Sanjay Mehta of MAIA Intelligence shares his journey from an entrepreneur to investor
MAIA Intelligence’ founder Sanjay Mehta is today a well-known name in the entrepreneur circles. He is a regular speaker at forums and events related to entrepreneurship. Sanjay speaks mostly out if his experience as an entrepreneur who worked hard to build his business and make MAIA Intelligence a successful venture. He is also an investor with interests and investments across varied sectors. We recently caught up with Sanjay to discuss his journey as an entrepreneur and now how he looks back at things from this side of the fence. Excerpts.
Born in a middle class Gujarati joint family in Mumbai, Sanjay learnt early to be patient, accommodating, listen & nurture relationships with diverse thinking people. “Socialism in wealth was my biggest learning as a teen,” he says. He completed his engineering from Mumbai University in 1993 and while most of his friends & classmates were moving to US, he was pretty sure he wanted to stay back in India and be an industrialist. “Setting up an industry and doing commerce was the biggest fancy in early 1990s. I used to read PC magazines and was fascinated to create business in computers. Selling PC hardware did not excite me. I chose to do software reselling,” he recollects about the early days. Sanjay dabbled for a while as a reseller for OEM’S and in the process learnt from them how to demonstrate software & channel distribution methods. Later he started Bespoke Software Consultancy and that was the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey.The serial entrepreneur
MAIA Intelligence is Sanjay’s third venture. His first venture of Bespoke Software Consultancy was a successful business in software, but Sanjay shifted gears when he felt it was not scalable beyond a point. A short trip to US and his exposure to e-commerce, dot coms made him enter into the space with a B2B commodity trade portal. Sanjay was among the many who rode the dotcom wave and was washed away by it. “I had spent all my savings in the business and lost all the money, because investors backed out on the term sheet. I ended up losing all my savings & had loans to repay,” recollect Sanjay.
To tide over things, he built an online accounting software in 2000 as an application service provider (ASP) model (SaaS term was none-existent then) but the idea was ahead of time for Indian market and he had to subsequently close that venture too. But the dot com and software consultancy experience made him create a software product for tax computation & filing in year 2000. This venture turned things around for him and Sanjay successfully sold the venture to an Indian owned US company. “We were rated as a second largest ISV in India by DnB. It was an India centric business & SMB customer,” says Sanjay about the venture.
Sanjay started MAIA Intelligence in 2006, when he identified the potential in developing a business intelligence software. Their product 1KEY is currently used by over 50000+ users with 200+ enterprise customer in multiple verticals across the globe.
Sanjay counts his ability to understand technology and finance a great advantage in helping build the ventures, and now in his role as a mentor and angel investor. “Timing of venture is the most critical aspect, many time ideas are ahead of time is the biggest lesson I learnt with my failures. Speed of execution becomes very significant for any venture to be successful. I look to establish identity, evangelize brand not just create products. Finally I believe India is an unfinished story.”
The angel investor
Sanjay is an investor member of Indian Angel Network, Venture Nursery & Mumbai Angel network groups. He has made investments between USD 100,000 up to USD 1Million, in 16 different ventures across diverse verticals. “Being a technology professional my first interests are in social, mobility, analytics & cloud. I have investments in QSR, education, media, medical devices & E-Commerce as well,” says Sanjay. Before investing he looks at idea impact, team competency & execution capabilities. We asked Sanjay to pick his Top 3 sectors for investment and he places his bet on analystics, media and 3D printing.
Sanjay says he normally stays with an investment for 5-7 years, before looking for exits. “If an investment is dud its ok as now I need not worry about the money & I move forward. If an investment has a great exit story with good multiples with M&A, I look at covering my other losses make a return on my portfolio,” he says about his philosophy. He is also I am also hoping to see couple of startups reaching an IPO in coming 5 years time frame which he says is by far the most satisfying exit for any angel investor.
Sanjay assists his portfolio companies to help make connection with the CIO, CTO community and is also very hands on at advising them about advertising, PR, branding & marketing.
Thoughts on the Indian startup ecosystem
Sanjay admits there are no viable exits currently in India. “We need to create a vibrant platform for Exit option for invested startups. Government has started SME exchanges but still the rules, guideline & terms are not favouring startups to exit via that route,” he says. He also thinks the government should reward startups with an initial 1000 days tax holiday - to do away with any compliance & no tax obligations. “We have Infosys or WIPRO as successful as is today as they got tax holiday on the software exports at the right time & little compliance.”
And finally he thinks the Indian startup ecosystem needs entrepreneurship crusaders like Peter Thiel who can helps evangelize the Indian entrepreneurs & eco-system. And a focused association body which represents lobbies and advocates that small is the new big, and who can convince customers, investors & government, that entrepreneurship & startups are the new strengths for the economy.