In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 28

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On this episode of Shunya One, Shiladitya and Amit are joined by Ankita Tandon, COO at CouponDunia. The conversation covers the trend with subscription models for deals and discounts, the online to offline commerce space in the country and the work culture for women in organizations. They also discuss the challenges they face as startup founders with fundraising.

Ankita gave some insights about the perception shoppers have about behind deals and discounts.

What we found was that a very interesting insight that we had was that people’s buying decisions are very divergent from their online buying decisions. So behind a computer screen, people are very comfortable searching for a discount and they want a discount. The second you throw in friends and family around the person or when the person is in an offline setting, the person does not want a discount. He wants to be made to feel special, he wants to be treated like a valued customer rather than a discount. So what we found was that people prefer to be a called valued customer rather than getting deals or discounts. So we realized that that model of giving deals doesn’t translate directly like the way people pick up deals in an online space.

Shiladitya enquired about Ankita’s experience as a woman startup founder and the challenges she has faced with finding investors, in the past. To which she responded:

To give an example when we fundraising we got a lot of polite turndowns because it is a pretty small community and you are connected. The feedback that we got through the back-channels was that it is a female founding team, baccha paida kar lengi and it is not going to happen. So, there was all that outrage. I felt outraged. I’ve been asked point-blank by women investors that, when are you getting married. We were positively outraged. These were the questions we were asked. Having said that, I have seen in the last six years a lot of women founders who have raised money give up their roles and walking away from their businesses, which I think is unfair. It’s not unfair that you are choosing a child, it’s not. I am pro-choice. It is fine, it’s totally cool, that you’ve chosen to have a family. But I think, we live in a capitalistic society right, someone has given you their money, not because of the milk of kindness of their heart but because they want you to grow that money for them or they want you to find an opportunity or build a business. So, I think it is a tad bit unfair to do that. And you are doing a disservice to all women around you because that investor or those investors will not fund women entrepreneurs. And I’ve seen that happen a lot.

In Brief Shunya One Ep.27

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On this episode of Shunya One, Shiladitya and Amit are joined by Jonathan Bill, Co-founder, and CEO at CreditMate. CreditMate is a fin-tech company focused on the used motorcycle market in India since 2016. Jonathan helps give an insight into the consumer behavior patterns for used bikes in the country and the scale of the secured-lending system.

Jonathan spoke about the credit and lending system at CreditMate.

What we really do is we say look is there a match between this particular demographic, this particular bike, so obviously because we are also assessing the asset in our case. So there is the individual and then there is the bike itself. So what is this bike going to be worth in three years time after the end of the loan? If we go and recover the bike, have we got margin left in the bike? In terms of credit assessing customers, you are looking at stuff like demographics, age, gender, location, geography, occupation. So to give you a sense, 60% of our customers have no credit history.

Amit enquired if CreditMate would expand further to other verticles or markets. To which, Jonathan responded:

We are and we might, but I am a sort of a subscriber to the Peter Thiel theory that vaguely says to focus on a particular vertical and then get good at that. If anything, we might expand our activity inside that vertical beyond just finance. As opposed to necessarily adding new categories. The other thing you have to play around is with when you are lending is your raw material is capital, unlike a product company or a social network, for example, the raw material is people, in our case raw material is capital. So you’re sort of constantly looking for a relationship with other lenders that have large balance sheets that can lend in the asset that you are in. Never say never, used vehicles is definitely interesting. We like secured-lending, that works for us. Anything that you can secure in our case that would mean cars, bikes, possibly tractors, and three-wheelers.

Jonathan gave an insight on the scale of the used bike sector in the country.

India sells 20 million new bikes every year, and that stock has to go somewhere. And plus you have quite a sort of virtuous upgrade cycle so people are often buying new vehicles but will renew every two years. They will use that older bike as a trade-in and that then flows into the system as a used bike. So that’s pretty much how our market works.

Shiladitya wondered about what Jonathan thought of the UI (User Interface) sensibilities in the Indian market. Jonathan then explained:  

The trend towards Americanized minimalistic UI is a bit of a mistake, in my opinion in India. India is just not minimalistic or toned down, at a mass level. You walk down the street it is full of colour and noise and chaos. Most of those designs, I think are over-engineered and in fact, off-putting, intimidating to potentially to users. There is another parallel with China if you look at Chinese apps they are jangling. They are red and they are unabashedly Chinese. To us, they may look a bit cluttered. But it is right for China, it is right for the mass market. So, I think you have to be very careful with UI, it can’t be intimidating, off-putting and it can’t reek of richness and elitism when that isn’t the reality of your customer base.

