One of the perks of a writing gig, in my opinion, is the interviewing part. The part where you get to meet people. And when the people you meet turn out to be like Venkat, then swell! A tete-a-tete with him took my motivation levels back up a few notches. This right here is why I like interviewing people. So, who is Venkat Vallabhaneni? With a career spanning over 25 years, Venkat has donned a lot of roles, and donned them well. From a Software Developer at Seer Technologies, to a Senior Vice President at Bank of America, an entrepreneur with Accurum, Inc. and on to his current role – General Partner at Parampara Capital. Phew! The cherry on top though was his experience in different verticals – Energy, Healthcare and Technology. Through his experience and life choices, Venkat has quite an interesting story to tell. Excerpts from my interview with him:
How did the shift from Financial Technology to Manufacturing happen?
After Accurum was acquired and I did my time with Kanbay, I Wanted to move back to India. I was very curious about the scene here. Packed my bags, closed shop in the US and landed here – with the family. I took some time to assess my options and realised that I wanted to do something that had a direct impact on life here. So I chose manufacturing. Building a product has always fascinated me, in fact even today, when I get some time to myself, I’m busy taking things apart and making something new. With a partner I started “Energy Leader Batteries”, a company that built batteries. We built and sold industrial strength batteries.
Batteries! I’m thinking about the Duracell rabbit now. A big one, since these batteries are more powerful! What happened to the company?
We did really good business and I learnt a whole lot about manufacturing, energy and the space in general. We had an exit and were acquired by a US based company, EnerSys.
So, that’s two companies founded and two exits on your name. A hundred percent conversion rate. Not many people can boast of such success! You then moved on to becoming a VC, why not start another venture?
I did. Technically, you can call our VC firm – Parampara Capital, a startup.
You’re going to have to break that down for me. I’m working with the assured knowledge that a VC funds startups. How does this figure?
There aren’t many Indian VC’s out there. VC funds typically tend to be global. They choose to diversify their portfolio and invest in a few Indian companies, along with startups from other countries. But the fund itself is not Indian. Parampara Capital is through and through an Indian Fund, money from Indians, in India and investing in Indian companies. That makes us a startup, of sorts. And so our drive to succeed and invest in winners is stronger than ever.
Fair enough. Paramparas portfolio has been diverse, to say the least. You haven’t invested in the usual startups – technology focused. Is that something you avoid strategically?
It hasn’t really been deliberate in the strict sense. We’re particular in the fact that we want to invest in a product or even a service that solves a real problem for India and for us as citizens. It so happened that the companies we’ve identified were doing this in a different space. We’d love to invest in a core technology company too, when the right one comes along.
Let’s talk about your portfolio companies and what they do.
Sure. So at the moment through Parampara we have 2 portfolio companies. Both based in Mumbai, Atomberg builds energy efficient appliances – fans that reduce the electricity consumption, the other, S-Cube Futuretech, creates software solutions for structural and civil engineers. We’re also in final rounds of investing a third company based in Gurgaon. We’re very excited about these companies have truly believe they have what it takes to not just make it big, but to make a huge difference in everyday lives. We work towards achieving the IPO dream.
If there was a remote chance I wasn’t entirely impressed then. I am now. Hands down. But tell me, Parampara is headquartered in Hyderabad, but you don’t have a Hyderabad based company in your portfolio yet. How come?
We’ve been looking. Hyderabad has some amazing startups and the ecosystem is so nurturing for a success, but an investment is more than just money, there has to be an ideology match, and a common vibe among other things. We just haven’t found the right fit yet. But not for long. These are exciting times for Hyderabad based startups.
If you can outline the process that Parampara follows in identifying and selecting a company to invest in?
The first step is two-fold. Startups send us emails/applications for funding and we have partners that scout for companies for us. Combining both the inputs, we then have investment managers that do a quick sorting and shortlisting. This could happen over a couple of rounds, after which the partners assess the applications to decide which ones to meet and take the process forward. Once we’ve identified the company there is still a lot of due diligence to be done – for both parties before the paperwork can be signed, sealed and delivered.
What are a few areas that the country needs to focus on, from an Entrepreneurship perspective?
Areas that solve problems in India is where our focus should be. This would mean Healthcare, Energy and Agriculture, to name a few. In my opinion, the B2C market is saturated and the models are skewed in a way that doesn’t help the Indian economy. Valley based startup ideas will not see major growth for Indian markets. You need to understand how the country evolved and what the market needs.
True. But as an ecosystem, where do you think India lacks in comparison to say, the Valley?
Time. The whole VC and entrepreneurship movement has been going on for 40 odd years in the Valley. In India we’re barely 10 years old. We need time for the ecosystem to mature. Since we have various models to look at and the economy is growing as India grows, I would say in around 15 years we’ll get the kind of maturity that makes entrepreneurship thrive and succeed.
What advice would you give to founders and budding entrepreneurs out there?
I honestly believe that Entrepreneurship is the best and the most noble profession. So if you have that mindset to start something, the first thing I’d say is ‘don’t give up.’ Focus on learning, more than anything else, without getting caught up in the fail or succeed hype. Of course above all, believe in yourself and do the right thing. Always. Believing in yourself is the half the battle won.
If you have any specific questions or observations for Venkat be sure to comment here and we’ll get him to read them!