India’s startups lacking guardian ‘angels’

This post originally appeared on the AFP newswire and has been picked up and published in multiple news outlets across the globe

by Staff Writers
Mumbai (AFP) May 8, 2013

It is seen as a land of entrepreneurs, economic growth and huge business potential, but India appears to be failing its promising startup companies which are struggling to find investors.

While there is no lack of ideas among the country’s vast young population, funding is declining from venture capitalists and rich “angel” investors, as they are known, who are often crucial to a young firm’s success.

“Risk-taking appetite from investors is low,” said Internet entrepreneur Nameet Potnis, who is trying to address the problem by setting up Nurtured.in, a platform to connect startups with early-stage investors.

“It is easy to set up an online business in India but very difficult to do business,” he told AFP.

Three decades after businessman N.R. Narayana Murthy and six other Indians sat around a kitchen table and formed leading IT outsourcer Infosys, the country is yet to create a favourable business environment for new entrepreneurs.

Just five percent of thousands of Indian startups get funds from sources external to friends and family, analysts say.

It is one of the toughest countries in the world for a startup to flourish, according to a 2012 report by US-based research firm Startup Genome.

Venture capitalists invested $1.09 billion through 222 deals in 2011, but this dropped by 30 percent to $762 million through 206 deals in 2012, according to researchers at Venture Intelligence, based in southern Chennai city.

The decline could not come at a worse time for the young Indian professionals and business graduates who are risking branching out on their own, after losing or quitting lucrative jobs amid the global downturn.

India’s own economic growth slowed to an estimated 5.0 percent for the fiscal year that ended March, its slowest rate in a decade, but that has not deterred many youngsters from trying to turn their ideas into businesses.

Some of India’s well-established startups include Nasdaq-listed online travel firm makemytrip.com, shopping website Flipkart and digital entertainment company Hungama.

In recent years, ventures have branched into areas as varied as pet care, gaming, restaurant guides and e-learning, and the startup bug is spreading into smaller Indian cities.

“More companies are coming up and not that much… money is being put in,” said Sampad Swain, an entrepreneur who founded “Instamojo”, which helps to sell digital downloads.

Jubin Mehta of Yourstory.in, an online site which tracks startups and entrepreneurs, said venture capitalists tend to look over 200 ideas before investing in one.

“Roughly 500 startups come up each month. And less than five percent — only about 25 — receive external funding,” he said.

Kulin Shah, an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist, said angel investors have become more demanding in the current economic climate, trying to avoid getting their money blocked in ventures for too long.

Angels are increasingly unwilling to fund firms that are clones of foreign startups or face intense competition, such as online car rentals, car pools and best-deal ventures, Shah said.

But too much caution can prevent investors spotting a hit, such as Nischal Shetty’s Twitter application “justunfollow”, which has more than three million registered users including 10,000 paid customers.

When he set it up three years ago, he generated revenues from day one despite a lack of enthusiasm from external investors.

“Angels asked me: how will you make money from this?” he said.

There are a few signs of hope for budding entrepreneurs.

In southern Kochi city, a massive glass-and-metal campus called “Startup village” is nurturing young engineers and aims to launch 1,000 Internet and mobile firms in 10 years.

Nasscom, an IT trade body, says startups are a “critical pillar” of the industry and last month launched “10,000 startups”, a programme which will shortlist and help fund as many ventures in the next 10 years.

“We have to create an environment where early-stage funding comes in,” Nasscom president Som Mittal said at the programme’s launch.

Facebook gifts and its impact on Social Gifting Startups in India

Note: This article originally appeared on Lighthouseinsights.in as Facebook Gifts, Will It Impact Indian Social Gifting Startups? 

Last month Facebook made a quiet re-entry into its previously mildly successful segment ‘Gifts’. Back in 2007, Facebook had introduced virtual gifts which could be sent to a friend for any occasion, these gifts cost anywhere between $1-3. In 2008, Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners had quoted, “Since there were 322 gifts available for sale when we completed our last survey (Jan 8th, 2008), that implies that Facebook is selling just over 270k digital gifts per week. At $1 per gift, that implies an annual run rate of just under $15m.”

This time around, in 2012, Facebook has managed to take the gifting business one step further and facilitate offline gifts. How exactly did Facebook manage this? Besides its vast resources, Facebook has managed to scale Facebook Gifts across its platform by building on the expertise it acquired through its acquisition of Lee Linden and Ben Lewis’ Karma app.

