This article is brought to you in association with Microsoft Ventures in India
Microsoft Ventures is a global initiative to help entrepreneurs build great companies. The objective is to work with startups at every stage of maturity to provide the tools, resources, and expertise they need to succeed. The initiative is broad-based, and includes a community program, accelerators, and a seed fund. These three pillars of the Microsoft Ventures have now been working at full strength for quite sometime.
Microsoft has been working with startups through various programs such as BizSpark Program and the accelerator program of Microsoft Ventures in India. They work intricately with the alumni startups of the accelerator program batches and will also start working very closely with some high potential growth stage startups in the near future.
Microsoft’s approach helps startups at all stages to scale their business, bring innovative services to market and reach new customers. As the Microsoft Ventures Program evolves, the attempt is to take a step further by collaborating with more partners within the ecosystem so as to align the individual efforts with a common larger goal. Organizations such as NASSCOM, TiE chapters around the country, iSPIRT and other organizations have been working diligently to create a healthy ecosystem for startups. These organizations, along with IVCA and VC firms, have taken many initiatives to create a more conducive environment for startups to form, thrive and exit.
To raise the bar of all the efforts of Microsoft Ventures, and to connect the dots of so many different things that are happening simultaneously at different places, Microsoft Ventures is introducing the Think Next initiative for the first time in India.
The Think Next initiative will help create a forum for thought leaders in the ecosystem to come together and share learnings. The idea is to provide a feedback loop for the initiatives that are already underway, connect the dots for the thought leaders, provide deeper insights into developing trends and delineate the next steps on facilitating faster maturation of the startup ecosystem.
We interacted with Ravi Narayan, Director of Microsoft Ventures in India, to gain further insights into this exciting new initiative, Think Next. Ravi joined Microsoft recently from Mentor Partners, a Seed Fund based in Bangalore. Ravi has been an entrepreneur, mentor and investor for most of his career. He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, and an MBA from the University of Southern California.
Think Next events began in 2009 as part of the Microsoft Israel R&D Center’s commitment to promote the Israel startup community. Ravi is trying to bring a similar concept to the Indian startup ecosystem. He says, “Indian ecosystem is much more diverse and varied than Israel’s. I think we have reached a point to consolidate all individual efforts onto a larger platform. Now, we need an inflection point which we are trying to trigger by bringing all the startup ecosystem players together.”
Microsoft Ventures Think Next is a semi-annual conclave of thought leaders and startups to network, deliberate and spur the growth of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. The first Think Next conference will be hosted on May 23rd, 2014. The conference will have two roundtables, formulated by iSPIRT and Microsoft Ventures.
Sharad Sharma, Co-founder and Governing Council Member, iSPIRT Foundation, says, “We want to dive deep in the discussion that is taking place in the ecosystem. As the ecosystem becomes bigger, it also needs to become more specialized. Microsoft’s Think Next is focused on deep dive specialized discussion and iSPIRT think tank is focused on exactly the same thing, so a partnership opportunity made clear sense.”
The themes of the two roundtables are ‘Trends in corporate development’ and ‘Creating successful SaaS models from India’.
The first panel “Trends in corporate development’ will focus on mergers and acquisitions with special emphasis on trends in the Indian market. Ravi says, “we feel that every M&A happening in the startup ecosystem adds a lot of value to the ecosystem as a whole. Say an entrepreneur sells his/her company at 10-15 million, the same entrepreneur can use the money and the knowledge they have gained in the process to do other things in the startup ecosystem and help other budding entrepreneurs. At Microsoft Ventures Think Next, our focus is to foster talks and open a serious discussion on how can we, all the players of the startup ecosystem, contribute and make more M&A activity happen in India.” He adds, “within another 5-6 years these seasoned entrepreneurs might build billion dollar companies out of India. We should not compare the Indian M&As with those of the Silicon Valley’s. Every startup ecosystem has a natural process of evolution. We feel that the all the M&As that India is seeing right now need to be acknowledged and many more such should be encouraged. The trends that are emerging from this M&A activity are very important according to us.”
Ravi shares that many companies in the Bay Area are now beginning to realize that Indian startups are building competitive products for the global markets. But the discoverability for these Indian startups is still a large problem. Many mature startups from India are not finding the right go-to-market strategy for the global markets. He says, “As key players in the space, we at Microsoft Ventures want to help Indian startups find the right opportunity to exit. These success stories will energize the whole ecosystem. Think Next will kick-start some of these discussions”
The second panel is about ‘Creating successful SaaS models from India.’ Ravi shares that SaaS startups differ significantly, and the need to dive deep into discussions around SaaS is very important for the Indian startup ecosystem. He says, “There are some enterprise companies that can be very successful with just 10-15 customers. Then there are others, which need 10,000-50,000 customers to be successful. And the third category includes companies that need half a million customers to say that they are actually on to something. SaaS companies sell in a different way, the prices are different, the margins are different and the scale requirements are different too.”
He further adds, “There are different things that work for each of these categories of SaaS startups. As an ecosystem, we need to understand the factors that work globally and how we can replicate some of the best practices for companies being built in India. If done right, SaaS is a huge opportunity for the Indian entrepreneurs.”
Sharing how Microsoft Ventures’ vision aligns with Think Next, Ravi says, “It is the underpinning philosophy of Microsoft to tap into the innovation ecosystem all across the world. We want to provide thought leadership through Think Next events so that we are able to help the innovation ecosystem in India. The engaging and insightful discussions we are planning in the two roundtables will refine our own thinking of how we approach markets and products. Think Next will foster a great symbiotic relationship with the innovation ecosystem and it also helps our innovation agenda.”
The three larger objectives that Microsoft Ventures wants to meet with Think Next are to establish a forum for thought leadership for people working in the startup ecosystem, to showcase innovative products & technology and to use Think Next as a way to broaden the innovation focus.
He adds, “We would like startups to look at a much larger picture than what they have been looking at, and use other startups’ successes as an inspiration to take their own companies to the next level. We would love to see startups take on India focused problems, and create benchmark innovation and products for India. Microsoft will bring in the technology infrastructure and we will provide global connections to the startups. If we can play a part in creating a few quality scalable startups post Think Next, we would feel that we have accomplished quite a bit from Think Next.”
The two panel discussions will be invite-only and a third open panel with the theme ‘Startup Marketing – Go to market basics for early stage startups’ moderated by Rajinish Menon, Director, Microsoft Ventures, will be open to questions from media.
Ravi says, “Think Next will be a very data-driven discussion and not just an anecdotal panel. We will later release a report capturing the key points of the panel discussion that will be available for use by everyone.” The icing on the cake will be the product demos of around 20 startups of Batch 4 and select alumni of the Accelerator Program at their startup booths. You would not want to miss this!
Date: May 23rd, 2014
Venue: Leela Palace, Bangalore
Time: 1p.m. Onwards
The demo day for startups from the 4th batch of the accelerator program of Microsoft Ventures in India is to be held on May 23, 2014. Get details and tickets here.