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Tag Archive : managing

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

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Fluff Metrics

An interesting phenomenon has been noticed in startup presentations over the past few weeks. Founders have come up with innovative ways of showing large numbers that have nothing to do with what counts as revenues to the startup.

Let me share a few examples with the explanations as provided.

  1. Gross Transactional Value: this the value of the transaction that is taking place because of the service provided by delivering the service. Therefore, a simple example would be that if a truck delivers 5 MT of steel the GTV is the value of the 5 MT of steel which has no correlation to the revenues of the trucking company since that is dependent on the route or no of kms
  2. AUM (Assets Under Management): the value of the videos that have been uploaded to sell to customers. This has no correlation to the revenues as they are made on a pay per click model. How the videos are being valued and by whom – I have honestly no idea
  3. MRP Sold: the sticker prices of the items that were sold. These were very different from actual revenues as there were coupons and discounts that were given. So, if I stick the price tag of a Mercedes on a Maruti the MRP sold would be ginormous but the actual number would be a fraction. These MRP’s are set by me so MRP sold is also in my hands. Do you feel fooled just yet?

Do founders really want to attract investors that are awed by such numbers? Of what use will those investors be who themselves don’t understand that these numbers are useless?

My sincere request to founders is to have the courage to tell me the real numbers. They may not be as awesome as the fluff metrics, but I’ll respect you for your honesty and I’ll work with you until your actual metrics look like the fluff metrics that your peers are showing me.

Just remember this immortal quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

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24/2018

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

 

 

Investor Speak: A Single Founder vs A Founding Team

This past Saturday, I was at a IIT-Kharagpur as a panelist in their 2018 version of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. As an early stage investor on a panel that included 2 entrepreneurs and 1 corporate VC the different viewpoints we provided to the same questions was eye-opening. At a point in the discussion the moderator, Flipclass founder, Vineet Dwivedi, asked why Indian VCs prefer founding teams versus single founder start-ups. He shared his own experience of having faced a lot of opposition while raising money. Donning the early stage VC hat, here are some of the reasons I support a team structure versus a single founder.

  1. Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem vs global ecosystem

While the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India is improving by leaps and bounds, it is still difficult to start a business, run a business and even close a business in India. A founding team must manage a lot of core and non-core issues to be able to effectively run their venture. These are challenges that the current Indian educational setup does not prepare them for.

Unlike American universities that offer (don’t play the name game) undergraduate programs in entrepreneurship, preparing young talent for the challenges an entrepreneur may run into – the Indian education system does not have that luxury.

The current Indian education system only prepares talent to enter a specific department (finance, technology, etc) in an organization. It does not provide them with entrepreneurial qualities that are needed to run multiple departments in a single business or even manage delegated HOD’s.

Therefore I get better sleep at night, knowing that I am investing in a team that has the diversity to secure and grow the different facets of  a business versus betting on a single founder that isn’t equipped to deal with all the issues and may be overwhelmed by trying to juggle too many things at the same time.

2. Flexibility required for pivoting

Many of the early ideas lack market validation and are therefore prone to pivot drastically. Therefore, I would rather back a team that has the bandwidth that would permit this quick pivot in case the initial thesis isn’t validated by real data from entering the market.

3. Lack of quality talent

It took me almost two years to find the right CTO for Artha Energy Resources, so I understand the trouble that a startup goes through to find and retain the right kind of talent. As soon as raw talent gains experience and matures, there is dime a dozen established and well-funded companies that are willing to offer tons of money and perks to swindle (I used this word because sometimes the benefits of being with the smaller firm are much larger than a bigger paycheck) it.

I have witnessed co-founders leaving their startup for better opportunities from a competitor after having delivered a fantastic product. So, betting on a single founder increases the risk of my investment. I would rather diversify that risk by investing in a team.

4. Equity hoarding by Founders

It is a unique trait of the Indian entrepreneur to want to hoard all the equity. This alienates key talent that is needed but will not work for anything below the general market salaries that are being offered. The only way to attract this much-needed talent would be to give them generous amounts of equity in the company.

I cannot invest copious amounts of money in the early stages for founders to be able to pay market rate salaries for experienced talent that is required, without accounting for it in larger equity positions (read: Investor math). Instead, I choose to put together a team of people with enough talent to reach the set targets and prevent them from jumping ship by providing an amount of adequate equity while keeping the salary bill affordable.

If a single founder showed maturity in farming out equity to deserving talent, I would prefer working with a single founder with a strong team, rich experience and the incentive to perform.

In a startup ecosystem that is gradually maturing, I am certain that my preference of a founding team over a single founder will be challenged and may even pivot with time. I look forward to facing my theory being stretched, smashed and even replaced.

14/2018

The importance of disagreeing with your team!

I was at the VentureCatalysts HQ last night heading a workshop on a subject that I love talking about – “So you have raised funding… now what?”

One of the points I brought up during the session was the importance of setting boundaries with the team by using the word “no”. The squeamish attitude of the founders made it clear that the act of giving rejection was a new experience for most of them and while it was good to hear it is dangerous to implement!

It is common for new entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, etc to agree to the team’s or team member’s suggestion so that they are well liked as the leader of the team. That strategy may work for a short while but it can quickly become fatal for the organisation if the team looks at the leader as someone without a backbone i.e. who will agree to anything.

The leader’s duty is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organisation and not in his/her selfish interest to be well liked. Instead of trying to win a personality contest the leader should be interested in the leading the team to the promised land by rejecting an idea that isn’t in the interest of the organisation. Secondly, a well intentioned rejection gives a good idea of the equation the team member receiving the rejection, has with its leader.

As a founder, entrepreneur , manager and even in their personal lives, a leader is frequently rejected, the promotion they didn’t get, the investor who wouldn’t agree, the client who wouldn’t sign and the list goes on. The leader picks himself up from the rejection dusts off the hurt and gets up to face up to his next challenge – why then do you treat your understudies with kiddie gloves?

Well rounded teams, well funded organisations and the best of intentions have been destroyed by their leaders becoming “yes” man. A leader should be as comfortable rejecting someone as they are agreeing with someone and if saying no puts the fear of losing the team, then team has an unhealthy equation with its leader.

Rejection is as much a part of life as is acceptance so get in the habit of saying “no” and start it off like I did to the room full of founders by.. yelling NO at the top of your voice!