Bengaluru-based interior decor startup MyGubbi has been able to raise Rs 16.5 cr from as many as 30 individuals in March. Given the chariness towards startups, it’s not surprising that with so many people pitching in, the risk gets divided more. What did raise eyebrows was that more than half of those angel investors were first-timers.
The investment was led by BigBasket cofounder Vipul Parekh, NeoBytes cofounder Ananda Kallugadde, and Rajesh K Murthy, executive vice president at Infosys. MyGubbi chief executive Umesh Sangurmath said he knew well about 10 of the angel investors. “The rest came from referrals from our corporate social circle,” he said.
Sangurmath believes that not many of these first-timers will become active or serious angel investors. Rather, he suggested, “these are people who are passionate about backing a startup idea being pursued by experienced corporate professionals.”
With venture funding slowing down for Indian startups, angel investors are the next best option to go to for early-stage startups seeking capital. There has been no let-up in angel investing in India, with wealthy individuals injecting $59 million into startups across 190 deals between January and March, according to VCCEdge, which tracks investment activity.
Experts say several of those deals had new risk-capital investors putting in money alongside veteran ‘angels’, many of whom are becoming more cautious about backing startups at a very early stage. So who are these first-time angel investors? And what do they want?
Among these uber-wealthy individuals are corporate honchos flush with large disposable incomes and next-generation scions of business families from traditional sectors such as textile, real estate and auto. One recent example is Pawan Munjal, CEO of Hero MotoCorp, who this month invested an undisclosed amount in bike-taxi startup Rapido alongside veteran investors Rajan Anandan, managing director, Google India and South East Asia, and Anupam Mittal, CEO of People Group, an internet holding company.
Padmaja Ruparel, president of Indian Angel Network, believes the entry of these firsttime investors in startups is a corollary of other asset classes such as public equity markets, debt and real estate not performing too well in the recent past.
“In the last two years, angel investing has moved ahead to being an important asset class in the (high net-worth individual) portfolio in the highest-reward, highest-risk category,” said Ruparel. “Obviously, (the new) investors are looking for something that may give a kicker to their portfolio.” Compare them with an earlier generation of angel investors such as Infosys cofounder N.R. Narayana Murthy, MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra and Flipkart cofounder Sachin Bansal, who Ruparel said invest in startups both as a hobby that lets them keep tabs on new trends as well as to give back to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. IAN added 75 members last year and 45 in the year prior.
Seasoned angel investors fear there could be several downsides to this trend. For one, passive first-time investors in startups could be seeking merely to make a quick buck, which would translate to money coming in without adding any value to early-stage companies in terms of mentoring or networking. It would be worse if the new angel investors lack an understanding of startup investments as an asset class.
“A large number of people with an appetite to invest want to invest in only a couple of startups, putting aside Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh per annum. I see such people getting very upset when their (investee) companies fail. More of this may slow down incremental investments,” said Raman Roy, chairman at Quatrro Global Services who made his first angel investment as part of IAN in 2006 in a startup called Knowcross Solutions.
Mittal of People Group, which runs Shaadi.com and Makaan.com and is an investor in Ola and Druva, paints a more dismal picture.
“By the end of this year, we will see pressure building on these (new investors) and many people may stop angel investing altogether,” he said. “It’s very easy to write cheques of a few lakh rupees and see a few companies raising $100-150 million and believe that your company will too. But when you are faced with the prospect that your company will shut down, that’s a very tough pill to swallow.”
Angel groups are erecting barricades to keep out non-serious investors. Mumbai Angels will not give memberships to those who cannot qualify as high net-worth individuals and do not have good references and solid domain experience. “We don’t want to let in people who want to be in just for education or for networking,” said Prashant Choksey, cofounder of Mumbai Angels. “We are looking for people with enough risk appetite those who are comfortable losing money and not their sleep.”
For older angel investors, too, the game has changed. Although their ability and willingness to write cheques has not diminished, many of them are turning cautious and slowing down on deal-making.
“It’s a flight to quality deals,” said Mittal. “I have certainly become much more selective. In the last 12 to 15 months, everyone was basically investing more out of the (fear of missing out on investing in) the next Unicorn (startups estimated to be worth at least $1 billion). Now, people are taking a little bit of breather to cultivate strong theses on whether and where to invest,” said Mittal, who plans to strike about 10 deals this year as compared with 18 last year.
Several investors do believe, however, that while the madness of 2015 that saw record deals being struck at sky-high valuations will not return, this year could be good for serious angel investors in for the long haul. After all, valuations are beginning to cool, me-too entrepreneurs are disappearing, and startups are focusing on building businesses with strong fundamentals.
First time angel investors invest in startups