[Year in Review 2019] Top quotes by investors on the India startup opportunity (Part 1)

In Part I of this quotes compilation, we share investor insights on the overall India market, startup ecosystem, and founder tips.

Drawn from our comprehensive coverage of India’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, we present around a hundred quotes from investors in Indian startups. What’s the outlook for unicorns in the coming years? What kinds of new markets does the Indian-language internet open up? How should founders approach investors, and what kinds of products and teams should they be building?

In addition to these questions, investors share insights on how India’s startup ecosystem compares to the likes of the US and China, and provide tips on sustainability, scalability, and storytelling.

Investors also share some of the challenges they themselves face in their roller-coaster journey. In Part II of this compilation, we will share investor insights into vertical sectors like healthcare, education, fintech, agri-business, and deep tech.

Share these quotes with your colleagues and networks, and check back to the original articles for more insights. See also our pick of the Top 10 Books of 2019 for Entrepreneurs, and our book review section with insights from 240 titles on innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, leadership and digital transformation.

Make it a habit to check out our Daily Capsule, Weekly Founding Roundup, and quotes compilation StoryBites, featuring notable quotable quotes in our articles of each past week. YourStory has also published the pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups’ as a creative and motivational guide for innovators (downloadable as apps here: Apple, Android).

YourStory wishes all founders and investors a happy holiday season, and a year of success and scale ahead in 2020!

The India prize

We will have 100-plus 'unicorns' by 2025, all solving for India and being mobile first. The consumption story in India is very strong. - Mohandas Pai, Aarin Capital

We are very much on track to have 100 unicorns by around 2025. This is a very interesting phase for the Indian startup ecosystem. - Rajan Anandan, Sequoia

This is the best time to be an investor in India, create a thesis about the market opportunity, and partner with companies at the seed stage. - Mayank Khanduja, SAIF Partners India

Indian market has provided a good exit system with Flipkart and FreeCharge, and Oyo’s buyback is shaping the exit opportunities. - Navin Honagudi, Kae Capital

Indian corporations woke up after Walmart acquisition of Flipkart. It shook them to start looking at startups seriously. - Ninad Karpe, 100X.VC

There will be a surge in next-generation companies where business models will be redefined to cater to India-specific needs. - Puneet Kumar, Nexus Venture Partners

For a market the size of India, there is a growing need for newer funds. - Alok Goyal, Stellaris Venture Partners

The Indian market hasn’t seen many new-age companies getting listed. But we will see them soon. - Munish Varma, SoftBank Investment Advisers


Indian vernacular internet is a big blue ocean market that people have never been served before. - Hanson Hu, Morningside Venture Capital

The needs and the behaviours of the next 500 million internet users are going to be very different from the first 100 million. - Tarun Davda, Matrix Partners India

People are consuming more Indian language content and that has a lot to do with the fact that smartphones now enable users to consume video in an affordable manner. - Sajith Pai, Blume Ventures

Entrepreneurship is no longer a big-city phenomenon. This is a pan-India movement and awakening. - Vaibhav Agrawal, Lightspeed Venture Partners

The government have ensured that startups become mainstream in India, even in the smaller towns. - Padmaja Ruparel, IAN

Startup ecosystem

Recent exits and a growing “give back” mentality have helped create a broader ecosystem of advisors and angel investors. - Rohit Bodas, Propel Venture Partners

We need to improve the ease of doing business for startups in the country. - V Balakrishnan, Exfinity Ventures

It’s easy for a unicorn to build another. Champions breed champions. - Rajat Tandon, IVCA

India requires to build its own kind of NASDAQ. - Siddarth Pai, 3one4 Capital

Collaboration is the only way to go. The younger an ecosystem is, the more it is necessary to collaborate. - Pankaj Mitra, Cisco Investments

India is an extremely competitive and difficult environment, especially if you are not living there every day. - Semil Shah, Lightspeed Venture Partners

