Sunday, June 28, 2015

Focus: Indian Woman Becomes World Model Entrepreneur

GET FEATURED: By bringing startups and angel investors together on a single online platform and in a transparent manner, Shanti Mohan's LetsVenture has eliminated major pain-points for both Congratulations. You are the only Indian woman among the 18 finalists shortlisted from 1,700 applications globally for the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards (the award to be given in Paris later this year seeks to foster the spirit of enterprise by celebrating role models in entrepreneurship). 

INNLIVE interviewed the super Indian woman entrepreneur in a free-wheeling mode. Excerpts:

What does that mean to you?
I wouldn't normally want to look at the achievements of men and women separately . But there was this instance when I was in Thiruvananthapuram for a startup event and a lady who was in her final pregnancy trimester, literally in her final week, drove to see me. She said she had never seen a woman angel investor before. Sometimes we don't realize it, but these things can inspire people.

Is the selection partly a reflection of how LetsVenture is doing?
It could be. Mattermark (US-based deal intelligence website) recently ranked us No. 1 among equity crowd-funding platforms in growth and mindshare metrics. We beat AngelList (US), Gust (US), AngelCrunch (China). The scores are a reflection of website visits, social interaction, retention time, among other things, on the platform, and is a result of the company's activities over the preceding weeks and months. Mattermark also finds we are the third most visited equity crowd-funding platform in the world, after AngelList and Gust.That's really something considering we are the youngest of the platforms, having started in 2013.

Did AngelList inspire you to start LetsVenture?
Actually, I did not know about AngelList when I started, and somebody told me I did a bad market study (laughs). I had seen investors going through challenges of identifying starts to invest in. In India this is really difficult. As we started addressing this issue, we happened to become more and more like AngelList. Lots of people told me this wouldn't work in India, that the laws wouldn't allow it. But the thing was to work within the laws, and it has worked well. Sebi regards investment below Rs 5 lakh as retail investment, and falls under stricter regulations. The minimum investment we allow is Rs 5 lakh. So we don't fall under the retail guidelines.

Are more and more people becoming interested in angel investing? What's the nature of the investors on your platform?
We are on a mission to increase the number of startups getting funded, and the objective is to get highquality startups, because that will mean we get good quality investors.There are four different profiles of angel investors on our platform.The first is the entrepreneurturned-investor -founders of companies like Flipkart, Myntra and InMobi. Then we have the second generation of family businesses; their fathers built the business, but they themselves went abroad to study, got exposed to things there, and now want to engage with the startup ecosystem.Third is global Indians, and the fourth is senior management in MNCs like HP , Cisco, Google, people who have missed out on the entrepreneurial buzz somewhere.This last category bring a lot of value because they understand enterprises. About 50% of our angel investors are new to angel investing and most of them don't want to spend time in the offline space.

Does the online model have a lot of advantages over offline angel networks?
We brought transparency and access for startups. I thought of the platform from an entrepreneur's perspective. You cannot be restricted by who you know, like in the offline world. Ours is not a closed network, we are opening up. We are also creating transparency in terms of valuation. We don't share precise numbers, but we do share trends like how much is raised in angel rounds, how much stake is divested in these rounds. In the offline world, the startup may not be able to get all information about investors. But in our platform, relevant information has to be disclosed by all parties, and our staff does due diligence to ensure that the information provided is accurate. We are a mutual platform, I'm not representing an angel or an investor, so there's higher trust. And finally, we create process efficiencies. An entrepreneur can't be spending an insane amount of time trying to raise funds. Fund-raise should be non-intrusive and it cannot come at the cost of building your business. The online model is great for that.

Some feel there's a bubble building up, that valuations are getting stretched.Do you sense that in angel investing?
I can tell you there's no insanity in the angel space. Raising angel funds is still not easy . The angels are doing a lot of due diligence, they are looking at how the venture will scale, whether it has a good team, good idea and good traction.Serial entrepreneurs might have it a little easy, but the first time entrepreneur has to demonstrate the ability to execute.

Are startups getting smarter in presenting themselves?
Some are doing a really good job, the presentations are so well done.They use videos, good English. All that gives confidence to investors.And that's something all startups should focus on. It shows how serious they are about their venture.

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