Catch the episode here:

In Brief Shunya One Ep.26

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On this episode of Shunya One, Shiladitya and Amit are joined by Japan Vyas, Co-founder and Managing Partner at Sixth Sense Ventures Advisors LLP. Japan shares his experience as a venture capitalist, seed investor and mentor to ensure a sustainable ecosystem for new businesses.

Japan gave his perspective on his investment choices across various sectors.

“My investment thesis is very simple - people matter. I invest ahead of trends. So the first fund I invested where - PayTM where no one knew much about it. That fund itself did infrastructure financing and outperformed the market significantly when people were losing money in infrastructure. Out of the second fund in 2012, I was an early investor in RBL Bank, IndusInd Bank, National Stock Exchange. So each of those investments are 4-5X  up from their cost price, much ahead of their cost prices before financial services became a hot topic. I prefer investing where others are not investing because I find value there. My belief is that there is a lot can be done on the social impact side and you can create great consumer brands over there. When you talk about doing social impact investing, people think of it as doing charity, or kuch hoga nahin, I don’t believe in that. If you have patience over there, if you build the business well, you can create great consumer brands. Because people want to buy such stories, given an opportunity.”

He spoke about the Indian startup ecosystem for the investors and founders.  

“I think the Indian ecosystem is still young, and it’s shallow both on the investment opportunities available for the investors and the founders, right. We all learning. You will see a lot of people doing things for the wrong reasons, so investing as you said, for making a 3X in a few months, etc. But we will learn along the way. And it is still very very early days in the Indian startup ecosystem, we are what, maybe 10-15-year-old ecosystem. I think it will deepen, it will strengthen and hopefully going forward we will see lesser and lesser investments happening for the wrong reasons.”

Shiladitya enquired about the involvement expected by an angel investor from the founders of the company. To which Japan responded:

“So most of the times I don’t think they are required to be involved unless there is a lead angel, and he or she has brought in for a specific purpose to add value to the company. Off late, I’ve been doing a lot of seed investing where I come in early, or I am expected to play a lot more active role. So my investee company some of them say, give us more time, come with us, meet our customers, meet our vendors. We want to share those relationships with you that you know it is a way of managing a key-man risk, saying that if something happens to us, at least you have those relationships. So different kind of founders will have a different set of expectations from you.”

Catch the episode here:

In Brief: Shunya One Ep.25

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On this episode of Shunya One, we are joined by Zishaan Hayath, Co-founder, Toppr.com to talk about the early days of the startup ecosystem in Powai, what technology can do to the education sector and his journey of building the learning app.

Shiladitya enquired how he set the building blocks for Toppr.com. To which Zishaan responded:

For the first one and a half years, it was just four of us building the platform from my apartment. And to keep the costs low and to give us a long runway we kept it very lean, very low-cost but kept writing very high-quality code for a very long time. So four people, one and half years; because of the minimum viable product, in this case, was not small or flimsy it was a large MVP. Because students will not commit to a product unless it is completely meaningful to them and comprehensive to them. They just can’t pick up something which is very half baked or a very thin used-case and commit to using it. They will be like I either use this or I’ll go with a book or I’ll go to a coaching class. They need that commitment to subscribe before.

Zishaan explained about the functionality of the learning app.

I think our core word is personalization, so we want to build an adaptive path for each child as they navigate through the course. So at the start of the course, they set what they want to learn right, so you are a 9th std student, you can say IX std CBSE, these are my subjects additionally I want to prepare for Olympiad or NTSE or whatever. So you set your course and we create one course in the app. These are a bunch of courses most of it is overlapping, so we create one overlapping course that covers everything. Then we set you out on a path and after that, we take control and then we create a path that is best suited for you.

He also spoke about the opportunity for advanced learning applications in the existing education system.

In India, there is a lot of demand and we are still scratching the surface of demand because our skilling is very low. Even in our grad colleges, our undergrad colleges we learn very little. We spend years, come out we can’t even write code. We finish 12 years of school from an English-medium school and we can’t write a page in English. Our skilling, while we are going through these years, is very very low. So we essentially we come to our job and then spend two years you know learning on the job and somebody is actually exploiting you because of that. So I think there is a lot of self-learning opportunity available, upscaling opportunity available. So supplementary education till XII std, definitely yes; even beyond XII std there is a lot of upscaling and learning opportunity outside of the classroom.

