Utsav Somani (MSc 12), partner at AngelList India: “I am privileged to be interacting with talented and driven young founders in India.”
Utsav also runs two separate funds called iSeed and Galaxy that have around $100M in AUM. He looks for founder-market fit and founders with grit going after very large markets or creating new opportunities.
--AngelList India became the most active seed investor in the country, with 700 investments since its launch in 2018. And you run two separate funds called iSeed and Galaxy. What is the ecosystem of startups like in India today?
India’s startup ecosystem is very vibrant and exciting. Many global investment firms have set up local funds, like Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Partners, and many top global crossover funds such as Tiger Global and Insight Partners have plowed huge amounts of capital into the ecosystem to drive growth in both consumer and B2B ventures. The startup ecosystem has generated over 100 unicorns, and for this reason it is ranked within the top three startup ecosystems of the world, buoyed by the presence of local technical talent and a large population of 1.4 billion people.
-You are responsible for bringing AngelList to India. How did this project start?
There was a clear need to improve the angel investment ecosystem in India. AngelList was solving this in the US by offering the infrastructure to run funds and investment products like Syndicates and Roll Up Vehicles for founders and investors. I got excited by the opportunity to build something similar for our exciting startup economy after the 2016 Startup Policy, so I reached out to Naval Ravikant (co-founder of AngelList) and he hired me to lead the India business. We launched in 2018 after working with the regulators here to approve our pioneering business model that combines software and venture capital.
--You personally invested in companies like BharatPe, CoinDCX, Pristyn Care, Jupiter, Park+ and top-tier VC firms. How do you choose projects?
I look for founder-market fit and founders with grit going after very large markets or creating new opportunities. Given my vantage point of running my own funds, building AngelList in India and having an on-the-ground presence, I am privileged to be interacting with and learning from talented and driven young founders in India.
-How are entrepreneurs in India unique?
I think Indian entrepreneurs are very unique. We’re a country with many different states, and each state has its own cultures, languages and diversity that play into the consumer's mindset. This decade belongs to the gritty Indian founder who is willing to challenge the norms and take advantage the golden age of Indians who are increasingly spending time and money online.
-Where does your vocation for investing in startups come from?
It’s the best form of pseudo-entrepreneurship. You get to play a small role in supporting the success of a venture and learn from someone’s journey close-up. I treat this as a privilege and can see myself doing this for a very long time.
-What is Esade for you?
For me, Esade was the foundation of my career in entrepreneurship and will always be the place where I met my lifelong friends who have co-invested with me in Indian startups.
-What advice would you give to alumni thinking of starting a business in India? And to investors?
Find an exciting opportunity where a clear whitespace exists. Do not go after hot trends and build for what investors are looking for. You need to have the energy and passion to see the ups and downs of building and be able to sustain the pressures of a high-growth startup. Use technology as a lever to do things that weren’t possible before. Always think of 10x solutions. To investors: study the market, culture and spending patterns of consumers and businesses before investing in India or any market.