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Ravi Kiran

Ravi Kiran

Co-Founder, VentureNursery
Mumbai

About Me

I turned an angel investor in 2011, after opting out of my position as CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group in South East and South Asia. That’s when I became a member of Mumbai Angels and IAN, a few months before starting VentureNursery with Shravan Shroff. The twenty years I spent in two of the smartest communications companies, working across different countries and cultures and building several small businesses within a large corporate, taught me some precious lessons about people and business. When I left my company as CEO in early 2011, I left without knowing what to do next, an act that surprised even myself. I am fortunate to have a strong learning agility. I am aggressively curious about things and can learn things faster than many people.

Investment Strategy

I like to invest in sectors I understand or where I can pick up knowledge quickly. I like consumer facing businesses and those which have significant employment generation possibilities or other social impact. I like entrepreneurs who are excited about building a business and are willing to take large risks, people who have respect not just for the payoff, but the path as well. I don’t like it when an entrepreneur is trying to eat from too many plates. I have a healthy suspicion of people who try to wear ‘serial-entrepreneur’ as a badge. I also don’t like to invest in businesses I find frivolous.

Portfolio Companies

I have made 15 investments over the last year along with my wife Shalini, who is a co-investor with me. Most of these have been as part of either IAN or Mumbai Angels and few have been private. Some of these investee companies are Bird’s Eye, Consure, CraveNiche, Exotel, OrangeScape, Triggero, UMA, UnBxd. Each of these companies is unique, and yet there are common threads such as an attempt to solve simple problems for individuals and businesses, powerfully, by leveraging technology.

My Criteria for Investing in Startups

I like big, scalable ideas that can make big impact. I believe the smartest people gather around big, smart ideas. Of course, without a team, ideas are nothing, so to say teams are important would be stating the obvious. I also like people with clarity of thought, not people who are bouncing around all the time, creating a new product every day.

Attributes I Look for in an Entrepreneur

To me the 3 big attributes of an entrepreneur are:
  • the ability to take real risks,
  • bear short term pain and 
  • navigate through extreme uncertainties
If one is afraid of losing a lifestyle or being ridiculed, it’s best to go find a job.
Also, being agile, adaptive and open minded is very important.

Common Mistakes Startups Make

I feel self referencing is the biggest mistake entrepreneurs do when starting up. It’s okay to look at the world around you, trust your instinct and make some assumptions. But to imagine that all customers are like you or your friends is wrong. As a result, some entrepreneurs end up creating a product or business, very few pay for.

The other thing entrepreneurs do wrong is not being disciplined commercially. Many learn a bit too late that in a small business, cash is genuinely queen.

The third mistake some people make is having a delusional view of the potential of their idea and the valuation of their start-up. These people hop around, from one source of funding to another, whining about VCs and their inability to ‘see the idea’ and eventually come to a place where there is no choice but to down the shutter.

To be proud is good, to be pretentious is not.

Most Popular Types of Businesses in India at the Moment
Without doubt e-commerce, education, consumer technology, food services, e-governance and healthcare are dominant both from supply as well as demand side. 

But I see a bit of demand side cooling off, with some angels doubting the business models being deployed currently and suspecting a bubble, no matter how minor. We must remember that given the rather young stage of the angel investment model and negligible exits, angel investors are scared of losing too much money too early. While VCs are excited about e-commerce, angels do not always benefit with the entry of VC funds into a company and that’s a dampener.

I also notice quite a bit of activity in the services businesses such as home care, but the demand side excitement there is low.
Fields in which Indian Entrepreneurs Should Be Building Startups
What is exciting to see is emergence of social impact and physical product space, although not too many visible big ideas have come up yet.
I believe that a given entrepreneur should pay as much attention to opportunities as to her intrinsic ability to build a powerful business in a given sector. Pure opportunity based starting up is too risky.
Thoughts on Being a First Angel
We don't have a dogmatic view point on being the first angel or subsequent. Most of our investments so far have been as part of a group – whether Indian Angel network or Mumbai Angels or a group of individual angels. As part of VentureNursery, India’s first angel-backed start-up accelerator, usually our money is the first outside money a company gets.
How Much to Offer to an Angel Investor
I understand the entrepreneur’s dilemma about dilution, and terms such as board seat and I must admit the angels have a similar dilemma.  This is one of the biggest areas in which VentureNursery mentors entrepreneurs. The fact is that if you look below the surface level tension between any investor and the entrepreneur, their goal is the same – creating customer value, scaling the business, and making the business valuable. This is precisely why every start-up funding situation is unique and to offer generalized lessons or pearls of wisdom, in my honest opinion, is foolhardy. 

The entrepreneur and the investor(s) need to look not only at their own interest, but the other’s as well. This is only practical way.
Message for Entrepreneurs
  • Whether you are a first time entrepreneur, come from a business family or have built businesses yourself, always look for and grab the right mentoring. It’s way more important than money.
  • If you are taking a professional advisor or mentor, write down on a piece of paper why you are taking her and read the paper every 3 months or so, preferably on a Saturday evening.
  • Be very careful of casual advice; it usually comes from people who have nothing to lose if you fail. Casual gyan appears very easy to accept, it’s even easier to give.
  • Build to build, not to sell. There’s too much euphoria about exiting, but that should be restricted to your investors, your job is to make your business buying worthy. Every business may be selling worthy, but not all businesses are buying worthy. 
  • Learn first-hand as much as possible. Don’t believe everything you read in how-to books or how garages and dropping out of school creates legends. Before you become a legend, you need to survive and build a business of respect. 
  • Have a big dream, something that can keep you awake at night, but also remember to be practical enough to put your feet on ground when you wake up in the morning.
  • Don’t put a single rupee into your business until you can convince a friend or colleague to see merit in your idea enough to join you and hopefully, put fifty paisa along with you.
  • Don’t be clever about company name or brand name etc;be meaningful about your idea and your business.
  • If you are in a job and you are asking yourself whether you should leave to become an entrepreneur, don’t. They day you stop asking that question will be the first day of an exciting life.

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