My Funding Picks For Last Week (W29)

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.

It has been several weeks since our ecosystem breached the 2 deals/day average with 17 startups raising $106 million last week. The bear market rally in the global stock markets has increased investor’s liquidity positions, and many are looking for options outside of the listed spaces. Founders must start thinking about how to make deals while the running is hot!

Out of the 17 deals, 16 were in the early-stage rounds (compared to 10 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: GigIndia

Amount Raised: $975k from Incubate Fund India, Beyond Next Ventures, S. Ramadorai, Ravi Nigam, Sakshi Gudwani, Shantanu, Kiran, & Shashank Deshpande, and Dr. Pratap

What does GigIndia do?

Edited from Tracxn: GigIndia is an online student network and micro-jobs platform. Users can get paid by completing micro-jobs called gigs for companies like writing a blog, designing a logo, or completing a survey. Students can also search for internships, perform tasks, and get hired after evaluation. GigIndia also offers a platform for students to connect with mentors and learn about various career opportunities.

Why do I like GigIndia?

With several parts of our country going through fresh lockdowns, the days of WFO (Working From Office) are a dream that is far from materialization. Companies, big or small (Indian or global), are looking for ways to cut fixed costs and rationalize spending through a project or task-specific costs. This new paradigm is where a GigIndia type platform comes in. In contrast, one could argue that there are several competitors like Fiverr, TaskRabbit, etc. I like GigIndia’s problem-specific solutions for businesses, like marketing, operations, sales, recruiting, and others. They aid businesses in breaking down a complex task into smaller gigs and then help owners manage them.

An interesting approach that we might try out for ourselves and our startups!

 

Name: Decentro

Amount Raised: Undisclosed from Y Combinator, Plug and Play, Upsparks, and other notable angel investors from the Indian and APAC community.

What does Decentro do?

Edited from Tracxn: Decentro provides open banking API solutions to banks and financial institutions. It offers APIs for KYC & onboarding, AML & compliance, digital lending, online payments, and more. It enables banks to build products such as neo banks, lending platforms, finance management, and more.

Why do I like Decentro?

I am a fan of open banking APIs as I have previously liked YAP and an early investor in Karza. Therefore, Decentro is on this list as I believe that Indian banking is not only broken; it is holding Indian businesses back.

Must I explain more why I am interested in platforms that solve this broken experience? 🙃 

 

Name: Zomentum

Amount Raised: $4.1m from Accel and SAIF Partners

What does Zomentum do?

Edited from Tracxn: Zomentum provides client relationship and sales process management software. It allows users to design and process sales process, retain them, and improve client relationships. It enables users to manage personalized reminders, set metrics and track performance of the teams, and share leads with other teams. Other features include sales funnel management, catalog management, branding, and identity management.

Why do I like Zomentum?

At Artha, we use Pipedrive and Salesforce to manage our sales processes. It does an excellent job for us, except that we must pay a lot of third parties to automate our sales processes. These addons significantly increase our monthly bills, and we must monitor the addons for errors, especially if the APIs are updated.

While I haven’t had a chance to test drive Zomentum (yet), I like their fully integrated approach. If it reduces my monthly costs and my operational overhead – I’ll switch!

My Funding Picks For 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: Triggero

Triggero was an enterprise rewards and recognition services platform. Triggero worked on a SAAS model and was a provider of an enterprise social recognition platform designed to encourage the culture of appreciation. The company’s enterprise social recognition platform was easy to use. A powerful workflow engine that helped in employer could be custom moduled and self-managed, enabling leaders to drive culture and manage change in the organization.

 

Triggero was instrumental in creating a productive & motivated workforce, energize sales & distribution eco-system. Triggero had partnered with some of the prominent organizations across industries like Telecom, BPO, BFSI, White Goods & IT.

 

Founder: Paras Arora & Abhishek Singh Total funding raised USD 75,000/-
2020 status: Shutdown Number of rounds 1
Co-investors: Mumbai Angels

 

Why did you invest in Triggero?

Triggero was a powerful B2B SaaS platform in the HRMS space, looking at creating a rewards and recognition platform for in-house employees. One must remember that Triggero predated the entry of  Yammer, Slack, or Microsoft Teams in India, platforms that most of us have made an integral part of our work lives today.

Triggero also provided managers the ability to reward employees by giving them points that could get redeemed at the Triggero store for gifts. It was a unique offering.

