Shubhankar Bhattacharya on Startups, Life, and his new Book

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What do you think of when you hear the word 'investing'? You got it - stuffy, paunchy, drones on and on about super-serious super-important money stuff. (okay, we exaggerate).

Now, what do you picture when you hear the word 'startup'?

Yup - cool, super-smart people sitting on colorful beanbags, laughing and playing ping-pong while changing the world. (No, that was the truth - that's what actually happens)

Okay, what if we introduced you to someone who has done the whole startup super-cool thing and also the super-important investing thang? (RME, grow up and use real words)

We're excited to introduce our first guest! A world traveler, a dreamer, and the author of the just-released book 'VCs are from Venus, Entrepreneurs are from Mars', please welcome Shubhankar Bhattacharya!

Shubhankar is an MBA "Dean's list honors" alum from the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, who after his stint at CMS Info Systems and Technip, became the Co-Founder and CEO of the online startup 'Yaqsh.com', and is now a Venture Partner at Kae Capital, an early stage VC fund. He has been an entrepreneur and seen some big wins, been on the side of startup failure, become emotional on paper (got to read the book to know that), and then been on the judgment table of an investor as well.

And now, he is ready to talk about it all in his book 'VCs are from Venus, Entrepreneurs are from Mars', available now as an e-book on the Juggernaut app!

Though we do have an #IMHO review of the book coming soon (it's here!), let's tell you a little bit about the book now. 'VCs are from Venus, Entrepreneurs are from Mars' describes the seemingly torrid romance between Venture Capital firms and business entrepreneurs, specifically dealing with startups.

Loaded with detailed analyses and examples from both sides of the table, Shubhankar's debut book looks into some of the classic startups like Infosys and some new-ages ones like Ola, Bookmyshow, Paytm, Airbnb, and so many more. Not to forget reputed VC firms like Bessemer Venture Partners and how they can slip up too. Sometimes methodical in explaining the secret sauce of successful VC-business partnerships, sometimes funny, and sometimes raising the battle cry to chase your dreams against all odds, we found this book, simply inspiring.

Now, let's talk to the author! Here's Shubhankar Bhattacharya. (Psst... we do ask him personal questions later on in our own brand of enthusiasm - let's see how he coped)

What is your educational background and how did you end up as a Venture Capitalist?
 I completed my Bachelors in Engineering at NIT Trichy and my MBA at ISB Hyderabad. Being a Venture Capitalist was not really a planned career move, but was a rather unusual outcome that followed the shutdown of my venture, Yaqsh.com, an e-commerce store for diamond jewellery.  

As a venture capitalist who has seen the agonizing side of a business looking for funding, would you say it has been easier for you to gauge the potential success of a startup than other VCs?
It is too early to make that assertion. The proof will lie in the numbers and results, which will take at least a few years to reveal the truth. It does help though to have lived life on the other side, both when it comes to empathizing with an entrepreneur’s journey, or in terms of earning respect from entrepreneurs who are highly selective in terms of which VCs they pitch to.


Now that India has glided into a new era fast-paced growth and homegrown entrepreneurship, what three quick pieces of advice can you give Indian startups who are anxious to impress VC firms? -
 Choose to be an entrepreneur because your vision and your business mean the world to you, not because it is "cool" or because VC funding is easily available - Be prepared for failure and hardships. - Support and help VCs in their evaluation and decision-making process  

In your opinion, now that India is opening up to startup companies with arms wide open, do you think Indian VC firms are going to become more conservative in their investment decisions in the coming years?
 Not at all. Many VC firms are sitting on larger-than-ever-before-funds that need to be deployed into early-stage companies. While markets have their ups and downs, the opportunity in India is immense and the future holds great promise.  

How much weight do you give to your ‘gut instinct?’ How do you avoid the ‘judging a book by its cover’ syndrome?
 First impressions do play a significant role in an investment decision and experience can be a double-edged sword in this regard. While experienced investors do get better over time at spotting the best entrepreneurs and companies, that experience might also be biased based on recent hits & flops. In very early-stage companies, when we are dealing with entrepreneurs in their early-20s and with an idea that hasn't yet gone live, there is very little quantitative information to call upon. With such companies, the "gut feel" can, at times, be more accurate in spotting an entrepreneur marked for the future. Even in the best of times though, VC investing is a very subjective process and therefore comes with a rather tricky risk-reward proposition.


How important is the pitch to you as an investor? Have you ever invested in someone that you didn’t like but believed in the product?
The pitch and first impressions obviously are of enormous importance in an investment decision. The best entrepreneurs take great care in making the first pitch a thoroughly professional process that facilitates the VC’s understanding of the business and the market opportunity. I dig into more detailed nuances of the pitch that matter, in my book. I would never back a team that I didn’t like, regardless of the product.  

