Category Archives: External Visitors

Event Report: What markets to do a startup in India – by @dkhare (Lightspeed Ventures)

(This is essentially a live-blog of Dev Khare’s talk on the Fund Raising Environment in India at the Pune Open Coffee Club. This is essentially a list of bullet points and notes jotted down during the talk, so please excuse the lack of organization and coherence (the fault is mine, not Dev’s). The article is also just a subset of what was talked about but is being published because something is better than nothing.)

If you’re pitching to a VC, better pitch to someone who is already interested in the area that you are doing your startup in. If you have to convince them of the potential of an area, it is an uphill battle, and they will not be particularly useful to you. Also, areas that VCs are interested in tend to be areas where there is a lot of potential money to be made.

With that in mind here are the areas Lightspeed is interested in – and by definition, this are areas that Dev thinks have a lot of potential. So start-ups should go after these areas. Interesting markets and investment themes (The names in parentheses represent companies Lightspeed has invested in):

  • Internet has about 120-150 million internet users. Here, the important theme is networks and marketplaces (Indian Energy Exchange, Fashionara, Limeroad)
  • Mobile has 900 million users, and here direct to consumer business models are of interest (askLaila, and Pune-based Dhingana)
  • Education, with 350 million k12 eligible students, in which education technology platforms are interesting (tutorVista, acquired by Pearson)
  • Financial services, which has 250 million un-banked population, where speciality lending and payments/loyalty are interesting areas (ItzCash)
  • and finally Consumer, with a 150 million middle class in India, and the interesting areas are emerging consumer brands and consumer services (OneAssist).

Mobile is a big and very interesting area. In mobile, there are about 30 million smartphones in India and it could go to 100 million by end of next year. That is a large enough population to build some great companies. The investment horizon of Lightspeed is 5 to 7 years, and if you think that far ahead, there could be 500 million smartphone users in India. Companies serving them have a huge potential. One problem is that it is very difficult to make money in the mobile space, except if you are the service provider. But the money service providers are making from VAS is going down, and that is a business that is dying. So they have to start working with app developers. Vodafone has already started sharing 70% revenues with developers, Idea will do that soon, and others will follow. But remember, they are taking 30% just to allow you to be on their platform – they will not do your marketing. So you still need to do the marketing yourself.

In mobile, various companies have tried to do Indian games (Ramayana games), and that has not worked out. General/betting games like bingo/rummy/poker are doing OK. But this is probably not a big space.

In the mobile enterprise space, there are various problems, including the fact that people bring their own devices, and you have to integrate with various backends. So some horizontal solutions (like email) have gotten traction, but nobody really made much money, because of the competition. So this area is limited – it is more suitable for ISVs and service providers rather than product companies. And one thing you don’t want to do is build a mobile app development framework/platform. 50+ such companies have been funded but none of them are going to make it.

Education is a big and interesting market, where there are lots of pain points, but the biggest challenge is that you cannot sell technology without having to go through schools and colleges and their administrators and trustees and that is a very long and painful road. So it is a big market, but a challenging one.

Question: Why don’t Indian VCs take risk?

Answer: The problem is that there are lots of challenges in the market in India. There are lots of companies who are funded at the seed level who are not going to make it to Series A. And a typical Indian company takes maybe 15 years to give returns, and a VC company cannot really afford to have a number of such investments, since they have a 5-7 year outlook.

Question: There are 7-8 accelerators/incubators in India. What value do they add?

Answer: One of the problems in India is the lack of mentorship in the startup space. There are not too many people who have succeeded and are accessible. (Lots of companies have create a brand (e.g. Zomato, OlaCabs etc) but are still 10 years away from really making it big.) So, all the good accelerators/incubators in India are really run by one person who succeeded and is now trying to give back to the community. And the most important value that the incubator adds is mentorship from that one person. So, if you engage with an incubator, you need to ensure that you do get mentorship from that person. Another thing they do is some branding/marketing in the form of demo days, and just the stamp of approval of being a graduate of that incubator.

Scaling challenges in India: market friction, series of small markets, lack of trust, scarcity of mentors, scarcity of strategic talent, and constricted capital. This ensures that it will take you much longer to grow your company than you think (and than what would be needed in the US).

