Whether it is fintech firms, financial services firms, e-commerce or healthcare companies, investors across the world want to target the tier 2-3 cities population in India, says this evangelist and mentor for tech-startups
By Aasheesh Sharma: Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida alumna Garima Seth learnt the nuances of mergers and acquisitions, business transactions and finance at S&P Global for more than a decade before chasing her entrepreneurial dream and launching Boon Capital Advisors (www.booncapital.in), her own boutique investment banking firm.
Her company has been named among the top 10 investment banking companies in India in terms of the number of transactions that they did last year.
Based in New Delhi, Garima plays mentor, evangelist, advisor and guide to many ventures, tech start-ups and SMEs and strongly believes in empowering women entrepreneurs.
Her firm is sector-agnostic and has helped more than 35 early-stage companies raise their funding rounds like Jade forest, Rusk Media, Gynoveda, Glamyo Health, Vital and many more.
Garima is also associated with Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Foundation (WIEF), an incubation cum accelerator centre dedicated to building, improving, protecting, mentoring and funding Indian women entrepreneurs by means of teaching them problem solving and incremental innovation techniques.
She has been continuously advising, mentoring women entrepreneurs and hand-holding them at various stages of their journey.
She has also been appointed as a mentor for India at the Founder’s Institute (https://fi.co), the world’s largest pre-seed start-up accelerator, based in the United States
Before starting her firm she was part of S&P Global for almost 12 years managing their transactions team M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) and Private Placements she gained deep insights into the investment domain of India and the United States.
In an exclusive wide-ranging interview, Garima discusses, among other things, the various stages of start-up funding, angel investors, fond memories of studying at Apeejay and why it is a great time to be a start-up founder in India. Edited excerpts:
Please tell us a little about your education and professional journey
I come from a family of academicians and professionals in Allahabad, now called Prayagraj. My grandfather was a well-known engineer and architect at the time India won Independence.
My father is an engineer from IIT Kanpur, my elder brother is a chartered accountant and my sister a finance professional with Standard Chartered Bank.
When I was growing up Allahabad was a city renowned for people with an academic bent of mind. I completed my graduation from Allahabad University.
After that for my postgraduate studies, I did my MBA from the Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida. Subsequently, I worked with Standards and Poor’s Global Ratings for more than a decade and managed their Mergers and Acquisitions and Private Placements for 12 years before embarking on my entrepreneurial journey with Boon Capital Advisors, a boutique Investment banking firm.
What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur and launching a boutique investment banking firm with a sharp focus on early-stage start-ups?
Having worked with S&P for more than a decade, I thought rather than forming one company which could be a part of the start-up ecosystem, why not do something which could build several such success stories.
This is where I thought of creating an investment banking company for very early stage start-ups. There were a lot of investment banking companies which were doing work to raise funds for group stage companies that had already attained a certain level.
But when I started, I tried to promote people who were starting from scratch. This is what I started with and it has been quite a successful journey so far.
Within a span of three years we I can say we are quite connected in the ecosystem with a network of around 450 VC and private equity funds.
We have a network of more than 100 family offices and Micro VC funds. We have more than 200 angel investors in our network and in the three years we have done about 36 transactions across sectors that include successful companies as Gamesdop and environmentally conscious ride hailing venture BluSmart in the electric vehicles space.
We did their seed stage and now they are at their Series A-Plus stage, where British Petroleum Ventures have already invested 25 million dollars in them. And now they are raising around 70-80 million dollars.
Please tell us about the various stages of start-up funding and at which stage does your company come in?
Alright, the first stage is the seed stage in which people have created a prototype for their business, they know what their product is and they are ready to launch the product but they need money to launch it and go to the market.
Then comes the pre-Series A in which they have already launched the product in the market, they have the proof of concept and have started doing early revenues.
At this stage, they need more money to establish themselves in certain areas or acquire more target customers etc.
Series-A, of course, which involves larger cheques like 5-8 million dollars, is more for growth and not for validating the business.
The seed stage is more about validating the business, Pre-Series A is when you have early revenue and want to prove you can scale the business and Series-A is when you’ve scaled it.
The IPO stage is 3-4 stages even further ahead of Series-A, which is followed by Series B, C, D maybe, before you venture into an IPO when a business really wants to make really big money in the range of 20 million to 100 million dollars.
