The LenDen Challenge: Peak 2k

You might win some, you might lose some. But you go in, you challenge yourself, you become a better man, a better individual, a better fighter. -Conor McGregor

In December, I threw the LenDenClub team a challenge to reach a number that far exceeded their own estimates and capabilities. The prize would be an all expenses paid party hosted by yours truly, something that Yash called “an expansive gift”.

The experience (if LenDen achieved it) was surely going to burn a hole in my pocket, but I fondly remember the times when I was apart of a core group of 25-30 door to door sales-people, that were both, talented and committed. However, we went from good to awesome when we were thrown a challenge, especially when the reward was a party sponsored by our boss! Under the pressure to perform, all 25-30 members would come up with superlative performances that the members of that team reminisce about when we meet.

So, I set a target for that would be possible to achieve only if everyone on the team performed to their fullest potential i.e. 2,000 loans to be disbursed into the borrower’s banks accounts by midnight of December 31st, 2018. The previous best had been just over 1500 so this was asking them to grow 30+% in a month, which is much more challenging than it sounds because achieving this target required multiple teams to work in perfect coordination

The underwriting team had to ensure all the borrowers were credit checked, qualified and approved. The operations team had to match the lenders to the borrowers and ensure that the loans were of an accurate amount of each was disbursed from the investors’ accounts into the borrowers’ bank accounts by midnight which meant that the banks too had to operate at peak efficiency, during the holidays. There are no prizes to guess how difficult that can be.

While this was being handled, the investor relations team had to keep the investors engaged on the platform and ensure that there was enough money in the investor accounts to fund the loans. The tech team had to keep all systems up and running and ensure the minutest of transactions were correctly recorded. The 48-person LenDen team had to collectively deliver their best and if even one person faltered, the target was going to be missed.

I knew that Bhavin & Dipesh would get close but what they did was stupendous!

The team smashed past their number delivering a mammoth 2,107 loans disbursed by the end of December! Some of the numbers they achieved on the way were nothing short of sensational for the stage that Indian P2P lending industry is in today.

While the graphs made by Karishma capture the LenDenClub’s amazing growth … let me put it into perspective that it took 43,119 mapping transactions between lenders and borrowers to achieve 2107 funded loans i.e. 1 transaction every minute in December.

Congratulations to Bhavin & Dipesh on capturing Peak 2k which is a stepping stone on the way to Mount 200k!!!

3/2019

Why did we Invest in Haazri?