To begin with, Facebook has decided to limit the value of Gifts on its platform to below $50. “Fifty Dollar deals sound like a small portion of the eCommerce market”, says Yariv Dror, StoreYa.com (Facebook store platform provider) CEO, “but our numbers show, that 57% of the millions of products that have been imported to Facebook using our platform match this figure of $50 and below.

In September, I did a post on Social Commerce and where it was likely to be heading.

Facebook Gifts and India

By entering the physical good space, Facebook will not only be competing with retail giants such as Flipkart, eBay and the hoards of other ecommerce companies in India but against a multitude of startups like Badhai, 99presents, Giveter and so on. Badhai allows users to send gifts vouchers to their friends; they have recently added group and social gifting. 99presents helps you find products your friends from across different eCommerce sites like Amazon, Flipkart, Etsy, ThinkGeek, etc. While Giveter recommends gifts based on its own secret sauce and the recipients’ Facebook likes.

For those who want to ride the Facebook Gifts wave here in India, as of now there is no news on when the feature might launch in India but Facebook is accepting proposals from Vendors who might want to sign up to offer products as a part of Facebook Gifts. If you want to sign up as a vendor, you can do so here.

India has a substantial number of Facebook users and the model that Facebook Gifts follows might make it relatively easy for them to penetrate the market rather quickly. Facebook does not have the delivery logistics that Flipkart does. Hypothetically, this could be a possible hindrance for Facebook Gifts to grow. How do they overcome it? They ask vendors to sign up, these vendors already use their own logistics providers, and Facebook only brands the gifts for e.g.

Facebook Gifts branding

[Image credit: Techcrunch]

Facebook gifts hasn’t launched in India, yet. And when it does, instead of looking at its impact on companies in social gifting space in India, I believe it could have a significant impact on all ecommerce segments in India.

Further to its commerce ambitions, Facebook has also launched a new feature called Collections which is currently being tested with certain select brands like Pottery Barn, Wayfair, Victoria’s Secret, Michael Kors, Neiman Marcus, Smith Optics, and Fab.com All Facebook reports that Collections enables Facebook users to not only like, but collect, want, or buy products that brands share through images on the social network.

Would love to know your thoughts about the new features Facebook has recently added.

Flipkart’s newest product: Trust

Logo of Flipkart.com
Flipkart.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

India’s most famous E-commerce company Flipkart (they aren’t the biggest, that would be mjunction) has been around since 2007. Over the last 5 years, they have emerged as a clear favourite among customers owing to their almost delightful customer service.

Indiamart introduced Cash-on-delivery back in 2001 and then discontinued it in 2003. Flipkart reintroduced Cash-on-Delivery and this feature has now become one of the most crucial payment methods for Indians shopping online.

The point here is, back in 2007, Flipkart started with selling books online. Five years later it has  steadily scaled its business by foraying into categories like computers & peripherals, CDs & DVDs, games, home and kitchen appliances, mobile & accessories, personal and healthcare equipments ( I am sure there they have added more recently, the latest being baby products).

Indians can be frugal by nature, and getting deep discounts with the added benefit of free home delivery drove Indians to shop online. Along the way, Flipkart managed to delight its customers with fast deliveries.

Now in the 3rd quarter of 2012, things look different. Flipkart now wants its customers to shop for a minimum of Rs 300/- to avail of free delivery (Flipkart websiteHow much are the delivery charges? Flipkart provides free delivery on all items if your total order amount is Rs. 300/- or more. Otherwise Rs. 30/- is charged as delivery charges.)

Flipkart is also no longer the cheapest options available online. Below are some screenshots of randomly selected products from Flipkart’s top selling categories:

Books

Mobiles

Electronics

This brings us to an important junction, if people came to shop on Flipkart for price concessions and delivery convenience, why are they still here. The answer to that could very well be Flipkart’s most important product category yet, “Trust”. Flipkart has managed to build a Reputation (dependable and quick), which has created Brand value (reliable and delightful), which over time has built consumer Trust in the brand.

It is this trust in the brand that is being subliminally reinforced by their newest Advertising campaign “Don’t shop it, Flipkart it” (the complete Flipkart Advertising Campaign, August 2012)

Another perspective by Alok Kejriwal – Flipkart ads on TV – are they building the online category at their own cost?

Do share your thoughts.

How to build a community around your Startup

market 1
(Photo credit: tim caynes)

What are the reasons that some startup succeed while some fail? Why do products instantly attract a multitude of users while other still lag at user acquisition, even after considerable marketing expenses?

The answer to this can be a variety of reasons such as user interface, design, customer service, utility value and sometimes even price. But very often one feature that gets left out is the impact and support of the community around.

