India, Building For The World: The Unicorn Ventures Story
Unicorn Ventures founder Bhaskar Majumdar believes India’s transformation is going to be in every vertical and technologies like AI and Blockchain will be subsumed in to the larger business narrative.
Bhaskar Majumdar, the founder and managing partner Unicorn Ventures, believes that the Indian ecosystem has seen a fast paced maturity curve. Back in 2015 there were younger entrepreneurs being funded and increasingly, he finds, investments are moving towards individuals with deep domain expertise who have put in a decade or more in corporate or in startup roles. He shares his experiences of how Unicorn Ventures came about and the learning that makes him believe that India can build for the world. He has also written a book called “Everything Started As Nothing: how to win the startup
battle” – the book captures how behemoth businesses started out of dorms and garages. He captures the essence of being a VC and an entrepreneur.
Here are the excerpts of the interview (watch the podcast or listen in for an indepth view of each of these questions) :
You started as a media executive and from there on a startup founder and a VC, quick thoughts on your experiences?
Bhaskar Majumdar: I have been a media executive globally. I have seen media change from print to whatever it is today. Do you remember the era when CD-ROMs were considered cool? I have also been in the early stages of broadcast. After my stint in the media world I started up by providing solutions for digital content in the early two thousands when broadband was gaining traction. At the time we were converting legacy content to digital content. So after selling a couple of businesses I became a VC. Now, you are right in saying that being a VC is like being an entrepreneur. It is the same journey as an entrepreneur. You have to find the right cohorts. My love for media continues as it is all subsuming, it is everywhere because content allows you to also consume ecommerce. See how Google and Amazon are media companies, not just tech platforms.
I raised money twenty years ago for Recreate Solutions and it was a $2.5 million cheque, there were very few of us who raised money at the time. There was no such thing as seed rounds in India, the bankers and the financial services became the VCs back then. You must remember that in Silicon Valley the early stage VCs are entrepreneurs themselves. In the early two thousands we did not have that culture in India.
When I became a VC my early investments were in the UK. Later on the fund I set up was for India. We operate with a global hypothesis where ideas can be in every market. Let me come to why India is a large market. The exits that I have had were in the back end digitization and process improvement side. If one looks at India look at the number of verticals that have broken processes and experiences. Supply chain itself needs to go through a process of digitization. Most of our businesses will be digital platforms changing several industries and that is our hypothesis at Unicorn Ventures.
Talk about the hypothesis behind becoming a VC?
Bhaskar: Seven years ago I went to several institutions and told them about the digital journey that India was embarking upon. My hypothesis was about platforms that can bank on the growth of smart phones with lowering of data costs that can enable rapid digital adoption. You are right - although I had sold a couple of companies I did not have the experience of a VC back then, but, like every new business you learn to get better. Investors knew that Anil Joshi, the co-founder of Unicorn Ventures, and I had a good track record. Yes we had quite an experience, we would meet fifteen people and only one would like our thesis. Now that we are in the second fund things are very different as many more Institutions liked the work that we have done in the first fund. The first fund was like an entrepreneur going around and knocking on so many doors, we closed Rs 100 crore back then.
The market has changed in 2021 when compared to six years ago. In 2015 we backed younger entrepreneurs and now we increasingly see entrepreneurs who are starting up for the second time or have been in senior corporate positions. In the second fund I am very curious about the creator economy and have made a couple of investments. Ecommerce and delivery have been cracked, so it is important to see the next stage of growth. I am betting on experienced founders because there are domain specific problems to solve in fintech or media or any other industry. Today the propensity to startup is far better than a decade ago.
I love this whole vernacularization of India startups, is this a reality or would it take time?
Bhaskar: Seventy percent of the startups come from the larger urban regions. But if you look at our thirty odd investments, we have only around ten from major cities. We believe in this hypothesis that ideas come from Bharat or tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Our investments have been made in startups in Kochi, Trivandrum, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Bhilai. Now isn’t this a place for vernacularization of startups, they will make impact in their local economies. I am watching the creator economy and I believe there will be so many of them going forward, I am watching this economy closely and want to invest in some of them. I have already started to see voice based companies starting to get funding. Voice technology is going to be a big subject going forward for vernacularization.
Healthcare and crypto, what are your thoughts on these technologies?
Bhaskar: I also see massive opportunities in healthcare and the India opportunity will be very different from the global healthcare model. Health data migration, e-pharma to health portals will be the future, the government of India is creating a platform just like the UPI. Once these platforms come about there will be several more startups. India needs a decentralized health platform where data would help people and care providers on a dynamic basis. This whole push is happening now.
Now this entire data story needs retelling in every sector, we need to figure out how data sharing will be equitable to all parties. We have not yet reached that maturity curve where enterprises will pay people for the data that they use.
As far as crypto goes, I believe the technology framework will be important. Blockchain and AI will become the foundation for a business, but, end clients would not even have to know that blockchain is being used. The way I look at it is that these technologies will be subsumed in to the entire business idea. I am interested in non-fungible-tokens. Recently, Amitabh Bacchan has launched his own NFTs. These NFTs help a creator to sell these NFTs and generate value in the field of work. I don’t know how these technologies will pan out and these are models where one has to be closely watch these emerging business models.