Being a fan of clichés, I wouldn’t hesitate to call this a match made in heaven. I was supposed to get on a call with Nandini Hirianniah for an interview regarding ‘women in investing in India’, but while scheduling the call, she mailed saying; “I’m only a hard working entrepreneur” and post that, on August 30th, Twitter was abuzz with a brilliant chronology of tweets about how she and Sameer Guglani got together starting up Madhouse Media in 2004 and then subsequently The Morpheus accelerator. Headquartered in Chandigarh and working with startups from across India, The Morpheus has 69 active startups currently, better known as “The Morpheus Gang”. This gang includes some very successful names like InterviewStreet, Plivo, Grexit, Practo, Akosha and one can expect more in the near future.
Not to digress, the interview was setup and the aforementioned turn of events diverted the spiel of the interview to more of a personal entrepreneurial travail. Born and brought up in Bangalore, Nandini studied Journalism at Mount Carmel College and pursued her Masters in Communication at Bangalore university. All this while, she was into theatre and doing a lot of freelance media work like writing, documentary filmmaking, etc. Moving ahead, she took up a job at IBM but soon realized, “I’m not a corporate person. I can’t keep on doing this for long.” While thinking about this at her job, Nandini got a mail to do some hands on film making. She thought, why not? And she immediately took up the assignment. That mail was from none other than Sameer Guglani; a software engineer at that time who was working in a startup but wanted to shift to production and movie making. And now Nandini’s husband. “Our thoughts matched and we made a good team working together so we decided to cut the non-sense and get married,” says Nandini with a chuckle. Now at this point in time, engineers were being moved from Bangalore to US from Sameer’s company and this is what took the duo to the US for a couple of years.
Constantly taking in technicalities of film making and production, circumstances led them back to India and subsequent rejection of the visa. “A blessing in disguise, this rejection in a way gave us time to think and opened up our minds to multiple possibilities. We were thinking of a lot of things. Coming from media, that was an option; being a foodie, that was another huge area but we finally settled down on Madhose Media, a DVD rental service,” informs Nandini.
They ran Madhouse successfully for 3 years and before they could branch out to more things, they sold out to seventymm (also a movie rental). They mainly took this step because the huge over head costs, which was procuring inventory was becoming a tough ask. Post acquisition, the classic ‘clash of ideals’ scenario came in and the duo realized that they’re not really enjoying what they were doing. They called it quits and were looking around and they could afford to do so. The startup scene was still very nascent and they attended some of the events that were happening. The whole story of a successful sell-out had created quite a buzz and Nandini and Sameer were pretty famous, being written about. “People were asking questions and seemed very interested in our story and we thought that we might have something to share here,” informs Nandini about the first sown seed that would eventually lead to The Morpheus.
For any startup, mentorship plays a huge role. During their stint while running Madhouse, they had a lot of advisors on board primarily because many suggested the strategy to them but those advisors weren’t really adding value. They were even hard to reach out to. This was a first hand experience they had and during this time when they were meeting different companies, many were looking for advise from them. Nandini and Sameer were working closely with Instamedia at that point in time. “They wanted us on board as advisors but we didn’t want to do the same that happened to us so we entered a very practical formal deal where everything was very transparent.” says Nandini. This is how they got into mentoring and Commonfloor followed Instamedia and as a natural progression, The Morpheus was formed with an aim to form a community of entrepreneurs who can learn from each other and make less mistakes.
Now having a very respected position in the startup ecosystem, The Morpheus has secured its name as a prominent Accelerator and has accelerated close to 70 companies.
Talking about the male-female difference in viewpoints, Nandini believes, “We’re actually very similar in thought process but being a woman, I obviously bring in the human touch. When we make a bet on a company, it is more on the people as the company has hardly taken birth. I’m definitely better at knowing what equation the founders share between them.” And when you’re talking to a woman in investment in India, ‘women entrepreneurship’ is bound to come up. Very straight forward about it, Nandini believes that there is no demarcation. If you want to do it, anyone can do it. There is no glass ceiling in India and it’s a level playing field. “Yes, we’re seeing more women entrepreneurs come into the fray but that is only because they have it in them. More women are coming on board (smiles) and it’s great to see them. Personally, I’d love to see the flow growing rapidly!” says Nandini. Talking about women in general, Nandini concludes with a very strong point, “Be it entrepreneur or not, I think we’ve passed the stage where women hide under the veil of women liberation or anything of that sort. Be it man or woman, you’ve got the power, it’s your life and if you want to do something worthwhile, you’re the only one who can help yourself.”