“When you go to the market to buy potatoes, do you pick them up from the very first shop you see? No – you look around the market, find the best quality and price before picking anything, right? …”
This was the response I received when I asked Mr. Mahavir Pratap Sharma about his advice for people seeking funding for their ventures. Mr. Sharma, the Co-Founder of the Rajasthan Angel Investor Network, went on to share his concerns on how entrepreneurs, especially the younger ones were looking to raise funds these days – “…No one seems to want to have options these days. Why don’t entrepreneurs explore more than just one avenue when looking for funds? One should look at valuations and terms from multiple sources and then find the one which is best for their company. Having a fair valuation and reasonable terms is much more important than just ‘getting funded’.”.
Before setting up the Rajasthan Angel Investor Network, Mr. Mahavir Pratap Sharma was involved with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) for over 15 years and had interacted with and mentored numerous entrepreneurs from a broad variety of industries. The one thing he heard which was common for most startups, was that regardless of which industry they were in, raising funds was not easy. Especially first-generation entrepreneurs who chose to make the bold move, were faced with this hurdle. Mr. Sharma saw this as a need of the hour. With a desire to focus on a promising localized market, he set up the Rajasthan Angel Investor Network (RAIN).
Another thing I found very interesting about Mr. Sharma was that he was more interested in investing in the idea stage. Over time, I too have got the chance to speak to various entrepreneurs, and one thing which has almost become a norm in the industry is to have profitability, or at least a venture set to make profits once scaled up. This is the entry point for a venture capital firm. While this sounds reasonable, many venture capital firms make themselves sound like angel investors.
Based on our conversation, I would refer to Mr. Sharma as a true angel investor, or in some cases even a super angel investor where investments can be made based on purely the idea and its potential. Another thing I found very interesting was that Mr. Sharma was keener on avenues where others were afraid of venturing into. Obviously, a positive return was the target but profitability is truly an outcome of intelligent investing when there is an impressive return on overall investment.
Mr. Sharma wishes to be able to make a contribution to the venture in terms of knowledge and experience as well as capital. He would choose to avoid the crowded markets that are usually capital intensive and instead look for niches in the market where technology can be deployed to fulfill a market gap. Ability to scale is another key parameter for Mr. Sharma, like it is for most experienced investors. Being just ahead of the game was what differentiated a successful venture from the rest of the market. Futuristic ideas always excited Mr. Sharma but he also weighed them against how practical they were, how much of a real problem they solved and most importantly, how much he could really contribute to the endeavor.
Then, our conversation came around to the trends that Mr. Sharma had seen in the past few years. I would imagine that he had seen a multitude of pitches over the years. What Mr. Sharma did appreciate was that the quality and structured approach of pitches had definitely improved over the past and this was very encouraging for anyone in the field. That being said, he did see the scope for improvement in the slide about ‘market size’. Again breaking the statement down into layman terms, Mr. Sharma explained –
“When you wish to open a tea stall, do you open your pitch by saying that the national tea consumption market is enormous? No, because you cannot assume that the entire country will come for tea to your tea stall. Even if you are to open multiple stalls, you would not capture the entire nation overnight. But time and again pitches come by with preposterous numbers which only seem like they are meant to impress the investor. There should be a realism in the understanding of the industry along with a practical approach to filling the gap.”
A few other factors that Mr. Sharma looks out for are – the ideas pitched should not be a copy paste function from some existing model in a different geography. The team should have some experience of what they are doing as well as a proper understanding of the market. Speaking of the market, Mr. Sharma does have an inclination towards the B2B market, as this segment has shown better results for him. While thinking ahead is important, being a solution that can be used to its full potential in the present is equally important.
Another interesting point about Mr. Sharma is the ease with which he wishes to be approached. Many investors need a reference before looking at a pitch to invest in. Mr. Sharma doesn’t value references as much as performing due diligence. Getting sucked into a bad investment because of good relations is something he can blatantly say no to. Having a bad idea may be a mistake, but encouraging an idea knowing it is not good enough is a crime.
The vibe I got from Mr. Sharma is that of a true mentor. Someone with a real love for entrepreneurship and watching one’s creation grow. With that in mind, I just had to ask him a last question about something I had noticed in the market – Entrepreneurship contests where investors ask for ideas, evaluate them and then shortlist the winning entries. These winners are then asked for a fee to take part in training, after which they are evaluated and if found suitable, given funding.
Mr. Sharma found these practices very disturbing. He had heard about such things happening but had never seen them. Taking away from something before contributing anything to it just did not sound like the investing he was familiar with. More than the idea and the execution, the venture is held together by trust between all the parties involved. If the relationship starts off on such a self-centered motive, there can never be comfort in either side, which leads to distrust and eventually failure.
A message to all budding entrepreneurs for when they seek funding – always create options for yourself, don’t sell yourself short and don’t give up unreasonable amounts of equity just for the tag of being funded.
This article took much longer to write than usual. This would be first for Founder Origin as we had someone on the Investor side share their thoughts. I would like to thank Mr. Sharma for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with me. I wish him, as well as the people he has invested in, the very best for the future. Would also like to thank Mr. Nitin Saxena of ALBJ Ventures for his support and encouragement in making this happen.