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Dr. Bino Pathiparampil — Doctor Turned Angel Investor

By on Mar 6, 2014 in Startup Gang |

Bino is a friend and contemporary angel investor. One of the first things that strike you about Bino is that he is a doctor who gave up the world of medicine and moved to the investment arena. A healthcare industry analyst Bino advises clients on listed stock. Bino sits on the boards of several companies such as Carve Niche Technologies and PickMe eSolutions. I have worked closely with Bino in several of the sticky situations that angel investment often gets one into. At all such times, I have been amazed by his amazing analytical ability. Here are his thoughts about the startup space in India: I Respect Entrepreneurs a Lot — I Want to Be One Too Passion for entrepreneurship and respect for entrepreneurs have kept me glued on to the start-up eco system right from very early in my career. Early on it was very informal through friends, relatives and contacts that ventured into their own enterprises; later I decided to get more formal about it. That was when Mumbai Angels came up as a great option to get actively involved without committing my whole time to it. Through my earlier informal channels and later through Mumbai Angels, I have been an active investor in early stage startups and an active mentor to several of the invested ones. Jumping myself into the shoes of an entrepreneur is very much on my mind — the plunge could happen any day. The Early Stage Is Where the Real Excitement Is Earlier the start up, the more exciting the investment opportunity — in my opinion. However, the concept behind the business needs to be proven by the entrepreneurs before approaching strictly external investors (friends and relatives could be considered not strictly external). Ensuring that the market is accepting the product or customers are appreciating the service goes a long way in enhancing the confidence of the entrepreneur and the investor. The clarity of prospects that exists can lead to better negotiation and better goal setting at the time of fund raising. Entrepreneurs: Do Not Dilute Yourself Too Much Too Soon One basic fact: the original business plan almost never turns out to be the right one and to keep maximum value of the venture with oneself, one should go for external funding as later as possible. To put to practice the above advice, one needs to be agile and accommodative and should be willing to bear the opportunity cost of entrepreneurship for an extended period of time. Also, one needs to be extremely cautious of cash burn in the business — that significantly increases the staying power and multiplies the chances of the venture emerging successful. Thinking original is good, but not always necessary — a real entrepreneur makes money where there is an opportunity — if it is in copying something else so be it. The Startup Space Does Seem Overheated, But This Is Not Cause for Concern Nothing in the real world stops at where it is ideal to stop — look at stock markets, real estate prices, religious affiliations or whatever. Hence, I think the fact that there has been a heating up is a great thing to my mind. There could be pockets of excesses, or may be the whole space is overheated, but I would be only be cautious and not stay away from the space. From a macro perspective, I think the overheating is much needed for the space — it will establish angel funding as another mainstream investment avenue in India. But one needs to be careful when looking at this from a personal investment / portfolio management perspective. Staying away is not wise; in fact, the best returns in the world are made in bubbles though one may lose part of it when it bursts. Of course, wise investment strategy is called for; else a burst will completely wipe out one’s portfolio. Entrepreneurship Is About Having a Dream and Then Going Out and Making it True I often think — those who understand their dreams become entrepreneurs and those who are lost in their dreams become angel investors. So when I understand my dream for sure, I’ll invest myself into it and not my money. The most important quality of an entrepreneur is being down to earth and having clarity of thought. Startups that are based on superficial thought process and only macro level analyses and planning are destined to fail. A start up should have clear ideas about where the first revenue will come from and well defined plans to capture secure it.  But every rule has exceptions — hence this one as well. If those who funded Google or Facebook played by this rule, those companies may not have seen daylight. In a Sense, India As a Nation Is a Startup India story is not different for start-ups and other assets — it is a big promising opportunity based on the purchasing power of a billion-plus population. However, this is not going to be a straightforward story, as we are realizing today. India story is not a simple economic growth story — it is a story of social change; economic growth will be part of this social change. Social change is something that happens across generations — not necessarily years or decades. Better education, better healthcare, better infrastructure or simply better governance is something that is needed for the evolution to...