You have an unconventional look for a VC partner and have openly talked about your success story to healthy living and bodybuilding. How did this physical turnabout impact your career?
A few years ago, I thought six-pack abs where well beyond what a normal, office-going guy could achieve. The first time I saw myself in the mirror with a six-pack, it forever broke my own understanding of the barriers that stand between us and our goals. My physical transformation gave me belief in the fact that anything can be achieved as long as you leave no stone unturned to accomplish it. While there are many other benefits to being healthy at work,(Improved attention, better ability to cope with stress etc.), the confidence and self-belief were the greatest rewards.

 Is there a startup story that got shortlisted to be in your book but didn't make it to the final cut? Please share. 
Not really, but I have consciously chosen to leave out a few companies that are celebrated as media because I don’t necessarily view those companies as worthy of inspiration  

Which is your favorite startup story in your book? Why?
Infosys & its founders, especially Narayana Murthy. For becoming an entrepreneur and creating a new industry decades before startups became “cool” in India. For a story that has it all : Determination, Failure, Sacrifice, Romance, Integrity and familial love. For creating a new paradigm where a startup became the mainstream job option (Think of the question : “Infosys me job nahi mili kya ?”). For its founders returning as investors backing the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs (Juggernaut is also an investment of Nandan Nilekani, one of Infosys’ founders)  

Think fast. Right this moment, which is your favorite sector to invest in?
Healthcare & Financial services, because these are big problems with much still left to be solved in India and where technology can truly create game-changing impact.  

Do you watch The Shark Tank? Who is your favourite investor on there? And, why?
Haven’t watched the show yet. I have a lot of catching up to do to make myself appear the “cool” VC investor  

What is your favourite TV show?
Game of Thrones, South Park, Curb Your Enthusiasm  

Favorite movie?
Sholay  

Favorite book?
Atlas Shrugged, Pride & Prejudice  

Typical diet for the day. Go!
Protein shake followed my special recipe of Chicken, Eggs, Ghee & Cheese  

Typical schedule for the day?  
Wake up time: 4 AM  
Breakfast: 8:30 AM  
Work out: 6 AM - 8 AM  
Socializing time, etc.: Typically reserve it for weekends, but I am not a very social person  

Most romantic thing you have done?
This book. :-)  

If you had a million dollars to spend only on yourself (no gifts either), how would you spend it? Tough one, I reckon much of it will be just put away into the bank account. Travelling around the world and taking up a few courses on subjects that I haven’t been close to (Such as Arts & Humanities) would be nice.  
Best vacation ever taken?
Egypt, Thailand & Russia each had their charms. Hard to pick one !  

Dream vacation?
Italy and Greece  

Favorite city in the world?
Tough to pick between Hyderabad and Abu Dhabi, the two cities I have spent the greatest part of my life in.


Now, let's play a game we like to call 'hypotheticals'. These are hypothetical questions (#obvi) that you need to answer. Now, it's quite simple. You have to pick one of the choices to answer but you don't need to tell us why. Phew! Why, you ask? Because we like to guess why you answered that. [Rubbing hands together with a twinkle in our eyes] You're walking in a forest and find a black briefcase. You open it to find a blank cheque made out to you and a fingerprint-ridden piece of paper saying “DON'T”. Would you take the cheque? Yes or no. 
No. But I might be dwelling on my decision a lot.  

Arnold or Sylvester or Jason Statham.
Arnold, enough said.

Would you rather live a hundred years with a guaranteed salary or live a risky life of uncertain remuneration?  
Risky life, you just need one blockbuster [Since we read the book, we actually got this reference - patting ourselves on the back]  

Asset rich money poor or money rich asset poor?
Asset rich money poor, because Assets by definition are capable of creating future cash flows.  

Bad product but genius marketing/manager or genius product but bad marketing/manager?
Genius Products, because either the marketing manager can be replaced or the product might be capable of selling itself. A bad product however, has already defined its expiry date.  

If you were on death row, what would you request as your last meal (it’s unlimited): Butter chicken on rice, Haleem and Biryani, Pizza and Burgers, Chocolate Cake, or Dal Chawal/Roti
Thats a real tough one ! I will have to go Hyderabadi for this one, Haleem and Biryani wins (barely) over Pizza and Burgers.  

Which would you rather be: Jack of all trades or Master of One? 
Master of One, and then Master of Two, and then Master of Three…..

So that's it from our time with Shubhankar this time. We wish him success with his new book 'VCs are from Venus, Entrepreneurs are from Mars' which you can catch right now on the Juggernaut app as an e-book, soon to be available in paperback. Ray and Rumi

Image credit goes to Juggernaut Books and Shubhankar Bhattacharya

P.S. Read our review of VCs are from Venus, Entrepreneurs are from Mars
Follow Shubhankar Bhattacharya everywhere and tell him we sent you! #RumiandRay

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