichever is lower. The founder is going to be well compensated by the massive chunks of equity that they hold, and impressive prices that it can be sold for in the future. This will more than compensate their current sacrifice of market rate salaries.

Screw Amendments… Rewrite the Law !

I have wanted to write this post for a very long time but kept putting it off for some good reason best known to the subconscious. However, the attack on e-commerce by the tax-man was the spark that ignited this story. As it is normally the case, some law that was written in goodness-knows-which-generation is going to be used to harass a business enterprise. It doesn’t matter that our PM Modi is racking up air miles in convincing the world outside and within India on a red carpet welcome to capital and services but alas, did someone forget to tell that to the tax man?
So, it all started when I on my daily cramming of articles on Startup Logic read this article on the application of outdated laws to new age business models to a global behemoth like Amazon. The clash has led to a cancellation of licenses for Amazon’s warehouse in Karnataka in addition to the umpteen headaches from the tax authorities and the obvious loss of face. This doesn’t even count the numerous transactions that will be delayed or cancelled due to the diktat.
So while each government has a Finance Ministry which oversees the balancing of the budget, do they have an Economic Impact Unit that offers a perspective on the economic impact of shutting or opening a business unit? Are the tax authorities asked to give an assessment on the positive and negative impacts of their actions and the bigger affect that their actions can have on the country’s image? Or are they just allowed to march in and shut a unit down all in the hope of sweating out a few people and greasing their own dirty palms?
It is high time that the majority government passes a law that mandates the ‘rewriting’ of laws that are over 25 years old. There are just too many cases today where the outdated laws of pre-independence (and some that even pre-dated to the birth of my great-great-grandfather) are being used to harass entrepreneurs, law abiding citizens and even party revelers from enjoying their ‘independence’.
The reason I choose 25 years is because it provides a balance between the generational change in India with the rapid change in the pace of technology and society. Unfortunately our legal system has passed its expiry date on both accounts and it is time for a radical change through the rewriting of this system for the youth of today to believe in the legal system and to agree to follow it.
To know how deep the malaise of outdated laws affect our ‘independence’ and outdate reality, just read this article from India Today. While the article only touches the tip of the ice-berg it should have further gone on to explain how the Indian Partnership Act was passed in 1932 and was last amended in 1983!
Why amend such old laws, they don’t change the intent of the law and neither do they capture the changes in the applicability of the law (can you imagine what a partnership meant in 1932 or even in 1983 versus what it means today?) for that matter imagine what was the intention when the Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867 was written… electricity was a privilege then and we are in the age of the e-book!
These laws aren’t just affecting our entrepreneurs, imagine what intention the Indian Divorce Act of 1869 wanted to achieve versus the reality today? What about the Indian Evidence Act of 1872! I don’t even want to read what those acts say except knowing that their entire intention is defeated when the intent with which an act was written is no longer a reality my generation or even the generation after me can imagine.
There are umpteen number of my friends, family and brother and sisters of my country that are breaking their heads and their spirit against the colonial laws created by the British curb Indians and in a way we are still enslaved to the draconian laws 68 years after our Independence. So Mr. Prime Minister before we attract billions, trillions and gazillions from China to Timbuktu… let’s clean up our judicial system and restore its faith and stature in the eyes of our generation.
A list of laws & acts governing us is available here

