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Raj Vemulapalli

Raj Vemulapalli

VP of Mobile, Betfair
San Francisco

About Me

I currently serve as Vice President of Mobile at Betfair and also act as a Board of Director, Technology and Strategy advisor to emerging and disruptive companies in the Silicon Valley. Before this, I was the Head of Engineering and one of the founding engineers of Yahoo! Real Time Communications groups. Prior to my role at Yahoo!, I held senior technical leadership roles at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. I received an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and an MS in Computer Science from the University of Iowa and a BS in Computer Science & Engineering from Osmania University. I graduated at the top of the class and received a gold medal for being the valedictorian and summa cum laude in Bachelors degree.

Common Mistakes Startups Make and How to Avoid Them

  • Startups have limited resources and/or time. So they need to be prudent on how they spend their resources. I have often seen startups trying to do too much in their first release and delay the product launches. Startups need to iterate quickly. Launch a product in the market, learn from the feedback and release a new version fast. Keep iterating based on the customers/users feedback.
  • Stay focused. Startups tend to get distracted with all the buzz words going on and often sway from their original problem statement. Try to stay focused on core mission and build a compelling product. Stay on the course unless the startup’s data shows otherwise. Startups need to ruthlessly prioritize the tasks and the roadmap. Don’t chew off more than they can bite will be the motto.
  • Often startups try to have too many features in their products and reduce the usability of the product. Focus on building an awesome user experiences. Keep the product simple and easy to use. It is not a great way to measure the richness of the product by the number of features it has, but by focusing on how simple and elegant it is to use.
  • I have seen some startups go with hunch than being data driven. Always make your decisions based on data/metrics. Measure everything in the product and make decisions based on that.   
  • Startups need to be careful when hiring talent. Hire smart folks who are team players. This is extremely important for any company, but especially true for startups. Focus on quality than quantity. A smart team member can do wonders for the startup and a bad hire will be extremely damaging to a startup. Startups shouldn’t rush and hire people as soon as they get funding, but work hard to hire the right folks.
  • Startups should think about revenues from early on. They may not choose to monetize from day one, but should have a clear understanding of how they will monetize when they chose to do so.   Having a clear business model will guide them appropriately.
  • Startups should focus on hiring the right board of advisors to guide them along the way. Again focus on someone who can bring value to the company and who can help them avoid mistakes.   
  • Startups need to run hard and fast. “Do whatever it takes” should be inculcated into every member of the company.
  • Focus on building the right culture i.e. value driven, integrity, operating as a team, hard working and fun loving.
  • Listen to your customers well. Take the customers feedback seriously to improve the product experience.

My Criteria for Investing in Startups
Before investing in startups I ask ponder over following questions:
  • Is the startup solving a real problem/pain point?   
  • How big are the opportunity and the market? How fast is that sector growing?
  • Does the company have any true business model? How does it generate revenues and profits?
  • Does the company/product have any competitive advantages? What is the competitive and differentiation strategy? What are the barriers to entry? Can the business scale?
  • What is the track record of the team? Did the team deliver any compelling products in the past? Does the founding team truly believe in the idea i.e. are they passionate? Can the founding team stay together through thick and thin?
Attributes I Look for in an Entrepreneur
  • To me an entrepreneur needs to solve a real pain point. The product that he/she built must solve a problem.
  • Founders have to be passionate about the idea and have to be 200% committed to the success of their startup.
  • The founders must have a long-term vision for their startup.
  • Can the founders stay together through ups and downs? What is the commitment of the founding team to the startup?
  • Are the founders aligned on the vision?
  • Do the founders know their strengths and weaknesses? If the founders are not strong at something, are they willing to complement the team from outside? Will they be open to outside advice and/or other team members that are not part of the founding team?
  • Can the team attract and retain top talent?
  • Are the founders open to changing the course if their original idea isn’t working? Can they pivot?
  • How do the founders make decisions? Are they data driven?
  • Are the founders easy to work with? Do they have even temperament?
  • Can the founders articulate their product strategy well?
How Much to Offer an Angel Investor
Entrepreneurs can do convertible debt in their seed round. That will eliminate the anxiety of figuring out a valuation for their startup and also removes any anxiety of giving a percentage to angels. I suggest doing a convertible debt in Angel and seed rounds till they go to series A. Regarding offering Board seats, startups should choose Board members who can offer guidance. Board members should complement the strengths of the team and should help guide the young entrepreneurial team to avoid mistakes and also to help them to move forward. Most importantly, startups should choose someone who believes in the company’s mission, the strategy and the team to serve on its board. A right board can really help a startup to connect with the right folks, to fine tune the strategy, to attract top talent, to raise money, to introduce customers, offer insights into the industry and competitive landscape and so on.
Most Popular Types of Businesses in India at the Moment
It is more important to solve a real pain point (i.e. a real problem). Can the product disrupt a marketplace?  You can take any marketplace and find a way of doing it better. For example: Uber is trying to disrupt the taxi cab market, TigerText is solving HIPAA compliant messaging in hospitals etc. That said, the broader problems that entrepreneurs can look into are in Mobile, Cloud, Big Data, Education, Health Care and Enterprise.
In India, companies like Flipkart, InMobi, Cleartrip, SnapDeal, RedBus, etc are disrupting different types of businesses. Indian market with over 1 billion people is ripe for disruption. In India, there are several opportunities to disrupt the consumer Internet space, education, health care, energy and transportation spaces. Mobile is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs targeting Indian market. Majority of the population have mobile phones, but does not have PCs. So the products that the entrepreneurs’ build should be mobile focused (or mobile first). Any startup that is focused on simplifying the lives of consumers or enterprises will be a big winner.

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