Responding to a popular request, we are now sharing transcripts of our investor podcast interviews in this new series. The following interview with Ashish Gupta, Helion Ventures was recorded in May 2015.
Ashish Gupta, Co-Founder of Helion Ventures, one of the key players in India’s venture capital eco-system. If the topic interests you, this discussion is extremely crisp and insightful.
Sramana Mitra: Ashish and I met when Ashish had done Junglee, which Amazon acquired. I met him when he was about to set off for India to start Helion Ventures. We connected a
few times after he launched Helion. We were trying to understand the India opportunity when it came to entrepreneurship.
My blog happens to be a hangout place for a lot of Indian entrepreneurs. We have had a lot of very interesting discussions over the years. Today, the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem is very alive and thriving. India has become one of the top entrepreneurial activity hubs in the world.
Ashish, you are on the ground. Even though we do a lot of work with Indian entrepreneurs through the program, you have a special insight. Let’s start by giving us an overview of the highlights of the Indian venture capital industry right now.
Ashish Gupta: I’ll talk about the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem first because the venture capital industry is strictly dependent on, is a subset of, and subservient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. For context, Helion’s fund size is about $600 million. We are managing three funds in India. There are now 11 of us. There are six investing partners and five operating partners. We are fairly operationally heavy.
The vast majority of us are ex-operating guys. Our perspective also comes from a very heavy bias towards operations including four startups that my colleagues and I, in different configuration, started. There is that bias. The experience in India when I first started investing in 1999 to now is that the rate of change has seriously accelerated over the last four years. It was getting better in fits and starts for a while.
Starting 2006, it started getting better. Starting 2011, it has just completely taken off. In 1999, you would meet people who would metaphorically talk about how they’ve got a new networking box and they’re going to take on Cisco. The appreciation for the value of distribution and sales is completely missing.
Today, you meet entrepreneurs who are as sophisticated as anywhere else in the world. The young entrepreneurs, in particular, are both as well informed as entrepreneurs in the Valley and hungrier because they have not seen even a fraction of wealth that a lot of people have seen here. The energy levels are, in many cases, much higher because several of them are driven by seeing real problems around them.
As a result, they relate to those problems in a much more visceral manner. We are still solving basic problems. For example, selling clothes, enabling taxis, taking some bit of education online. We are still in the version one problems of how to move basic stuff online. That is easier for everybody to relate with than something which is a lot more esoteric.
The few noticeable things that have happened is, the average age of the entrepreneur has gone down massively from mid-30s to the early-20s just within the last three years. It makes people like me feel even more older than I already am. Two, the level of sophistication of these entrepreneurs has increased significantly. Third, they are moving into areas that we had not thought we’d move into. They are going after global plays in very large numbers. They hunt for investors across the board.
I’ve moved to the Valley because we have enough presence in India and we find that several of the entrepreneurs are using us for a US connection in both consumer and enterprise. Then on the venture ecosystem, one of the other things that has changed is the arrival of very large amounts of money because India is the last bastion of a massive market on the planet. As a result, a lot of people do not want to be too late to the party.
That is a more recent phenomenon in the venture ecosystem. It’s largely prompted by the arrival of the smartphone. Among the many things that Steve Jobs can be credited with, he can be credited with unlocking the Indian internet market also because smartphones have truly brought India to a place where internet adoption is just on fire right now. Those are some of the things that come to mind.