“Show Me The Money”: India’s Big Promise to VCs

According to CBInsights, there are seven Indian startups are already valued at more than $1 billion. If you include Micromax, Mu Sigma, and InMobi, the number would be ten. Merely 2 years ago, there were only five unicorns.

It won’t be long before large exits confirm India’s ability to deliver meaningful returns to startup investors. There have been more than sixty mergers and acquisitions in India’s tech sector worth more than $800 million in just 2015. Indian IPOs increased nine times in 2015. Also in 2015, “21 IPOs were launched on the BSE, the Bombay Stock Exchange, compared with five in 2014, the highest number since 2011, when 37 IPOs were launched.” Sure they weren’t tech startups but it shows that the domestic appetite for IPOs is on the rise – something, tech startups are very excited about.

While many Indian startups may not take the typical path to an IPO, the opportunities for exits are real and more options continue to emerge. Here are a few of these promising signs for Indian startups and investors.

IPO Me, Please

In September, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) approved e-commerce firm Infibeam’s plan to sell US $68 million in shares. Infibeam was India’s first e-commerce IPO in March 2016, clearing the way for future e-commerce companies. Snapdeal hopes to go public in India within the next few years. It was valued at nearly $5 billion last year, and has said it is likely to IPO in India rather than on a foreign exchange. Flipkart is, also, likely to IPO in the next few years, although rumors of a merger between Amazon India and Flipkart keep making rounds. Other tech unicorns like PayTM, MuSigma, Micromax may also entertain IPOs either in India or in the US. As they go public, they will act as proxies for the broader digital startup sector where many larger investors can’t easily participate.

Acquisitions and Investments by Major Players

India’s major startups are spending significant amounts of money to round out their portfolios as they prepare for their next, more public phase of competition. Snapdeal acquired mobile prepaid recharge provider, FreeCharge for $400 million in April, then launched a digital wallet for their bundled  services in September. They’ve acquired ten more firms over the last year, such as online loan platform RupeePower, luxury goods retailer Exclusively, and MartMobi, a mobile apps developer and TechStars alum.

Meanwhile Ola, another member of India’s Unicorn club, acquired rival rideshare service TaxiForSure for $200 million. Ola also acquired Qarth and trip-planning company, Geotagg.

According to Crunchbase, Flipkart wasn’t sitting on the sidelines either, publicly announcing three acquisitions in 2015 as well as PhonePe so far in 2016.

MakeMyTrip, the NASDAQ-listed travel firm, picked up last-minute booking site MyGola, 500 Startups’ first investment in India back in 2011, and has launched an “innovation fund” to invest in more startups.

It’s not just Indian firms who are doing the buying – Twitter picked up ZipDial, an Indian firm that turns missed calls into smartphone alerts, for an undisclosed amount (also a 500 Startups portfolio company). Yahoo bought Bangalore based, BookPad in 2014.

Times Internet, part of the media heavyweight, Bennett, Coleman and Company, recently announced leading an investment of $11.2 million in Haptik, an Indian concierge service. FreshDesk, another Tiger Global backed startup, recently announced its 5th acquisition.

What’s In It For Investors?

The Reserve Bank of India recently made it easier for foreign investors to sell or transfer their stakes in Indian startups, and loosened disclosure requirements. Relaxing rules like these should go a long way in attracting new investment dollars from overseas investors as well as continuing to make investing in startups attractive to local investors.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has promised to make it even easier for investors to both enter and exit startups through its Startup India Plan. This initiative, launched in January, intends to expand the country’s culture of innovation in technology startups to other areas, such as agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare.

India Accelerating

There were 141 M&A deals worth US$1.26 billion involving Indian tech startups in four years from 2010 to the end of 2013, a stark increase from years prior.  If you consider the massive growth in mobile phone penetration, the second largest Internet user base in the world, acceleration of e-commerce in India (which is expected to top $17 billion this year, having quadrupled since 2010) and a government that is committed to creating the next “Startup Nation” of 1.3 billion people, then the future of exits in India starts looking far more interesting.

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Why India is the Next Frontier for Mobile

Girl Talking by Ramesh LalwaniUnmodified picture by Ramesh Lalwani under Creative Commons 2.0

All over the world, opportunities are flourishing for mobile development (and investment). In some countries, like the U.S.,64% of adults owned a smartphone in 2015. In China, 68% of adults have a smartphone. Yes, these countries still offer room for growth. But not like India.

