I had the opportunity of a candid conversation with Viiveck Verma, a Startup Enthusiast, Philanthropist, mentor, and Angel Investor, based out of Hyderabad. Before entering the Startup scene, Viiveck was that guy, you would find in the corner cabin of a corporate office. He’s been there and done that, in the corporate world. With close to three decades of experience behind him, Viiveck walked away from it all. Obviously, my first question was, Why? Viiveck, has a way with words and his counter question was, “Do you know what the culinary term ’mise en place’ is?” Truth be told, I am one of those people who would have caught a few episodes on different seasons of Masterchef Australia, and really enjoy watching it (cannot replicate anything on there even if my life depended on it, though). My Masterchef watching experience had failed me, I had never heard, nor had the slightest clue to what ‘mise en place’ meant! Viiveck credits this term as the deciding factor that pushed him from a corporate job to donning the many hats in the startup ecosystem. A ‘mise en place’ is the preparation of equipment and food before service in the restaurant begins. Viiveck claims he cannot cook (something I still don’t believe), but won a CEO cook-off conducted by the Smile foundation at the Hyatt in October 2014. The judging Chef told Viiveck that his ‘mise en place’ was what impressed him the most.
“I had reached the glass ceiling, where nothing new or exciting was happening around me. Increasingly, I wanted to enter the social sector – to corporatize it, break the stereotype for NGO’s. The cook-off made me realise that if my work skills can be implemented in an area so unrelated, then it can be implemented wherever I choose to.” Says Viiveck on how his current journey started. Today, Viiveck has proven to be a valuable asset to the startup ecosystem in Hyderabad. A part of the Hyderabad Angels and Lead Angles Network, Viiveck himself is an Angel Investor in a few Hyderabad based startups.
Excerpts from the interview:
As an Investor, what are the qualities you look for before making a decision?
The single most important quality for me is the Founder or the Founding team. Over the years, I have learnt to trust my instincts when it comes to identifying the right people. The Idea on its own is not as important, for every Idea you have, 326 other people probably have the same idea. More than the Idea itself, I look for the ability to execute, and a certain nimble footedness – the ability to change and adapt. But there are certain features of the business that one needs to keep in mind as well. For me, this would be avenues of revenue generation. If the business is too focussed, then the possibility of an alternate revenue stream is low. Having one, in my opinion, is important. It ties into my earlier point of being nimble footed. If the main revenue model does not click, have you thought of a backup?
How involved are you with the startups in your portfolio?
Some founders know exactly how they want their idea executed and all they want is the money. As an angel investor, I don’t work like that. In addition to the funding, I like to be able to contribute at some level to help the founders execute their startup idea. This contribution could take any form – a sounding board to bounce ideas and strategies, a coach and a mentor, and my solid network that I’ve built over 30 years in the industry. Even If I haven’t invested or have any vested interest in a startup I enjoy playing the role of an ‘enabler’ – connecting people that are mutually beneficial to one another. I have never believed in instant gratification. If you honestly help someone, it will always be to your benefit some day.
And the deal breaker would be?
The founders attitude. I’ve been in the mentoring and coaching business long enough to be able to evaluate the people I invest in. You have to be open to feedback and criticism, and above all always ask questions.
You mentioned Social initiatives and NGO, can you tell us a little something about this?
We are in talks to open an orphanage within an old age home. I was part of the implementation of this concept in Pune, and it worked out beautifully. On one hand you have parents and senior citizens, wanting to be needed and on the other hand you have kids, hungry for love, affection and some looking after. It was a win win situation. We’re trying to open something similar in Hyderabad. The ball is rolling on this one and you should hear about it soon enough.
You’re a member of the core team of TEDx – Hyderabad, how is that coming along?
Our aim with TEDx is not just to come up with brilliant ideas, but to implement the ideas that are most feasible through our legal entity, SAHE (Society for Advancement of Human Education). One such initiative is “First Responder”. The idea is a two-wheeler ambulance that can arrive at the scene of the emergency a lot quicker than the actual ambulance. The trained paramedics can provide first-aid and assist the patient when the ambulance arrives, saving critical minutes that could very well be a matter of life and death. We’re currently in the training phase of this initiative and expect to go live by July.
Another such initiative is the “Save 10k bores”. The idea took birth on a dry lake bed, where we had a TEDx meeting attended by 40 members. The meeting ended with the idea, the action plan and the budget.
What do you miss about the corporate life?
Actually nothing much.
Nothing? Not a single thing?
Well, if I had to list one, I would have to say, the Infrastructure – having a secretary and the frills. But only because you insisted that I had to say something!
How do you rate the Startup scene in Hyderabad?
I’m very excited about all the possibilities for the startup ecosystem in Hyderabad. The city is becoming enterprising and taking on the reputation for being the hub for all things startup. Today, I meet a lot of founders with strong personalities looking to solve everyday problems with their startups. There is also a decided shift in the attitude of founders. They are starting to have a distinct voice of their own and will not be bullied by anyone – even if you have three decades of experience!
What’s the one thing you would like to see happen in Hyderabad’s startup scene?
More of Series funding. Hyderabad has a lot of angel and seed funding going on, but we are yet to see a big round of series funding raised. Should happen soon enough though.
How do you see yourself making a difference to the Startup Ecosystem of Hyderabad?
In addition to being an Angel investor, I’m always ready to be a sounding board for ideas and solutions. But I’m particularly working towards taking entrepreneurship to micro levels. This could be in reference to Age – I’ve seen school students being brilliantly enterprising and we should encourage that right from the start. This could also be in reference to socio-economic levels – get them to realise their ideas, some of them have the most brilliant ones, simply because they stem from a real need.
If you have any questions for Viiveck, drop us a note by commenting here and we’ll get Viiveck to answer them for you.