Better Capital: 2019 Annual Letter

Vaibhav Domkundwar
The Better Stories
Published in
12 min readDec 23, 2019

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We are wrapping up a fast-paced year of investing at Better Capital and, as per our annual ritual, I am writing this post to summarize our investments from 2019 in numbers, learnings, and more.

You can read more about Better Capital here and about our 2018 Fund here.

2019 in Numbers

Here is Better Capital 2019 Fund in numbers —

  • We made 34 new investments in 2019.
  • We deployed 3X the capital as compared to 2018.
  • In 14 of these companies, we co-invested alongside top tier VC funds.
  • The stage-wise split was: 12 pre-seed, 16 seed, 2 Pre-Series A, 3 Series A, and 1 Series B.
  • The geo split was: 23 India-based companies, 11 US or Singapore-based companies.
  • The consumer vs business split was: 20 B2C companies and 14 B2B companies.
  • 22 India-focused companies and 12 Global/US-focused companies.
  • We had 13 companies who raised follow-on rounds in 2019 at marked-up valuations.
  • We had 1 exit from our 2018 portfolio.
  • We invested our largest first check and our largest follow-on check, in 2019.
  • We saw our multi-stage fund structure come in to play in multiple companies with Open being the greatest example: we invested in every single round of Open from Pre-seed to Seed to Series A to Series B.
  • 7 of these 34 companies (~20%) had women on the founding team. According to PitchBook, funding going to women-run startups remains stubbornly low (a mere 3%). At Better Capital, backing women founders is core to our investment plan and I am glad that we were able to continue to fund women-founded companies in 2019 too.
  • 3 of these 34 companies were husband-wife founders.
  • We invested in 3 Y Combinator companies and 3 Sequoia Surge companies.

We run our entire fund on the awesome AngelList platform and we continued to break new ground on some of the platform metrics.

2019 Portfolio

This year, we saw the frenzy return to early-stage startup investing with large seed rounds, massive Series A rounds, global VC checks, pre-product seed rounds by VCs and a lot more. Our pace tracked the market too (not sure if that is good or bad!) and we were fortunate to have invested in some of 2019’s best deals including Khatabook, Jupiter, Credenc, Bijak, Skill Lync, Inito and many more.

Here is a quick snapshot of our 2019 investments (including a few which are in closing)

We invested across sectors in 2019 and our industry-wise split looks broadly like this

We continued to invest across stages and did our first Series A and B investments. Here’s how the portfolio looks by stage —

We increased our average check size in 2019 and did our largest first checks in Skill Lync and Credenc. We will continue to double down and do large first checks in companies that we have deep conviction and carve out larger allocations for Better Capital.

We also built strong co-investor partnerships in 2019 which we hope to continue to grow going forward:

  • We co-invested with Matrix Partners, Omidyar Network, Sequoia Surge, Nexus Venture Partners, Signals VC (Berlin), Cavalry Ventures (Berlin), InfoEdge, Iron Pillar, Chirate Ventures, Blume Ventures, Omnivore Partners, Fireside Ventures, EMVC, Asha Impact, Dream Incubator, Akatsuki, SHE Capital, Saama Capital, Equanimity and more.
  • We were instrumental in creating founding stage rounds with some of these VC partners which we are excited about and believe such early seed rounds are crucial to support passionate founders with big ideas.

Comparison Charts

Here is a set of simple charts to give you a perspective of our investment activity in 2019 compared to 2018.

Amount of capital deployed looked like this —

Number of new investments looked like this —

Number of follow-on rounds looked like this —

We will add more comparison charts in the upcoming years as we get more data and it becomes interesting to see the trend of other metrics too.

Portfolio Performance

Our portfolio is humming along well with a few outliers that are growing super fast and a few early bets who are taking their time to find scalable product-market fit. I believe it takes 3–5 yrs for a startup business to find a scalable business position so I like to track our companies and their progress to get a directional sense of where they are heading and at what pace.