Listen to the full episode here:

In Brief: Shunya One Ep 24

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On this episode of Shunya One, we are joined by Bala Menon, an independent product strategist from Mumbai. Their conversation covers the process and various stages of building technology-based products, research on augmentatives systems and the different aspects to a product related profile in organisations and startups today.

Bala expanded on the designation and job profile related to programming and building products.

A lot of generalists now prefer calling themselves as product people, because they don’t need to have specialties beyond a point. I mean you could say, look I am a programmer but I get to decide where this product is headed, or what I need this product to do. And I have a little bit of an interjection to make here when you think about founders who are technical, so let’s say you want to write a program you really have to understand what is the problem you are trying to solve. Because you have to logically define it and really go to the depths of what you are trying to solve and that’s how you kind of create the program. The good thing about that and that’s also how a lot of founders used to think. And Microsoft had product management programs where it was a purely technical role, unlike what you are seeing now which is an offshoot of marketing and other things.

Shiladitya inquired about the challenges faced by non-tech founders while building or launching a product. Bala explained:  

A lot of non-tech founders are not reading the kind of stuff that tech founders are. A lot of tech people read very nuanced versions of how to launch a product. Right from setting up a server to kind of getting your first 100 users, and how to set up your analytics; non-tech founders are not essentially reading that. I am not saying everybody isn’t, but most of them aren’t. It is a challenge to them because most of them are getting these toned down, watered down versions of it in different forms and ways and it is also confusing the heck out of them.

Listen to the full episode here:

In Brief: Shunya One Ep 23

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On this episode of Shunya One, we are joined by Vahishta Mistry, a former journalist and media professional who has moved on to building tech products from remote places. He speaks about his journey as a digital nomad, its challenges and the opportunities it brings to the table.

Vahishta discussed how critical it is for team-mates to take ownership and foresee a problem before a certain situation arises. He said:

Ownership for an employer; to provide that ownership to someone who is working remotely is a. - a huge responsibility and you are putting yourself in a very vulnerable position at that point. Which means you need to invest that trust essentially you need to know that person a little better. That brings me to the point where it is ideal if you actually work with that person. Even if you need to pay for that person to come for a little bit, work with you for a month. Kick the tires, make sure they are okay and then send them off.

Shiladitya inquired about the difference between Silicon Valley and India, in terms of the work culture be it work ethics or transparency. To which Vahishta responded:  

I hesitate to generalize on that basis but I will tell you one thing and it’s not a Valley thing, it is universal and I have seen this between two companies within India. It is the amount of faff in the office, to be honest. Teams that faff a lot don’t get s*** done and that’s the fundamental difference. I think one of the benefits to working in other cultures, again and I am not saying the U.S in particular but anywhere else is a team that can get their head down and start at a given time, get through a single process and then get done at the end of the day even if it is 5’O clock. You don’t need to work late, it is not about how many hours you put in, it is about how efficient you are in those hours that you do put in. Such teams will do better.

Shiladitya wondered how one jumps right into a work culture like this. Vahishta explained:

It is hard, I would spend the time and invest the time to build up a good network. I would start slow. I think if you really want to do a step-by-step progression up to this, you would need to start small. You would need to start by making profiles on sites like Elance, and Fiverr, so on and so forth. Try and build a body of work there. First of all, that would be a learning experience to even see whether that lifestyle suits you even without traveling. Just be home and do one project on that side. Don’t give up your day job. Do one project on the side, see how that feels. A lot of people don’t like it, it can be very nerve-racking for you to not have anything to do, or having to do something without too much instruction.

Catch the episode here:

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 22

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On this episode of Shunya One, we are joined by Naiyya Saggi, Founder of BabyChakra, a parenting platform. This conversation covers how technology can help make better decisions about childcare, parenting and healthcare with a focus on building a strong community equipped with insights and technology.  

