Singapore-based global venture capital firm Antler entered India last June. It recently appointed Nitin Sharma as partner and co-lead for India operations.
Sharma is a seasoned investor who has invested in more than 50 startups over a decade across NEA in the US, Lightbox Ventures in India, and his own portfolio First Principles VC. At Antler, he will be co-leading the efforts with Urban Ladder co-founder Rajiv Srivatsa.
Since December, Sharma and Srivatsa have been busy combing through applications from 2,000 startups that want to become a part of their first cohort in India. In the next four years, Antler plans to invest USD 100 million in Indian early-stage startups looking for seed and pre-seed funding rounds.
Speaking with KrASIA, Sharma said the fund is looking for founders who are building world-class products for the global market.
The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): How many startups do you plan to back from Antler’s India Founders Program?
Nitin Sharma (NS): We have received close to 2,000 applications and we plan to pick five to ten startups from this batch. We will invest anywhere between USD 150,000 and 200,000 in each of them even at the idea stage, and reserve a lot more for follow-on capital. This is the starting point, and we may separately look at seed rounds in ventures that are further along. In total, we will end up investing in 80–100 startups in the next three years. We will also experiment with the structure of the program, including specific themes and helping founding teams come together.
Kr: Does Antler have any preference of sectors when it comes to investing?
NS: In India, we are thinking more in terms of themes instead of sector silos. For example, wellness, productivity, and decentralization are themes that can span multiple sectors. We are also going to focus on companies that are building global products out of India. At the end of the day, we want to work with ambitious founders and everything else is secondary to that.
Kr: How has the competition among VCs grown in angel and seed rounds?
NS: Over the years, the Indian tech ecosystem has evolved and continues to rapidly expand, creating a much bigger pool for all kinds of founders and investors. One of the new trends we are very excited about is founders having a global mindset from day one.
We think investors will get more specialized in their offers. Everyone will have to look closely at what they are bringing to the table for founders.
Our strengths lie in being a global, institutional partner at the true seed stage. With the combination of a global network, follow-on capital, and dedicated set of resources (for more than six months), we think our portfolio startups can get an unparalleled proposition in India, even if they are at the earliest stages.
We have great angels and syndicates with the best intentions, but the process for most entrepreneurs is really fragmented, inefficient, and chaotic. Founders waste a lot of time and effort raising several small rounds of funding from individuals and smaller funds. When individuals and small teams are doing 40–50 investments a year, there is a limit to how much value they can add. There is a lack of good institutional investors who can add value beyond the money they put in.
We are trying to bridge that gap so that early-stage companies can accelerate to the next step much faster. Beyond the capital, we will dedicate resources to each startup to build product-market fits and global connections. No other fund is doing that in India.
Kr: Does that mean Antler will not invest in Series A rounds?
NS: In India, the focus will initially be to provide the best possible institutional offering at the seed and pre-seed phase. The plan is to invest in Series A and later rounds as well. This will be accomplished in conjunction with the global Antler organization.
Kr: What’s the difference between your global investment strategy and the way you will operate in India?
NS: The beauty of Antler’s model is that in each market, we can cater to the needs of founders based on that ecosystem. For example, in India, since the market has evolved further than what it was five years ago, we don’t want to focus too strongly on matching co-founders, which has been a core part of Antler’s model in a few other countries. The majority of the startups we are looking at have a founding team, but some may be pre-product. There may be some other differences in terms of amounts, follow-on capital, and other qualities as well.