Protect our Protectors

Before I open up with my views on this highly controversial topic, I must tell you that I grappled with the thought of writing this article for the last 24 hours. My intention here is not to indulge in any jingoism or chest thumping. I am torn apart with this topic and it my intention here to just vent out my thoughts and ask the readers to really think about how we can play our part in shaking up the annals of the government wherein the last gasp of a soldier’s breath is not terrifying enough.   index   The picture above is of BSF Constable Sanjay Dhar from the 192 Battalion who was martyred on July 16th in the Arnia subsector along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu & Kashmir. Reports state that this is the second ceasefire violation since in this week and the third in July by Pakistan. It should also be noted that Late Constable Dhar, four BSF jawans and four civilians were also injured in the firing across the borderand . According to the BSF website this is is the 2ndBSF casualty at the border this year. (Surprisingly the BSF website is yet to update the martyr list or offer condolences on its website to their fallen comrade while UP BJP has –that is just a minor observation) Do you know how the brave men and women of our armed forces are taken to their final resting place? What is the protocol for bidding a final goodbye to those that lay down their lives protecting our nation’s border? I visited the BSF website and the Indian Army to find out the procedure for paying the last respects to Constable Dhar but I was unable to find anything specific. After a lot of effort I finally chanced upon this link which lays out the procedure for a military funeral in this land we call India. (This link was found by Google eventhough the webpage is hosted on the Indian Army website.) During the search I came across a lot of articles, posts, videos that were heart breaking if not gut wrenching. Statistics like 3,987 soldiers had been killed in action from the end of the Kargil conflict in 1999 upto 2012, over 100 soldiers commit suicide each year. In comparison, USA which is actually fighting a war in the hostile territories of Iraq and Afghanistan had lost 6,802 soldiers. The intention here isn’t to talk about how much better the kill ratio is for the US troops but it is definitely to talk about the value the American public has placed on the people that die fighting for their country outside their view and on foreign lands and how little we place on our own soldiers that are actually dying protecting our own borders and our right to lead a life of freedom. Why isn’t the media getting angry about the slaying of Indian soldiers including brutal mutilations (beheadings, castrations, etc)? Why hasn’t the PM or the Defense Minister made a statement to the nation about the destruction of yet another Indian family (does the media even care about the devastated family that Constable Dhar’s untimely death has left behind?) I find it truly disgusting that we have taken the price of an Indian soldier’s life as being worth nothing at all, there is no statement from the MLA or MP of Constable Dhar’s constituency about taking up the case of Constable Dhar to Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s office. So is Constable Dhar going to be cremated and forgotten in the ever burgeoning scrapbook of soldiers that are Killed-In-Action? It is my fervent request that each person that reads this post.

  1. Send a letter to their local MP to take up the case of this slaying in their sphere of influences
  2. Ask the Pakistani government to apologise for this death and if they cannot

If the Pakistani army cannot stop firing across the LoC, we have no reason to keep talking to them. THIS IDIOPLAMACY OF MEETING THE ENEMY THAT IS ACTIVELY MARTYRING OUR INDIAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS IS ABSOLUTE RUBBISH. It is a well known fact that Indian soldiers protected 93,000 Pakistani soldiers at the end of the 1971 war from being butchered in Bangladesh by the seething public that was seeking revenge for the atrocities that were meted out to them by the Pakistani soldiers. But now that same country is actively supporting militancy in our country, killing our soldiers and we are more concerned about playing cricket with them? We are meeting with them over flag meetings and “asking” them to stop killing our soldiers? I still salute and stand behind the PM Vajpayee’s decision to send the troops to the Indo-Pak border and sending then (and current) Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif to face the real fear of war with the 3rd largest army in the world and twice the size of Pakistan’s army.The Pakistani PM at that time realized that messing with the Indian elephant will lead to total destruction. However the last 10 years of “idioplamacy” (idiot diplomacy) is a demotivation for our troops and such daily deaths still cannot be taken lightly and forgotten. But this voice cannot reach the Parliament until each one of us does our bit in contacting our MP and asking them to raise their voice against the horrifying statistic of one Indian soldier’s family wailing for the loss of their brave soul – DAILY.   I am going to write to my MP on Monday… I want to suggest that you do the same by finding out the address and writing a letter requesting them to bring this up for discussion in the floor of the house and getting a reply in a timely manner. The contact details for our MP can be found here at www.NoCorruption.in. These men are putting their lives in danger each day, it is time we take out a few minutes of our time for them. “The value of life can be measured by how many times your soul has been deeply stirred” – Soichiro Honda