Interesting insights from the panel discussion at TechSparks Chennai Regional RoundTable


Investor, entrepreneurs, and corporate execs provide their perspectives

The panel at Chennai Regional RoundTable -- Aakash Goel (Sequoia), Suresh Sambandam (OrangeScape), Badri Seshadri (New Horizon Media, a publishing house), Vimalraj Abraham (IBM), Solaikutty Dhanabal (National Instruments) -- moderated by Shradha Sharma, founder, YourStory, offered definitive insights on various parts of a business that immensely benefitted the entrepreneurs who were present.

Aakash Goel said that the investors are always excited by the market opportunities a business presents. In addition, the founder team and the business model play a crucial role in investment decisions. Refuting the perception that venture capital is not adequately available, he said that venture activity is at its peak in India at present. Sequoia also makes low-ticket investments also such as $1 million but such deals are not publicized as competition might kill the business. He also lamented that tech innovation is not as intense as in the Silicon Valley, pointing out that Sequoia is a less risk-taking investor. Although a venture is not making profits, its ability to solve a real customer pain point would attract funding, in Aakash’s opinion. He said copy cat models of successful ventures in US and China are also attracting investments but Sequoia believes in putting money behind promising entrepreneurs. It is important to learn to fail early on, he added.

Suresh shared some of the insights about entrepreneurial decision making that helped him position his offering at attractive levels. Customers buy for value and are not worried about pricing if you give them ultimate value. His usual deal size is not less than Rs. 25 lakhs and his product is priced $40,000 and they have always kept their price up and have not yielded to pressures. Adopting a channel strategy helped OrangeScape gain visibility. A sales man’s job is for a quarter and so OrangeScape offered a Rs. 2.5 crore sales opportunity to sales GM in Wipro, which received wide attention inside Wipro as well as outside. “Small entrepreneurs will always look at big companies for quick sales and less time to market,” said Suresh. If you identify a gap and fulfil that gap, the big companies that are always looking for innovative products will help take your product to the market. Getting the mindshare of the customer is crucial, Suresh pointed out. If you provide solid value, you can keep your price up.

Badri Seshadri said that he made lot of mistakes in his first venture and continues to make mistakes to learn. But in cricinfo, he learned at the cost of investor’s money and not repeating those mistakes but making new ones. He pointed out that profitability is not the criterion to attract investments. If the investor feels your game is long term and your business will survive through the ages, they will pump in money, anticipating that your business might attract a PE investment, giving them a sound exit. He explained that he started regional publishing in Tamil as that was the only language he knew to cater to the taste of the reading population. But he took care to make adequate planning and preparation before starting New Horizon Media by putting in a business plan every year, which in no way resembled the previous year’s plan. He encouraged entrepreneurs to first focus on making profits and then spending a huge money to scale. That will be sustainable, in his opinion.Vimalraj Abraham said IBM is always looking for ISPs and so entrepreneurs can freely approach him. The ISPs aligned to IBM’s market strategies will attract its attention. The advantages of partnering with IBM for startups are less R&D investment, less time to market and access to resources.

National Instruments converts your application design on silicon seamlessly offering many benefits for graphic user interface applications. Solaikutty Dhanabal encouraged entrepreneurs to approach National Instruments if they needed any help in that regard.

The open house generated interesting questions and startups were asked to introduce themselves before the panel discussion ended. It’s perhaps the first event where startups in the audience got visibility.

–Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist


Updates from around the world