We specialise between seed stage to the Series-A stage, which is quite early in the journey and raise up to 8-10 million dollars.
What happens is that once an institutional investor invests in a company, raising larger rounds for them is not such a big issue because existing investors help them.
Where we help founders is mostly in the seed stages or pre-series stages where they don’t have a clue on how to raise funds, where to raise funds from and whom to get connected with.
Without this kind of information, many of these entrepreneurs end up wasting a lot of time on meeting a lot of people that ultimately does not lead to results.
What we do is evaluate the kind of founders they are and the business idea, whether it is ready for investment or not.
In case we think the company is very good, the business ideas are very good, we prepare for them for investment and then take them ahead to our set of people. Investors have been really happy with the kind of work we have been doing and they very keenly look at whatever we send to them.
What do you look for in an entrepreneurship idea?
When we evaluate a company we look at a few factors: First, obviously we look at the background of the founder, how strong the founders are at building a business and whether they have built a firm or sold it?
Secondly, the business idea must be original and should not be a me-too idea. It should not be cloning another business idea but should stand out from existing players.
Also, it can be disruptive in nature. I always ask one question to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to launch a start-up: Are you leveraging technology to disrupt the market?
For instance, BluSmart has created this fleet of electric vehicles. Think about an EV version of Ola and Uber. Moving away from fossil fuels unlike established cab aggregators is their disruption and differentiator.
So, they are doing their bit to conserve the environment of the National Capital Region and fight climate change.
Also, they have looked at the pain points of existing aggregator customers: such as surge pricing and cancellations to improve their customer experience. To founders from tier-2 and tier-3 I say: You may work locally, but you need to think globally.
Don’t make products just for local consumption. I come from Allahabad and that is why the focus on promoting founders from small cities has always been there with me.
The people there have skills and are very hard working but their exposure is limited. These are the people that need mentorship and support and we should be able to provide it to them.
Thanks to Shark Tank India, many more people in India now know about start-ups. You have already been part of the start-up ecosystem. How do you see this evolution and how important are angel investors in the journey of start-up entrepreneurs?
An angel investor is an HNI with a lot of money who invests big amounts in start-up or entrepreneurial ventures.
I won’t call myself an angel investor as angel investors roll at a very different level. We are more like enablers who connect the right dots.
But at the personal level, whenever we think the company is very good, we do invest. I think this is the best time to be in the start-up ecosystem in the country. Shark Tank India has created awareness among common people about start-ups and raising money.
In fact I was a part of the Bihar Start-up Conclave that concluded recently in Patna. It is a state government initiative to promote start-up culture in Bihar.
They called all the stakeholders from the industry as panellists and I was part of the guest list. Whether it is Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra or Bihar, every government is trying to inculcate entrepreneurship and promote start-ups in a big way.
Entrepreneurs are getting a lot of support in the form of incubators, where companies get mentorship and places to sit and work at really subsidised prices.
It is a great time to become a start-up founder in India. Those companies which were formed a few years ago and raised funds are now on their way to launching IPOs.
The E-commerce company Meesho for instance, is targeted at tier 2-3 cities. If a company needed 10 years to get to a valuation of 7500 crores, Meesho has reached this kind of a valuation (a billion dollars) in just eight months.
Today, companies are reaching the unicorn stage in one or two years. Earlier it took 10 years to reach the 8000 crore milestone.
Whether it is fintech firms, financial services companies, e-commerce companies or healthcare companies, investors across the world want to tap the tier 2-3 city population in India, because of digitisation. There is no country in the world that has the volumes and population density that India has.
What are your memories of the time you spent at the Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida?
One learns a lot at management school. Apart from the technical knowledge, which is of course, required when you are entering the workforce or launching a business, the soft skills and life skills that we acquired at Apeejay have really helped us evolve into successful entrepreneurs.
My two year stint at the Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida between 1999 and 2001 taught me the art of logical and independent thinking. The faculty and my classmates made me a good thinker.
How do you look back at the long association you had with Standards & Poors Global Ratings?
Those 12 years were of key importance in my life. I learnt everything about how transactions work, how valuations work, plus, of course, how to be more process-oriented and organised.
These have also helped me in my current business. Being organised, being process-oriented and disciplined is something I learnt during my stint at S&P.
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