Indian use of smartphones is rapidly growing. Google-sized companies will be created over the next decade to satisfy user demand, which is significantly more than in the U.S. and China over the same time period. Here’s why India is primed for massive mobile growth. This is why we are getting more aggressive in India.

Mobile Growth All Over the World

It’s hard to believe that just 20 years ago, the world had about only 80 million mobile phone users, representing 1% of the world’s total population.

By 2014, the world’s mobile phone user base had grown to 5.2 billion, or 73% of the population. 40% of that user base had a smartphone.

Based on these stats, it’s hard to argue against mobile development as a lucrative business endeavor all over the world. Even so, growth in countries like China and the U.S. is slowing. Based on what I’m seeing as I invest and work with Indian companies, India offers the greatest opportunity for mobile investment. According to a report by IAMAI and KPMG, the number of mobile Internet users is set to double by 2017 to 300 million!

India already has over 900 million mobile phones, representing 79.39% of the population, and it’s on the path to having more smartphones than the entire U.S. population. It has the second highest number of mobile phones in use, after China and before the U.S.

In 2014, the number of smartphones in India grew 54%, and is expected to reach 651 million by 2019.  In 2013,  only 6.2% of Indian people owned a smartphone. India’s smartphone usage is growing faster than any other country. It’s currently the third largest smartphone market in the world.  

Indian internet penetration is also rapidly increasing. India currently has an internet userbase of at least 232 MM users. This is only 19% of the population, which leaves quite a bit of room for growth.

Scalability

Having a population that is four times bigger than that of the U.S at 1.27 billion people, offers a massive opportunity to scale a business. Though, margins in India are typically pretty low, the numbers are massive. There are hundreds of millions of people across India  who will access new technology for the first time via their mobile phones. They will want entertainment, content, services, and communication. Startups that can figure out how to meet the demands of mobile-first urban and rural Indians will create multibillion dollar companies. Even now, most people use a mobile phone to access the Internet vs a computer or desktop – “According to Meeker’s report 65% of people accessing the internet in India do so from a mobile device and 41% of e-commerce in India takes place on mobile.”

Growth in India

According to the App Annie Index, “Emerging markets grew as low-cost smartphones continue to penetrate India and Southeast Asia. First-time smartphone owner numbers are on the rise.”

I also think that people are inspirational at their core. If you provide the best hardware, QoS, content, and services, they will pay for it as long as their payment options become easier and ubiquitous.”

Takeaways

Indian use of smartphones is growing rapidly. The cost of smartphones continue to decline. “In 2015, the number of mobile internet users from rural area doubled from 2014, and in 2016 the growth percentage is estimated to surpass all the previous figures.

  • India is a market that can’t be ignored by corporations, investors, and startups
  • Growth in mobile usage and GDP is surpassing the US and China
  • Internet penetration is second to China and there’s still a tremendous amount of growth left with less than 25% of the population online
  • India is one of the youngest countries on the planet with a massive workforce

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What’s For Dinner? The Foodpocalypse.

apocalyptic-374208_1280

The trouble that some Indian startups are facing is being touted as the harbinger of a coming apocalypse. What happened at TinyOwl in Pune with employees holding the founders hostage was an embarrassment to all of us.

Dazo shutting down. Zomato laying off employees. Foodpanda, well, just Foodpanda. These are normal occurrences at startups. Most of them are, in any case. Some things are hard to comment on without knowing details.

6 months ago, almost all of the bloggers and reporters were writing about how foodtech is the second coming of the Indian startup economy and how VCs are falling over themselves trying to get into as many deals as possible. Today, those same folks are pontificating on “the bubble” and the coming apocalypse.

I recently read a post on Quartz about how the demise of food delivery will result in the end of the Indian startups. It’s difficult to comprehend the reasoning behind a small sector setting off a domino effect of collapses across startups.