A vibrant community can be a magical marketing and sales tool for a startup. While it is imperative for a startup to have a great product/service, an enthusiastic community around it can aid the company in garnering more attention, providing insights and gaining critical early feedback

While in India, our ecosystem surrounding Startups is still in the nascent stage, there are communities developing in Bangalore and around the Delhi/NCR region. One of the biggest problems facing tech entrepreneurs in India is the relatively small number of early adopters. In an excellent article about the “two speed” state of Indian market adoption, Mukund Mohan writes, “The Innovators (less than 1 % of the population or 12 Million individuals) in India (entrepreneurs mostly) who conceive and develop products for the Indian market and the early adopters (less than 5% of population or approx 60 Million individuals) together make up the entire “early adopter” category. Unfortunately less than 30% of them have both the interest, and the desire to be early adopters of technology.”

If you are a technology company, how do you build a community around your company?

1.Start early; make the community an integral part of your system: Start a blog before you actually launch and let people know what you are doing. Building a community takes time. Be patient.

2.Value your initial customers: Those first few people who sign up for your product are there out of choice, they have found your product and they are sticking by it because they love it. Treat them well. Value their feedback.

3. Let your customers know they are special: Marketing dollars might get you signups but word of mouth will get you user engagement. Don’t just value customer feedback; let your customers know that you are ‘listening’ and that you value their feedback.

4.Establish a mutual relationship: Once your community starts growing, as difficult as it might be, acknowledge contributions and hold events where your customers can interact with you or your team. This can act as a cohesive force and take people beyond just a bunch of people using your product

In a day and age when online customer loyalty isn’t really high, a community around your product can not only be your loyal user-base but also your very own cheering squad.

Do share your thoughts.

Indian Government gets ready to ‘spy’ on Blackberry users emails and BBM

Blackberry’s highly secure BBM service could now be open to Government scrutiny. Back in March 2008 the government of India had asked Blackberry to allow them to intercept emails sent over Blackberry’s servers to monitor unlawful activity.

If recent reports from India Today are to be believed, the government will soon be able to do just this. Unnamed Indian officials were quick to point out to India Today that their forthcoming ability to capture and crack BBM messages will be used strictly to intercept communication only from handsets of people suspected of criminal or terrorist activity.

Close on the heels of a 12% cut in prices of its handsets in early April 2012, Blackberry has been bucking the international trend, and has posted considerable sales in India. Trak.in, in their latest research report states “While OEMs such as Nokia and Blackberry have traumatic global challenges, they are expected to continue to be significant in India given their strong brand presence, distribution network and consumer affinity in India.”

What remains to be seen is whether the government’s snooping on Blackberry’s secure servers gives Blackberry’s Enterprises users a shiver.

Funding a Start-up in India to be classified as Taxable income!

A recent clause in India’s 2012 Budget proposes taxing Indian start-ups 30% of the amount invested by Angel investors by terming the investment as income.

The Memorandum of the Finance Bill 2012 states
“It is proposed to insert a new clause in section 56(2). The new clause will apply where a company, not being a company in which the public are substantially interested, receives, in any previous year, from any person being a resident, any consideration for issue of shares. In such a case if the consideration received for issue of shares exceeds the face value of such shares, the aggregate consideration received for such shares as exceeds the fair market value of the shares shall be chargeable to income tax under the head “Income from other sources. However, this provision shall not apply where the consideration for issue of shares is received by a venture capital undertaking from a venture capital company or a venture capital fund.”

Where does this leave entrepreneurs who get Angel funding pretty early in the start-up life cycle when perhaps the only assets they have is a great idea on its way to execution?

In the Hindu Businessline, Mr Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of Indian Angel Network, explains: “An angel investor may invest Rs 1 crore in a company that has no revenues and no profits and the tax official, unless otherwise ‘persuaded’, would tax the company at 30 per cent for no reason at all and convert an investment into income.”

Possible ways of working around this clause are suggested by Deepak Shenoy, who is a co-founder at MarketVision. He says, ” If you are a founder, you could use a sweat equity approach or use convertible debentures or since the law applies only to companies, you might be able to start a Limited Liability Partnership. Read his in-depth analysis here.

On a similar note, the U.S is mulling passing the “Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act,” (Pdf Link) which allows entrepreneurs to raise up to $2 million from individual investors without having to be approved by securities regulators. You can read more about this on his blog here.

I have rarely seen online petitions change anything in India, yet I am hopeful and have signed a petition. If you would like to do the same, you can do so at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/no-startup-tax/

What do you think about the proposed law?