My Funding Picks For The Last Week (W28)

Every Monday, I sit with my team to review the funding activity of the previous week. From that list, I pick out three companies that I would have loved to invest in or find founders that are doing similar things. Click here to know about my rationale behind this weekly exercise.

 

For the past several weeks, the ecosystem is plateauing at barely double-digit transactions per week with 10 startups raising $36 million (amounts raised for the last 4 weeks: $65m, $31m, $27m, $92m). Early-stage investors have clinched their purses due to the lack of cool-down in valuations despite a marked tempering in funding interest. How can founders fix that? Stay tuned for my post on the subject next week.

Out of the 10 deals, 8 were in the early-stage rounds (compared to 11 last week), which made the cut for my weekly analysis. After sifting through the news (aggregated from Tracxn, Inc42, and YourStory), I pick these three as my favorite funding news from last week!

 

Name: BRB Chips

Amount Raised: $1m from Secocha Ventures, Globvestor, First Cheque, Kashyap Deorah and Vijay Sivaram

What do BRB Chips do?

Edited from Tracxn: They are a brand of extruded snacks offering chips as a snack.

Why do I like BRB Chips?

There is a lot of branded packets food plays, and while there’s no defensibility to vacuum fried chips, the list of entrepreneurs that decided to start this venture is impressive. The co-founder’s credentials include ex-Bira co-founder, ex-Forbidden Foods co-founder, ex-Coca-Cola, and ex-Schlumberger. As this team raised a significant amount of startup capital, I believe they can build an alternative snacking brand that would fold into a larger FMCG player. The key will be meticulously managing working capital and judiciously investing venture capital.

 

Name: Bold Care

Amount Raised: Undisclosed from Rajesh Ranavat, Abhishek Shah, Kabir Kochhar, and Mohit Satyanand.

What does Bold Care do?

Edited from Tracxn: Provider of an online doctor consultation platform for sexual health

Why do I like Bold Care?

I met a prominent Silicon Valley angel investor last year who increased my interest in the men’s sexual healthcare space. It’s a significantly taboo subject in India, but on average, about 5% of men above the age of 40 have erectile dysfunction. Many quacks (read: hakims) and online platforms sell glorified multi-vitamin tablets in the name of cures. Whether a company like Bold Care can get the sexual health conversation started could be a differentiator. Combining a thoughtful content strategy with the right product mix would reap great rewards from India’s untapped market.

 

Name: Inspekt Labs

Amount Raised: Undisclosed from Rajesh Ranavat, Abhishek Shah, Kabir Kochhar, and Mohit Satyanand.

What does Inspekt Labs do?

Edited from Tracxn: Inspekt Labs provides AI-based solutions for a car damage assessment. It provides an AI/ machine learning API that automates the car assessment. It offers solutions like damage detection, text detection, claims assessment, and fraud detection.

Why do I like Inspekt Labs?

Due to the way their technology works, they can quickly identify errors and emissions with a (claimed) 98% accuracy rate. I see a big space for this technology in insurance, product QA, to name a few. As their algorithms improve with more data collection, there could be future applications in food packaging and warranty repairs. I am especially thrilled to find an Indian startup come up with Indian deeptech with commercial applications. Their growth will only be accelerated by companies looking for new solutions due to the restrictions enforced upon them in the post-pandemic world.

 

I have purposefully left out Piggyride’s ₹3.50 crores raise from Artha Venture Fund last week (round led by JAFCO). However, you can find out Why We Invested in Piggy Ride.

Flashback Friday: BrandIdea Consultancy

BrandIdea is a business intelligence tool for marketing and sales information. They offer a SaaS-based business intelligence enterprise tool that helps companies analyze their markets & last-mile sales data. It Integrates and models data from a multitude of sources and client’s internal data to provide analytics to gain insights & maximize the ROI of marketing campaigns.