One small, and I mean TINY, sub-sector does not a bubble make. Contrary to what people would like to think, food/grocery delivery is a very very small part of the much larger Indian startup world. PayTM is going after everything from m-commerce to taxi booking payments on Uber to hotel bookings to hyperlocal to movie tickets. Flipkart, Snapdeal (though far from startups any longer) have changed the way Indians fundamentally think about purchasing products. Freshdesk, FusionCharts, Wingify and many others are going after global markets and are seen as serious threats to incumbents. Even some of our Indian companies are changing the way people think about hiring, education, commerce, gaming and finance. Companies like CultureAlley and OnlineTyari are taking language learning and test preparation to the masses at affordable prices thru the only device they need – a smartphone. Consider how Kraftly is giving cottage industries where men, women, and even children are making baked goods or clothing or art at home and able to easily reach and transact with customers not only across India but overseas as well or how SwitchMe is making refinancing your home loan quick, painless and cost effective.

My point is that the Indian startup scene is far broader and diverse than this one small sector. The food and grocery delivery vertical has been overfunded. Some of the companies closing rounds forced me to scratch my head and ask, “what am I not getting?” That’s Ok. You know why, there are amazing entrepreneurs and developers, and designers and financial wizards building solid businesses. And guess what, it’s not going to stop. What else isn’t going to stop? The funding of great companies but also of companies that aren’t run very well.

Would I invest in Zomato today? Definitely. Deepinder and the team don’t give up. They will make the hard decisions when required and they will continue to push the limits of what’s expected from them and at the same time, force the rest of us to compete better.

Would I invest in a pure food or grocery delivery business that picks up veggies from the local mandi or from the 3 restaurants in my neighborhood and deliver it to me? Not likely, though, I have invested in ChalDal in Dhaka. I would definitely consider investing in entrepreneurs that understand warehousing, logistics and supply chain to provide grocery delivery via distributed warehouses in a city. Or a food company that understands how to manage large centralized kitchens, and has an expertise in logistics. Oh wait. Didn’t the Harvard Business Review write about a cooperative that does this? In India.

So all of you talking about the rot in startupland, keep doing what you’re doing. You will get your clicks and likes and shares and eyeballs with sensationalist headlines but all you’re really doing is scaring a young dreamer’s parents into not letting them work at a startup or start a business or get married because they aren’t working at Microsoft, Infosys or TCS. Once the cycle completes, you can begin again. This time writing about how those parents are unfair and ruining their child’s chances of starting a multi-billion dollar startup. Please, just ask yourselves, how any of this helps anyone.

One has to let loose a lot of arrows before learning to shoot and hitting the target. Even after learning to shoot, we will still miss. Often.

At 500 Startups, we’re not going to slow down our investing in India. In fact, I love all this talk of doom and gloom. Why? It’s going to send wannabe founders, angels (who figured they can make more money investing in startups than real-estate) and the glory seekers running for the hills. This means less noise, serious founders pushing the limits of creative destruction because they will have to do more with less, and investors, in it for the long haul, getting access to great founders building real companies.

Cover photo from https://pixabay.com/en/apocalyptic-war-danger-apocalypse-374208/

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Meeting Indian Startups Applying to 500 Startups Accelerator Batch 6

#500StrongGood morning Founders!

You might have heard that 500 Startups recently announced a public application process. This is the first time we’re accepting applications for all companies that want to join our accelerator. In the last batch of the 500 Startups Accelerator, we had four great companies from India. The highest number from any country outside of the US. I’m hoping India can be represented just as well in the upcoming batch which starts in April 2013.

If you’re doing something exciting in education, jobs/employment, travel and you’re looking at markets in India or globally then you may want to put in your application soon. We will consider all applications, however, companies with traction, strong teams, past successes, and even a few referrals from 500 mentors and/or other 500 founders will go a long way.

Schedule

You can download the iCal file here.
  • Education Put in your application by 13th of February 2013
  • Jobs/employment by 14th of February 2013
  • Travel by 15th of February 2013
  • Others by 16th February 2013

By the 20th of February, I will start emailing interesting startups with dates and times to meet Dave and I in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi/NCR. If you have been thinking about how you can be a part of the 500 Startups family, this is your chance.

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Startup Weekend India – The First Six Months

The first round of Startup Weekend events in India came to a close in March. Startup Weekend Delhi was held at the American Center from March 4th till March 6th 2011 and Startup Weekend Bangalore was held from March 11th till March 13th 2011 at Microsoft’s Signature building.

