Helping startups reach the pole position rather than winning the race for them is the mantra that India-based accelerator VentureNursery has adopted. At a time when investors are aplenty in the market, VentureNursery is zoned in on mentorship.
e27 had a quick chat with Co-founder Ravi Kiran on the startup scene in India and mentoring.
Do you think it’s time for investors to be a bit more cautious?
Of course, not being cautious is not as same as being reckless. If you are like most of the smart investors, you respect money; so you don’t want to throw it around — not now, not earlier and hopefully never.
You need to risk your money, expertise, connection and even reputation on entrepreneurship, but you need to do it as wisely as you can. Remember, one of the things startup founders are learning from you is respect for money.
This is my two cents of learning from the 30-odd angel investments I have personally made to date and the 20 companies VentureNursery has accelerated.
What is the first thing you look for in a pitch?
Contrarian as it may sound, we don’t look at business plans. So if someone says ‘we have a business plan’, we say we are not interested. If someone says ‘I have an idea’, we say we are not interested. What we are interested in is the problem that they are trying to solve.
We have to look at the market they are addressing as the first thing, then we look at the team. We understand that no matter how smart a team it is, it cannot change the nature of the market. However, a market can change the nature of the team and draw a product out of it.
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How often do you find a good team with redundant ideas? Do you still work with the team?
What is a good team is very difficult to define. Sometimes you get visible signs, but more often than not, you have to gauge based on what is unsaid rather than said.
A classical trap that a lot of investors seem to fall into is the education background of the team. That is why we know that with people you can always go wrong. Hence, we have a five-stage selection process that helps us bring down the number of applications from 300 to two.
It’s very tough and we know we can go wrong, but we don’t over-obsess with the team. We would like to work with a committed team that is open and has adaptive founders. We look for agility, startups solving an important problem and availability of a big market.
What are VentureNursery’s core beliefs?
We obsessively focus on mentoring and do not fall into the money trap. The word has spread that there is enough money in the market. It’s better to take the money from someone who will also give you proper education on such issues. We practise mentoring before you [start to] raise money.
One thing we tell our startups is that if you consider the business as a race, then we can’t win the race for you. That, you have to do on your own. What we can do is help you get to the pole position.
Have there been instances that [working with] a startup left a bitter taste? What are your learnings?
One of the things that has hurt us the most and has happened in two or three cases is the lack of discipline by young people. Initially, it used to upset us a lot, but now we recognise that there are different kinds of people and everyone’s seriousness about entrepreneurship is different.
We have to get better at understanding as to who is serious and who is not, rather than judging them. So, today we don’t judge them.
Every time an incident happens, we think we need to get better at how we recognise potentially errant behaviour in future. We love entrepreneurship enough not to be judgmental about entrepreneurs.