 

Using advanced Data Science techniques, they generate visually enriched granular analytics streams that are dynamic, deep, and point to precise directions that help companies to make the right decisions. Critically, these analytics are granular – at the micro-market level, thus creating a bottom-up, aggregating impact of customized marketing actions. So not only can the companies re-visit their decisions at short intervals to course-correct or shift priorities periodically, they can do so at every geo-location, creating the bedrock for growth.

bic

Founder: Suresh Pillai Total funding raised INR 2.25 Crores
2020 status: Operational in Chennai Number of rounds 2
Co-investors: Mumbai Angels

 

Why did you invest in BrandIdea?

In a market as broad and diverse as (pre-digitalized) India, information at the last mile was always challenging to collect, and the data that existed was inaccurate. BrandIdea provided a solution using which large brands could gather granular and in-depth information about that last mile. This information not only helped the brands with their marketing efforts but also their inventory and other aspects of their business.

BrandIdea was the first enterprise tech company that I invested in. The decision was driven by the fact that their enterprise clients had massive marketing budgets and teams that would be willing to pay for that level of granular data.

 

What were the risks involved with an investment in BrandIdea?

As with any B2B SaaS play, there are a few issues we knew we would face.

  • One of them is the long decision-making timelines that large conglomerates like Colgate, Tide, HUL, Unilever, etc. have. However, it is worth being said that once the partnership is complete, these partnerships can be very lucrative.
  • Enterprises have long gestation periods to make a decision; therefore, another risk with Enterprise SaaS is the sales-cycles are going to be extended. You need to maintain firm control on the burn and accommodate for completing those decision cycles.
  • Another risk is that Enterprise SaaS companies can become profitable but not scalable. This could turn it into a lifestyle business, where the founder makes enough money to live comfortably but doesn’t grow, and as a VC investor, you’re stuck. B2B SaaS plays need to move quickly towards $1M per year in revenue before they can be considered a moderate success. The longer it takes to get there, the lesser the chances of it getting further VC interest.

 

What are your learnings from your investment in BrandIdea?

As I mentioned earlier, there are long gestation periods, and it’s a lot of relationship-building with enterprise SaaS companies. It takes a while to get a lot of clients, and the slower that process is, the worse it is for a VC investor.

This was also the first time we invested in a family-operated business, by Suresh and his daughter, and his daughter eventually left the company.

We learned how to evaluate such companies better. If a company gets into a lifestyle-business model, how do you, as an investor, get your money back; or get good enough dividends. We are still learning that.

 

Would you invest in a ‘BrandIdea’ if it came to you today?

When it comes to enterprise SaaS, we’ve learned that it’s a long process to build a company, and as traditional investors, our IRR expectations are upwards of 75% per year. While BrandIdea didn’t burn too much capital, they didn’t grow fast enough for our liking. Therefore, we don’t think that we are the right investors for them, and they aren’t the right investments for us.

 

What are the exit opportunities that can be foreseen for BrandIdea now?

The possible exit opportunities would either be a founder/company buyback, or the business gets rolled up into a large company offering a suite of products to similar enterprises.

 

My Funding Picks For The Last Week (W24)

Every Monday, I sit with my team to review the funding activity of the previous week. From that list, I pick out three companies that I would have loved to invest in or find founders that are doing similar things. Click here to know about my rationale behind this weekly exercise.

 

As most of India reopened, so did the funding lords! There was a marked increase in the number of startups that raised capital with 19 startups raising $92 million. Out of the 19 deals, 13 were in the early-stage rounds, which made the cut for my weekly analysis.

After sifting through the news (aggregated from Tracxn, Inc42, and YourStory), I picked out these three as my favorite funding news from last week!

 

Name: Cube Wealth

Amount Raised: $500k from Beenext and Asuka Holding

What does Cube Wealth do?

