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DITCH THE CROWD

Indian VCs behave like copycat teenagers instead of rational adults

Bharat Sethi
By Bharat Sethi

Here’s a bit of an exchange I recently had with a partner at a well-known venture capital (VC) firm:

Random VC 1: “How many people do you expect to hire in this time frame?”

Me: “Around 35.”

Random VC 1: “Don’t you think that’s low?”

Me: “Well, we’d like to remain lean, plus our business model allows us to be so. Have a look at my projections sheet.”

VC 1: “Ah! Has random VC 2 gotten back yet? We’d like to chip in if they commit.”

Me: “Not yet.”

Since then random VC 1 has been missing in action despite demonstrating solid interest in the business. So much for respect of a founder’s time and effort. Imagine what if we do take funding from firms of these kinds. Guess we’d be forced to become a churn-ware factory in no time.

I’ve raised capital from some of the most active and marquee angel investors over the last few years. But actively raising institutional money over the last couple of months has brought me closer to an odd gap in the investment marketplace. There are very few investors actually vying to be the first to discover hot new tech startups or create new markets. Instead, they’re always trying to find an American or a Chinese replica or blindly following investment decisions of other firms.

Most entrepreneurs want to start companies solving problems in a never-done-before way and go where others haven’t. But these venture money people are the exact opposite. Their mantra is, “I’m going to do the same thing everybody else does, because they might be doing something right.” This herd mentality runs deep in VC firms globally, but in India, where venture capital is limited and hard to come by, it is stifling innovation.

In fact, I’ve been told by an analyst at one of these funds that they are specifically told not to meet with companies that are attempting something “absolutely new.” They go by a shopping checklist to satisfy their limited partnerships and follow the few cool cliques; sentiments are created by this bunch, and the overall effect is a herd mentality. And not to forget, a many of these partners are super fearful people. They just don’t want to be singled out for the blame if anything goes wrong. So much for supporting entrepreneurs who’re largely a fearless clan.

No wonder, it has led us to where we are:

  1. Several VCs continue to invest in under-developed business models just because the coolest fund around leads the startup’s first round of funding.
  2. Meanwhile, other VCs will now follow the trend and fund any startup that is doing “something similar” because they have a deep-seated FOMO (fear of missing out).
  3. A few months down the line, cracks will begin to appear in the team and business model. By now, many other copy-paste startups would have cluttered the ecosystem.
  4. Now, this will cause other investors to shy away from the space to the detriment of better companies that need funding. And, of course, the lousy startups that got funding at undeserving high valuations struggle to raise more capital, without creating any real value in the process, leading to negative sentiments.

Entrepreneurs-turned-VCs

Another thing I’ve identified during my fundraising journey is that I connect more with VCs who were entrepreneurs before. These people tend to be supportive from the go, communicate better, have a vision, and behave more like partners rather than gods. Most importantly, they tend to be more sincere and clear about what they want out of the time they spend with the management. But isn’t it really surprising that such entrepreneurs-turned-VCs barely exist in the Indian ecosystem?

Indian VCs really need to become less fearful, develop more vision, become more open-minded and take a relook at their methodologies. Just as a spunky and bold attitude is unconditionally a must for a successful entrepreneur, these traits are absolutely necessary for VCs as well.

Let’s face it—it’s never easy.

The best performing funds/investors aren’t influenced much by the opinion of other investors. A lot of them claim that the key to success is finding the next Facebook. In my view, this is the very reason why any of the VC firm in India has failed to build the next Facebook. It can never be about discovering the next Facebook or Airbnb. It’s about positioning your fund to celebrate radical game changing ideas.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.