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Tag Archive : leadership

Can a Good Leader be a Good Friend?

I wanted to write a follow-on to my article on the interview of Confirmtkt founders, but the events of Feb 14th  were too much to stay quiet about and I couldn’t stop myself from writing an open letter to the PM. Post that, my travel plans stole my focus for a couple of days, so here is the follow-on article as promised.

In their interview, Dinesh and Sripad recount how difficult it was to fire underperformers or team members that did not suit the role they were in. Their personal equations interfered with professional judgement and the venture faced the consequences. I believe that this is a key lesson in every founder’s journey to become a leader i.e. a moment where he/she has to reflect and ask themselves ‘can I be a good leader & a good friend to the same person?’

Discovering the answer to this question could be one of the most difficult experiences a leader might endure.

I have seen several leaders (read: founders) get too close to their followers (read: team members) and lose all objectivity (due to the close nature of the relationship). In all the examples, (including my own experiences), this is a disservice to their role as leader, the team and most importantly, the venture. In many cases it has led to the termination or a permanent alteration in a friendship.

This reminds me of a scene from the superhit movie Dangal wherein Aamir Khan plays the role of a strict wrestling coach (Mahavir Singh Phogat) to his daughters. In the scene, he is massaging his tired and sleeping daughters’ feet. His wife exhorts him that he is too tough on their daughters when they are awake but massages their worn-out feet while they’re asleep. He explains that he can either be a good father to his daughters or a good guru (read: coach), not both.  

Similarly, I believe that a person can either be a good leader or a good friend, not both. A leader has to utilize many tools to get the best out of his/her people, but those tools could fail at the altar of friendship. Therefore, before hiring a friend I always make it clear that our friendship would be over until the time we become partners because until then I would be doing a grave disservice to my friend.

26/2019

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How Would You Deal with Superstardom?

For today’s post, I had decided to write a book review. But while browsing through espncricinfo.com, I came across a brilliant piece of journalism on Virat Kohli, undoubtedly the most famous man in India. The journalist, Wright Thompson followed Kohli for a day and wrote about how Kohli dealt with his superstardom daily. He brought to light the two different sides of Kohli; the outside persona which is what the public sees and the inner, softer, a more personal side that he keeps concealed. The trials and tribulations of this Indian superstar are a must-read for anyone who dreams of becoming one.

Kohli has been an enigma for me. Although I do not like his batting (since it lacks the poetry I heard in Tendulkar’s stroke play), I love the way he responds to a challenge. Kohli always aims to dominate a challenge and invariably prevails because of his limitless perseverance that always lasts longer than that of the challenger. He never lets the pressure of a situation show on his face or in his body language, consequently helping him find the clarity to make tough decisions.

So, while I might not like watching Virat Kohli bat, I do love to watch him play. And after reading about him in this story, I seek to emulate him, just a little.

55/2018

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.

53/2018

It’s Official, AVF-I is Finally Here!!

After what seems like a lifetime, I am happy to announce that Artha Venture Fund-I (AVF-I) is officially an Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) after SEBI’s grant of the approval. Our team is ecstatic about receiving this news and we are currently working on the final leg of processes, i.e. signing up Limited Partners (LPs) that have made soft commitments to the fund.

AVF-I will invest in pre to early revenue startups, preferably where we are the first investor (in India we would be called the seed investor). We will invest between Rs. 1-1.50 crores in each early-stage investment and participate in the follow-on rounds with larger cheques i.e. 3-4 crores in pre-Series A and 6-9 crores in the Series A round. Therefore, once we invest in a company, they can (provided they perform) expect between Rs. 10-14.50 crores over the course of 3 rounds, from us (an institutional investor). This is a significant USP compared to the other seed funds because we have earmarked a portion of the fund corpus to invest in follow-on rounds.

We made this adjustment because we noticed that when the seed fund doesn’t invest in the Series A round, often, these companies are unable to raise ‘the’ round of capital that separates the men from the boys. So, we did some research on developed startup ecosystems and found that the top-performing seed funds wrote significant, if not larger, follow-on cheques for the Series A round. To further strengthen our hypothesis, we analyzed the MCA records of the Indian unicorns (startups with a valuation of $250 million or more) and also conducted research on the Artha India Ventures’ (AIV) portfolio startups that have raised their Series B rounds. This research concluded that it is possible for Series A investors to make as good a return (on an IRR basis) as the seed & pre-series A investors. This in turn also led to an adjustment in AIV’s investment strategy over the past couple of years (we started writing Series A cheques in our portfolio companies) and the results have been very encouraging, to say the least.

Even in my informal conversations with partners, associates & analysts of later stage investors I have noticed that there is a common lack of confidence in startups that come from seed investors who cannot or aren’t willing to write the cheque (that is significant enough) for the Series A round. The more investors I spoke to the stronger my conviction was that AVF-I had to make this an important USP i.e. getting the confidence of later stage investors in AVF-I’s recommendations for Series A investments, thereby catalyzing the decision-making process for new investors. Most later stage funds that knew our strategy started actively engaging with us on deals in the pipeline and even sending us deals that were too early for them to invest in. I see this as their endorsement of our strategy and look forward to working with the many family offices and later stage funds that are looking for high-quality deal flow.

