Interview

“Our goal is to help build more global tech startups out ofIndia”,Anirudh Suri, The India Internet Group

Abhilasha Dafria
7th Mar 2012
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Anirudh Suri, who pursued his MBA at Wharton, met his partner, Nihal Mehta, who did his undergrad at Penn, through their common connection with the University of Pennsylvania. Excited about the emerging tech startup ecosystem in India, they realized that they were in a unique position to create a bridge between the ecosystems in the two countries, leveraging their connections and experience in both countries. Thus, with monetary support from prior investors in their earlier ventures, they decided to start The India Internet Group (IIG). The fund focuses only on the internet/mobile space, primarily because both partners in the fund have experience in those sectors. They also believe that consumers in India are likely to consume more content and make more purchases on these two platforms over the next few years, throwing up very interesting, exciting and large opportunities for building great companies out of India.

Name: The India Internet Group

Founded: March 2011

Philosophy of the Fund: The India Internet Group invests in India-focused early stage internet and mobile technology startups. With offices in Mumbai and New York, IIG seeks to also facilitate cross-pollination of ideas, technologies and startups between the U.S. and India.

The firm takes a hands-on approach and provides talented, driven entrepreneurs with on-the-ground management strategy and execution.

Deal size: Their typical deal size varies between USD 50K to USD 250K, though they can do larger investments also if they want. The current fund size is USD 2.5 Million

Investments so far: IIG and its partners have made 5 investments so far which include companies such as Ignighter.com (now StepOut.in), Exclusively.in, The Wild East Group, EkSMS.com and another startup that they haven't announced publicly yet. They have had 1 successful exit.

EkSMS.com is a startup incubated by IIG. They plan to incubate 1-2 such innovative ideas a year.


Investments roadmap for 2012: IIG is likely to make two more investments in the next month. In all, they expect to make 8-10 investments in 2012. “This year”, says Anirudh “we hope to make at least a couple of investments, if not more, in Indian companies that we think have built products for global markets. Our goal is to help build more global tech startups out of India. It’s high time!”

Besides the monetary support, IIG aims to provide two things to the portfolio companies:

(1) The vision, guidance, resources and the connections for taking the company global: Between the fund managers, advisors and investors, IIG has an access to a vast network and deep operational experience in the U.S. that they wish to bring to bear when helping an Indian company crack the U.S. market.

“Actually, it’s not just limited to the U.S. market - In fact, we're now actively exploring how we can try to bring some Indian startups into the Chinese/ South East Asian/MENA markets” says Anirudh.

(2) Real hands-on engagement as friends and colleagues: “Both Nihal and I are relatively young and have built startups before. My favorite part is that I get to personally spend a lot of time with our incubated and investee companies both in a social and professional setting. We really see ourselves as friends for our portfolio company founders which means you're more likely to see me with them in social settings than professional. Of course, that doesn't mean we're not focused!”, Anirudh adds.

The Venture Competition, An IIG initiative: The Venture Competition was launched in the U.S. late last year to encourage U.S.-based entrepreneurs or companies to move to India to launch India-focused businesses. IIG founders believe there are thousands of Indians and Indian Americans in the U.S. today - working at the top tech firms or startups or consulting firms or studying at the top graduate schools, who are extremely keen on starting up new innovative ventures in India, but just require that little nudge to make that transition.

“We at IIG hope to provide that ‘nudge’ to these talented individuals to move to India, and then provide them the requisite support systems in place to help them succeed and avoid the usual pitfalls. The response has been great - we have received over 100 solid entries, and we hope to pick the finalists over the next couple of months.”


Advisors on-board of IIG:

  • Rajan Anandan, Managing Director of Google, Inc.
  • Sunjay Guleria, CEO and Founder of Exclusively.in
  • Gautam Gandhi, manages new business development efforts for Google.
  • Anuradha Duggal, Serial entrepreneur, and co-founder of Exclusively.in,
  • Vijay Chattha, Founder of VSC

The Founders of IIG meet and interact very frequently with their Board of Advisors. “Some of them I chat with almost every day on the phone or online about exciting opportunities we're seeing and evaluating. All of them are very generous in providing operational and strategic guidance to the fund as well as our portfolio companies,” says Anirudh. The advisors are as excited about the opportunities to help build some incredibly valuable and novel businesses inIndia and often co-invest with the fund in opportunities that they find fit in their own personal portfolio maps.