Edited from Traxcn: Cube Wealth is an automated investment management app which, offers personalized recommendations from financial advisors. Users get provided with an option of goal-oriented financial management. Users can set their financial goals, and Cube Wealth saves for the same via EMIs. It invests the money in diversified asset classes, including liquid, MFs, equities, P2P lending, and gold. The app is available for iOS and Android platforms.

Why do I like Cube Wealth?

The Indian wealth & investment management space is broken. A user must struggle through a multitude of apps to gain a full understanding of their exact financial positions. The decentralized information works against the middle class as they cannot seek better deals for their investments. Besides, the power of wealth aggregation that the larger family offices platforms utilize to get access to closet deals or better negotiation terms aren’t available to a middle-class family. Platforms like Cube seek to address this imbalance by using technology & scale to provide premium services at an affordable cost. With 500 million people set to enter the Indian middle Cube has a bright future ahead of them!

 

Name: Credgenics

Amount RaisedUndisclosed from Titan Capital

What does Credgenics do?

Edited from Traxcn: Credgenics offers cloud-based debt recovery solutions to banks and lenders. Its features include collection strategy, analytics for profiling & collection, automated communication for customer engagement, and more. It provides solutions for alternative dispute resolution, insolvency & bankruptcy, fintech laws, and more.

Why do I like Credgenics?

Collections are an art, and while it is easy to lend money, not every fintech company can build a strong collections team. Therefore I am excited that there are startups like Credgenics that we can get our fintech companies to outsource their collections operations too. And it isn’t a surprise that bad debts make excellent business sense!

 

Name: IVF Access

Amount Raised: $5M from Vertex Ventures SEA & India

What does IVF Access do?

Edited from YourStory: IVF Access is a Bengaluru-based healthcare startup focused on providing In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments in India. Led by an experienced management team, IVF Access is setting up a chain of IVF centers in India, providing Assisted Reproductive treatments such as IVF and IUI. They offer nationwide access to IVF treatments with an innovative technology platform and state-of-the-art labs.

Why do I like IVF Access?

Babies are a multi-billion business opportunity. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the business of making babies is massive. Due to lifestyle-related issues & an increase in the age at which couples have babies, there is a marked increase in IVF clinics. While the market IVF market size is small, it’s going to grow to $1.50 billion by 2026.

IVF Access is an early player in providing a single brand for IVF clinics and could capitalize on a deeply fragmented space!

My Funding Picks for Last Week (W47)

I am starting a new section for my blog.
Every Monday, I will share my favorite early-stage startups that have raised money (i.e., <Series C) in the last week. This exercise is a win-win on several levels:

  • It helps me develop the right habit of reviewing deals that took place last week.
  • I am going to write this blog every Monday so that the news is fresh and relevant.
  • It offers perspective to the founders (that read my blog) on the themes that I find interesting; therefore, I expect (fingers crossed) to create a new deal sourcing mechanism!
  • I’ll attempt to connect the start-ups I discover here, with the start-ups in my portfolio; it opens up the possibility that both startups could work together for mutual benefit

Several platforms provide weekly reports on funding news, but I am going to concentrate on YourStory, Inc42*, and Tracxn. These three sources offer the best-researched information on Indian start-ups; therefore, if I utilize all three, there are remote chances of missing out on exciting funding news.

  1. Svami – $1 million

I learned about Svami from my friend and co-investor, Nikunj Shah. A month back, he was raving out about Svami when we met at our offices. At that time I regretted it was too late for AVF to get into the company as the deal was beyond the fund’s investment mandate. Even then, I continue to track the venture, that just raised a $1m round led by Rukam Capital Trust.
Svami team’s branding strategy and their passion for their product is something that other D2C brands could emulate. They have opened up a blue ocean in the premium beverages space with their tonic waters. I recognize that I may have a bias on Svami as I see synergies in distributing their drinks through Daalchini’s smart temperature-controlled vending machines, or through VistaRooms’ to the luxury home rental’s customers.

