As an active Series A/B investor, most companies I like have been supported by great angel investors and seed funds. They help founders quit their day jobs, build a team and get to their first revenue. Having that right first investor back you is life changing — they can set the tone for many investments to come and provide you with the credibility and advice you desperately need.
Needless to say, not all early investors are the same.
Below are a group of people doing great work. I have categorized them into three different groups — angel networks, fundraising platforms and seed funds. Over time, group two will eat group one (à la Angel List). Each group behaves very differently in how they source and make decisions. If I missed you, ping me (@sandhya) and I’ll look you up.
Who have I not included? Accelerators. Not that they aren’t relevant, just that there are very few awesome ones and they don’t give you much cash. Here they are: Pankaj Jain at 500Startups, Abhishek Gupta at TLabs, Vijay Anand at theStartupCenter and Rajesh Sawhney at GSF. There are new accelerators popping up everyday like these guys. I will add the ones I have worked with and liked to in this list over time.
While IAN and Mumbai Angels are the largest networks, how a group is run and who is in it are far more important than how many angels you can get access to. Small exclusive groups where investors themselves are easy to reach and give you quick feedback will help you make better decisions as a founder:
- Indian Angel Network (born 2006) - Padmaja Ruparel runs IAN and knows just about every angel investor in India. Don’t just submit a form on their website. Get a warm introduction to one of their 290 members and your pitch is more likely to be read and shared and invested in. Like this. The entrepreneurs who have worked with them have great things to say about Sanjay Jha and Sharad Sharma.
- Powai Lake Ventures (born 2011) - Largely IITB alumni crew of awesome people. You will love their application process. Just send them a short email. No forms, no business “plans”. Zishaan really knows what questions to ask when he is not busy running Toppr.
- Mumbai Angels (born 2006) - While they have old hits like inMobi and Myntra in their kitty, I see fewer exciting deals led by them in 2014. Their website definitely needs a revamp. They have some great new angel investors leading deals though like Phani.
- I3N (born 2009) - Aditi, who runs Intellecap’s Impact Investing Network works very hard to get founders funded. Fabulous coach for the first time CEO. If your startup has high socio-economic relevance, put her on your fundraising list for angel $.
- Other City-based Angel networks are still less active with a handful of investors truly active in each of these groups: Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata(+ Seeders.in) and newly launched Mangalooru Angels led by Mohandas Pai. Don’t think they even have a website up yet but he also invests though Aarin Capital.
- Individual Powerhouse angels — CEOs and entrepreneurs with a great wealth of experience to help you launch: Rajan Anandan, Ravi Gururaj, Vishal Gondal, Ganesh Krishnan, Pallav Nadhani, the Bansals … it’s harder to get their attention but if you are looking for that perfect angel backer — these are two good places to start searching for them: Quora-threads, Angellist/India
I am really excited about the potential of Angel List-like platforms in India where startups are more geographically dispersed and it’s often harder to get meetings quickly for founders. Platforms are efficient, help standardize terms and give more power to entrepreneurs. We need some of that. I already see IAN members rapidly signing up on these sites.
- Let’s Venture (born 2013) - fabulous work by Shanti Mohan. With 23 deals closed, they are leading the charge of the platforms so far.
- Termsheet.io (born 2014) - Love their pitch “zero friction” seed deals (hey, it doesn’t hurt to have the right goals). Claim to fame: the Bansals just invested in Ather through termsheet.io. Join the other 700 startups now listing there and let me know what your experience was!
- Ah! Ventures (born 2012) - They have been around longer seeding investments but launched their platform in 2012. Nice portfolio of B2C and B2B tech platforms in learning, gaming, collaboration. They seem to like network effects. And who doesn’t when it works?
- Globevestor (born 2014) - This team particularly focuses on helping NRIs and HNIs abroad invest in Indian startups as well and have closed five deals already including Zoomcar. The good news: no commission
Everyone’s doing seed investments at this point so nothing, apparently, is too early for institutional capital. Accel, SAIF, Kalaari, IDG, Accel, Helion, Sequoia, Matrix, Nexus, Inventus, Intel, and Qualcomm… I begin to think even Tiger Global might make a seed investment in the right team given the exuberant environment in India. If you have their attention, you are winning already and don't need this article.
That said, here are the guys whose only job is to lead seed rounds and who will still be making seed investments when things get tough:
- Blume Ventures (born 2011) - I like where their portfolio is going and they are just flush from their Zipdial exit. Easy to reach, just tweet at @arpiit and he will tell you what’s what.
- Unitus Seed Fund (born 2012) - Awesome guys. They have an impact agenda and are a great fit for startups in education, health, payments and generally “inclusive” business ideas. They have just launched an accelerator program too: Speed2Seed. Best way to reach them is be introduced by someone they know but you can also try Radha over Linkedin.
- India Quotient (born 2013) - Entrepreneurs themselves, fabulously easy to reach. Use twitter or just email Anand Lunia from their website. As someone who also shares her email id on linkedin and my website and gets her inbox down to zero every week, I really respect angel/seed investors who share their contacts. If you still can’t pitch something that gets my attention, you need to work on your pitch.
- Orios Venture Partners (born 2014) - Started by successful angel investor Rehanyar Khan, their website features many of his past angel investments like Olacabs. However, Venu says they are actively looking for seed opportunities. They have already made 12 investments but only announced Yumist amongst their seed bets.
- Kae Capital (born 2011) - Sasha is awesome and an old hand at the investing game having started Mumbai Angels in 2006. Again, super reachable — everyone’s email ids are on their website.
- Seedfund (born 2006) - They were probably India’s first seed fund and have led some very successful investments with redBus and Carwale. Not the easiest team to reach though. Try Bharati Jacob They have slowed down (stopped?) in 2014 so I should check whether they are raising money again.
- Jungle Ventures (born 2012) - Jayesh Parekh was an active angel investor way before he started running Jungle. Their team makes investments across Asia and has some cool operating experience. Not the easiest to reach for a seed fund and possibly moving to Series A.
I will keep updating this list with the experiences of other entrepreneurs and my own. In particular, as the larger VC funds I have referenced continue to stay active in making seed investments.