AngelList Advisor Utsav Somani

Utsav Somani is quite a popular name among startups in India. He has made personal investments in over a dozen startups, most of which went to raise follow-on funding from leading VCs across the world.

Last year, US-based AngelList, an online community of startups and investors, roped in Somani as its India Advisor. His role involves exploring market opportunities and figuring out ways to make it a more personalised platform to attract domestic users.

e27 talked to Somani to know more about the platform.

Here are the edited excerpts:

What changes have you brought into the platform since you joined AngelList in 2016. What more innovations are on the anvil?

I joined AngelList in 2016 and it was more of an advisory/exploratory role, because the regulatory environment did not permit the AngelList-pioneered syndicate model of fundraising as is, in India.

I am not particularly involved in the innovations side of things as the product work is done by our extremely talented team in the US, which is currently AngelList’s largest market (over US$550 million raised for 1,400-plus startups).

In India, we will definitely have to cater to the domestic startup ecosystem in a much more personalised way, but that only comes once we have our feet on the ground running and are able to figure out the sweet spot of investor-platform-startup fit. We will officially announce when the platform will be up and running for the Indian community to use from a fundraising and investing perspective.

Also Read: Startups, AngelList and the ‘F’ word

That being said, all the great innovations like ‘Track’ for applicant tracking when reviewing candidates or the app to apply for jobs on the go are open to Indian startups already and is being used widely here.

Currently, there are handful of deal-making platforms in India, prominent among them being LetsVenture and Tracxn. How are you different from them? Apart from the recruitments platform, what USP does LetsVenture brings to the table?

No comments on other plays.

AngelList is literally the world’s largest startup platform to fundraising (Syndicates), recruit (Talent) and launch (Product Hunt).

Here’s why AngelList Syndicates are unique globally:

  • Scalable pop-up VC funds created online, on-demand
  • Single entry pooled investment vehicles controlled by sophisticated lead investors
  • Solves issues like crowding of cap table, future round issues like signatures, information flow control
  • Sophisticated technology investors can be a micro-VC by writing big cheques with their syndicates backing. And for all their efforts and leverage their returns 5x by investing the same amount they do otherwise. All this enabled by allowing them to charge a carry for their efforts and allocation in any round
  • All rounds are private and invite-only
  • Access to global investors with decades of experiences in investing, exiting and building ventures

How popular is AngelList in India? How many deals do you facilitate on an average? What is the update on the startup recruitment product? Has the recent slow-down in the startup jobs market affected this business?

We are currently not doing any deals due to regulatory matters. I cannot talk much about this due to legal restrictions. We are engaged with the community and exploring the boundary conditions for us to look for a feasible model in India.

Here’s why our jobs portal is the most loved startups platform in India:

  • Free, futuristic, and most-loved startup recruiting platform in the world. Simple search on Twitter or an offline poll with Indian startup founders will confirm this.
  • No middleman — startups and candidates connect directly
  • Transparent salary and equity is all up front. Candidates can even research this data for free to make better career moves
  • Private, so your current company cannot know you are applying — having a profile on AngelList is normal — AngelList is the leading tech network. Finding jobs for candidates is one piece of what it does
  • Insane tools like Track (rave reviews) – drag ‘import’ ‘export’ lists kind of tracking job applicants
  • Algorithmic matching of jobs and candidates
  • Tinder like jobs app
  • New section of services. Gives a place for people to offer various kinds of services

I am sharing some numbers that will explain the popularity of the AngelList Talent (the recruitment feature). These are Indian numbers only!

  • India is the second biggest market in terms of numbers for Talent
  • Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, and Gurgaon — in decreasing order of job matches
  • 500,000 candidates and jobs matches so far, with half being in 2016
  • 160,000 candidates in total, half joining post AngelList India announcement on 08, Aug 2016
  • 9,000-plus candidates joining monthly
  • In 2016, over 4,500 startups were actively recruiting
  • 850 startup profiles claimed monthly. Total of 28,000 claimed thus far from India
  • 4,000-plus angels from India registered
  • Self reported for 2016 — Active angels: 750, Active VCs: 450

AngelList recently launched Angel Funds. How does this work? Please elaborate. Is it a global product. Is it available in India?

Angel Funds is focussed purely on operator angels in US. I think this product is way too early for the Indian market as we are still in the early phases of maturing.

How is the acquisition of Product Hunt helping AngelList grow the business. Are you seeing visible changes across your products, post this acquisition? 

I am not particularly in the best position to comment on this. But Product Hunt is such a fun and happy community that will definitely come together with the people from AngelList’s platform somehow!

In a recent interview, AngelList Founder Naval Ravikant said AngelList is launching a secondary trading feature. Is it already launched? What are your expectations about this feature visa-a-vis the Indian startup ecosystem?

Too early to look at secondaries in India. We need more exits and not the kinds in stock swaps. Demand-supply is tough to match in secondaries. How many companies in India do you think currently exist where people would like to buy into?

Artificial Intelligence is now the hottest sector in India. Do you have plans to integrate AI capabilities to AngelList?

By hottest you mean the biggest and most sought-after buzz word. I am not aware of any such plans. As mentioned previously, I’m more focussed on figuring out the structure to bring the platform to India.

You have made personal investments in over a dozen startups. Do you continue to make personal investments? Your portfolio Doormint recently shut down. What are your learnings from this failed investment?

Personally, I do invest in startups but I have reduced the pace. I am most excited to get the syndicate model up & running that’ll allow leads to write bigger cheques, get global investors excited about Indian opportunities and vice versa — Indian investors interested in global opportunities.

As for failed investments, for most people from the outside, they see it’s a failed investment of capital, but the founders give their time and sweat to building something so they have more learnings to share always. I am fond of the founders and I am happy to work with them in the near future.

In India, consumer Internet is going through a rough patch, investment crunch is badly affecting early-stage ventures, and e-commerce is going through consolidation. How do you look at these recent trends in the Indian startup ecosystem?

Ups and downs will happen and global boundaries for innovation & capital will get blurred. It just happened at an accelerated pace in India with the influx of tourist-capital. Everyone’s coming out smarter from this consolidation phase and we will definitely see a much more battle tested field of players left.

Recently, a group of researchers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, produced an AI that is naturally curious. How do you think this will revolutionise the way people think and act?

I’ll really leave this up to the more qualified people in the field of AI to comment on this.

Want to hear more from Somani?

Somani is speaking at Echelon Asia 2017. Register for your access pass now! Enjoy additional 10% discount on Echelon Asia Summit Startup, Investor and Corporate passes just for being our favourite 27 reader: e27.co/echelon/asia/register/?code=EMPOWER10

Do you have questions for Utsav? He will address some of them during Echelon Asia Summit 2017. Leave some of your burning questions in the comment section below.