Follow-on rounds at marked-up valuations are one way to measure the performance of our early bets. Here’s what it looked like for Better Capital in 2019—

  • Open raised a $30M Series B round led by Tiger Global. We first invested in the pre-seed round of Open, after which it raised its Seed as well as Series A in succession.
  • Yulu raised a $10M Series A round led by Bajaj Auto. We first invested in the Seed round.
  • ShopKirana raised a $10M Series A round led by InfoEdge. We first invested in their Seed+ round.
  • Crediwatch raised a $3.2M Series A round led by San Francisco-based Artis Labs. We first invested in their Pre-Series A round.
  • Clarisights topped up its Seed round with an investment from Berlin-based Cavalry Ventures. We first invested in their Seed round.
  • Healthy Cravings raised its Pre-Series A round led by a prominent family office. We first invested in their Seed round.
  • Yelo raised is Seed round led by Matrix Partners and The Omidyar Network. We first invested in their Pre-Seed round.
  • Rupeek raised a $30M Series B round led by Bertelsmann India. We first invested in their Seed round as a personal check.
  • There are a few more that are not yet announced and will be public in the next few weeks.

While follow-on funding rounds are an external validation of a company’s progress I believe the real validation lies in the tangible progress made by the company on its KPIs and that is where I focus on the most — the rest is the outcome of that progress. Here are a few notable examples —

  • Open scaled faster than I imagined and became the largest small business neobank in India on every metric.
  • Skill Lync quadrupled its monthly revenue within 9 months of our investment and is basically running at 2X of their plan.
  • Khatabook grew from 1M merchants to 10M merchants from the time we committed to now, in less than 6 months demonstrating the scalable product-market fit and strong retention.
  • ShopKirana scaled its operations from 1 city when we invested, to 5 cities — and its last monthly GMV was the same as its annual GMV when we invested less than 15 months ago.
  • Healthy Cravings 10X-ed their monthly revenue in just a few months this year and expanded to a larger facility.
  • MyAdvo grew 250% in revenues in 12 months and is on track to raise its Series A.
  • BharatAgri grew from almost nothing to 35,000+ farmers on its platform is continuing to scale its farmer acquisition.
  • Testbook grew to 7.6 Million registers users, 17 Million app installs, 900K+ paid subscribers and more — strong growth continues and they are now ready to invest more capital to grow to the next stage.
  • Locale.ai went from early prototype to fast iteration to 3 pilots with India’s top on-demand companies in 90 days.
  • Fanspole went from idea to product to launch within 90 days with fantasy sports enthusiasts actively engaging with the product and giving us tons of feedback.
  • Mudrex grew from $2M in transactions in April 2019 to $110M in transactions in November 2019.
  • Inito continued to grow in 2019, cleared the US FDA pathway for launch in Feb 2020 and secured its first US patent last month.
  • Samosa Singh won the bid to open its flagship store at the Bangalore Airport alongside Hatti Kappi, ChaiPoint and other marquee brands which was a big win. The store will open in Jan 2020.
  • All other companies have also made consistent progress — some better than others — and you will hear more from them in 2020 as they progress to the next stage.

I want to stress that early-stage startups are really hard and many of our companies are facing steep challenges and many are overcoming them — the constant being the grit of the founders on which we invested, so I am very proud of each of our portfolio companies.

We had one M&A in 2019: Upwardly was acquired by Scripbox to create one of the fastest-growing wealth management brands in India.

Our companies and founders continued to be profiled in industry leaders lists and awarded at industry conferences — highlighting the top-notch quality of our portfolio.

Brainstorm

In 2018, we worked closely with 2 companies (Kruzr & Apiria) where we loved the vision and the team, realized that they were a bit early and decided to work with them closely to iterate and evolve the core idea to become “investible” — we did that on both and are excited about both these companies.

Based on that experience, we launched our personalized advice program called Brainstorm where we work with founders at the earliest stages to help them iterate and evolve their core ideas into strong fundable propositions. Brainstorm is an invite-only equity program. We curated 150+ applications in 2019 to finally accept 3 companies into Brainstorm, which we are very excited about.

  • Locale.ai is creating the world’s first geospatial analytics platform to analyze location data in realtime so companies with moving assets can make decisions at an unprecedented pace.
  • Fanspole has launched India’s first fantasy sports platform where users can create their own contests and engage their friends, family and community members.
  • Plop is giving authors a brand new platform for writing interactive stories that can be consumed via mobile devices — think TikTok for books. Short format stories with interactivity like never before. Like YouTubers and TikTokers, we are imagining a bold new platform for Plopers!

Net+work

Our network of founders, co-investors, individual investors across major startup ups, family offices, and industry executives is at the core of how we discover companies at the earliest stages, how we build conviction and how we lead or join rounds into some of India’s best companies.