Besides our investment strategy, we also bring our founders a large network that spans across the globe. Many of these connections are part of to the business relationships our sponsors have (more on them below) as well as the ecosystem created by AIV’s investment in 56 startups (10 of them domiciled outside India). The close connection we maintain with our network will give our investees a leg up in whatever help/access they require along the way.

I want to thank the people that played a part in taking this idea from a mere concept to a final business model:

  1. Yash Kela who came up with the original idea of starting AVF. He is more like a brother than a partner and it is his vision has become my mission. He introduced me to a slew of fund managers, venture partners and single-handedly recruited the entire Advisory board for AVF-I.
  2. Madhusudan (Kela) uncle for devising our unique fund strategy that ensures that the fund team will only make money if we deliver outsized earnings for the fund and of course the investors. I also want to thank him for his personal mentorship every step of the way and the endless support from his family office. Yash and I promise to take AVF to a level that will make all his efforts worth it and make him proud.
  3. My chacha, Ramesh Damani who immediately endorsed his commitment to the fund idea and got me all the help I needed to remove myself from the daily responsibilities at the companies under the Artha Group of Companies. It is well understood what an early endorsement can do for an entrepreneur’s confidence, and I have him to thank for that initial boost of confidence.
  4. My brother, Animesh, and sister Apurva who joined Artha when I needed them the most and took over Artha Energy and Artha India Ventures, respectively.
  5. Sanjay Gandhi, the legal head of Artha Group. If it wasn’t for his persistent follow-ups with our advisors and the SEBI officers, this approval could have taken twice as long. (He must be the most relieved as he won’t have to avoid me when I ask why the approval is taking this long!)
  6. Vinod Keni and the entire AVF team – Dhiral, Nikunj, and Karishma for continuing to believe as things moved slowly and working on building out the entire referral ecosystem which will power our deal flow going forward.
  7. Sandesha for managing what can only be described as the most gruelling job that anyone could ever have i.e. managing my travel & meeting schedule and doing it with an alien-like accuracy.
  8. Last, but not the least my family for being understanding & supporting me throughout the emotional turmoil that a founder of an early stage venture fund goes through.

Going forward, we are in the process of issuing term sheets for 2 very exciting startups and have also made a warehoused investment for a third (will announce it shortly). We expect to achieve our first close in the next 3 months.

Therefore, if you are a startup looking for a well-equipped and experienced investor, reach out to us on prospects@artha.vc.

If you are interested in investing in the fund you can reach out to us on lpprospects@artha.vc

32/2018

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

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

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

Why We Must Become that Asshole Investor (from time to time)

2018 started off with a bang for Artha India Ventures. 4 of our portfolio companies successfully raised new rounds with pre-money valuations of more than $5 million. As a team, we are very happy with the solid multiples that we received on our investments and it validates our thesis of getting in early, building solid value and increasing wealth for all shareholders. These are the times when we look forward to celebrating with our founders for a job well done and to wish them luck on the new journey that has just begun (with the incoming investor).

However, there are a couple of founders that bring forth disturbing issues at the time of signing documents that hold up the entire round of investment. Usually, I can classify the issues that force this reaction into two buckets. The first and most contentious issue is the diktat issued by the incoming investor to disallow any of the previous investors from participating in the new round.

As an investor who invests in multiple stages, we have specific clauses in our investment documentation that allow us to participate in future fundraising rounds of a company. Whatever the logic the new investor can provide (more on this in a later post) we as the early backers of the venture expect the founders to stand up for us and remain loyal to their word and contract, that were negotiated and signed when we initially decided to back them. While many founders ensure that we get to participate in the new round (thank you to them), we do not have sympathy for those who behave this way even without being coerced by another investor.

At the time when these founders needed the money, they eagerly signed the documents with these terms clearly being stated, but when it comes to actually following through for a follow-on round they want to cry foul. To completely sell yourself to the incoming investors and screw over your earliest backers doesn’t bode well for our ecosystem. Firstly, the new investors will only put in stronger clauses to ensure the same doesn’t happen to them in the following round and secondly, the later investors will be way more cautious and hesitant when considering the opportunity to participate because of your past behavior towards investors.

Unfortunately for them, Artha does not respond well to oppression tactics and while we can understand the occasional tough spot a founder finds himself/herself in, the founder cannot always cry wolf.

To be involved in a bitter conflict at a time when we should be celebrating victory is a situation I want to avoid at all costs, but founders need to understand and respect that just like them we too are running a business and to deny us the rights that we mutually agreed before entering the relationship, tinkers with our business model. Just like they would not like to tinker with a business model that is doing well – neither do we!!

21/2018