Shiladitya inquired about the the kind of insights that Naiyya found to understand the market for BabyChakra. To which she responded:

Just think about how we all make decisions today. Essentially there are two massive trends that we are riding on: I think now is the perfect time to be creating something like BabyChakra. the first big trend is of data democracy. So you look at how Jio has come in and completely changed, how we consume and how much we consume online, right? And how online consumption is now becoming a part of how we operate, day in and day out. And the second big sort of trend, if you will is: look at the smartphone prices. And if you look at how India has completely leapfrogged. We didn’t even go through the “desktop or the laptop revolution” we pretty much leapfrogged into the smartphone ecosystem. And what that means essentially is that there are more women who for the first time in history have access to the internet. And what are these women looking for? And honestly, they are not even on Facebook groups. Why? Because they feel Facebook is not safe, it is not a trusted platform for them to be a part of. So where do they come to? And what do they access or what are they even allowed to access online? It is stuff around parenting, family, healthcare. It is stuff about what is good for themselves and their kids.

Naiyya also spoke about how technology comes into play:

Think about what you want your consumer and user to experience. And what adds value to his/her life and then build accordingly. And some these things are some very very simple feature sets and some of them are much more complex in terms of the algorithms you build out or sort of how you undertake to create a certain experience. Just to give you two very quick examples. I love the fact that both of you used the word community because fundamentally that’s what we want to feel like. And actually what we are is a very very smart and a very personal companion. So every mother has a unique BabyChakra experience and that is powered by machine learning and that is powered by proprietary algorithms that take more than 150 data points from every interaction that she has with BabyChakra. So that is pretty much what we are building at BabyChakra in terms of the overall experience.

Listen to the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 21

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On this week’s episode of Shunya One, host Shiladitya and Amit are joined by Revant Bhate, Entrepreneur in Residence, Head of New Business at Faasos. They talk about startup careers, offbeat job titles, food technology and business in India. 

Revant explained how the hiring system was put in place at Faasos and what is the best way of defining job roles at a workplace.

I think for us it was very clear from Day 1, that we were broadly firstly, or let’s say the second line after the founder. I think that culture got ingrained in us as well. Though we didn’t create an FER program below when we were looking to hire our second line. We realized that we had to look for the same thing which is ownership and leadership. And how do you measure ownership and leadership? It is broad: can you assign a P&L responsibility to a person who you are hiring? Because if you are not going to assign a hard number target, what are you measuring in your quarterly KRA? How do you know whether your day has gone well or not? No one wakes up in the morning and says I am going to have a crappy day. And in some sense having a P&L responsibility, having an objective target is something that is very very clearly helping not only businesses grow but individuals feel that they’ve performed well or not.

He also spoke about his biggest lessons from his experience of building and creating food brands.  

The biggest learning was that if you can tell a particular thing, first it has to be the truth as close to it as possible. And you have to really talk about it repeatedly from the heart, and actually reach a very small sliver of the audience, that set of the audience will create the brand for you.

Listen to the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 20

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This week we are joined by Aditya Mishra, Founder and CEO at SwitchMe. The conversation covers entrepreneur-networking groups, the challenges in the banking and finance sector with technology and innovation and what led him to his venture in the home-loans space.

Aditya explained the misuse of the buzzword "disruption" that is often used when corporates invest in startups: 

I think disruption is a word that gets thrown around a lot and it means different things to different people and different people react differently to it. I think it’s exciting for a bunch of people who are entrepreneurs and say, hey we are out to disrupt. That gets them excited that gets them going. And its hugely motivating. I think that’s good. For a bunch of corporates who’ve not been looking at it they react with fear, that my business is going away. And a) it either forces them to work with such startups or do something of their own. I think that’s also good. Then there are a bunch of people I think the smarter kind, they think: that in the end what difference does it make to my customer?

He also spoke about the challenges faced by the banking sector with technology and innovation:

I was selling to banks and I could see that banks couldn’t innovate even if their life depended on it. Why’s that? They would essentially look at the business leaders coming up with the new ideas or they will say okay let the tech guys come up with the new ideas. First of all most bank tech people are not deep tech people. They actually turn to a TCS or an Infosys for help on that. Second is that the tech is not out there is not looking at what the customer is doing, it’s the branch which is doing that. Between the tech and branch there is a central processing centre then you’ve got your operations leadership and then comes the tech. So tech essentially treats the operations leadership as its customer, or the business function leaders as its leaders. Now these guys are not in the market. If you are not studying your customer, if you are not trying to understand the needs how are you going to innovate?

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 19

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This week, we are joined by Siddharth Sharma, CTO at People Interactive, Shaadi.com. Siddharth talks about his journey through coding and how he set up his consulting firm, SmartMonkeys. The conversation also covers the technology ecosystem for coders in Mumbai and Pune and his work at People Interactive.