So how do you grow? You need to figure out your strategy: are you going after India only, or are you going to start from the Indian market and then go to the US market, or some other adjacent market. Another problem is that there are many markets that are really small in India, and there is no point in going after that market (at least for a VC backed company).

Lack of trust is a big problem in India. In general, everybody from banks to entrepreneurs themselves try to protect themselves from fraud that is going to be committed by 1% of the people, and are hence making life hard for the remaining 99%. There are not many people here who are able to think that they are OK with losing money on that 1% but that will be more than offset by the money they make from the remaining people. Everything has to be pre-paid which is another thing that slows down growth. (One solution to the trust problem is to build a brand – and have radio/TV advertisements. See below for more on this.)

Enterprise selling or SMB selling in India is tough. Market sizes are small. Most enterprises in India do not value packaged products, and are unwilling to pay. Even when they’ve agreed to pay, getting them to actually pay is difficult. The sales cycles are very long, and the markets are all very fragmented. Small business lead-generation, subscription (prepaid) companies are doing OK – where it looks like it is a consumer company (like Naukri, Zomato), but is really making money from the small businesses.

It is possible for companies in India to go after enterprises in US. If you’re going to do this, go after a market in the US that is mature, self-service oriented, and SaaS. An example is ZenDesk. You need to build a very easy self-service product, with a very easy on-ramp, it should be easy to pay and easy to use. Druva started off that way. There are 10 other good companies in India doing this. (Note: self-service for the Indian market does not work. It has to be feet-on-the-street, and that will only scale after 10/15 years, and it will still be a mid-sized company.)

Question: Which city should I be in to do a startup?

Answer: If you’re doing a tech company, you should be in Bangalore or Delhi. Pune is OK – investors have started showing an interest, and Bombay is close enough. Places like Chennai and Hyderabad also have hopes. But if you’re anywhere outside (e.g. Lucknow), you need to move.

Question: What are your thoughts on education as a space?

Answer: If you’re in the education space, you need to be in the curriculum, not as something supplemental. Also, it is very difficult to sell to parents directly – you have to sell via the schools. Remember, selling directly to the consumer in this space is very difficult unless you have a brand and strong marketing. Another point, if you’re selling to schools, your product does not really have to be that good – you don’t have to be good at student outcomes, you have to be good at selling to schools. So invest in a sales team, and not so much in the product. Distance education / e-learning is an interesting area. Also online assessments are an interesting area – like doing tests for Infosys for recruitment, or exams for schools.

Question: How come there isn’t much investment in India for clean energy?

Answer: One of the issues is that the VC community wants to invest in areas that have high margins and low capital expenditure. They like to do a few million dollars to do an experiment, validate the market and then scale the business. By contrast, energy is an area with lots of capital investment and long gestation periods. It takes 5 to 7 years for the science to work, then the real product starts, and then there are other challenges. So this is a problem everywhere in the world. In the US there was a clean energy bubble a few years back but that has burst, and those VCs have fled. And in India, the situation is worse – whom do you sell the energy to, in India? The government, which is a problem.

Question: How do you get advertisers, especially from the US?

Answer: First, you need to have scale before advertisers are interested. If you have less than 10 million monthly unique, don’t even bother – it’s a waste of time. Just focus on scaling your traffic. Once you have reached those numbers, there are various options open to you, including outsourcing the sales of your ad inventory to third parties.

No consumer company in India can really succeed without a physical infrastructure of some sort. And that is painful, difficult and slow. But once you’re able to do that, then you can really leverage that well, and it becomes a barrier to entry. Another issue in India is that a consumer company really needs to build a brand (because of the trust issue mentioned earlier). Hence, it is a good idea for a consumer company to start spending on radio/TV ads early. But remember, do not try to scale before you have a microcosm of your business working in a profitable, sustainable way in a small way. i.e. get something working well in Pune, and then scale to 20 cities.

Question: Should startups go after existing markets, or create new markets

In India, the only real way to grow a company is to grow your category. You cannot really simply survive on steal a market away from others – you have to grow the market. And for this, you need to evangelize your market – use the ecosystem to do this. And this takes time – so you need to raise a lot capital and then go big.