Meet Investor, Entrepreneur, and Startup Enthusiast: Anirudh Damani

By on Feb 14, 2014 in Startup Gang |

I have known Anirudh Damani for a couple of years now. He is a fellow member at Mumbai Angels and we take active interest in some of the same startups. Executive Director of the K Damani group, Anirudh has had an early start to his role as an investor and lender. What I especially like about Anirudh is the fact that is able to rapidly distill down to the most important aspects of a deal, and not get mired into the nitty gritty. If you get the opportunity to meet Anirudh, one of the first things that will strike you is his energy and affability. Recently Anirudh talked to StartUp Gang and shared his experiences about the startup space. Here are his thoughts Indian Entrepreneurs Are Weighed Down by Shackles. It is Time to Break Free. In my honest opinion the Indian entrepreneur is like a beautiful dove that has its legs tied with a 100-meter rope to a 100 kg weight of bureaucracy, poor infrastructure and an oppressive tax regime.  So while they are allowed to fly a good distance and look pretty, they aren’t allowed to touch the sky! Even after all these hardships, Indian entrepreneurs build companies that compete with the best in the world. Indians are respected worldwide for their intelligence and “jugaad” thinking. With this we have managed to build our economy with a 6-7% average growth rate over the past 10 years. That is something we should all be proud of. I Look for Complete Commitment and Some Traction in Startups A start-up team that has discovered a niche in the market, has innovated a USP and is willing to bet everything that they possibly have, those are the ones that I find very easy to invest into.  As a long-term strategy though, we avoid investing into very early / pre-seed stage companies. Required Reading for all Entrepreneurs Read the book E-Myth — the lessons given in that book are vital to any entrepreneur’s success. Success Formula = Hard Work + Planning + Opportunity It is my belief that all start-ups give it their best effort. However there is a bit of “luck” required in success. To me “luck happens” when hard work and planning meet with opportunity”. So while there are a few companies that have done exceptionally well but have found themselves without adequate opportunity (and vice versa), there are a handful that have hit the nail on the head. Some examples: Oravel: A trusted social marketplace for people to discover and book affordable and delightful accommodations around the world — online or from a phone. Pickme eSolutions: Provides doorstep pick-up and drop services to authorized centers for gadget repair and ensures their safe return to consumers post servicing. Inventure: First global credit scoring company that utilizes mobile technology to unlock financial access for all. BookMyCab: First radio taxi service in Mumbai and possibly in India for metered Black & Yellow (non-air conditioned) taxis as well as metered Cool Cab (Air conditioned) CarveNiche: An education technology company that has developed an exciting range of product portfolio combining the latest learning theories with the best in technology and is focused on the K-10 segment. Entrepreneurship Is a Cultural Movement and India Stands to Gain Tremendously From It The momentum in the start-up space, has allowed a lot of what were otherwise “reluctant” entrepreneurs to finally take the plunge into entrepreneurship and they have made their, their employees, investors and customers’ lives a lot richer. India needs a very vibrant and growing start-up culture if we are to get close to the 9% growth rate that will lift millions of Indians out of abject poverty. This rapid growth has created its own set of problems, which are primarily — the over exuberance on e-commerce start-ups and the rise of multiple “me-too” start-ups. Another peculiar trend that I have seen over the past few months is the emergence of excellent engineering teams that are pigeon-holing themselves into areas that cannot do justice to their talent. A lot of these tech teams have and are building great software/apps but while they are willing to innovate with their skills, they aren’t willing to innovate with their target market. This is something that drives me crazy, especially since we definitely see the large market that the team isn’t capitalizing on! If You Have a Viable Startup in These 3 Spaces, I Am Interested in Hearing More I have 3 pet ideas that I have wanted to invest into: Location Based Video Advertising sold via “Live” Auction Booking a cab at my destination when I check-in (And this was something that came to me this morning) A power search engine that can give a timeline map for a specific search keyword (like the name of a company/person/product/etc) which allows me to see and build a story But do not contact me with any business idea that takes 40 PowerPoint slides to understand! The India Story Is Real and We Are Already Seeing it Unfold I am a believer and continue to believe that India was, is and will be the greatest country in the world. It is unfortunate that we are better respected outside our country than by our own countrymen. So while there are and still exist various challenges and impediments for Indian entrepreneurs, these too will crumble, what speed will we grow at then? The industry...