Anirudh Suri shares his views on:

Prominent Trends Emerging in Mobile and Internet in India

I believe we are seeing an increasing trend towards the adoption of mobile internet as a preferred platform for accessing the internet. The rapid growth in mobile internet usage points to the need for 1) more engaging content to be delivered to users over that medium; 2) search and payment platforms to be developed that are tailored for users on that platform; and 3) advertising to be targeted, and potentially hyper-local, for users as mobile internet also is highly location-aware. Companies providing streamlined information or entertainment content or facilitating transactions and commerce on the mobile internet are likely to emerge as the front-runners.

Besides that, I believe that companies that build products or services that form the underlying infrastructure to promote e-commerce and mobile commerce are likely to establish themselves as valuable players in the value chain. We are wary of copycats, especially in the e-commerce space. What we have found is that no matter what vertical you take, you'll find 4-5 decent startups in that space. Ultimately, it boils down to the right team, the right plan and the right backing.

Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs in Mobile and Internet

Entrepreneurs who are successful in the mobile/internet space are by far some of the innovative, bold thinkers of their generations. This is largely a greenfield space, and hence requires, by definition, the winners to be path blazers. If you are simply going to blindly copy an idea and execute it in the same way as everyone else, you will find that there are enough people who can beat you at copying. However, if you are the one who takes a bold bet (albeit a calculated one), does things differently (whether it be customer acquisition/ business model/ product), and have the vision and the passion to follow it through, you're likely to taste success. Still, no guarantees, but this raises the likelihood of success I believe.

Moreover, the successful entrepreneurs in this space today are seeking out mentorship and advice from all corners. It is very important to move fast, think creatively and execute brilliantly, but you also need to make sure you avoid common mistakes that your competitors or predecessors have made. The problems they are trying to solve are the same, but often their approaches are different.

Finally, successful entrepreneurs have managed to zero in on the biggest challenges in their respective spaces (whether it be logistics/supply chain/ customer acquisition/ scaling up), and focused their efforts on solving the aspect of the problem that no one else has been able to so far.

Major Challenges Entrepreneurs face in Mobile and Internet Space in India

The three biggest challenges of early stage/seed capital, the right product development vision and product management skill-set, and the ability to scale come what may. Most entrepreneurs today don't want to raise too much capital too early - and hence there is a need for more capital to pour in at the early early stage (like IIG does).

Second, the product vision is narrow and often relies on what has been done elsewhere. This is a recipe for disaster especially when it comes to a product that seeks to solve a core consumer need for Indians.

Third, the ability to scale quickly and efficiently doesn't come easily to many entrepreneurs. Many mistakes are made at that stage as companies pour in money blindly in the name of scaling up.

We at IIG are focused on the early/seed stage. In addition, we are trying to bring together talent that has product management expertise with the experience of having built large businesses. Given our U.S. and India presence, we have often facilitated the exchange of talent and ideas between the two ecosystems. By far, the U.S. has done a great job of building great global products and companies that have scaled well. There's a lot to learn from that experience, while realizing that the Indian consumer's mindset, needs and behavior is likely to be (not guaranteed to be) much different than the U.S. counterpart. Similarly, by exposing our investee companies to advisors from both markets, we hope to provide the right balance of inspiration and guidance for smart execution.


On Mobile App Businesses in India: Challenges and Opportunities

For mobile app businesses, I would say the opportunity is to build apps that provide an amazing UI/UX as well an extremely engaging content platform to users. Today, most apps fail to harness the full potential of the platforms. Many experts say that Indian app usage is low, and likely to remain low given infrastructure and cost issues. I disagree - you provide the right experience and the right content, and Indian mobile users will lap it all up!

For further details, please visit http://www.theindiainternetgroup.com/

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