Question: What are some areas in which entrepreneurs should not do startups

These are some areas in which entrepreneurs keep trying to start companies, inspite of the fact that there is no real hope for anybody in that area: Development tools (framework for mobile app development, library/framework for easy software development), e-commerce and daily deals (this area is overfunded), unified communications.

Question: Where to get seed investment from

List of active seed investment groups in India: Blume Ventures, Harvard Angels, India Internet Fund, India Quotient, Indian Angel Network, Jungle Ventures, Kae Capital, Morpheus, Mumbai Angels, Qualcomm Ventures, Seed Fund, Venture Nursery, Yournest.

Building world-class technology companies – Helion VC – 24 April

Helion VC, TiE Pune, POCC, and YourStory.in have organized a panel discussion on “Building world-class technology companies” on 24th April, from 5pm-8pm at Le Meridien Pune. A panel discussion on Scaling Technology Companies will have these panelists:

  • Sanjeev Aggarwal, Co-Founder Helion and Daksh
  • Nitin Kulkarni, COO, Persistent
  • Sanjay Katkar, Co-founder & CTO, Quick Heal
  • Rajeev Goel, Co-founder & CEO, Pubmatic

Another panel discussion on Raising Venture Capital will have these panelists:

  • Ritesh Banglani, Director Helion
  • Swapnil Shinde, Co-founder and COO, Dhingana
  • Vishal Gupta, Founder and CEO, Seclore

This will be followed by a networking session over cocktail.

About this Event

This event is free open to all. Register here

The event is from 5pm to 8pm on Wednesday 24th April, at Le Meridien.

Fund-raising Environment in India: by Dev Khare, Lightspeed Ventures – 24 April

The Pune Open Coffee Club has organized a talk by Dev Khare of Lightspeed Venture Partners on Wednesday, 24th April where he will talk about the areas of interest for venture investors and the current fund-raising environment in India at the seed, early-stage and growth stages. He will also discuss key challenges that he sees many startups in India facing across multiple verticals and growth strategies to overcome some of the hurdles.

About the Speaker – Dev Khare

Dev Khare is at Lightspeed Venture Partners in New Delhi and invests in Internet, mobile and software companies. He currently serves on the board of Dhingana, a leading Indian music streaming service.

As part of Silicon Valley venture fund Venrock, he has served on the boards of, among others, Slideshare (acquired by LinkedIn), Lavante (enterprise SaaS) and Aha Mobile (acquired by Harman).

Dev co-founded Covigo, a mobile application platform company, which was acquired by Symbol Technologies (now part of Motorola) in 2003. He has also been a product manager at CrossWorlds Software (enterprise integration software) and Aditi Technologies (eCRM).

Dev has an MBA from Harvard Business School and tweets at @dkhare.

About Pune Open Coffee Club

The Pune Open Coffee Club (POCC) was started to encourage Startup Founders and those connected to Startups from Pune to organize real-world informal meetups to chat, network and grow. At this time (April, 2013), POCC has over 9300 members including investors, lawyers, accountants and freelancers who work with startups.

About this Event

This event is free and open to all. Register here

The event is from 5pm to 7pm on Wednesday 24th April, at Conference Hall no. 6, MCCIA, 5th Floor, ICC Trade Towers, SB Road.

Lecture on Turing Award Winner Ted Codd (Databases) by Sham Navathe – 4 Aug

Ted Codd was awarded the Turing Award in 1981 for “his fundamental and continuing contributions to the theory and practice of database management systems.” A simpler way to put it would be that Codd was given the award for inventing relational databases (RDBMS).

On 4th August, Prof. Sham Navathe, of Georgia Tech University, who is visiting Pune, will talk about Ted Codd’s work. This talk is a part of the Turing Awards lecture series that happens at Persistent’s Dewang Mehta Auditorium at 2pm on the first Saturday of every month this year.

About the Turing Awards

The Turing awards, named after Alan Turing, given every year, are the highest achievement that a computer scientist can earn. And the contributions of each Turing award winner are then, arguably, the most important topics in computer science.

About Turing 100 @ Persistent Lecture Series

This year, the Turing 100 @ Persistent lecture series will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth by having a monthly lecture series. Each lecture will be presented by an eminent personality from the computer science / technology community in India, and will cover the work done by one Turing award winner.