September 2nd 2011 marked the beginning of the next round of Startup Weekend events across India. Startup Weekend Hyderabad was held at ISB from the 2nd – 4th of September. This was the first SW held in Hyderabad and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. We had only sold 25 tickets in the first 2 months that ticket sales were open. In the last three days before the Friday night pitches, we sold over 50 additional tickets.

I’ve seen lots and lots of “me too” ideas and quite a few “ho-hum” ideas. There are some decent ideas with very little depth prior to SW. Startup events in India need to be about team formation, experience building and experimentation. Between these three events, Startup Weekend has kicked off 39 teams of entrepreneurs, techies, designers, and business people. Granted, out of these 39 teams, probably not even four will survive more than a year but that’s not the point. The point is that these 175 or so people, will be better entrepreneurs the next time around.

I believe these three events did something that no other event in India has done so far. It showed people that they CAN execute their ideas in a very short span of time. With complete strangers, in most cases, they can put together a business case and build a prototype to showcase to potential investors.

In a few cases, teams from Startup Weekend in India have had discussions with investors directly as a result of Startup Weekend. One of the biggest pain points for many entrepreneurs in India has been funding and Startup Weekend in India has helped ease this pain point in a small but important way.

Startup Weekend has also shown investors that entrepreneurs, techies, designers can do some really interesting things in a short period of time if all the ingredients are there. It’s created potential deal flow for early stage investors starved for invest-able ideas teams. Already, Startup Weekend clones are popping up across India.

The confidence and the energy that people have displayed at Startup Weekend in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad has been quite contagious. Techies were pushed to deliver minimum viable products and marketers and business people were forced to come up with viable plans in a very short time span. In just a weekend, many people were able to successfully deliver business cases and prototypes. Having done so has shown them that they CAN, in fact, put together teams of the right people and deliver. Being able to find co-founders that can execute has given people the confidence needed to take their ideas from Startup Weekend and pursue them.

Another very important factor was the presence of great mentors that spent considerable amounts of time with the business, techie and design members of each team, helping them develop various aspects of their ideas and the technology being employed. Many of the mentors present have exhibited interest in helping future teams in the same way. Even some panelists have shown interest in being mentors and working with the various teams throughout the next Startup Weekends in India. However, some mentors and panelists have also been disappointed by the lack of depth in the ideas.

I have found that for entrepreneurs in India finding the right co-founders and having mentors to help guide them through the various pitfalls that they continually faced is a continuous problem. Of course, funding issues are an issue everywhere but in India, it’s far more pronounced. To me, the idea of getting the right people with similar mindsets and mentors, serial entrepreneurs with significant experience in a room with raw ideas and oodles of enthusiasm was what people in India have been missing. Bringing all these components together, mixing them up, laying down some rules and bending a whole lot of others has given people who had very little chance of execution or success an opportunity to try their ideas in a safe and risk-free environment. In essence, the Startup Weekend philosophy is helping Indians try out ideas without quitting their day jobs, find people who buy into their ideas, and have people around to immediately guide them in their execution.

Personally, Startup Weekend has given me an opportunity to return to India and give back something that I’m very passionate and excited about – entrepreneurship. The opportunity to help entrepreneurs, both young and old, realize that they can and should take a chance on themselves and their ideas is a great feeling. Instead of just telling them that they should, Startup Weekend has given me a chance to show them that they can. If my contribution to the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem can help create even one startup out of each event, I believe I’ve given back more than I could have hoped for.

India is a difficult place to understand, with all of its contradictions, it’s rapid modernization, it’s pathetic infrastructure, it’s volatile stock market, it’s real-estate market that defies all logic, it’s incredible wealth and it’s dire poverty. However, India has been a land of entrepreneurs with it’s small businesses, it’s kinara stores, it’s newly minted multi-national corporations. In the last twenty years, much of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s in India’s blood has been lost. Mostly because better opportunities to make money presented themselves with the IT, ITES, call center and other service businesses. However, I believe a new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging. India is draining entrepreneurial and engineering talent from other parts of the world. It’s not just Indians or people of Indian origin coming to India, it’s the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the British, the Americans, the French, the Germans, the Italians and everyone else in between who are contributing to a new entrepreneurial culture.

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