He gave his perspective about the real tech talent in the country:

I don’t know of many companies that really have a tech DNA at the start. Many of the founders I’ve worked with have a very very strong business sense. But without someone at the top who knows how software is built, it gets challenging and it gets challenging in very banal ways.

Shiladitya enquired about what Siddharth thinks is the way forward to help change the core ‘Tech DNA’ in companies. To which he responded:

The platform has changed right, the platform is digital now, it is the internet now. It works at scale. You need to deal with this platform. And the way you deal with this platform is through technology. And the problem I think is that building software that works, building products that work on the internet is like literally, I can’t think of any other human activity which works at this scale which is an industrial activity and is yet built by hand. It is an artisanal thing almost, you have people sitting there crafting this code by hand. Every other industrial product out there gets built by machines. You build the factory or you program the robots and they make this thing for you. But this is artisanal in a way and the problems that we solve are extremely complex in the sense that you can’t always predict what’s going to happen when you do something. You build something, you put it out in the market, it breaks; the users say I can’t try to figure what you are trying to do with this. You need to constantly keep iterating on these things and that iterating process I feel is very natural to the programmers and it is not so natural to the business guys.

He also spoke about the current situation with coders and their skill set.

Many of the really really great coders I know they’ve often been to courses like NCSTs or MCA somewhere. I don’t know if computer education is lacking but I really feel it could have been much more widespread. The average college graduate today is not really been given the skills that are going to work in 2017.

Listen to the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 18

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On this episode of Shunya One, we are joined by Aakrit Vaish, Co-founder, and CEO of Haptik, a conversational commerce platform backed by Artificial Intelligence and humans for a chat based interface. He worked at Flurry Analytics, a mobile application company; before co-founding Haptik in 2013.

Aakrit talked about what made Flurry stand out from the other players in the analytics space and what led them to focus on mobile as a platform. 

With Flurry, they were just really obsessed about building great analytics tools for developers. They really just said that we don’t know about anything else, we will figure out business tomorrow, we will make it free. This has to be a product that should be free and we should build a tool that does really well at analytics for mobile apps. Because google analytics does not do it. GA does web and something else and they’ve just converted it to mobile. So flurry was just obsessed with that. They did really great content marketing around it. So which was PR, they were very active in SF, Bay Area dev circles. They would just do a lot of developer evangelism that comes use it.

Shiladitya inquired about what led him to focus on chatbots and artificial intelligence with Haptik. Aakrit said:

The thesis was very simple, that messaging is going to rule the world. That is going to become your de facto platform or de facto interface for the smartphone. And everything that you do on a smartphone will at some shape or form go through a messaging interface. That really was the thesis. Now the question is what used cases, how do approach it, how do you go case by case - that’s when we started working on V1, V2 and V5 and what’s going to happen in the future.

He also explained what falls under the category of Artificial Intelligence and what they do at Haptik.

A.I in its true sense is actually - can machines be intelligent enough to understand what you are doing and help you do something or the other? It is a very abused term now, where people think everything is A.I. It has various different sub-divisions to it. Robotics is part of A.I, machine learning is part of A.I, Linguistics is part of A.I, Natural Language Processing is part of A.I, Data Analytics, and Big Data is part of A.I. We actually think we fall in that A.I bucket because we do a lot of Natural Language Processing. So that’s the area we focus on, which is when someone types how can we interpret it and respond to it?

Catch the full episode here:

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 17

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On this episode, hosts Shiladitya and Amit are joined by Annkur Agarwal - Co-founder and CEO of SahiGST and  Pricebaba. Annkur co-founded SahiGST in 2016, a GST filing and compliance solution for Indian businesses. While Pricebaba is a product research engine that helps consumers with product recommendations, costs comparisons and options available to figure where to buy it and how much to buy it for. 

They talk about how his journey, his experience at various technology and entrepreneurial networking events and how technology is enhancing GST filing in tandem with the government. Annkur explained how the government works with GST and aligns technology for its records. He said: 

The whole idea of GST from a technology point of view is, what the Government wants is that every transaction that’s happening in the country specially every B2B transaction. They want you to upload all of those transaction details, basically the invoices to the government portal. So for example, if I say I’ve sold something to Amit, and I have given his tax identification number and Amit has declared that he has brought this from me and he has given my tax identification number, that transaction should also match on the government portal. And on the government back-end, the transactions match, that these two parties have said they’ve done business with each other.