The lecture series will feature talks on Ted Codd (Relational Databases), Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn (Internet), Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (Unix), Jim Gray, Barbara Liskov, and others. Full schedule is here

This is a lecture series that any one in the field of computer science must attend. These lectures will cover the fundamentals of computer science, and all of them are very relevant today.

Fees and Registration

This is a free event. Anyone can attend.

The event will be at Dewang Mehta Auditorium, Persistent Systems, SB Road, at from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday 4th August. This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here

PuneTech Event: Storage Technology Trends talk by Ken Boyd, IBM: 28 July

Ken Boyd, a Distinguished Engineer at IBM, who has been building high end storage products at IBM for over 25 years, is visiting Pune and will talk about his thoughts on the trends in storage technology.

On Saturday July 28, 5pm, at MCCIA, SB Road, Ken will present some of the technology trends that are shaping the design of future storage systems in IBM. Ken will also discuss the opportunities these technology trends are creating for increasing the value of future storage systems. This talk is free and open to all those who’re interested in attending.

Ken is current Chief NAS (Network Attached Storage) Architect at IBM, and leads IBM’s NAS division. He is a Distinguished Engineer at IBM and has been awarded the Master Inventor award, and holds over 40 patents.

Ken recently completed a two year IBM international assignment in Israel where he served as XIV Chief Architect. After IBM acquired XIV, an Israeli start up company, Ken led the XIV team in defining the future architecture and system design of IBM-XIV. Ken also led the technical integration of XIV into IBM.

Ken started his IBM career after graduating from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in with a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering. After beginning as an IBM logic designer, Ken held a variety of engineering and management positions in Poughkeepsie, NY before transferring to Tucson, AZ in 1987. Advancing in IBM’s storage development team in Tucson, Ken led several organizations, including hardware development, microcode development, technical support marketing, and product management. Ken made significant contributions to IBM high end storage products, including the IBM 3990 Storage Controller, the IBM Enterprise Storage Controller (now known as the DS8000 family), and the XIV Storage System. He was promoted to IBM Director in 1993 and was named an IBM Distinguished Engineer in 2003. In July 2005 Ken received an IBM Outstanding Innovation Award for significant contributions to developing and protecting IBM Intellectual Property. Ken, named an IBM Master Inventor, holds over 40 patents and has achieved an IBM 12th Plateau Invention Achievement Award. Ken earned a M.B.A. degree from the University of Arizona and he is a Senior Member of the IEEE.

This is a free event, and anybody interested in technology is free to attend.

Registration and Fees

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Please register here

Phanindra Sama, CEO & Co-Founder redBus.in to speak in Pune – 16 Sept

redBus.in is a truly Indian internet commerce success story. Nowhere else can I imagine a website that sells bus tickets being so successful. And, to be frank, when I first heard about redBus, I did not think much of its prospects myself. Hence I think it will be very interesting for the tech as well as the entrepreneur community in Pune to listen to the co-founder and CEO of redBus.in on 16th September when he talks about his story so far, as part of TiE Pune’s excellent “My Story” series of talks.

A similar session, My Story by Carwale.com’s Mohit Dubey is one of my favorite tech events in Pune this year, and I loved the advice he gave. That is why I have high hopes from this event.

Here is TiE Pune’s description of this event:

“From a single idea to India’s largest bus ticketing company, redBus is an entrepreneurial success story with resonance around the world. It remains compelling proof that a young visionary with a strong engineering background can use technology and insight to create a competitive business and transform an industry.”

Founded in Aug. 2006, redBus today has operations across 15 states and offers services for 15,000+ routes and has built relationship with about 850+ bus operators.

redBus is amongst Forbes top 5 startups to watch in 2010. redBus is ranked no#1 – with a growth rate of 4823% between 2007-’09 – amongst the fastest growing companies in India in a survey done by All World Network. And is also awarded India’s best internet startup, 2010 by IMAI.

Phani is ranked no# 3 amongst India’s Most Promising Entrepreneurs by Business World. He was awarded Entrepreneur of the year award under IT, ITES category by ET NOW and the BITSAA 30 under 30 award. He is also selected as Endeavor Entrepreneur (www.endeavor.org) and TiE Entrepreneur (www.tie.org).