President of Mumbai Angels, Friend of Entrepreneurs: Anil Joshi

By on Jan 2, 2014 in Startup Gang |

If you are a startup in India, you have certainly heard of Mumbai Angels. And if you have heard of Mumbai Angels, you have certainly heard of its president Anil Joshi. Anil is a familiar figure in entrepreneurship events, conferences, forums, ecells, and the like. As the operations head of Mumbai Angels, he supervises the screening of well over 100 business plans a month. I have known Anil for 3 years now and am envious of his unending store of energy. At the inception of StartUp Gang, Anil Joshi shared his thoughts about his work and about the startup ecosystem. The Real Challenge Is Identifying Good Ventures to Invest In If you have identified the right ventures, all the other pieces fall into place. And that is a challenge. The selection process to go from a thousand business plans in a year to a handful that Mumbai Angels’ members actually fund requires a lot of effort. I Have Witnessed the Startup Space Expanding in India So many incubators and accelerators have sprung up in India that today aspiring entrepreneurs have a good shot at raising money and getting supported. The environment has turned to be quite conducive to setting up your own enterprise in India. This has substantially increased the size of the deal pipe for us at Mumbai Angels, but the real big positive is for the people who are turning entrepreneurs today. There Could Be a Serious Mismatch Between Expectations and Outcomes in the Ecosystem Many participants have jumped into the startup gold rush. We have seen incubators, accelerators, and other similar enterprises jumping into the fray and deploying their efforts and resources. If things go well and their investments bear fruit, everyone will be happy. But if that does not happen, the expectation mismatch may cause several shops to shut. Successful Entrepreneurs Articulate the Problem and the Market for their Solution Having seen such a huge volume of entrepreneurs applying for funding at Mumbai Angels, I have started developing a sense of what seems to work. The entrepreneurs who are most likely to succeed are the ones that basically can clearly articulate: the problem or the gap that they are trying to address. the market for their solution their strength in executing the proposed business plan. If the entrepreneur can do that with clarity and passion, it is a good sign. Several Winners in the Startup Space There are many interesting stories of great outcomes in the startup space. Some of them are: Inmobi, Apalya, Reverse Logistics, Myntra, and Serial Innovation. In addition there is a lot of good news arising at Mumbai Angels that may not yet be in the public domain. At Mumbai Angels we are pretty positive about early stage entrepreneurship, and keenly look forward to many more successes. Anil Joshi is the President of Mumbai Angels (Twitter), and can be reached on LinkedIn or...

Introducing Tech Guru, Angel Investor, Mentor: Manish Dalal

By on Dec 26, 2013 in Gurus |

I have known Manish Dalal for over a year. In my mind whenever the group of angel investors at Mumbai Angels is evaluating a sufficiently complex technology piece, it turns to Manish for inputs on tech due diligence. And that should come as no surprise given Manish’s background. He is the India Country Head for Verisign, and in the past has played many senior roles at Yahoo and Motorola among others. Today Manish shared his thoughts with StartUp Gang about the tech startup space in India, and the following are his thoughts. In the Words of Manish Dalal My primary exposure to the early stage ecosystem has been as an angel investor for the past year and half. In addition, I am mentoring and advising several startups on a wide variety of platforms. Here’s How the Tech Startups in India Are Different From Those in the US Though there are exceptions to every rule, I have found that tech startups in India are primarily being founded by business-oriented founders, while in the Valley we find many startups coming from hard core tech people — people who might, for instance have a PhD in technology niches. I find this rigorous tech approach missing in Indian startups. As a result, I find it easy to perform tech due diligence on Indian startups as the technology tends to be pretty restricted. Evaluating unique and revolutionary technology would have been much more challenging, but I do not come across too many of those in India. The Low Hanging Fruits in India Are Probably the Cause The domestic market in India still has a lot of opportunities that are akin to low-hanging fruit. This might be the reason that many tech startups here try to seek opportunities in gaps that they find in the marketplace. But I wish that we could have focused on technology and come out with solutions that are created with the global audience in mind. India Can Present a Locational Disadvantages for Serious Tech Businesses Invariably, what we find is that the biggest market for tech startups tends to be in the US. Though the Internet has made discoverability of tech companies pretty easy, there is still no substitute for person-to-person contact with customers, brands, and investors. This also explains why some companies that raise money open shop in the US, while retaining their development work in India. But There Are Winners in India, Of Course! Two names that come to mind are Rolocule and Vliv. Rolocule is a Pune based mobile gaming company (Disclaimer: Manish Dalal as well as Ajeet Khurana are investors) that has developed the Rolomotion technology. This gaming technology is truly path breaking and there is no equivalent anywhere. I am impressed by what they have done. Likewise, Vliv has come up with the way that brands can use social videos to engage with their audiences. Their technology is pretty path breaking too. But as mentioned earlier, Rolocule and Vliv would benefit significantly from a US presence. You can get in touch with Manish Dalal on LinkedIn. We hope to see much more of Manish around StartUp...

Introducing Indranil Deb of Mobius Strip Capital Advisors

By on Aug 25, 2013 in Gurus |

It is my pleasure to introduce Indranil Deb, investment banker, founder of Mobius Strip Capital Advisors. I have always known Indranil to be very helpful to investors and entrepreneurs alike. He is a visionary who has often predicted outcomes that others could not see coming. He gets interested in a startup when it has gone past the “prototype” stage and is either already post-revenue or rolled-out. Here are his thoughts: In the Words of Indranil Deb “My experience with early stage entrepreneurship has been mixed. The ecosystem is not one that is conducive to entrepreneurship. As a society, we do not empathize with failures. This artificial pressure to succeed (right from your family-members, friends and peers) compels early stage entrepreneurs to adopt “any” means to succeed. The Wrong Role Models Another “contagion” in the eco-system is the existence of the wrong kind of role models. Nine out of ten entrepreneurs want to be like some crony businessmen who have achieved financial success (or appeared on the cover of Business India) with little contribution to real innovation, expanding body-of-work or presenting “real” solutions to deep and serious problems faced by consumers — but succeeded largely by “fixing” and “bribing” policy-makers. The Focus on “Get Rich Quick” Has Distracted Many Entrepreneurs A serious problem with early stage entrepreneurship is that most entrepreneurs here today want to get rich quickly! While, I have nothing against the aspiration in itself, what troubles me is the fact that they lose sight of the more serious tasks at hand — building IP, building and retaining the right team, providing superlative solutions for problems with their products and services — leaving the world a little better than how they found it. Despite Angels and VCs, Financing Is Not Easy to Come By The ecosystem, too, is unfavorable. The most common means of financing is still bank financing — which is available to only a few entrepreneurs who can offer collateral security as a mortgage. Linked with the earlier points, in reality, very often, projects with cooked books get the money — and honest entrepreneurs fail to procure funding. The angel investor networks that exist are spoilt for choice. The angel investing practices prevailing in India today are a “localized” version of investing. Investors that back projects often do not have the domain expertise and/or the passion for backing new ideas that are risky — they cherry-pick and structure investments that are reasonably “safe-bets” with little downside risk. Entrepreneurs Need to Focus on Common Sense Basics Our advise would be as follows: Apart from a strong cash-reserve, make sure that you have a large ammunition of passion, conviction and ability to endure – be humble to listen to criticism objectively, talk to entrepreneurs who have either failed or gone through very serious difficulties — there is lot to learn from their mistakes. Examples of Startups That Are Doing Great Work Mobien Technologies, Aspiring Mind Assessments, Rolocule, Grameen Greenway, Eki Communications and Wegilant Technologies. The Startup Space Is Proving Darwinian Evolution Theory Right Heating up in the startup space helps in a Darwinian evolution theory kind of way — only the best and fittest survive. Competition helps separate the men from the boys. And it brings out the best in the creators, innovators and thought-leaders that push the frontiers of human knowledge and technology. In the recent past, there have been far too many startups in the areas of online discount-retailing, travel-and-ticketing and general e-commerce — than what the demand side can support. One Space I Am Presently Excited About Is… I’d love to back a company that would provide a comprehensive solution to young women and men across the world looking for jobs – a business that would offer skill-assessments, counseling, training and placement services. I believe there is a huge gap there. India Needs to Shape Up and Catch Up We have a lot of catching up to do. At the policy-making level, actions are sporadic. Budget speeches have largesses of corpuses of Rs. 1,000 crs here and there being announced for setting up venture capital funds — and so on. We need more focus and attention to operationalize them and streamline the operations of the existing schemes and programs. For building global ventures, it’s useful to have start-ups teams that are global – founders from across the world living in India (where the best minds from across the world converge) and building their ventures ground-up. For that, a friendly, safe and secure environment needs to be in place first.  Foreigners and (especially) women still don’t feel safe to be seen walking home after work. Interesting Trends in the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in India Apart from the IIT campuses, start-ups are emerging from the hinterland and smaller engineering and B school campuses as well. The early successes of a culture of business incubation Mid-career executives dropping out of their jobs and venturing into entrepreneurship Middle-aged and elderly first-time entrepreneurs teaming up with their children to start-up new ventures The role of a Mentoring being more widely acknowledged and accepted Follow Indranil Deb on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn. Read his blog at and visit his corporate...