In 2019, we continued to expand our network and now have:

  • 120+ founders who we’ve invested in
  • 500+ LPs who actively back us
  • Growing list of family offices who choose to invest with Better Capital
  • 20+ close relationships with early stages VCs across all stages
  • Growing list of industry executives who can provide deep insights and feedback to our founders
  • 10+ global venture capital firms in Singapore, Europe, and North America that we brought in to review our early bets and co-invested with some.

We have plans to continue to expand this network and create a channel for closer collaboration with our network of well-wishers and supporters.

2019 Learnings & Thoughts

With a cumulative portfolio of 49 companies across stages from pre-seed to Series B, we were able to learn a lot by working closely with our founders. While it is impossible to put all the learnings and experiences in writing, here are some of the most important ones I’d like to highlight for the benefit of founders and early-stage investors alike —

  • Founders raised less capital than they needed. We saw this in multiple companies and it was hard to raise top-up rounds in spite of making strong progress on the core product. We saw this happen across the ecosystem beyond our portfolio companies as well — and these bridge rounds are the hardest to raise. So my recommendation is to raise larger pre-seed and seed round OR use the capital even more effectively to extend your runway till you can show traction and metrics that are sufficient for your next round.
  • We saw a lot of concept deals in 2019 wherein founders raised decent-sized seed rounds from VCs — on nothing more than a deck. These are the hardest in my opinion as founders raise these rounds and start hiring a team and running without actually knowing where to run. They had raised on an idea so they did not build a product, test it with the market and iterate to figure out if anyone wanted it and wanted it enough. With a large seed round in the bank, founders felt like they had bought validation and started building without market testing. I saw this happen more than once. And I fear we will see even more fallout from these concept deals in 2020.
  • Founders failed at estimating the traction and metrics they would need to raise their next round of capital. They thought they had the metrics in place and continued their burn until they realized that the later round VCs wanted to see more. Unfortunately, they were left with a short runway and had to hustle to cut costs. In almost all of these cases, I believe the founders and their investor partners could have managed burn much better.
  • SaaS and software founders re-learned the same lesson that I’ve been repeating for years — there is no point in spending too much time selling to Indian or Asian customers if your ultimate TAM lies in the US and other western markets. Most founders who saw this early and pivoted their sales plans towards the US market instantly saw that it was the right move. We assisted multiple companies with their US flips during 2019 and I see this trend continuing in 2020.
  • Seed stage founders have too much to do with very little money and they all mostly optimized for revenue and retention metrics. But in multiple cases, as they approached Series A VCs, one common gap for multiple founders was that their management team was not strong enough and most VCs wanted to see founders had brought on steller L1s on the management team to help with execution and scaling. I saw multiple founders fail on this part. Though I can’t blame them as its hard to bring on senior executives with just your seed round, I’ve worked with many of our founders to put together a plan for building a strong management team — some can be hired and some can be on hold until Series A but it helps your Series A partners to understand how you think about scaling your business with an experienced team. It also helps showcase the founders’ ability to bring on the best talent to pursue their vision.
  • Traction took longer in multiple cases and founders failed to see that it is taking longer — they didn’t figure out how to fix it or understand if they are missing something. I saw this happen in multiple cases and my advice to founders is to lay down strict timelines for traction and growth and hold yourself accountable for delays. This will help you see what may not be working sooner than later — and that is incredibly valuable when you have a limited runway with pre-seed and seed rounds.

2020 Plan

2020 is predicted to be gloomy — with multiple memos going founders’ way to stay lean & expect the worst — but I have seen that these predictions are as accurate or inaccurate as the weather prediction.

I also believe that pre-seed and seed stages will be less affected by the broad sentiment as compared to Series A, B and beyond. So I expect to continue to invest in the best teams as early as we can.

  • We believe fintech will see a brand new set of entrants who will either own brand & distribution or infra. We like both.
  • We hope to find unique companies in SaaS and software that target global markets.
  • We will continue to find “community-first” plays in ecommerce, software, fintech and beyond.
  • We will continue to find opportunities early and be the first major check into these companies.

Thank you

Early-stage investing is a personal sport in my opinion, but it is not possible to succeed and scale your success without having a high-quality network that trusts you, supports you, advises you and cheers for you. And without the awesome extended team we have — Lalit Valecha of AVA & our AngelList team.

So, a big THANK YOU to our founders, co-investors, LPs, advisors, and ecosystem partners for being a supporter and a friend of Better Capital. 🙏

Happy Holidays!

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