He was a State ranker in Intermediate examination, Andhra Pradesh Sr. Secondary Board, graduated with distinction from BITS-Pilani, and worked with Texas Instruments, Bangalore before he co-founded redBus.

About TiE Pune My Story Sessions!

“My Story – Inspiring Journey of an Entrepreneur”

This program is created to celebrate entrepreneurship and bring stories from successful entrepreneurs in their own words. The invited speakers will share their entrepreneurial journeys and talk about lessons learned, mistakes they wish they avoided, and key decisions that helped make their venture successful.

Fees and Registration

The event is from 6pm to 8pm on 16 September at the Sumant Moolgaonkar Auditorium, Ground Floor, Wing A, ICC Trade Center, SB Road.

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Please register here

Noted Cryptographer Dr. Whitfield Diffie to speak in Pune – 8 Sept

If you have any exposure to computer security, you have heard of public key cryptography. If you’ve done a little work in the area, you are no doubt aware of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange that solves the key distribution problem, one of the fundamental problems of cryptography.

Whitfield Diffie, one of the pioneers of public key cryptography, and the co-inventor of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange will be in Pune for a few days this week, and will give a talk on 8th September as part of Uniken’s Innovation Lecture Series at COEP Auditorium. This is a day-long event that will consist of student project presentations from 10am to 4:3pm, followed by sessions by Sanjay Deshpande of Uniken and Dr. Diffie. See the event page for more details.

The event is free for anyone to attend. You can register as an attendee or register to be a student presenter of your innovative idea/project at the event page.

Uniken is a Pune-based company that builds technology in the areas of Information Security and Biometrics, Embedded Systems, Control Systems, Intelligent Software Systems and applies them to problems in Banking, Financial Services and Insurance, Media and Entertainment, Healthcare, etc.

Dr. Whitfield Diffie has recently joined the Scientific Advisory Board of Uniken.

PuneChips Event: PCI Express Architecture and Applications for FPGAs – July 30

PuneChips invites everybody to a talk on PCI Express Architecture and Applications for FPGAs by Kiran Puranik, a Principal Architect at Xilinx. This talk will be on 30 July, 10:30am, at the Venture Center, NCL Innovation Park, Pashan Road.

Abstract

Modern FPGA devices offer great advantages for designers of industrial imaging, networking, automation and control, data acquisition systems for test, industrial and medical applications. Apart from offering high performance programmable fabric, FPGAs offer a wide variety of IO standards to interface with networks, motors, sensors, transducers, offer built in high density data storage and the ability to interface to high speed external memory devices. But, most importantly FPGAs offer Gigabit serial connectivity via standards based protocols such as PCI ExpressTM. The ubiquitous nature of PCI Express technology enables development of FPGA based plug and play board and card products that interface with standard off-the-shelf embedded compute and communications platforms, running WindowsTM, Linux or other operating systems and custom device drivers. PCI Express 3.0 Architecture offers many reliability, availability and scalability features to address application needs, as well as advanced features such as relaxed transaction ordering, transaction processing hints, optimized buffer flush-fill, active power management to achieve the highest throughput performance possible within the platform’s power and thermal budgets.

About the speaker: Kiran Puranik

Kiran is a Principal Architect at Xilinx, Inc., responsible for serial connectivity protocol products such as PCI Express. He has spent the last 10 years at Xilinx engaged in architecture definition, design, development and verification of Intellectual Property blocks for several generations of FPGAs. Before Xilinx, Kiran held various engineering positions in the field of ASIC, ASSP design and ICCAD software development.

About PuneChips

PuneChips is a special interest group on semiconductor design and applications. It was formed to foster an environment for growth of companies in the semiconductor design and applications segment in the Pune area. Our goal is to build an ecosystem similar to PuneTech for companies in this field, where they can exchange information, consult with experts, and start & grow their businesses.

Please forward this information to anybody in Pune who is interested in renewable energy, solar technologies, semiconductors, chip design, VLSI design, chip testing, and embedded applications.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. No registration required.

