[In the second part of the interview, Nandini and Prashant continue their discussion of how The Morpheus was started, and Nandini outlines the group’s philosophy.]
Nandini: After Seventymm bought Madhouse in 2007, it was a hindsight thought that both Sameer and I had that if there were a strong community or an evolving ecosystem for entrepreneurs in India when we started out, perhaps we would have made far fewer mistakes than we did. Both of us had seen the evolved start-up community and the fervor in the Silicon Valley while there just before we started Madhouse.
Both of us were approached by first-time entrepreneurs, founders who had just started out with specific advice they wanted, or they just wanted us to share our Madhouse experience with them. We realized that they saw value in our experience and the advice we gave them. Alongside of that, we were also considering our next venture. This got us thinking and we did research on incubator models across the world. The Y- Combinator model looked the most promising compared to the traditional incubation model. We did more research, talked to more entrepreneurs, and went to other forums in India. This we did while we actively were helping a couple of start-ups in their business. But we realized that philanthropic advice is something that is not of much consequence – as the founder cannot demand our time, the impact of such advice is not as great.
This was the time when Ankit [Maheshwari] of Instamedia (then Instablogs) came to us and said, Let’s formalize our engagement, because doing so will help me reach out to you when I want and in a way that I’ll have command over your time, rather than making it random. This was a trigger to The Morpheus’s first version.
We’d realized that start-ups in India did not lack funding; most of them had figured out their initial starting up capital. What they needed were experienced, dedicated mentors who could guide them, make necessary connections, help them to make fewer mistakes. So, we started The Morpheus under the name Morpheus Venture Partners, and we provided active mentoring via the Business Acceleration Program (BAP) and no funding. This was version one.
Prashant: Interesting. So, the core need of Indian entrepreneurs was mentoring. Does the incubator have any industry preference, or is it broad?
Nandini: We have not limited ourselves to a specific industry. As we believe that the start-up founders are experts in their domain, what we help them with are other essential aspects of the business, such as product validation, marketing, business development, getting profitable, and so forth.
Also, with the kind of diversity India has, and with the opportunity to solve many basic problems, limiting ourselves to a specific domain will not actually help us build a strong startup ecosystem.
[Most entrepreneurs feel an incubator or partners are especially helpful in a particular domain in which they have expertise or a previous track record. Some entrepreneurs have asked [co-founder] Paul Graham – Why does Y Combinator emphasize Web 2.0? Though Y Combinator does fund other type of companies, entrepreneurs get this perception based on the profile of the majority of Y Combinator’s portfolio companies.
On the same lines, we wanted to get an entrepreneur’s viewpoint on The Morpheus. As you can see, the experience of partners at The Morpheus is diverse and beneficial for entrepreneurs. The incubator has been helpful for both non-tech and technology startups. However, looking at The Morpheus’s experience and portfolio to date, there has been some inclination toward consumer startups as opposed to B2B or enterprise startups.
Prashant: Could introduce to our readers the partners at The Morpheus?
Nandini: The Morpheus has three general partners who work closely with the companies as limited co-founders. Sameer Guglani and I are co-founders of Madhouse Media (acquired by Seventymm), which we started in 2008, and Indus Khaitan joined us in 2009. You can find details about all of us here: www.themorpheus/team.
[Khaitan’s joining the team last year has helped The Morpheus help guide some core technology startups like Grexit (creating a knowledge base out of users’ e-mail). They have really built an application that sits inside a Gmail account and helps build a knowledge base that could be valuable for a company’s internal use or for a consultant to publish or refer to the work contained in his or her e-mails.
Sameer and Nandini are based in Chandigarh, in North India, while Indus is based in Bangalore, which is in the south. The Morpheus is kind of virtual incubator, and the partners travel to various cities every month to meet portfolio companies. Though this has worked well for The Morpheus, some entrepreneurs have expressed the need for more frequent face-to-face communication.]