 

What were the risks involved with the investment in Triggero?

I know now (but I did not know when I made this investment) that rewards & recognitions platforms make the best sense for companies that house large teams managed by a well-established HR department. Therefore selling to medium to larger-sized companies carried its own set of risks like:

  1. Long-tail sales cycles
  2. Larger budgets to hire experienced B2B sales reps
  3. They are competing against legacy systems and high switchover costs.

In 2012 employee rewards and recognition were unknown. Even employees associated HR with Holidays and Rangoli,’ and business owners looked at HR as a cost center. Therefore, I realize (now) that Triggero was probably too early for the Indian market. The company should have raised a much larger round of funding to buy itself time, which unfortunately at the time (and possibly even today) was not available.

 

What was the primary reason behind dead pooling Triggero’s investment?

There were a couple of factors that affected this decision. Triggero lost a major client shortly after we put in the first tranche of investment. The company started to hemorrhage money due to the loss of revenues. This investment also enlightened me on the considerable time lag between billed revenues and banked revenues in a post-paid B2B revenue model.

The founders’ plans to scale fast took a severe hit, and they could not afford the capacity that they had acquired to build their platform. Considering all the issues that the company faced, it did not make sense to continue investing in the company, and I wrote off the investment.

 

What mistakes did Triggero make, and what was your learning as an investor?

Triggero’s biggest mistake was that they tried achieving B2C growth as a B2B company. Therefore, instead of waiting for purchase orders to build development and delivery capacity, they made capacity and then tried chasing sales – a dangerously desperate situation that any B2B founder should not find themselves in. Therefore, a lot of the expenses got frontloaded before revenues flowed in.

Secondly, I firmly believe that they didn’t raise enough capital. Triggero’s angel round did not give them enough runway to experiment, and (with the benefits afforded to me by hindsight), the founders and the angels should have decided against investing the money. Instead, we could have waited until Triggero could raise a more substantial round to give Triggero the runway to become a significant player.

Third I learned the importance of tranche-based investing. It is an essential method of risk mitigation for early-stage investors in cases where the venture doesn’t go down the desired path.

 

Would you invest in a similar startup today?

I believe that the world has moved on from R&R platforms, and Triggero would have a tough time finding a niche in the corporate domains where Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, and Yammer dominate communications.

It had the potential to be an Indian version of Yammer (that Yammer/Microsoft could eventually acquire), but alas, we did not get the required scale and adoption.

 

V37.002

Flashback Friday: BookMyCab (Live Minds Solutions)

BookMyCab is an on-demand taxi service with options to rent metered city taxis as well as from their own fleet of cabs. Their taxis are equipped with real-time tracking technology to ensure complete passenger safety. They follow a stringent process of recruitment of taxi drivers and taxis. They also own exclusive rights to advertise on the taxis, i.e., on doors, and inside the taxis.

 

BookMyCab was founded in 2012 in Mumbai and operated with taxi licenses from state governments and approved taxi drivers only. They acquired CabOnClick, a Hyderabad based online taxi booking provider in Nov 2014.

 

Founder: Avinash Chandra Gupta Total funding raised USD 910,000
2020 status: Acquired by Wings Travel Management Number of rounds 2
Co-investors: Yournest, Centerac Technologies, Mumbai Angels

 

Why did you invest in BookMyCab?

It might be hard to remember, but hailing cabs in 2012 was a challenge, especially if you wanted to travel a short distance. BookMyCab offered mobility solutions to a growing target audience of people using smartphones and provided additional income for taxi drivers. The taxi drivers preferred long-range rides since they make more money on those, whereas getting a cab for 2-3 km was quite the task for the consumer. Their platform enabled taxi drivers to find passengers without having to stand in line and wait. Consumers could book a cab which would pick them up, an idea which is standard today. Investing in BookMyCab at the time was a no-brainer since they solved problems for both markets.

 

 

What was your competitive analysis for BookMyCab? As per reports, Ola had already raised 4 Million US dollars from Tiger Global when you invested in BookMyCab.