EVENT SHIFTED: Java 7 Launch Event moved to Symbiosis Vishwabhavan, 16 July, 5pm

Note, the Java 7 Launch event on 16th July has been shifted to Symbiosis Vishwabhavan (the main Symbiosis on SB Road (the one with the statue of R.K. Laxman’s common man)). The timings have also changed slightly. The new timings are 5pm-7pm.

Everything else remains the same – Chuk-Munn Lee will be speaking. And there will be goodies given away.

Event Report: “Building Tech Products out of India” with Naren Gupta of Nexus Ventures

(This is a live blog of the event Nexus Venture Partners’ event “Building Global Tech Product Companies out of India” where Naren Gupta, founder of Nexus chatted with Abinash Tripathy, founder of Pune-company Infinitely Beta about the challenges faced by companies trying to build a global product. The other four partners at Nexus were also there. This is essentially a collection of observations made by the various speakers during this event.)

  • Indian companies are good with technology, but we don’t build sales and marketing organizations early. Most engineers think that if you build a great product, customers will be easy to get. This is the biggest shortcoming that needs fixing.
    • Having a sales & marketing person in the founding team is great, but not necessary. Having one of the technical co-founder play a sales/marketing role is really great. Customers tend to trust technical guys more than pure sales guys. And this is a skill that can be learned. Initially, it will be hard, as you will be turned down by a large number of people, but you’ll figure it out. We all know how to do sales & marketing – because we do a lot of that when dealing with our parents, teachers, siblings. We’ve just forgotten to apply those skills in the context of our work.
  • The large markets are in the US, so how do you build a good sales and marketing organization? The best people in the US are both expensive, and hard to find.
    • India now has customers who are willing to pay for tech products. So it is possible now to use India as a test market, and build a small sales/marketing team based on this.
    • Not all sales/marketing has to happen on the ground. You can achieve a lot with the internet and phone.
    • The market of the future is not necessarily in the US. For example, new technologies, the US is a maturing market (i.e. there are legacy products and you have to convince people to migrate) whereas less developed countries are green field markets who are more receptive to new technologies.
  • The most experienced companies in the world are not just building great products – they are building great customer experiences. And experience is everything – from how the customer first hears about your company, how your product functions and makes the customer feel, and afterwards, if there is a problem, how you handle the problem and how you treat the customer. You need to be building great experiences. Example: craigslist is the top classifieds site in the world, but has a not-so-good experience. AirBnB took one small slice of this market, built a great experience around it, and now has a billion dollar valuation. DropBox makes the experience of backup and file-sharing so smooth and unobtrusive.
  • The biggest challenge in building a company is how to build the right culture. Before hiring, Pune company InfinitelyBeta makes prospective candidates build a mini-product and then review that code. Hence their hiring process takes 2 months. But then they know exactly what kind of a programmer they are getting.
  • Pune is ahead of other Indian cities as far as people building or interested in building products. This is probably because Pune has traditionally not had that many software services companies, and it has had some large development centers of product companies (like Veritas/Symantec, nVidia), so the product DNA has thrived more in Pune.
    • Because it is ahead of others in product orientation, Pune is the Indian city that is best positioned to be able to reproduce the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
    • It already has a microbrewery (like Silicon Valley’s Gordon Biersch), so an important component of the valley culture is already here 🙂
  • Currently, top Indian tech universities (like IITs) are quite isolated from the industry. But as more and more product companies start coming out of India, there is likely to be more collaboration between universities and companies. So we should start seeing more of this in the next 5 years.
  • We are getting into an era where fast response to changing conditions is much more important than protecting your intellectual property. Thus building an agile engineering organization is more important than getting patents.
  • You can build a B2C company immediately after college, with minimal experience. But building a B2B company really requires you to have some experience in the industry.
  • Challenges of selling into the SME market in India: Selling products for the SME market is tough for the following reasons:
    • No one has really solved the problem of distribution. Creating a product that SMEs find interesting is not good enough. Creating an efficient system for selling the product to a large number of SMEs remains a challenge. Often the cost of selling a product to a customer turns out to be higher than the income from that customer. And it is sometimes easier to sell to large companies than it is to sell to SMEs (which tend to be very price and feature conscious)
    • Far too many Indian companies in this space are creating products that they think SMEs want, but in reality, SMEs are not really that interested. Finding products that SMEs really want is very tough. Few startup founders have a good understanding of the SME space.