Time to venture east

The Chennai office of venture capital (VC) firm Ventureast is tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac in Alwarpet. The office is unlike most other commercial spaces you will find in the city – minimalistic Scandinavian-style design, straight lines and a wonderful garden area that is kept ‘natural’. I was later told Sarath Naru, managing partner at the firm, is extremely passionate about interior design. I walked into their office with our photographer, Sundar Natarajan, for a quick photo shoot with Naru. To my excitement (and probably to the dismay of several people!), I walked in just when lunch was getting served. Over twenty entrepreneurs, investors and fund managers were getting ready to dig in as I struck up conversations with several of them.  Of course, there are no points for guessing the topics of conversation; from new business models in Indian e-commerce to an analysis of the usefulness of incubation centers almost every discussion revolved around the startup ecosystem. I heard it all – “the idea is probably too early in the day”, “maybe they could have launched in Bengaluru, the market there is probably ready”, “do we hire a fresher and then train, or do we go with experienced people”.  In less than 30 minutes, I realised the startup world (in general, the whole business world) is filled with several such interesting variables. The world of venture capital and entrepreneurship is constantly engaged in coming up with solutions to these very dilemmas and that is probably what makes it entirely exciting.

And to encapsulate many of these variables, we wanted to feature a cover story on the working style of a VC firm. The opportunity finally came when I interviewed Naru a few weeks back. Naru, of course, is one of the earliest thought leaders of the Indian VC industry and we were eager to pull off the story. What we have delivered is a detailed account of the investment philosophy, operational methodology and growth phase of one of India’s oldest VC firms. The story, we believe, will be extremely useful to the early stage entrepreneur and help him understand the thought process adopted by people on the other side of the negotiation table. It will also resonate well with successful entrepreneurs who are exploring the idea of turning angel investors themselves.

As I re-read the stories in our Starting Up section prior to writing this note, there was something very exciting that caught my attention. Two startups we have covered – Aspirations Energy, a solar energy startup and Cocoberry, a company that sells frozen yogurt – are founded by entrepreneurs who are starting up for the second time. G.S. Bhalla of Cocoberry has been running (and still runs) knowledge process outsourcing company, Horizons, since the year 2000. In 2007, sparked by the success of frozen yogurts in the U.S., he wanted to start a chain of retail outlets selling them in India. Cocoberry was born and today has 29 outlets across five cities in India.

The story of Bhoovarahan Thirumalai is no different. This entrepreneur with over twelve years experience of running an IT firm decided to enter the solar power space last year. The story of Bijaei Jayaraj, founder of Loylty Rewardz, a customer loyalty company and the third startup we are featuring this edition, gives us insight on an industry that has just begun. When Jayaraj first founded the company in 2006, the business venture failed and Jayaraj went back to work for a couple of years. In 2008, with the experience of working at MasterCard and armed with more skills, he was back into the entrepreneurial world and Loylty Rewardz was reborn. He raised money from Ventureast and kick started Loylty 2.0 with State Bank of India as one of its early clients.

In this edition, we have consciously gone back to our “startup ways” and featured the stories of people who are determined to create something new and different through their early-stage ventures. We are certainly thrilled about the “activity” we are seeing in the Indian startup world and hope to live up to our readers’ expectations and deliver top-quality analysis, right from the heart of it.

Hope you have fun reading this edition of  The Smart CEO.

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