Pitching your startup!

Founders usually are looking for advice and thoughts for pitching to VCs. Typically VCs look at hundreds of deals every month. Not every VC is looking at the same data or has similar preferences, making it even more complex to know what to cover in a pitch. While I’ve pitched only a few times, it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time listening and discussing pitches, so I should just put a piece about what VCs would like to hear!

You have around 5 minutes to grab the attention of VCs; so do not wait to tell about the most awesome part of your startup – team, market entry, technology etc. Tell it like a story. We need to know what problem you are solving and why you care about it. Tell us about your market. How big it is, how much can you address, how soon and who are the competitors? How will you have sustained differentiation against your competition? Who are your partners in crime, your team. Of all the things they could do in their lives, why this crazy thing? If you have launched, show us what you have done. Nothing like seeing product demo and hear customer testimonials. Have a clear ask, having clarity about what you want from an investor (how much are you raising, at what terms, introductions) tells a lot about your planning skills. One last key takeaway is to know your audience before pitching to them.

Shake it up! Edtech 1.0 ripe for disruption

How do you identify an industry that is ripe for disruption? When there is a gap between the solutions offered by current players in the industry and the changing demands of its customers, new players can disrupt the industry.

Companies from edtech 1.0 assured us that they would solve all the problems with our education system. They did solve for access by bringing offline content online. The best content from top professors and universities that was previously inaccessible to most was bought online by the likes of Coursera and Khan Academy. Online and live tutoring by companies like Tutorvista provided access to quality teachers to students around the world. edtech 1.0 was the best thing to happen in democratizing access to knowledge, since the invention of internet.

However, providing access has not solved all the problems, students struggle to learn, underperform in tests and fail to reach their true potential. As per a public report, 47% of Indian graduates are unemployable and 90% of engineering graduates are unemployable. The key reasons for these are:

–  The current learning process is boring and outdated. The focus is on rote learning and scoring at all levels. There is no engagement in the learning process.

– There is no personalization and one on one tutoring is expensive. It has been reiterated in many articles that we can not have a “one size fit all” solution to educate our diverse students. Students have different aptitudes and most are not even exposed to the various career options they have. The traditional and the edtech 1.0 players have failed to innovate and build products that individualize to every student’s profile.

– There is a disconnect between what is taught and the skills required in the job market. The traditional educational and edtech 1.0 players are teaching curriculum that is not in sync with the new age jobs. The frequency at which the curriculum is updated is slower than the rate at which the job profiles are changing.

If India has to fully capitalize its demographic dividend, then we need to address the issue of unlocking the true potential of everyone in our workforce. While this is a massive problem, tech can offer simple solutions. Edtech 2.0 companies are unlocking true potential of students using data and analytics to personalize education, make the process of learning fun and social, focus on true learning rather than rote and give real time feedback.

Sources for data:

What will it take for high tech startups to bloom in India

A few weeks ago, I heard the pitch from Team Indus which is the only Indian team competing for the Google X prize to launch a rocket to the Moon. In the process of competing for the prize, it is building the next generation aerospace company in India. I left the room with a lot of optimism in the future of high tech in India and with the thought – What would it take to see many more bold startups from India aiming for tech breakthroughs like advanced materials, super computing, blockchain technologies and space?

Nasa photos

Pic from: http://history.nasa.gov/ap11ann/kippsphotos/apollo.html

India has seen hundreds of consumer internet startups by founders who had just graduated. These 23-25 year olds understand the millennials and technology better than anyone else. They built startups that took advantage of the current technologies to define new business models. However, few ventured into advanced sciences, as high tech startups require people with doctoral and post doctoral degrees, research background and experience in the relevant field. Though Indian’s bloom and flourish in research labs outside India, few have built hi-tech businesses here.

The spawning of high tech startups in India could be driven by a trifecta of diverse forces. First, we need to create a higher education system that focusses on real innovation. India has very few institutes that are renowned for advanced research, so people who want to pursue research end up studying in the US / UK. Most end up working in high tech startups in the Silicon Valley and Cambridge, UK. To provide these talented people the opportunity, the Indian government must focus on building advanced education institutions on par with the best in the world and open up 100% FDI in higher education. There are examples of how this has been done. Saudi Arabia founded KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), a private post graduate research university that brings together the best faculty from around the world in areas of super computing, visualization, nano fabrication etc. The university has become the nucleus of research and development in the region.

Next, We need to bring together research and business ideas. The scientists and researchers at the various advanced institutes, like ISRO, IISc and HAL are our best bet to start up in the near term. These institutes must encourage their scientists to commercialize their ideas. Most accelerators are focused only on popular business models and consumer internet, which require little intervention. We need specialized accelerators for high tech businesses like the global aerospace business accelerator by Airbus in Bangalore. Government and industry must promote / incentivize many such accelerators that incubate technologies that take longer to gestate.

Finally, the Indian investors – both venture and corporate must build capabilities to evaluate high tech. Opportunities in this space have potential for very large impact and outcomes. Investors could form alliances with universities and foreign funds that have experience in advanced tech investing to understand the technologies. They can take cues from Israel’s venture capital and incubator industry that plays an important role in the booming high-tech sectors like material technology, medical devices and internet security.

With these forces coming together and the large domestic market, India will be among the best places for true innovation and commercialization. I hope to see the next breakthrough medical devices, AI robots and spacecraft designed and built in India.

Let a 1000 high tech startups bloom in India.