How angel investors can boost the start-up ecosystem in India

Senior professionals, moderately successful entrepreneurs as well as high net-worth individuals (HNIs) have been expressing an active interest in investing in start-ups. Individuals who are keen to explore start-ups as an asset class, however, have to recognise that investing in them is a high-risk, high-return game.

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They need to get comfortable with the fact that they could lose their entire capital in some of the companies they invest in, and that most of the start-ups they invest in may not succeed.

Anyone who has the ability to spare Rs 5 lakh or above a year — and not lose sleep over it — could look at co-investing in two-three start-ups a year, so that over a two-three-year period, they are able to build a good portfolio.

With a diversified portfolio, investing in start-ups can provide better risk-adjusted returns. Existing angel groups and investors typically invest in start-ups raising upwards of Rs 2-3 crore, as their members do not usually want to write smaller cheques.

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If no business plan works out as planned, why do investors insist on a business plan?

A business plan is nothing but a plan for your business. It is an articulation of your vision on how the future will play out.

A business plan also articulates how the startup proposes to go from point A to point B, and by when. It also outlines the milestones and other dynamics (costs, resources, revenues, etc.) on the way from point A to point B. I.e. It is a plan of how the concept of your startup will alter the market, and how you intend to implement that disruption.

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But at startup stage, there is no past data that can be used to make reasonably dependable predictions. Hence the vision of what might happen in the market with your concept is based on assumptions that you have made based on your conviction and your insights. Even in more established companies, there is only so much predictability you can bring into a business plan based on past data. How in-market dynamics may change is an unknown, and business plans even of larger, established companies can and often do get disrupted.

Some of the assumptions you have made will play out as assumed, others will not. Nothing surprising about that. Why then is it important to make a business plan knowing that what happens in the market is most likely to be very different from what you planned for?

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Why are business metrics important for startups?

In the context of startups, metrics are parameters used for quantitative assessment of performance and progress of a venture. If goals are about where to go and strategy is about how to go there, metrics are about tracking progress of your journey.

Startup phase is about discovering what works and what does not. Scale up phase is about replicating what worked. For companies, especially startups and early-stage companies, metrics help founders identify what is working and what is not.

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Importance of metrics for startups

They are important because in your entrepreneurial journey, you don’t want to discover at a very late stage that you progressed well, but in a different direction; or were going in the right direction, but at a different pace than estimated.

The journey of a startup is about making certain assumptions about what will happen once you launch your product or service in the market, and doing several experiments to ascertain if those assumptions are valid, and what is working and what is not working around the assumptions.

For example, If you assume that 1.5 per cent of all registered customers will buy, you first need to track if that is indeed the case in the market. And whatever the outcome i.e. whether 0.5 per cent registered users buy or 3 per cent users buy, what you need to know are the reasons for the outcomes so that you can avoid what did not work and replicate what works.

Success of a startup is NOT in executing a plan well, but in adjusting plans efficiently, appropriately and effectively, in order to go in the direction the venture was intended to. Metrics provide early warning signs – whether good or bad. It helps you adjust your plans based on quantifiable data on what impacts the outcome. Metrics help you make better-informed decisions in making adjustments in your plan.

Some myths about metrics – It’s not always about improving your metrics

1) Performance does not improve with scale. For example:

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Changing dynamics in India’s startup eco-system

2014 was a defining year for the Indian startup ecosystem. Compared to the rest of the decade, a number of significant events and activities had changed the very nature of the startup world. Companies like Flipkart,Snapdeal, PayTm, Zomato, etc had redefined ‘scale’ and investors had started placing big bets on them. These companies darted ahead of the pack, to not just dominate their markets, but to grow it too. Of course, they were helped by a conducive environment – mobile phones, internet connectivity etc – but they also built infrastructure, people and processes that could handle a different order of scale than what they themselves could have imagined a few years ago. These startups demonstrated the potential and the competence to build world-scale companies and created new goalposts for entrepreneurs to aspire for.

