E-commerce: There is still a lot of untapped potential

Date:   Monday , June 04, 2012

Niren Shah is the Managing Director, Norwest Venture Partners (NVP) India. He has 18 years of entrepreneurial, finance, investing and banking experience from leading consumer oriented companies and global financial institutions. He serves as an advisor on India-based investments across a wide range of sectors and across various stages-from early and mid-stage venture to growth equity.

Prior to joining NVP India, Niren was the Senior Director of Strategy and Ventures at eBay Inc. He was also part of the Marketplaces Ventures leadership team, where he was responsible for considering new business opportunities, acquisitions and potential investments across the Global Marketplaces.

Technology Trends shaping the industry

As a country, India is growing well and the long term prospects look good despite some short term concerns. At NVP India, our focus for the last two years has been on early to late stage Internet companies, and we expect that this sector will continue to flourish for many years to come. Within the Internet space, eCommerce and ePayments and the eClassifieds segments continue to have significant potential. Internet is at an early stage in India but showing significant growth especially via mobile devices. This opens up a gamut of opportunities in terms of ePayment systems; proliferation of which will in turn drive the adoption of trends like eCommerce and eClassifieds. We also believe that the Adtech revolution is just hitting India. We are seeing this in our companies like Fashionandyou, Pepperfry, Quikr, Komli Media etc. Beyond this, we see ‘SaaS’ type models having tremendous potential, since startups and businesses in India can conserve their scarce resources by renting their software etc as a service rather than buying licenses.

In addition to this, at NVP India, we are also focusing on spaces such as consumer and healthcare especially in areas where one can use technology to significantly increase adoption. For instance, one of our portfolio companies, Basis, a U.S. based startup, brings game mechanics into your daily fitness regime. One can watch one's own workout, compare how you did against a friend, check out how long did you run, what was your heart rate and even stats like your sleep rhythm using a watch-like device to be worn on your wrist.

Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

In the last five ears, we have witnessed a tremendous positive change in the Indian startup scenario and ecosystem. More and more qualified teams are accepting the potential of being entrepreneurs and making the shift. However, when compared to Silicon Valley, the shift to entrepreneurship still feels relatively slower, and that's partly since we haven’t seen a 'Google' or a 'Facebook' type exit event happen from India (as yet). Once people understand that even a $100 billion+ company can actually be created from India, we expect a sea-change in behavior towards entrepreneurship and startups. The primary investment criteria for NVP India is the quality of the team and the business idea, model, market size and its growth potential:

Entrepreneurs need to be careful about is the building of the core team. On several occasions we have seen that one entrepreneur is basically doing (or trying to do) everything. Instead, startups need to ensure that they have a adequate number of high quality founders/senior management members. The core team should be able to scale the business, have strong domain and other indispensable (and complementary) skill sets that will be tested when you are out to build a great company.

Another prime consideration for founders of a startup should be the scalability of the business/idea and differentiation of the offering. Last year, when we were looking at eCommerce companies, we noticed that in certain verticalized sub-sectors, almost 8 companies had a similar offering. Startups must focus on the areas which are differentiated. Innovation is the need of the hour in Indian startup landscape.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

For the real entrepreneurs, this is the best time in India's history to go out and build something and take some risk. Building a startup shouldn’t be contingent on getting angel/VC funding. Most great entrepreneurial ventures initially had to be bootstrapped. Find an idea which you are very passionate about, which you have done diligence on, which you feel could really work, rally some good co-founders and then commit by going out and just doing it! The journey is the destination, so enjoy it!!