The most significant moat that BookMyCab had was being the licensed booking service for Mumbai. While Ola was utilizing tourist taxis for local travel (technically not allowed at the time), BookMyCab got the local ‘kali peeli’ taxis, licensed by the RTO. The license gave them a considerable competitive advantage in 2012, before the loosening of regulations that allowed Ola and Uber to expand aggressively. While the other platforms were working in a grey area, I thought this competitive advantage would be critical in fighting off the competition. BookMyCab had a fleet of close to 100,000 taxis they could onboard very quickly. In contrast, the competition had to spend copious amounts of capital to acquire drivers and give massive bonuses to keep them sticky.

 

What did you like about Avinash? Did his IIT Mumbai tag play a significant role in the selection?

More than the IIT tag (I’m not much of a believer in tags), what excited me about working with Avinash was that he was willing to get into the nitty-gritty. He was a part of Financial Technologies with Jignesh Shah, so he had a history of working in intrapreneurial positions. Convincing cab drivers to accept digital cash as payment was a big deal. I appreciated that he was willing to get his hands dirty.

 

The taxi market in cities like Mumbai and Kolkata is still fragmented (Yellow taxi in Kolkata and Kali peeli in Mumbai). Would you invest in a similar startup today if they are looking to consolidate the pending fragmented market?

Consumer preferences have changed today, and there already clear market leaders in this category. People would prefer to either book an Uber or an Ola due to the standardization of services, timely drivers, the cars are in better condition, and well, air conditioning. I wouldn’t change my decision to back BookMyCab in the past, but today, the market is very different from what it was in 2012. The cream-of-the-crop drivers are already on competitor platforms like Ola and Uber. By the way, both platforms also let you book kali peelis.

 

What were your learnings from your investment in BookMyCab?

Whenever you invest in an early-stage startup, they must become a market leader to cement their position. 80% of the investment, visibility, and revenue goes to the top two market leaders. Here are the learnings from my investment with BookMyCab:

  1. Push them to be more aggressive in acquiring drivers. This is not to say that Avinash was not aggressive; I should have encouraged him to be more aggressive.
  2. Early on, I focussed more on growth over profitability.
  3. Not to depend on permits as a competitive advantage. I had (too much) faith that the government would protect the license, and the competition operating in grey areas would ultimately be shut down. Public good consistently trumps legislation. I applied this learning in our investment in LenDenClub, which is doing exceptionally well.
  4. I learned a harsh lesson when Ola offered to acquire us, but the board declined the offer. Ola’s offer value grew by almost 15x over the next 2-3 years. If I had taken the deal, BookMyCab would be the biggest winner in our portfolio, but the lesson was learned. Therefore, if consolidation cements the number one position, then take the offer.

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.

 

Is the Health vs Privacy Debate Reaching a Point of No Return?

Recently, I was on a weekly update call with one of our food delivery startup founders. They were restarting delivery operations from a multitude of small, but FSSAI certified kitchens. To rebuild consumer confidence, they developed technology that would not only let consumers know the food they were buying was prepared in a clean environment – it would also let them know that the people making the food were healthy at the time of preparation.

As the founders ran through the list of checks and updates they were keeping on the chef and the helpers, I asked a question that brought pin-drop silence to the Microsoft Teams call, “Why don’t we install live CCTV feeds from the kitchen to our control centers and give the consumer the ability to view the footage?”

My team and the founders immediately countered my proposal with issues related to privacy. While I have (for an insanely long time) believed that privacy is a myth, I believe that in a post-COVID world, privacy will lose out to health.

Not only will consumers demand transparency into what goes into their food. They would also want to know more about the people preparing the food as well as the people involved in its delivery. The need for more information will clash with the worker’s demand for privacy. The privacy evangelists may stand on the streets with placards demanding protection; unfortunately, we live in such novel times that companies that wish to protect privacy may find themselves out of business.

It was not a surprise to me that I found a tweet about a Chinese delivery app that has installed body temperature monitors on their workers. They provide a live feed of the temperature on the consumer’s app. Some could say that this is an invasion of privacy.

In fact, how long would it be before the consumers demand similar monitors and information on the chefs, the helpers, and the waiters? In fact, why not the suppliers? The cleaners? Where does it stop?

The Chinese are not global role models for privacy protection; however, the pandemic is pitting the ideological notions of privacy against the real danger to health due to the way this virus spreads. Interestingly this debate isn’t confined to the US or China; it rages in South Korea, India, and several other countries.

Therefore, Casey Ross is correct in asking if this is a 9/11 moment for the health-over-privacy debate. We gave up privacy for security then, what stops us from making that trade-off now?

My Funding Picks For 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!