If you don't dream big, you are not going to get there, says Shruti Gandhi of Array Ventures
In this week’s 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, Shruti Gandhi, Array Ventures, talks about backing early-stage enterprise SaaS founders and taking their companies from zero to $10 million ARR.
General Partner and Founding Engineer at Array Ventures Shruti Gandhi is one of the few Indian-origin VCs in the US who invests in enterprise-focused startups globally. An alumnus of Columbia University and The University of Chicago, Shruti started her career with IBM as a software engineer.
She founded BigData company Penseev in 2010 and later worked as the Principal at the early-stage venture fund of Samsung Electronics.
Spending nine years at IBM, taking the entrepreneurial route, and working with an early-stage VC worked out as the perfect mix for Shruti. It helped her understand the enterprise-focused SaaS business and get enough experience in the VC ecosystem.
Shruti founded B2B fund Array Ventures in 2016, and has invested in close to 40 companies so far. Some of her notable investments include CasaOne, Blumira, MadStreet Den, Modal, Simility (acquired by PayPal), and Uniform.dev, among others.
In the recent episode of 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, a series featuring founders, venture capitalists, and angel investors, Shruti spoke to Siddharth Ahluwalia about her experience of supporting early-stage enterprise SaaS founders.
Journey from Mumbai to the US
Shruti says her journey is anything but typical.
Shruti moved to the US from Mumbai in 1999, before joining college. She was enrolled in Marist College for the BSc course in computer science. Shruti completed the three-year course within two and a half years, while working full-time with IBM.
She founded her company Penseev while pursuing her master’s in computer science from Columbia University. After that, she went to the University of Chicago for her MBA, worked at different places, until she finally joined Samsung investment arm, Samsung Next. She went on to spend four and a half years at True Ventures as an investor, before founding her own VC firm, Array Ventures.
“We write the first cheque to startups that are getting formed,” Shruti says.
Enterprises SaaS-focused fund
Array Ventures invests about half a million to a million dollars in enterprise companies, depending on the round size. It optimises between eight to 15 percent ownership in the company that they invest in.
The VC firm focuses on founders that are technical and “want to give up a very high-paying corporate job to solve a problem”, Shruti says.
Array Ventures usually comes in when an entrepreneur is just starting up and has a couple of ‘friends’ to validate what they are building. According to Shruti, they help founders who are just starting out to get to their go-to-market, and build the company from zero to $1 million ARR, to $10 million ARR.
“At our stage I find enterprise to be more valuable and more of a playbook that I can help with...For me, the value that I can provide on the consumer side is very minimal. So, we focus on enterprise and help companies think about their growth from the enterprise perspective,” she adds.
Additionally, Array Ventures invests globally, provided that its go-to market is not geographically limited. It has invested in Indian and Israeli companies which are focused on solving global problems such as security and cloud infrastructure.
Array Ventures is an investor in Indian startups MadStreet Den and CasaOne.
Changing growth and opportunities
Array Ventures’ thesis generally is to take advantage of data and see how data can disrupt any industry. “It is pretty broad,” Shruti says.
With people across the world now working remotely, conversations around security issues and threats are gaining momentum. Thus, Array Ventures has recently invested in Blumira, a company that focuses on automated threat detection response. “What I love about Blumira is they actually highlight the false positives in a minimal way,” Shruti says.
Speaking on the future of enterprise companies in India, Shruti says that not many people know about enterprise companies. Four to five years back, when she was in India discussing Array Ventures, “investors there shut me down, saying they only focused on consumers and that is their future here (in India)”.
She shares that whenever she talks about her fund, everyone eyes glaze over because enterprise companies are not another Facebook. “It is not attractive to talk at a cocktail party about how I invested in this cool new security company,” she jokes.
Ideal exit: acquisition or IPO?
When asked to choose between an acquisition in five or six years or an IPO in 10 years, Shruti selects IPO. “But if the founders decide to take the acquisition route, we want to support them,” she says.
Having said that, goals are important for Array Ventures. It cares about how fast a company can get to $100 million in revenue. “My philosophy is if you do not dream big, you are not going to get there,” Shruti says.
While founders are very passionate about what they are solving, most of them do not know how to grow their businesses. And that is where Array Ventures comes in. The focus of the fund is growth and go-to-market.
Zero to $100M ARR
In an ideal world, it would take one year for a company to go from zero to $1 million ARR. However, in a realistic world, Shruti believes that it takes about two years to get to a million ARR. Taking that to $10 million ARR is where the struggle lies.
In an enterprise startup, the initial sale is usually led by the founders themselves. After that, they have to find a VP Sales, and a VP marketing. Once these are sorted, entrepreneurs have to figure out their go-to market strategy, the content base, and sales motion.
Additionally, getting to a $10 million ARR mark also requires building the right team. And most importantly, “Most enterprise technical founders do not know marketing...and in parallel to all this, they have to convince enterprise investors that they should be funded,” Shruti says.
Thus, it takes a while till everyone gets into their groove and builds for a $10 million ARR.
Key learnings to build enterprise SaaS
When founders are building for B2B, they should not forget to get their services validated by their customers. She says it usually takes a decade or more before a B2B business is ready for an IPO. Additionally, all the struggle does not necessarily guarantee success.
“It is not for the light-hearted. And it’s not for the rational people either...who like the salary and the comfort. Entrepreneurship sounds glamorous outside...and the success stories you hear are years in making,” Shruti explains.
Edited by Teja Lele