In early 2020, I had just returned to India after a decade-long investment journey in the US and the UK to build Eximius Ventures, a micro VC fund for emerging start-ups.
As an emerging fund manager, I knew that it was important for me to get a flavor of managing capital in India and decided to spend a year angel investing. This, however, coincided with the first nationwide lockdown. While the startup ecosystem was undergoing a shift, it also presented a hotbed for opportunities for resilient founders. The probability of spotting innovative startups had just gone up, and it was a promising space for an emerging investor like myself.
So I started by meeting people who had been there, done that and making the right partnerships in the ecosystem. This included both investors and founders — the goal was to not just invest capital but also support startups in reaching their potential.
To better understand the progression of my journey, let’s take a look at it in three phases, or modules.
Module 1 — March 2020 to June 2020:
Spotting and investing in high-potential founders who could emerge as an industry leader:
- Gromo: Gromo had a solid combination of executioners and visionaries. Lending, their initial segment, became less lucrative in a matter of days. However, the team was quick to pivot to insurance. And they were right in doing so. Companies saw a 30–50% jump in insurance sales as early as March as compared to January.
- Blu Smart Mobility: Mobility solutions aren’t new but sustainable ones are. However, with 10+ years of industry experience under their belt, the founders not only understood the value chain well but also managed to connect all stakeholders to overcome hurdles, like setting up charging infrastructure. After seeing its volumes go down to zero, today, it has reached pre-COVID utilization and has expanded from Gurugram to areas of Delhi such as Vasant Kunj and Dwarka.
- Exprs: Srinivas had spent more than seven years running VDeliver, a hyperlocal delivery service. So when consumer adoption of e-commerce accelerated with the pandemic, his new last yard delivery solution was just what businesses needed. Exprs partnered with e-commerce giants like Amazon and leading builders like DLF to facilitate delivery and provide on-the-spot trials and returns, and reduced weeks’ worth of process to as little as two to three days.
- Redwing Labs: After Zipline’s success in Africa, it was clear that India needed a similar drone healthcare delivery system. Redwing Labs came at the right time. While it required patient capital, the potential of impact was immense.
Module 2 — July 2020 to September 2020:
Learning from successful startups founded by industry stalwarts:
- FWD: The current education system falls short of meeting the needs of a large user base — employees looking to upskill and reskill. FWD caters to this growing demand. Backed by second-time founder Ashish’s extensive experience in product management, it demonstrated a clear ability to execute its business plan and also raise future rounds.
- inFeedo: When an employee is disengaged, management often doesn’t find out until the employee hands in his/her notice. Co-founder Tanmaya had spent months researching the problem, and presented Amber, a chatbot that measures employee experience. I could see that businesses would jump in on this opportunity, and they did. With remote work becoming the new normal in 2020, it also opened up new opportunities for SaaS-based startups like inFeedo that allow employers to better connect with their employees.
- Trell: TikTok’s ban left an unattended user base and the market offered multiple promising platforms in return. However, Trell stood apart due its unique interface and a more sophisticated algorithm which provided the right blend of social e-commerce and quality content. To top it off, the startup showed massive traction to support its business model.
Module 3 — October 2020 to December 2020:
I knew that I could not play safe forever by working with established founders. My next and final set of investments of 2020 would also set the tone for what we would be doing at the fund:
- Nexweave: I connected with Co-founder Inder over a Facebook group. What stood out was his deep understanding of product management and a strong growth mindset. Nexweave offered personalization in an age of information overload, directly resulting in more clickability and conversion. Even when we progressed through fundraising, the team kept improving the product with new features, which was only testament to their ability to remain up-to-date and relevant.
- Lattu Kids: Among several edtechs offering content to young children, Lattu Kids stood out because of three primary reasons — strong links with global content creators, attractive content for children under 10, and a strong distribution channel resulting from its partnership with Airtel.
- EWar: EWar was able to attract over 700,000 users through large tournaments in 2020. This, of course, was helped by the fact that people were at home, which led to a rise in e-sports as well as mobile gaming during the pandemic. And EWar had a strategy to capitalize on it. Once it acquired customers, it knew how to retain them by offering them hyper casual games as well as real money gaming.
As I write this blog, exciting developments are taking place at Eximius Ventures, and I have my experiences with my 10 personal portfolio companies to thank for leading to it. If you’re building a fund, trying your hand at angel investing, or are an early-stage founder building something new, let’s talk. You can reach me here.