Bala Parthasarathy is an entrepreneur turned investor with a vast two decade experience under his belt. He has built 3 successful startups including Snapfish which he co-founded in 1999, scaled it to $300 million in revenues and sold it off to Hewlett-Packard in 2005. He has also volunteered for the UIDAI Project in India. Putting his experience together with partners Sanjay Swamy and Shripati Acharya, the trio started AngelPrime, an incubator program to cultivate startups. Here, Eline Ramatchandirane for YourStory gets into a conversation with Bala Parthasarathy,
YS : Launching Snapfish in 1999, you smartly targeted the “Internet mums” as your main customers, although that market looked like just a niche. What made you remain so confident?
BP : You never really know when the time for your market is coming. So you ought to have doubts before starting your enterprise : do your research, make sure what your business is about. But as soon as you are in, you should keep believing, like a religion. If you bet on broad trends on a horizon of about three years, it is like riding a wave.
YS : If you had to keep only two of your qualities (as an entrepreneur), what would they be?
BP : Referring to what I just said, I would pick “perseverance”. Never say die. In a startup’s month, there are 27 bad days for three good ones. If you stop climbing the mountain half way, you will never see the three good days.
YS : …but sometimes it is wiser to stop in order to avoid higher prejudice?
BP : … and start new again, that is right. There is an exception to any rule. I would generally advise never to give up. Nevertheless, there are a few situations where you should better. In my opinion, bad team dynamics is one of these, since it is the hardest thing to fix. Knowing if you should forfeit or not is a hard decision, you need to apply your judgement on that, what brings me on the second quality.
“Judgment” is a fundamental asset of any successful entrepreneur, as you must take decisions with little information. For instance, if an employee is not performing well, you may just want to fire him. But he could also be essential to your business and only needs better management. You ought to know what to do. That is what you are paid for.
YS : We quote you on : “entrepreneurs are cool again”. Can you comment?
BP : In the Silicon Valley, starting a business has always commanded admiration. In India, middle-class, talented graduates tend to favor secure positions in major companies or in public departments. But this is changing. Medias like YourStory and others have brought awareness on entrepreneurship. Families are much more supportive of those who join a startup. There is no chance that India becomes the same as the Sillicon Valley. But what is happening now is not a hype. Many factors have come into place that speak for a structural change in the country. And even if we offer one hundredth of what the Sillicon Valley does, I will be very thrilled!
YS : One compliment to the Indian entrepreneurs?
BP : They are tough, definitively. As a matter of course, any entrepreneur has to deal with huge challenges. But Indian entrepreneurs are dodging bullets. Administration is in their way, their employees need two hours to commute, the network goes down, etc. Many factors decrease their productivity and nobody will help them with that.
YS : At AngelPrime, you claim that you are no angel investors. How do you differentiate yourself from those?
BP : The idea at the beginning (April 2011) was to offer both financing for startups and deep involvement in the running of the companies. We select a very little number of teams and co-locate them in our offices in Bangalore, what no other investor in India does. Hence the “prime” (as for the mathematics prime). The model has slightly evolved since then. We are still very hands-on but we invest greater amounts in our portfolio, making us alike venture capitalists, even if the invested amounts are in the smaller range.
YS : Some news from your three portfolio companies, Ezetap, Unamia and SmartOwner as well as your CTO-in-residence program?
BP : All of it is doing well. Ezetap has been a lot in the news recently. Though we cannot disclose any number, the sales have been very good. We have partnerships with leading banks, exciting new products are being released there. As for the CTO-in-residence program, we now see it in a broader sense. We aim at attracting talented people who have interesting ideas but do not know how to deal with them.
YS : Angelprime specializes in mobile payments, ecommerce and tablets/smartphone apps. Yet willing to study business plans from other sectors?
BP : Yes definitively, we also want to look at emerging sectors like energy, healthcare or education. Ideally, the projects should include some technological aspects.
YS : What will you invest in, in 10 years?
BP : I can not answer this question, as I believe in planning on a three-years horizon.
YS : Three must-have for an entrepreneur when he approaches you?
BP : First, that is passion, for sure. Second, he should have at least some knowledge in his domain. Third, he has to be very smart. Hard-working too, but it goes with passion. I have never met any lazy entrepreneur!
YS : You like trekking in beautiful landscapes, including the highest mountains of this world. What have you been thinking at at the top of the Kilimanjaro?
BP : Very certainly about business. It is just part of me, even if sometimes it helps to get away from the daily excitement.
YS: You are just passionate about business. Your priority in life?
BP : Today, family would be my priority. I can ignore neither them nor myself. But business belongs to my life and has been, in the past, the priority all over the rest. I believe that you should not put too much attention on the private life when you are young. But later you also have to think at growing internally and personally.