The startup ecosystem in the country can turn the COVID-spurred crisis into a sea of opportunities, according to experts.
A panel discussion on “Way forward for startups and new benchmarks for angel investors”, held as part of ManoramaOnline's Techspectations 2020, painted a glossy picture of the country even in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The panel, which moderator Kiruba Shanker termed “a healthy mix of entrepreneurs, investors and founders”, narrated their stories of success and offered tips for aspiring entrepreneurs caught in a cobweb of confusions.
Initiating the discussion, Dipanjan Basu, Partner and CFO, Fireside Ventures – which invests in early stage consumer brands – said this was the opportune time to start a company in the consumer tech sector.
Basu said the new normal post-Covid was not very different from the pre-pandemic one for the consumer tech sector.
“If it has changed, it's for the positive,” he said.
Brand building: when, what and how
Detailing the 'when, what and how' of building a new brand, Basu stressed on the need to be differentiated and sustainable.
“We feel the next decade would go to consumer brands and consumer tech companies. It's going to be a good wave,” he said.
He said the ecosystem is large enough for food, beverages, fashion and lifestyle.
“If you launch a differentiated product and have a differentiated market strategy then you will have opportunities.”
He said the pandemic period proved that the people cared about branded products.
Post-pandemic, most of the consumer companies Fireside has invested have doubled or tripled their revenues.
On how to build a brand, Basu said the world view that spending more money on marketing will attract more investors has changed absolutely.
“You have to build a sustainable company. You may find investors after six or 12 months of launch. You need capital to sustain during downturns,” he said.
Anand Prasanna, Managing Partner, IronPillar Fund, said the year witnessed a lot of factors that rocket-fuelled many companies.
He said 2020 will be marked in history as a watershed year in India's tech world.
Prasanna said a $1.7 trillion market tech economy is going to be created in India and urged entrepreneurs to make maximum opportunity out of it.
Prasanna said 'networking' remains the key to finding patrons. “You should find somebody in your network who would know a partner who can invest in your business,” he said.
Spoting startup at Techspectations
On finding the right candidate for funding, Prasanna recollected identifying 'Fresh to Home', a leading e-commerce platform at a previous edition of Techspectations.
“We spotted Fresh to Home during a previous edition of Techspectations and decided to invest in the company,” he said.
Fresh to Home has grown up to be India's largest online fresh fish and meat store.
The session also saw three young founders narrating their stories of success and resilience.
Arun Chandran, Founder, Trycle, recollected how he founded the e-learning platform, aimed at skill enhancement.
He said the sight of some 9,000 engineering graduates waiting for their turn at a placement drive prompted him to start a job portal where students can connect with employers.
However, his visits to some institutions made him realise the stark reality that it was not lack of opportunities, but lack of skills was the real issue.
Hence, he started Trycle, where advanced tech lessons are taught in simple Malayalam.
Chandran said getting frequent feedback from the consumers was an important driving force of his company.
On digital classrooms emerging to be the new normal post Covid, Chandran said he believed that “classroom experience is really important”.
“Online classes can only be an auxiliary. We shouldn't take the classroom experience from a child,” he said.
Power of storytelling
Rasmi Poduval, Co-Founder, Seamstress & Cranganor, spoke about the “power of storytelling” which helps her excel both as an entrepreneur and marketeer.
Her key-point was that business owners have to tell the world what they stand for.
She explained how she turned the crisis caused by the pandemic into opportunity with an example.
Her dress manufacturing company faced shortage of materials during the lockdown when there was only white fabric left with the weavers.
She overcame the crisis by creating new designs that made maximum use of the white.
Charles Vijay Varghese, CEO, NAVA Design & Innovation Pvt. Ltd, narrated his adventurous trip to start the AI company after leaving a lucrative job in the Gulf. Varghese entered the Neera juice market with an AI-powered machine to tap the coconut extract.
Outlining his vision for the future, Varghese said India has more than 50 per cent of its workforce in the agriculture sector, but their contribution to the GDP is only 13 per cent.
He said enhancing automation and introducing maximum value-added projects are the way forward for the key sector to thrive.