Annkur also spoke about SahiGST's core role as a service driven company:

In our business, it’s about how efficiently can we take your data, run validations on it - have you done something wrong, give you those warnings and then take you to the government to file it.

Catch the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep 16

Amrut Dhumal, Co-founder at Mindseed Education operates more than 50 pre-schools in 7 cities and 2 states since 2011. It focuses on skill development and works with technology to build the modules for learning. He joined hosts Shiladitya and Amit to talk about how education has evolved and needs to go beyond content distribution.  Amrut began with focusing on the myths that the traditional education system offered.  He said:

If you think about the holy trinity of lies in our education system. So sort of 200 years ago, the system that is built is largely just been incremental innovations on that. And the lies or the myths or the beliefs that form it are that no. 1 - education basically means an efficient form of content distribution. If you trace how education has evolved in that sense so you started with a chalk and a board and books. And that was a huge innovation when it came about. And that made more people sort of understand and therefore collaborate largely. That got replaced by smart boards, Khan Academy, even MOOCs; if you think about it they are all playing the same game to some extent. They are trying to distribute content more efficiently. But the MOOCs are trying to efficiently distribute great content. But really, it is about that.

Amrut also discussed the model they follow at Mindseed and what he thought about the conventional method of  teaching the English language with alphabets.

It was just a convention that people agreed upon. They said we are going to call this ‘A.’ If you are thinking about when you are trying to impart this as the basic thing to a child, you are talking about something that is so abstract vs. a chair which is so concrete. We actually start kids off in recognizing their own name. Because that is the most concrete thing for them - this is me. Once they start recognizing that, it is concrete, it is applicable.

Shiladitya then inquired about the scale and expansion of the education model, to which Amrut replied: 

This thing can really can scale when the system of feedback is in the product itself. And then what starts happening is that I am able to do all the things that I needed human beings for. The child is able to figure these things out, if you are saying the child is imputing these rules we need to give him or her stimulus that is engaging, that is at the right level. And then we need to give her feedback, whether you are doing right or wrong. And through multiple exposures they keep moving forward. That’s what we are testing now.

Listen to the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep 15

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Abhijeet Ramesh, Senior Director, Digital Solutions at Visa Inc. has been associated with Visa since 2007. He joined hosts Shiladitya and Amit to talk about the payment trends, payment frauds, security, the equation with banks and card-holders and how Visa is placed as a fin-tech network.  Speaking of trends, Abhijeet said:

Plastic is going to start becoming less relevant, and it will exist in virtual forms on devices. The other big trend we are seeing is that pretty much everyone who is any one is now interested in payments. So phone manufacturers like Apple, Samsung or Lg to large technology players like google, to large e-com giants like Amazon. Everyone is out there to building out a pay of their own - an amazon pay, a samsung pay, an android pay.

Shiladitya inquired about the lag in adoption rate with payments, as compared to the western countries considering, ‘cash is king,’ in India. To which Abhijeet replied:

So payments is what we call a two sided business : there is what’s happening on the merchant’s side and the consumer side. So what’s happening on the consumer’s side? - India has the largest basis of cards. We have about 900 million cards. There about if you look at the latest RBI report across all networks but 850 million of those debit and about 50 million are credit.
A majority of the 850 million nearly 90% and before demonitization happened a higher number than that is well were never used or used to withdraw cash from the ATM to pay your merchant. There were two reasons for that: one, is the larger issue of awareness. A country our size both in terms of number of people and the geographic spread and sort of how deep in terms of tier I, tier II, tier III, tier IV; you need to go to create awareness. It is not easy. You need to drive behvaiour change which is not easy. Not just in payments, it is true for pretty much everything, It is going to cost money, it is going to take a lot of time. That’s the first thing. It is very inherent, it is very structural. The other thing is that, for the few people who are willing to use cards, there isn’t enough opportunity to use their card for payment which basically goes back to - there aren’t enough merchants accepting it.