  1. myHQ – $1.50 million

I am personally extremely bearish on the coworking/co-living space. My pessimism stems from the numerous co-working pitches that I have heard from the founder, real estate groups, and family offices. Each of them claims that they will achieve a pole position in the coworking space within the next 3-4 years with 1 million seats. Unfortunately, when I hear this promise so many times and from so many people that it is easy to see the space over-capacity and low realizations in the future for this space.
What concerns me the most is that none of these promising founding teams has kept tabs on the number of seats their competition is building. I suspect that in the next 12-18 months, there will be a slew of shutdowns consolidation and belt-tightening.

If I am this negative on the space, then it is a pertinent question as to why have I put this round led by India Quotient on this list?

What aroused my interest is the Work Cafes model on the myHQ site. While not precisely similar, it reminds me of the Anticafé model that I saw in several places in Paris. Their concept is simple. They charge their users by the hour that includes food and drinks effectively, making it a coworking café. I found the idea intriguing enough to attempt incubating the idea in-house but could not find the right people to get it going.
Therefore I chose myHQ because of the Work Café model because, in my opinion, it is an idea worth exploring!

  1. Perfios – $50 million

It is difficult to call a 12-year-old company a “start-up,” but I like Perfios’ tech stack that makes credit assessment, monitoring, aggregation, and fraud detection easier for banks and NBFCs.
As an early investor in Karza Technologies, I understand and appreciate the pain point addressed by Perfios, and it is the leader in its space. The new round led by BVP and Warburg, the company, shall be utilized to expand Perfios’ geographic reach and to make acquisitions. I believe that Perfios and Karza could provide a killer product for banks and NBFCs if they worked together as the former utilizes company data to make assessments and Karza uses proprietary databases for the same.

  1. WMall – 64 crores

I am intrigued by the influencer marketing and social commerce space, and WMall offers the best of both worlds. As an early investor in Coutloot, I have followed this space for the past few years, and it will be interesting to see who will dominate this space.
*I am an investor in Inc42 through Artha India Ventures

How to deliver bad news to investors

Hey founders, today I’m going to address a crucial topic: When to update your investors with bad news. If you’re an entrepreneur and running a business, you will have to give bad news at some point.

There are many ways to give bad news. One of them is not to give any news at all, let everything go down, and then explain why you have only ruins and not a building on fire. This method isn’t recommended, but some people choose it – I don’t.

There are minor issues or bad news that can be managed in your monthly and quarterly updates. Like missing your quarterly numbers by 3-4%, or if you’re having a tough time recruiting people, or if a particular distributor who was contributing a large part of the business dropped you for reasons unknown or customer complaints. These are the kinds of things you can manage in your monthly and quarterly updates.

However, certain kinds of news shouldn’t be neglected. These should be communicated to the investors immediately. If a co-founder has left, or one of the co-founders has been diagnosed with severe disease and will not be available for the next 6-8 months, or your fundraising efforts are falling through, or a significant client that contributes a substantial chunk of the profit has left. These are the kinds of situations that need to be communicated to the investors immediately, preferably not on e-mail.

What I recommend is organizing a conference call or an in-person meeting. Explain what is going on to the investors face to face, in a way that is direct with no sugar coating. Be humble about the fact that things have gone wrong. Don’t try to play up things to avoid the investors being angry at you. If the situation is terrible, investors have a right to be irritated and will point out things that could have gone better. You should take criticism in your stride as you’re expected to execute successfully. Take responsibility, be direct, and you’ll find that investors will probably come back with solutions for you to manage the mess.

In adverse situations, you should have a turnaround plan. I would recommend having one if you’re going to have a face to face meeting. If you don’t have one, let the investors know and get back to them in a few days or a few weeks. There may be some questions the investors have, for which you may not have the answers. I would recommend not making up turnaround plans on the spot. If you don’t have the answers, tell them. Mention that you’re going to get back to them in 5, 7 or 10 days (or whatever number of days you believe you need) but ensure that you keep those promises.

Delivering bad news should not be difficult. It’s only tricky when you don’t want to give bad news, and you feel hiding is the best way forward. But it doesn’t solve anything. In fact, it only leads to the problem of getting bigger. If hypothetically, the company shuts down, and investors find out that you knew in advance, you could find yourself in a hot legal soup.

I’ll leave you with that, and I would love to know how some of you guys have shared bad news in the past. Also, if you have tips for other entrepreneurs, do share them in the comments.

On whose advice should you pivot?

A founding team must (not shall) display a strong belief and deep commitment to their business. The teams that constantly shift their business model on the feedback of funders eventually find themselves lost at sea. So, there are many times to pivot your business – but a failed attempt at raising a round of capital just isn’t one of them!

As Investors, we evaluate businesses with a limited vision periscope and often, “tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

At Artha, we remind ourselves and founding teams through the disclaimer in our rejection emails.

Please note, these are only recommendations and as venture capitalists, we are only required to be right 20% of the time to be amongst the top VCs in the world. We can be (and are) wrong 80% of the time in our investments, so please do not consider this as the final word for your business.” 

Therefore, it is sane advice to any founding team out there that is currently raising capital.

  • Utilize the funder’s feedback to alter your business’ investment pitch.
  • Utilize the pitches that didn’t result in a sale to alter your business’ sales & marketing pitch BUT
  • Only take your customer capitalist’s (read: paying customers’) feedback into account, to pivot your business

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Nikunj's Wedding and a Business Idea

Over the last weekend, AVF Associate Nikunj married Chandni in a beautiful and intimate ceremony that took place in Vapi. The newly-wed couple looked like they were made for each other and I wish them the best for their married life together!

A bunch of us from Artha attended the nuptials, witnessed many memorable moments and made some amazing memories that included dancing on the streets of Vapi.

One of the things that struck me during the wedding was the omnipresence of the camera crew during the ceremonies and many other moments. Since they were right in the front, they got the best view of everything that was going on. It caused the people behind them to strain their necks just to get a glimpse or end up with a partial view of what was going on.

The obstruction caused by the camera crew who were capturing moments for future viewing actually took away more from the moment than their work could deliver in the future, because:

  1. There was no way that the camera crew could have covered all the angles
  2. 99% of the people that attended the wedding won’t be watching the wedding video. In fact, many of them were trying to capture the moments on their own cameras!

Camera crews are present at almost all Indian weddings and corporate events. The 3-4-person teams usually charge up to 25-30K per day which shows that there is a large enough budget. I do not need to establish the number of weddings or events that take place in a country of 1.2 billion people that have such video crews – so there is a sizeable market to figure out a better solution for!  

Nowadays, everyone owns a smartphone with a decent camera. Hence, it could be a good idea to find a way to aggregate the photos, classify them based on time and place, curate the best ones and eliminate duplicates to provide a wholesome view of the event.

This collaborative project would lead to an amazing collection of some of the never-before-captured moments. It will also give the guests a feeling of having added a personal touch to the special moment of the bride and groom. Quite a power pull. Lastly, it would ensure that all attendees get a full view of every moment of the event.

I did a simple Google search to see if there were any companies working in this area and I found a list of companies curated by Shutterfly but none of them were building it for the Indian audience… maybe it’s time someone did!

15/2019

When is the Best Time to Reveal that Your Cofounder is Related to You?

It is important that founding teams declare if two of the co-founders are married to each other, blood relatives or cousins. The team can choose to reveal that after the pitch, but I prefer if the team takes the bull by the horns and reveals the full extent of the relationship before they start the pitch. Investors that have apprehensions about investing in founding teams where the members are related, should decide if they will be willing to look over those issues before the pitch, not after.
Unfortunately, many founding teams are advised to withhold such information or to mislead investors by playing around with the last names to avoid detection, but such sneaky tactics only reinforce the fear that the founding team with familial ties drown out the ethical voice that should discourage actions that shake investor confidence.
To allay the fear of those investors that have the first-hand experience of watching their investment value destroyed due to factors like, family feuds, withholding important information or the family member opening a competing venture, founding teams should be as communicative as possible so that these fears aren’t allowed to fester.
The investor may still decide not to invest in the company but at least the founding team does not lose face when investors find out that the founding team used diversionary tactics to slip one by them!
85/2018

Video of the Week: The Undisputed King of Bollywood

I must be honest that I was not a big fan of Akshay Kumar through most of my teens. His movies centred around his martial arts abilities and he had typecast himself into a brand of cinema which I did not identify with. Then something happened 10 years ago that altered the actor’s career and this transformation & success formula should be a case study at the top management & entrepreneurial schools in India as it pole-vaulted him to highest paid Bollywood actor (7th highest in the world).
Akshay has been a vocal critic of movie schedules that can take 300-400 days and he adopted a simple success formula which I found is on the lines of the lean start-up mentality.

  1. Akshay completes his movie schedules in 60 days (Housefull 3 was done in 38 days!) which significantly reduces the carrying cost of the movie i.e. the path to profitability is significantly reduced.
  2. He releases 4 movies a year, therefore, increasing the number of shots he has at delivering a hit. Compare that to the competition that does 1-2 movies a year, therefore, has to maintain a near perfect record.
  3. The more releases per year also means that Akshay gets to read the audiences’ pulse regularly and he can adjust/alter/update his next product iteration thereby catering to his customer’s (read: audience) preferences much faster.
  4. The success of this simple success formula can be gauged by the fact that Akshay has delivered 100+ crores in box office collections every single year since 2007

The inspiration to do this research came from two videos wherein the actor provide an insight into his journey, both are must watch videos!
The first one is in Hindi

The second one in English

84/2018

The Investment Banker Pandemic

Time and again, I have warned early-stage founders to steer clear of using the services of a banker to help raise money but unfortunately, that pandemic has overrun our ecosystem. Many bankers have made a comfortable lifestyle out of fleecing unsuspecting founders. The false dream that these 1-star bankers promise founders make my skin crawl, as many of the business models that they push to me aren’t even eligible for venture capital, and the bankers are aware of it.
I would also like to acknowledge that there are many bankers that are doing some excellent work and every penny paid to them is worth their weight in gold. Some of these bankers have worked with our portfolio companies and I have interacted with a few for fundraisers, but NONE aka ZERO were for raising amounts below $5 million (Rs. 35 crores).
Then there are angel networks that reach out to us about their portfolio companies and while I am disillusioned with the concept of angel networks, the angel networks do not (or should not) charge their portfolio companies for connecting them to funds; it is a part of their duties.
Raising outside money is the toughest and most gruelling of exercises (I had to endure this myself while raising $6 million for my fund) and no banker is going to make it easy for you. I too have had investors drop out or reduce commitments at the last moment and while I understand that it can be frustrating, the cold-calling, the rejections, the ‘getting close’, are all part of the process. FYI, I reached out to over 5,000 people for the first close and will be reaching out to 5,000 more for the next one. Every founder must do this; persistence is key.
If you still feel that you need the services of a banker, I have compiled a few articles that could help with the selection process. Eventually, it is up to the founders to decide to ‘banker’ or not but choosing an advisor to delegate the fundraising process without doing the required due diligence to select them is truly just “abdicating” the responsibility, which is simply unrewarding in every sense of the word.
How to Choose the Right Investment Banker
By David Mahmood, Founder, Allegiance Capital
The Art of Selecting an Investment Banker
By Katie May, CEO of ShippingEasy
7 things to consider when choosing an investment banker
By Martin A. Traber, Chairman of Capital Markets Group of Skyway Capital Markets
10 Questions to Ask When Choosing an Investment Banker
By Dan Lee
80/2018