Currently, the investment ecosystem is very fragmented with VCs funding in only larger ticket size and angel investors regionally connected. - Amit Jain, ZNL Ventures

Schools can potentially look at entrepreneurship as a programme, but that needs to be backed up by practicals, which may be tough. - Naganand Doraswamy, Ideaspring Capital

Early association by means of internships with accelerator programmes might provide students a soft entry into the startup ecosystem. - Praveen Mokkapati, Anthill Ventures

An important outgrowth of innovation at universities is the presence of on-campus incubators that literally give birth to companies. - Devang Mehta, Anthill Ventures

Founder advice

The day you bring in your first investor is like the day you bring in your first in-law. Never underestimate the power of an investor. - Kishore Chand, Gilda.vc

The grass is greener where there is manure. - Arlan Hamilton, Backstage Capital

If you love what you do, it makes everything much easier. - Ash Lilani, Saama Capital

Avoid building a hammer first and then going looking for a nail. - Anjana Sasidharan, Sequoia India

Startups are all about discovering the right business model. - Hari Balasubramanian, IAN

Investors are always looking for great founders and startups no matter where they are from. - Alok Goyal, Stellaris Venture Partner

Curiosity is a trait that can serve you well in entrepreneurship — when you are curious about how something works and how it can benefit the masses or solve a problem, then you have in you the makings of a successful entrepreneur. - Vani Kola, Kalaari Capital

Exposure is like dynamite for the curious mind. For a founder, it can shape ambitions, open minds to possibility, and ignite new ideas in unimaginable ways. - Vaibhav Agrawal, Lightspeed India Partners

Investors like frugal founders and capital-efficient businesses, but love founders who know where to spend the money. - Sanjay Swamy, Prime Venture Partners

You have to do whatever it takes to get to your first ten customers. The first million dollars is about how do you triple that money from there. - Ashu Garg, Foundation Capital

It is very easy to say that an idea might not work, and it is the worst thing a venture capitalist could do. Because entrepreneurs are there to prove that the existing ideas are wrong in the first place. - Shripati Acharya, Prime Venture Partners

If you have scalable profitable product-market fit, go fast. Go aggressive. And profitable doesn’t mean company-level profitability. You can have unit-level profitability. - Avnish Bajaj, Matrix India

Blitzkrieg comes with risks. - Parag Dhol, Inventus Capital Partners

There has to be some sort of a delivery DNA in the startup because these are great innovators but not necessarily the best organisations that can do a great job as far as delivery is concerned. - Avnish Sabharwal, Accenture Ventures

There is so much explosion of news around startup funding that it becomes harder to focus on the right thing. Success is not about fund raising alone. - Michael Seibel, Y Combinator

It is important for founders to realise that initially the term sheet is not legally binding. - Siddarth Pai, 3one4 Capital

If founders aren’t consciously keeping soft targets for themselves to create diversity, then they are missing out on a very important source of talent. It is their loss. - Aakash Goel, Trifecta Capital

If one has to do something extraordinary, which has not been done in the past, it is very important to narrate a story to generate interest. - V Balakrishnan, Exfinity Venture Partners

A mutual understanding between the lead and founders can essentially help in building a successful company. - Shanti Mohan, LetsVenture

Having great work culture is not an option, it is a necessity. - Vani Kola, Kalaari Capital

Keep looking for talent that can take the burden off you and execute independently, so you can think! - Harsha Kumar, Lightspeed India Partners Advisors

Active moats are where product itself will be reinforcing them. Therefore, they automatically become stronger. - Ajay Sethi, Accel Partners

When a company is in its early stages, the investors back a company not on market size or numbers but primarily on what they see of the team and the founders. - Mridul Arora, SAIF Partners

Investors today want to see a sustainable business model from the startups, especially the B2C firms. You cannot keep on guzzling cash and making losses. - V Balakrishnan, Exfinity Ventures

Unfortunately, capital is not infinite. At some point of time, money will stop coming. Startups need to be self-sustainable. - Rutvik Doshi, Inventus Capital Partners