Listen to the full episode here:

In Brief: Shunya One Ep 14

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This week, Shiladitya and Amit are joined by Miten Sampat, who leads Corporate Development for Times Internet. Miten focuses on growth and opportunities in investment, strategic partnerships, and acquisitions. On episode 14 of Shunya One, they discuss corporate development and its intentionally unstructured line of work, data security for various businesses, the next big sector and India's pathway to being the next China. To begin with, Miten explained how corporate development works and its scope. He said:

It’s actually just a very fluffy word. And it is kind of a catch-all when you want someone to do things which are not very well defined. So the idea is, companies when they get to a certain scale, they need to find unconventional ways to grow which may not be core to the current business which may mean doing unique partnerships with other large other companies, other small companies. It may also mean acquiring companies. Sometimes what do you do is you realize and some smart people realize they are not going to be smart about everything. There is a lot of innovation happening outside the building and how do you tap into that. So acquisition is an approach and another approach is investing. Even beyond that, you want to build a special project and get a small team and explore something. And so all of these things put together, you can’t sort of assign a very clear job because depending on the challenge you have or the aspiration you have, you figure out what tactic to apply.

Shiladitya asked Miten about the comparison in the environment offered to startups in India and Silicon Valley and also how the accessibility to large platforms is vital to a startup functioning out of India.

Being physically closer to where a lot of the action is; I know we live in a world of infinitely accessible communication so and so forth but ultimately you are doing business with people and it matters whether the guy or girl on the other side wants to do business with you, likes you or doesn’t like you, philosophically agrees with you on several different things. So as a startup when you are trying to build something, everything has to go right. Every additional bit of friction can kill you; it can be the smallest bit of friction.

Miten also spoke about a sector he feels could bring in a vast opportunity for growth in the country.

I think the sector that I am very excited about and I don’t know how it pans out but I think India could be a large market for adoption of electric cars. It’s the future. We have a good auto-components base.

Catch the full episode here: 

IVM Likes: The recommendations so far

IVM Likes, our staff pop culture recommendation podcast has finally hit episode 30 and people will not stop asking about its marriage plans! 

Here's what's been happening for the past 30 weeks: every Wednesday, me and two others from our office (sometimes by their own free will and sometimes by force) sit around a table and talk about all the books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, web-series, YouTube channels, video games, candy bars we love for about 25 minutes. And then we get to have lunch. 

To celebrate this big 3-oh and our failing memories, we put together a spreadsheet of all the recommendations we've made so far. So next time you can't decide what to watch or listen to or read, just find this sheet and pick something guaranteed to fill that void in your life. 

Note: 

-This sheet does not include some other cool stuff we mentioned in our discussions, so you should listen to all the episodes for that. Just get to it now. 

- This sheet does include Burn Notice. 

Thanks for listening!

- Sharanya

Catch the full episode here:

In Brief Shunya One Ep.13

Pranav Marwah – Co-founder of thinQbate, is an incubator approach for new entrepreneurs and startups offering angel investing, facilitating growth by understanding the basic business challenges and has been striving towards adding value to the various new ventures since 2015.  

He joined hosts Shiladitya Mukhopadhyaya  and Amit Doshi on Shunya One to discuss how the discipline behind sports has helped align his business goals and he communicates this with the many founding-teams managed by his incubation company, and his sports-tech venture. He said: 

I’ve been a big believer of sport being intrinsic to everybody’s life, from a very early age.
I think it is a very undervalued source of skill sets, where you can acquire them in a manner that
you possibly don’t even realize. And that could be with individual sport when it comes to discipline and understanding how to keep pushing yourself when you are perhaps alone. Then, coming to a team sport where it is about understanding how to deal with others and understanding the others’ weaknesses and sort of jumping in when it is needed. I think that is something that you see in the world of entrepreneurship and startups. It is extremely important for the foundation of the company to have that camaraderie and interaction. I think that translates very naturally in what an individual can or can’t do.

They discussed how Pranav drew parallels from factors critical to sports games like human development, competition, and team-work and game-playing to his own company:

At thinQbate where we are an incubator with early stage investment, we have actually used sport to get to know an entrepreneur or a founding team much better, a lot more regularly because it is so important. So we have four pillars we like to adhere by or work towards where early stage companies, in industries, we can bring value which are enabled by technology but backed by the most solid founding team. And that last element is perhaps 95% of the entire outlook. Because it is all about people

Having spoken of mentorship and founding team leaders making most of an incubation system, Shiladitya asked Pranav about what he has picked after managing a portfolio of companies, to this date. Pranav said:

One of the greatest learnings we imbibed before even starting out was can we create collaborations through communities.

