It was just one word that enticed Dheeraj Jain to come back to India in May 2014 after spending over a decade in Finland and London: startup. The country was at the peak of an entrepreneurial boom, investors of all kinds — foreign and Indian — were in a frenzied scramble to fund ventures, and it seemed the world was waiting with bated breath to welcome one more unicorn from India.
Jain, who was managing partner at London-based venture capital firm Redcliffe Capital, didn’t want to miss the bus. So he spent the first few months to understand the ecosystem, went to several startup events in Bengaluru and Chennai and kept relentlessly hunting for his maiden investment opportunity.
A few months after returning, that same word — startup — had begun to put Jain off. Unrealistic valuations, lack of concrete business plans and too much noise left him disillusioned. “It would have been stupid to invest at that time.” It wasn’t until July 2015 – 14 months after coming back — that Jain made his first investment — in CoHo, a co-living home rental startup.
Cut to November 2016. Jain has emerged as the most prolific angel investor in India with 20 deals, according to data by Xeler8, a market intelligence platform for VCs and corporates. He’s ahead of Kunal Shah, cofounder of FreeCharge (which Snapdeal acquired in April 2015), and Ratan Tata with 19 and 13 deals, respectively. Jain’s cumulative investment so far: `15 crore. ($2.2 million). With at least 20 more deals in the pipeline, an upgraded valuation of over 5X returns on his current portfolio, one exit, two partial exits, and one investment going bad, the track-record of the avid investor looks impressive.
“In all honesty, there is no science behind angel investing,” says Jain, who follows a thumb rule while making angel investing: hunting down motivated and talented entrepreneurs.
One might argue that there is an immense amount of analysis, vast domain expertise involved in making the right decision, but at the angel investment stage — which is the first investment in a startup — it isn’t so much about the company or the product as it is about the team and the confidence in its abilities, avers Jain. While the product-market fit is an obvious decision-making criteria, what tilts the investment decision invariably in all cases is the ability of the entrepreneur.
“We’re investing in the executional capability of the founder.” So what explains the eagerness to be liberal with the purse strings just two years after being repulsed by a lot of me-too startups, astronomical valuations and unrealistic marketing spends?
The startup ecosystem, Jain points out, has transformed over the past year or so. While valuations are now more sober, entrepreneurs’ expectations too have become more realistic. “The funnel of money has become leaner and investors have started focusing more on sustainable growth,” explains Jain, who worked with Nokia for over six years.
Ask him one seminal reason for the fall of the Finnish handset giant, and Jain replies like an entrepreneur: absence of risktaking appetite. “I wasn’t just arrogance that kept them rooted in Symbian, but the inability to take risks.”
So is he in sharp contrast going overboard by spreading himself too thin? After all, many believe that angel investing has become a new status symbol. “There is a lot of spray and pray — firing blindly at as wide a spread of startups as possible to find several winners,” says Amit Somani, managing partner, Prime Ventures, an early-stage investment fund based out of Bengaluru.
Though contending that the role of angels is phenomenal in providing financial, social and intellectual capital and can help early-stage startups get a better understanding of the market, Somani maintains that at the angel stage, one is largely making investments based on the quality of the entrepreneur since there is little else to go by. “The best angel investors also have conviction about the business area that the startup is in,” he says.
While conceding that the thought of his investments going bad does bothers him at times, Jain maintains there is a method behind the apparent madness. Unlike many angels who reckon the odds will favour them and at least one venture will hit pay dirt, Jain insists he has a hands-on approach, going deep into every venture he invests in. Take, for instance, CoHo. Last summer, Jain was looking to back a company that could build a mass market co-living business for students and millennials.
The business model that he wanted to invest in was clear: asset light, having control over the experience and not just a mere aggregator. So when he made his first investment in India, he nudged Uday Lakkar, one of the cofounders of CoHo, to pivot from Zocalo, a listing site for PG accomodations.
“I have never been a spray-pray guy,” he says, adding that he will continue to associate with his high-volume investment strategy. Whether it’s branded camping chain Deyor Camps, or online social learning platform Mappr, or Shipsy, a big data and artificial intelligence platform for the logistics sector, Jain stresses that a lot of thought has gone into funding such ventures. “Once I make the investment, I go deeper and get fully married to it.”
Is he happy to see Indians becoming more enterprising? Jain sounds a word of caution. Though it’s heartening to see people take a leap of faith, what’s worrying is the ‘me-too’ phenomenon and the perception of startups among aspiring entrepreneurs. While entrepreneurship became increasingly sexy, people started quitting jobs to start a venture. However, what people fail to see, points out Jain, is that for every four people starting up, at least one will be going back to the traditional job market. Jain, for his part, is here to stay. He’s currently focused on bankrolling yet another startup.
“Angels are not Superheroes
Kunal Shah , cofounder of Snapdeal owned digital payments platform FreeCharge , is India’s second most prolific angel investor with 19 deals. The decision to turn angel, contends Shah, is more of a learning experience and to help founders. So even if an investment goes wrong — early this week the Shah-backed scrap collection and recycling startup EnCashea in Bengaluru shut shop — it doesn’t matter. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Has the nature of angel investment changed?
Nothing has changed. It’s been the same for years.
Why did you turn an angel investor?
I turned an angel to learn. We didn’t have an angel investor. We used profits from my previous venture to fund the early stage.
Does angel investment provide validation of the business idea?
It helps in getting attention. Validation is only via organic customer traction.
Is early-stage investment more like spray and pray?
Angel investment, as the name suggests, is more to help founders versus hitting jackpots.
Does it bother you that your investment might go wrong, as over 90% of startups fail?
If intent is to learn, then outcome of investment is irrelevant. Media makes funding news of all types sexy and get eyeballs, but what should get coverage is the achievement of startups in terms of actual difference made in consumers’ life. This culture attracts the wrong type of investors and founders who chase fame instead of impact. Please don’t make angels appear as superheroes.
“My Big Investments have Paid off”
Anupam Mittal , founder of shaadi.com and an avid angel investor, reckons there is no sure-shot formula to succeed as an angel investor. Mittal, who is the fourth most prolific angel investor according to Xeler8 data, is ready to bet more on startups. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Has angel investing become more specialised?
Yes, it has become more specialised and the startup ecosystem is also maturing. Early-stage investing is very different from VC investing. It involves a lot of handholding and administration overheads, which VCs have realised over the last year, and which is why they are now partnering with angels.
Why did you start investing as an angel?
Return of investment, passion for entrepreneurship and monetising a historic opportunity… that’s the trigger for turning angel. What’s the formula to succeed as an angel investor? There is no one formula which is better than the other. Spray and pray is one of the strategies. People have seen success even with sector specialisation. Timing is critical and getting one or two 100X or 1,000X baggers in your portfolio determines the difference between success and failure.
The failure rate among startups is over 90%. Have any of your investments gone bad?
More than 20 have already gone bad. And another 20-30 will probably go bad. Out of nearly 100 startups, I expect only about 20 to do really well, and hopefully five will do exceedingly well. Luckily for me, my big investments have paid off really well.
Article source: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/money/dheeraj-jain-moving-into-early-stage-funding-of-businesses/articleshow/55516116.cms