One important thing that founders from metros can learn from their peers in small towns is the ability to manage cashflow. - Anil Joshi, Unicorn India Ventures

It needs incredible and incessant energy to build something transformative and founders should transform themselves to get there. - Karthik Reddy, Blume Ventures

Being an early-stage founder is possibly the toughest job in the world. - Shailendra Singh, Sequoia Capital

Money, you can give it away and make it again. Time is a perishable resource. - Nandan Nilekani

Every challenge is an opportunity if you flip it. - Geeta Goel, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation

Setbacks are a part of the entrepreneurship journey and resilience in dealing with them sets apart successful entrepreneurs from others. - Roopa Kudva, Omidyar Network

Startup trajectories can lead to wild success or failures, but for the vast majority, the future lies in the uninteresting middle. - Shripati Acharya, Prime Venture Partners

Finance and valuation

Valuing startups is part-science and part-experience. - Saurav Banerjee, Kalaari Capital

Valuation is vanity. That number is going to keep changing with every round, but what will not change is the percentage of ownership. - Tarun Davda, Matrix India

The toughest part of investing in startups is gaining access to the top tier of deals that can give you the huge hits. - Sanjay Mehta, Mehta Ventures

For venture debt what is important is that startups need to keep performing well and they continue to attract capital, but that capital is clearly available. - Vinod Murali, Alteria Capital

When you are approaching VCs, do some homework. Find out which VC is investing in which sector, what they’ve invested in, and what their thesis is rather than having a scattered approach of visiting every VC and banker. - Devang Mehta, Anthill Ventures

Unfortunately, VCs are more likely to invest in entrepreneurs that look like them, have similar ideas to them, and come from their networks. This continues to sideline women and other underrepresented founders. - Amanda Coopersmith, SoGal

Social impact

Technology, used responsibly, is a powerful force for inclusion. - Roopa Kudva, Omidyar Network India

For impact to be sustainable, it must be embedded in the business. - Geeta Goel, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation India

In some ways, the problems of the rich are boring. The action is going to move where you can make a substantial difference in the lives of people. - Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande, Deshpande Foundation

India and the world

Domestic investment from Indian investors is much less when compared to China or Japan. - Bhasker Majumdar, Unicorn India Ventures

India overtook China as the largest producer of two wheelers (23 million in 2017-18). - Saurabh Sharma, SucSEED

Building ‘B2C’ businesses and ‘B2 Small B’ businesses is a tremendous challenge in India, compared to scaling businesses in China and the US. - Sarath Naru, Ventureast

A lot of Chinese young entrepreneurs are trying to come to India as there is now no language barrier. The young Chinese generation speaks good English. - Victor Wang, ZhenFund

The slowdown in China’s startup ecosystem is likely to increase the funding momentum of investors from that country in India as they seek new opportunities. - V Balakrishnan, Exfinity Ventures

The disjointed Southeast Asian wealth management landscape offers great potential to low-cost digital investment managers. - Raj Dugar, Eight Roads Ventures

India is the third-largest SMB market in the world, with over 60 million SMBs. - Vaibhav Agrawal, Lightspeed Venture Partners

It’s very difficult for an emerging market to copy the US model and localise it because the stage of development is different for different countries. - Hans Tung, GGV Capital

People like the governing members of the Imphal Angels have come back from the US and other countries and that is a good sign. - Nickson Sharma, North East Venture Fund

While much attention has been on the consumer startups, there has been a consistent and growing number of enterprise/B2B companies aiming for the US market being launched in India. - Priya Rajan, Silicon Valley Bank

This is the time to discover B2B startups in India whose innovations can be applied on a global scale. - Sajan Pillai, Season Two Ventures

The conversation isn’t just about funding anymore; early-stage entrepreneurs want advice on going global. - Courtney Powell, 500 Startups

YourStory has also published the pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups’ as a creative and motivational guide for innovators (downloadable as apps here: Apple, Android).