Catch the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep.12

Sauvik Banerjjee - Vice President Tata Digital Initiatives, and CTO, of Tata CliQ joined Shiladitya Mukhopadhyaya and Amit Doshi to discuss the transition with brand technology for e-commerce in India, and the startup-corporate equation. They initially talk about Sauvik’s journey through coding in the mid-90s, his experience with Natural Language Processing (NLP) to getting brick and mortar back in shape with Tata CliQ.  This conversation then focuses on how technology deployment is instrumental in filling the gaps for the retail industry. To make this point clear, Sauvik said:  

Retail technologies across the world have very little foot-print of pure tech-play. This actually opens up the door for true digital enterprise-solving day-to-day problems of tech. I’ll give you an example, if you walk into any of the Lifestyle stores in Mumbai, do you know how they count the number of people who walk into the stores? “The clikr,” said Sheladitya. “The watchman has a clikr, so the cliker is the way he counts footfalls. Can you imagine in a day and time when we are talking NL, NLP, AR, VR; retail stores, the biggest of brands have a clicker in a man who is counting footfalls. What I am trying to say is there is always a gap for technology to solve and retail definitely has the biggest gap and the biggest opportunities.

Shiladitya made a point that while e-commerce is a retail front on the web, it is meant to smoothen the supply chain with efficiency. When asked whether the consumer is drawn towards brands from Indian conglomerates, Sauvik says,

You see the Tata Group is this calm but a big elephant. And whenever the big elephant ran the earth shook; whether it was Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tesla, Tata Communications. To be honest, JRD Tata championed Air India before he gave it away and made it public. And of course, the Reliance Group.

They proceed to talking about the other side of enterprise-tech which is the startup adoption rate and its impact. Sauvik, talks about how big enterprise are running on startup solutions.

The adoption has started. The adoption and mind-space has changed 12 to maybe 15 months back. You will also see in 12 months to 18 to the next 24 months a big success story coming up, post-adoption the impact whether it is a conversion impact or an ROI impact that’s where the bridge between the startup and the enterprise communities will be more spoken about. I think we are in that implementation phase, monitoring observation mode.

Catch the full episode here: 

ReDiscover: Agra beyond the Taj 

 

The city of Agra is rather synonymous to the iconic Taj Mahal and a touristy visit to the mausoleum built for Mumtaz Mahal, usually tends to complete a trip to Agra. 

However, travel geniuses Ambika and Hoshner wander off to the less traveled roads and alleys to understand the stories behind the historical structures and heritage of the city, way beyond the Taj. 

Here is how you can completely crack exploring Agra! 

You can listen to the full episode here: 

In Brief: Shunya One Ep. 11

Kris Nair - tech entrepreneur, investment professional and Partner of BOLD Ventures, a seed stage venture capital firm (investing in early stage companies looking to change how business is done in Asia) - joined Shiladitya and Amit to discuss what drives private investment to sectors such as core tech and core science. While initially discussing the mindset of investors and the popular investments in food tech, Shiladitya brings up the need for valuation of one’s business in (core-tech) and ageism in core tech investment.

From whatever experience I have running a business which was in core tech, talking to other people in the same industry - whether its vendors or whether its consumers - No one really spoke about the value of your company.....when you have to think of funding, you have to think about what’s the value of what your building.

Most people are just doing trading. Most companies don’t even have core value because they’re not a manufacturer as such - they’re just a layer on top of something else. The people who do actually create intellectual property, core IP (with cool science in it), most people don’t trust them, unless you’re an old dude who’s been with an MNC firm and held enough posts, only then can you be a science-y core tech founder.....How do you earn that trust [of investors] without that pedigree?

After discussing the need for diversity, India’s investment in space research, and the model currently adopted by the Kerala government, Kris explains the fundamental reason investors don’t put money into core tech/science startups.

We don’t have private investors betting on this because most of the private investors are used to paper returns happening in 2 years time [instead] of happening in 8 years time. If you can hold a share for about 8 years then its good, [but] then you’re asking the entire fund industry to change, right? The entire industry is designed to allocate money for about 4-5 years and then make the exits happen and then close everything in a box.

They continue to discuss what is a conducive ecosystem for such businesses

What is a ecosystem? Is it because the economic times is writing about it?...Or, having easy access to resources, team, capital, customers. If things go wrong as a founder in core tech I can talk to another founder in core tech......Capital is there but primarily from govt institutions (grants, etc)......direct customer base [is there], so the only thing missing probably is the biggest one.....basically, private investors betting on it.

Catch the full episode here: