Nikitha Shiv's Mana Network is a digital network where VCs, startups, agencies, influencers and experts help each other to create a sustainable ecosystem.
A fundamental problem that startups face be it to raise capital or become successful is that there is no data-led ecosystem to back them up. Usually, there are islands of excellence that connect startups, but each have their own siloed approach. Unfortunately, this system works best only if the platform is able to capture data and support the startup ecosystem.
Today, startups, the media, and VCs are faced with two issues - lack of quality data and unprecedented noise. This is where Nikitha Shiv stepped in with a robust data platform in early 2017. There was another problem she wanted to solve. According to Crunchbase, in 2017, only 17 percent of startups in the US had a woman founder.
In India, that number is even lower. Mana Network is a digital network that connects VCs, startups, agencies, influencers and experts and allows them to help each for a sustainable ecosystem.
The network connects startups with global VCs, lawyers and marketeers. Startups are also matched with audiences to help them scale, like in the case of cross-border commerce, especially those that want to go global.
“The Mana Network cuts through the noise with quality data and an indispensable network,” Nikitha says. She adds that a startup is not usually aware of how to focus on the narrative or on the things that VCs want. On the other hand, VCs don't know how to cherry pick because they are flooded with lots of pitches in their inboxes.
“From our analysis, products like ours are what we call ‘Oxygen’ products. Once you start using Mana, you’ll return often because the ecosystem we’ve built on it is what can keep your startup going,” she says.
Mana’s premise is simple - find all the basic problems a startup has, be it raising capital, getting press, finding agencies who can help them out from a legal perspective to technical development, or work with influencers to run campaigns. They never ask startups to pay because they understand they’d have high churn rates and startups are too unstable to monetise.
“We have the entire show in one place,” Nikitha says. “We are onboarding 10 startups, two influencers and four agencies every day. We’re taking the entire digital ecosystem online, and it’s just getting bigger every day.”
So far, Mana Network has covered more than 100 startups. Its business model is to charge a corporate or VC to pay for the data and insights on the startups. The pricing for corporates is by request and Nikitha does not want to reveal the data yet.
“Cross-border is what makes Indian startups scale. Indian companies have to be in the US because that's where the market is and that's where it is easier to raise money,” says Anil Advani, founder of Inventus Law, who met this reporter during a visit to the Bay Area recently along with a TiE-Mumbai delegation.
Finding the best fit
To sign up on Mana, all a startup needs to do visit the website and fill out a form with a few details about operations. Unlike other platforms, Mana ingests data like monthly Facebook Ad spend and founder colleges, which is quite unusual.
“We are going to find you the best fit. A lot of startups work with agencies and influencers who aren’t the right fit for their size, needs or budget. Our algorithms recommend perfect fit partners for your needs. What’s more, your metrics will be shared with the biggest VCs in India, Singapore and the US - you can choose your privacy settings too,” Nikitha says.
“We’ve always had these networks, we are just allowing access in digital form now,” she adds.
The platform also allows ‘experts’ to rate startups, offers free advice and reviews from invite-only experts who excel at development, private equity, logistics, and more.
There is a reason why Nikitha chose this model.
“A platform called ICOBench validated the expert model for the crypto-currency world and the platform is inspired by them. The system lets these curated experts rate startups and that’s quite valuable for both startups and VCs. On Mana, you can actually stack rank startups and we score them not only on expert ratings but also on the freshness of the data.”
Venture intelligence platforms like CBinsights and Traxcn suffer from data that constantly goes stale, and Mana seems to have found a working solution for this problem with its tech constantly upgrading data capture.
The expert rating system gives VCs more perspectives on what others think of a particular startup. A VC can choose to only see what marketing experts think about a startup or what developers think about it. It crowd-sources ratings for business models and metrics. It could make everything fair and transparent, and allow better visibility, which would then provide meritorious startups access to capital and resources.
“We also saw a lot of social media influencers struggling to work with startups, and we thought why not add them on our platform, along with an exact pricing on what it would cost to post an image or a creative. Our escrow system makes sure everyone gets paid on time too.” Nikitha adds. This platform attracted angel investors from Avalon Labs.
“All the use cases of the platform caught our attention. Nikitha is also a very strong founder who understand people well and knows how to build offline ecosystems,” says Shashank Udupa, COO at Avalon Labs, a venture studio that makes investments and then handholds great ideas. Avalon Labs made a $50,000 investment in Mana back in March, before the product was even built.
“We think this can give serious competition to most venture intelligence platforms out there. They look like bloated toys compared to what Mana can do and the kind of data it works with. With all the data Mana is collecting, I wouldn’t be surprised if sales representatives of the future set up camp at Mana just like they do on Linkedin Sales Navigator today. Mana has the potential to do to Linkedin what Instagram is doing to Facebook,” quips Varun Mayya, CEO at Avalon Labs.
“It’ll be fun to see where this goes” he adds.