Celebrate Your Independence Day Today by Starting Up — I Did

By on Aug 15, 2013 in Opinion | 35 comments

What is the “right time” to take the plunge? When are you “ready” to turn entrepreneur? When should you burn other bridges and start up? If you are one of those who are plagued with these questions, you have been wasting time. The right time is right now. Get started! Stop Waiting for a Soft Landing Into Entrepreneurship! The problem with waiting for the right time is that it really never comes. And the reason it never comes is that it is already here! After a Few Years of Work Experience, I Will Get Entrepreneurial — That’s a Lie! Sure there is some value to amassing experience, contacts, and wealth. But can one really overlook the loss of time while one goes about hobnobbing with corporate-types? I would much rather that you start your entrepreneurial journey today. In the mid to late nineties, I would conduct admission interviews of MBA aspirants. Though each interview was unique, there were some common questions I would ask. One among them was about the candidate’s career plan. Aspirants had a wide variety of responses about their first job post-MBA. But “after a few years of work experience, I will start my own business,” was a common refrain. I am still in touch with a few dozen of those students, and not even one of them has actually started their own business! A Real Entrepreneur Is Characterized by Outrageous Optimism and Urgency As an angel investor I am exposed to over 100 new founders each month. Like other investors I too have my prejudices about whom I reject right away. If I feel that the founder is not really an entrepreneur, I reject them without any consideration of their business plan, market, traction, and other such buzzwords. But how does one ascertain if someone is truly an entrepreneur? That is not easy, but two common characteristics of entrepreneurs are that they are always in a hurry, and they feel that they cannot lose. The hurry works for me. The optimism is great too, as long as it does not make them indifferent to the nature of the risk that they are assuming. I Have Decided to Follow My Own Advice After my two decades as an entrepreneur and an investor, I often find myself amidst mentors. These gurus seem to have a magic wand: one swish and a failed venture converts to a successful one. Not really! But what I am getting at is the fact that mentors are always in the mode of, “Don’t do as I do. Just do as I say.” I am sure that I too often have been guilty of that. But not today! I have been toying with the idea of setting up my own startup-related blog. And what better day to start than the day I choose to advise my readers to jump right in. Today is India’s independence day. Make it your independence day too. Unshackle your career, aspirations, future, self-esteem, and self-worth from some arbitrary paycheck and designation. Jump right in! Even if you do not reach your destination, the journey will be worth it. This is the first post on my blog: StartUp Gang. On day one I am starting with quite the empty hand. Any love that you can show this blog will be deeply appreciated: tweets, shares, links, likes, +’s, comments, mentions, subscription to the newsletter, or any other form of kindness. Thanks again. Thanks for reading, and do come...