There is a serendipity in deal-making once one summarises the events that lead to its closure. Today, as I announce our investment into Haazri, that is how I feel. My first interaction with Haazri was unbeknownst to me, during the long hours that I spent at Yash’s office ordering numerous cups of the chai that almost immediately gave me a kick. I profusely praised Yash’s peon assuming that it was his magical hands that had prepared the perfect cup of chai every time, when in fact the magic was happening downstairs, at Haazri’s kiosk in the Naman Midtown lobby.
It was at an IIM-Indore event that I realised my praise had been misdirected. Haazri was pitching at this event and had brought in batches of their freshly prepared chai for the investors to enjoy as a part of their presentation. I immediately recognized the flavour and feel of the chai. It was intriguing how the young founding team – Dhruv Agarwal, Karan Shinghal and Arjun Midha had cracked the code of making the exact same awesome cup of tea without having any previous experience in the food industry. To test the product further, I invited them to our office for a follow-on presentation nudging them to bring a batch of their tea. They arrived with a thermos full of the chai that I had grown to love. It tasted the same and gave the same kick which was hard to replicate; I was hooked.
What I found interesting about Haazri’s business model was their approach to standardize and limit each menu item right from the outset. For example, ingredients for the chai are individually weighed at a central warehouse and distributed across their stores, which are then used to make a single batch of fresh chai. Perishable items like milk are procured directly from brand distributors and delivered straight to the store, thereby ensuring that there is no adulteration. A similar practice is also followed for the food items on their menu.
In fact, the founders have gone a step further to train the staff on when to add specific ingredients using a stopwatch. This ensures that there is no alteration in taste and that the final product is identical to the last, every single time.
I have studied and invested in many food plays in the past; my family also owns a couple of restaurants & cafes, but rarely have I ever found the level of preparedness that the Haazri team displayed. In their quest to provide the exact flavour & texture of tea to the nth customer, they have developed robust SOPs which have had an exponential effect, something that they themselves could not have imagined. For example, since each food preparation comes with the raw ingredients weighed and individually packed at the central warehouse, the founding team keeps a tight lid on pilferage. They make sure that the number of packets consumed from the inventory either lead to a sale or have a solid alibi. When there is a discrepancy, the founding team investigates and penalises the store staff responsible, thereby letting them know that they are always watching. This level of granular control is what made me jump out of my chair and pursue them further.
The Haazri team maintains a limited menu of food & beverage items which reduce wastage, inventory, staff requirement & sophistication. Additionally, it reduces the capex investment per store to the sub 5 lakh range (including rental deposits). The low capex, opex and wastage significantly improve their bottom line, allowing them to provide items at a fraction of the cost of Chaipoint or Chaayos but at a slight premium to the roadside food & tea vendors – a premium that people are willing to pay for standardised items with better hygiene. The more we dug into Haazri, the more we realized that this fits perfectly into our fund’s investment strategy. Therefore, we decided to start working with them to gain a better understanding of the team.
First, we asked them to explore a B2B option for small offices that in our opinion run an inefficient pantry and delivered substandard products. With Haazri’s low-cost base and fresh standardized products, they could easily replace the live tea & coffee services, or machines. They made an earnest effort towards this approach and have more than 50 B2B partnerships onboard today. This avenue helps them pay for the stores fixed costs and provides a fixed base revenue each month.
Then I asked all three founders to join me in Kolkata where I had convinced the founders of Wow Momos and Chaibreak (an AIV investee), to share their experiences on finding a niche, building a bootstrapped brand and continuing to innovate & dominate their respective niches. While there is no better teacher than experience, learning from the experiences of others comes in at a close second. I am thoroughly indebted to Sagar Dariynani, Muftir Rahman, Aditya Ladsaria and Anirudh Poddar for taking out the time to guide these young entrepreneurs because these interactions led to a positive change in Haazri’s founders’ attitude towards their business.
Once the boys were back from Kolkata, we were ready to issue Haazri a term sheet. The team decided that the company should raise enough capital to be able to open 20 new stores in the next 12-15 months and produce an MRR of Rs. 2 lakhs from each store, so that they could break even at both a store and central level. The founders immediately subscribed to this advice and were excited about the scale that Haazri could generate. However, the DNA of the company to provide products at a slight premium to the roadside vendor but at a fraction of the cost of competitors was always a priority for us as well as the founders. Our research indicated that people in our target market were increasingly concerned with what they had been consuming and didn’t mind paying a slight premium for the guarantee of a standardised, hygienic product.
The investment committee was happy with the work we had put in so far and suggested that we add a coffee option to go along with the tea so that it catered to the larger palate of the target market. I pursued a vendor from Bangalore to provide the raw material that would allow Haazri to sell filter coffee without having to build the complex infrastructure that is required to deliver the perfect taste of filter coffee. The investment committee was happy with the terms of investment and gave their approval. We were all ready to roll.
After a couple of days, our team noticed that the margins had started to plummet. Since Haazri was on our weekly tracker, we investigated the matter further immediately. This revealed that the founders had expanded their menu options based on customers’ feedback. The number of menu items skyrocketed from under 10 to over 30! Deeper questioning revealed that the founders were trying to increase revenues per store by providing more items. My counter view for them was that: while it is easy to maintain the new menu for 4 stores, it would be a nightmare when they achieve scale, running 25-30 stores. They would either have to raise prices or suffer major losses. So, the founders and I concurred on eliminating the menu items that weren’t selling and introduce new ones.
Their fear that the revenues would drop after this change was quickly dispelled as Haazri’s revenues & margins per store improved within just a couple of weeks. This short experiment convinced the founders even further on the value of staying close to their DNA.
Besides the objective of opening 20 new stores, this round aims to build Haazri’s management team to prepare them for rapid scaling. We are looking for a Marketing Head to build a digital presence for the brand through a quirky marketing campaign and an Operations Head who has the experience of selecting, opening and successfully operating multiple stores. The job descriptions for these positions are almost ready and we will share them soon but if you know someone who could be apt for these roles, please do refer them to us.
In addition, Haazri is on the lookout for store locations within Mumbai’s Metropolitan Region. The ideal location would be in a corporate tower; food court, lobby or next to a cigarette vendor’s store. You can reach out to my team by emailing us on portfolio@artha.vc with leads.
In conclusion, I am excited to add Haazri to the Artha portfolio and see a bright and exciting future for them. Now let’s get back to work!
83/2018

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