There’s a long running joke in the TiE Global fraternity, that the awards should simply start from second place hereafter—for the TiE Delhi chapter, which was the first TiE chapter in India kickstarted by Padmaja Ruparel, has been bagging the top spot four years in a row.
A key figure in the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem, Padmaja also revived the Indian Venture Capital Association, only to step out of an ever-waxing corporate life to operationalise a band of angels in the form of IAN with Saurabh Srivastava.
What started with using a nine-year-old laptop at investors' offices in 2006, IAN today has operations across 10 countries, with over 430 angel members and over 110 investee companies—and here is the story of the person who made it soar.
Padmaja was brought up in CPI-M’s Calcutta at a time when the entrepreneurial temper did not exist. She studied management, dabbled with CA, and in the late 1980s, picked up her real estate family business. After marriage, she moved out of home for the first time to Delhi, where her husband worked.
“The cultural norm was that I would leave behind whatever I was doing with my parents and start life anew,” she recounts.
Padmaja started working for a small computer training startup and thereafter moved to a media house. Eventually, she joined a software services company, helmed by her would be mentor, Saurabh Srivastava.
The job taught Padmaja how to perform multiple roles. So, while she worked with the MD and the ET, she also took on the additional role of recruitment. She says,
“I drove the strategy, got the right people, negotiated the right packages, and handled their travel and accommodation. That taught me how one can do more than just what they have been recruited for.”
She adds: “But the more important factor here is that the company allowed it to happen. That is the most powerful message I have got in my life.”
Padmaja was offered the strategy role and entrusted with some big-ticket M&A deals in the UK. She brought in new investors and even helped the company enter a joint venture with a Singapore government entity—the venture failed, but it was not in vain.
“Failure teaches you a lot about your team, and yourself. Recognise the lessons,” she says.
She was also instrumental in the IIS Infotech merger with the Xansa, a British BPo, the valuation of the combined entity being $800 million. In turn, Padmaja learned the dynamics of diversity—how cross-cultural integration happens and diverse teams function.
After the merger, Padmaja was tasked with rebranding the giant, Xansa India, a publicly listed entity. Their visibility in the media was around one story a month. As the company was listed, no announcements could be made without routing them through their London team. This meant that Padmaja was could not leverage any little triumphs, even as they were competing with giants like Wipro, TCS, and Infosys who had a staggering media presence.
“I had to think differently because I still needed to achieve my positioning. So, I created a bank of softer stories, of giving back, by starting up the CSR programme in our company. We were the first company, in fact, to start a CSR programme in the software industry. It also helped in employee retention, as it gave the company a very humane image,” she recounts. In eleven months, she had taken their media presence to one piece of coverage a day.
As a corporate communications professional, Padmaja heavily engaged with industry bodies like NASSCOM—which exposed her to the outside world. When Padmaja and Saurabh started TiE Delhi, she played a major role in operationalising it.
“Entrepreneurship was not a common word—heck, I remember misspelling and mispronouncing it the first few times,” she jokes, adding, “we had to literally pull people to the networking events.”
The first ever event they organised under TiE saw guests like Shiela Dixit and Kamal Rekhi. The subsequently initiated TiECon saw about 800 people in its first edition.
An ongoing joke in the global TiE fraternity is that they should now vie only for second place, for the first one has been bagged by TiE Delhi four years in a row. “It’s as if you had a baby which has become not only grown up, but also successful in life,” she quips.
Having been in the system for a while now, Padmaja and Saurabh realised what it was lacking. What they now wanted to do was called angel investing. That, in essence, was the birth of Indian Angel Network, that is, IAN.
“We began small,” she tells us.
She, along with five other co-founders, started thinking how to go beyond Delhi –not just across the country but also overseas. Today, IAN has over 450-460 investors, over 135 companies across 17-18 sectors in seven countries.
“The IAN investor table is something we are really proud of. Our IRR over an eight-year period was 40 percent, which is huge given how early we invest in a company. And our failure rate was 10 percent-which was also very low,” she states.
Padmaja also realised that many of the good companies were either falling off the wagon or slowing down because the next round of investment needed $1-5 million, which is very hard to get in the Indian ecosystem. “When we started, Angel investing was the real need. Thanks to a lot of you guys in media, angel investment has been brought to the centre stage—but now, the gap is in the $1-4 million category. This is why we founded the IAN fund, of which I am now the Managing Partner,” she states.
Thanks to this platform, between IAN and the fund, an entrepreneur can raise money from Rs 25 lakhs to Rs 30 crore. “Essentially, if an entrepreneur performs well, they will be able to draw money from the platform and keep moving forward, and will not have to waste time fund-raising,” explains Padmaja.
This is a Rs 350 crore fund, and they are taking it to Rs 450 crore as you read this. They have already amassed 50 percent of it, and it is largely domestic money.
“We have set two trends—firstly, the fact that it is 50 percent personal money, which is rare, and secondly, the fact that we placed domestic money. It is not difficult for IAN to go overseas, but I think it’s a big comment on the national ecosystem. Earlier 85-90 percent was raised overseas,” she explains.
There are very few women in investment even today—the ratio is still in favour of men. “Something that we can leverage to the hilt is multitasking. Honestly, for me this is not about one more fund or angel group, it is about creating a nation-wide institution—and there could be no better time to invest than now,” she says.
Padmaja now gears up to launch IAN in London next month.
She also has a sizable personal portfolio, and her investment philosophy is about identifying a team—“for organisations don’t make people, people make organisations.”