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As a result of e-commerce, a number of enabling technology and service companies started becoming more meaningful. Analytics, online engagement platforms, delivery companies etc found a much larger market to address their business case, and therefore their investment-worthiness became stronger. What remains to be seen is how effectively the e-commerce industry will retain customers once the discounting era is over and customers have to buy on the fundamental value proposition of e-commerce i.e. ease of access and choice. We may see some changed market dynamics at that stage, and the transition phase may throw up some new, unexpected leaders.

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India needs 10,000 more angel investors to build a thriving startup ecosystem

Only a very few aspiring entrepreneurs from among 1000s are able to convert their ideas into a business.  And one of the key reasons for this is the lack of access to capital that is required to start something new.

Out of 1000s of investment-worthy startups, less than 300 are able to get initial capital in India.

The present environment is very conducive for people to think of entrepreneurship as a career option. Entrepreneurship cells, incubation centres in colleges, boot-camps, hackathons, and other forums for entrepreneurship promotion, as well as a vibrant media for startups – all have inspired very few to become entrepreneurs.

Angel investor groups, accelerators, and incubators get over 5,000 applications every year. Nearly 10,000 startups send their profiles to media houses every year. While quite of few of these large numbers may not be serious contenders, there is a significant number of aspiring entrepreneurs with the competence, commitment and concepts that can become strong businesses. And quite a few of these can become profitable investments for angel investors.

Yet, only about 300 or so of these aspirants are able to get initial capital to get started. And mostly those, who require capital between Rs 2 to Rs 5 crore range. That’s the declared ‘sweet spot’ of most angel investor groups and VCs who participate in early-stage deals.

Why are there less than 300 early-stage investments in India?

VCs and Angel investor groups are unable to do smaller deals because their members do not want to write smaller cheques, and the efforts required to review, process and close a Rs 50 lakh deal is as much as it takes to close a Rs 5 crore deal. The largest angel investor network in the country does less than 20 transactions in a year.

The number of startups whose funding requirements are less Rs 50 lakh is significantly higher than the number of startups requiring Rs 2 to Rs 5 crore. In fact, many a businesses can get going with just Rs 25 lakh.

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Significantly, If we don’t find a way of funding 1000s of deserving entrepreneurs, we would end up frustrating that segment.

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Do 8 out of 10 start-ups really fail? And how do I know if I am failing too?

(My response below, to the above question on Quora)

Failure has many dimensions in the context of a startup and the founder of the startup.

For example: Failure could mean that you have not been able to achieve the numbers (revenues, or customers/users). However, it can still be a fairly profitable business at a lower scale than what you had estimated. If you have raised capital from investors, they may see a venture that does not scale as a failure. The founder may not.

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Likewise, failure could mean that while the concept was good, the team was not able to execute well, or they ran out of money because they were not able to raise capital. In this case, the startup SHOULD NOT have failed, but it did not work out because of inexperience or lack of execution capabilities.

So, when people generalise that 8 out of 10 startups fail, it generally means that 8 out of 10 startups are not able to go to the scale or in the direction they assumed it would. It MAY or MAY NOT be a failure for the founders.

Also, it is important to recognize that very few startups fail because their product was bad. They usually flounder because of issues on areas like execution, processes, capital, etc. I have seen many, many founders start off without even talking to potential customers. This is usually a recipe for a disaster as your own views may or may not hold good in the market.

My belief is that while the number of unsuccessful attempts are quite high from among the ones that started off, the percentage of failures comes down significantly among those who had put good thought into their concept and business around the concept BEFORE starting off.

If your question was out of fear of failure, I would urge you to think again. Plan your venture well, understand the market and then take the leap of faith. Check the LinkedIn status of failed entrepreneurs. They either get started again (and investors like to back them) or they get good jobs (corporates like failed entrepreneurs because of the enterprising spirit and the learnings they bring with them). So, while your venture may not succeed, you are unlikely to fail if you pursue the path of entrepreneurship.

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What are the differences between angel funding, venture funding and crowd funding? In what scenarios can they be exploited for maximum benefits?

(My response below, to the above question on Quora)

Different investors participate in different stages of a venture. Angel investors invest at the very early stages – when the founders only have an idea or when the idea is being or has been developed into a prototype. They provide enough capital for the idea to be tested and proven in the market, so that another set of investors can bring in more capital after the model is proven and when the venture needs more money to take the proven model to a wider base.

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