This interview is a part of a series of conversations with Women Investors in India.
Bharati Jacob, the founder-partner at Seedfund has been in venture investing for 12 years now. Having rich experience in diverse fields like marketing, financial services and venture investing, she has helped Seedfund become one of the most prominent early stage investment firms in India. A woman who has been involved with 3 funds across 2 investment firms over the past years and has built a very strong hold in the industry today, Bharati is a role model for many. We caught up with her to find out more about her journey throughout the years and what she has to say about entrepreneurship in India.
YS: Hello Bharati, it's an absolute pleasure to have you with us. It'd be great if you could take us down memory lane and tell your experiences about being in a venture investment firm.
Bharati: Thank you. To start out with, it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time to be a part of the team at Inifinity Venture Fund. I did my MBA from Wharton, worked at northwest airlines and came back to India. In india, I worked with investment bank Lazard and then took a sabbatical. I always had interest in venture investing but didn’t get an opportunity till founders of Infinity approached me. I was rather clueless in the early days about how the industry worked. I didn’t have prior experience in investing (whether venture or otherwise) but was willing to learn. What I found most interesting about venture investing is that each day is different – each day we meet a different company; a different kind of entrepreneur and business model. We often meet entrepreneurs who are creating companies in a sector that we have little or no knowledge about!) this means we are outside our comfort zone each day – to try and learn and understand different sectors/verticals. That’s what makes this business very exciting – that each day is a new learning day!
Then, in 2006, along with Pravin and Mahesh, we set up Seedfund. From an employee in an investment firm to a founder in one added yet another dimension to my work life. As a founder, the responsibilities increase – the job definition included fund raising along with fund deployment. It has been a wonderful journey – a journey filled with meeting new people, highly passionate people and learning about new industry/sector. In sum, there is never a dull day in the life of a venture investor.
YS: How have you seen the industry change and grow over the years?
Bharati : the industry has seen tremendous growth over the last 12 years - every year, every month, every day – we see more and more people taking the entrepreneurial plunge. If you look at our social history – for years, the word entrepreneur wasn’t as widely used as the word businessman! And being a business man wasn’t seen as a viable career option. But all that has changed. Now, being an entrepreneur is a viable career option and has found high level of social acceptance. This is good at several levels – ofcourse, it is great for our industry as our deal flow increases. And it is great for our country as entrepreneurs create more jobs than large companies and hence help solve a major problem in our country. The venture eco-system has also developed over the years – the number of supporting casts and characters for this industry are growing as well.
YS: Would you call it venture investment a male dominant job? Have you faced any glass ceiling?
Bharati: I don’t believe that venture investing is any more “male –dominated” than other industries in India. I definitely don’t think it is a ÿ-chromosome” dependent career! I have personally never felt the presence of a glass ceiling but I also believe that glass ceiling often exists in our minds! I have always behaved as if it doesn’t exist! I think venture investing and entrepreneurship have less politics and more merit based since some of these organisations tend to be small and hence, there isn’t any room for politics.
YS: How do you think women are different from men when it comes to investing?
Bharati: Women tend to have lot more varied experience in dealing with people – in their personal life, women often have to deal with a wide variety of people with different skill sets and in different levels of hierarchy! This diverse experience helps in creating greater empathy and being a better judge of people/situations.
I don't necessarily believe in gender differences but differences based on experience. Given that women have very different experience, it makes them more empathetic than men! This aspect helps while working with entrepreneurs as starting and building a company is a roller –coaster ride ! One day might be bad, the next maybe horrible and the one after that may be euphoric! It's very important to think from the entrepreneurs' shoes sometimes.
YS: Life of a VC is topic of curiosity for many. How do you maintain the work-life balance?
Bharati: Well, there is nothing very special or different in the life of a VC (smiles). The challenges and scope are pretty much the same as in any other profession. To manage work-life balance, we need to prioritize what is important for us and then manage our time accordingly. Work-life balance is about making choices on a daily basis keeping the priorities in mind! There might be a time that I don’t do a meeting because I need to go for a PTA meeting. Many women often ask me about networking – since most of the networking events happen in the evening when the mother/wife in us needs to be home! A good way to make up for not being able to attend such events is to seek out people that you want to meet and meet them over lunch or breakfast or just evening coffee. Personally speaking, my husband has been very supportive during each phase and it has been an enriching journey.
YS: Great! So, what are your views on women entrepreneurship in India?
Bharati: I think women are natural entrepreneurs and I do hope many more become entrepreneurs! The numbers are increasing over the years – but still not large enough. I do wish that more women start their own businesses.
Not just Seedfund's portfolio companies, but the entire startup community has learnt a lot from her views and opinions over the years and we'd like to thank her for sharing her time with us at yourstory.in. Keep watching this space for views from other prominent women investors in India.
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