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Introducing Tech Guru, Angel Investor, Mentor: Manish Dalal

By on Dec 26, 2013 in Gurus | 13 comments

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Manish Dalal

Manish Dalal

I have known Manish Dalal for over a year. In my mind whenever the group of angel investors at Mumbai Angels is evaluating a sufficiently complex technology piece, it turns to Manish for inputs on tech due diligence. And that should come as no surprise given Manish’s background. He is the India Country Head for Verisign, and in the past has played many senior roles at Yahoo and Motorola among others. Today Manish shared his thoughts with StartUp Gang about the tech startup space in India, and the following are his thoughts.

In the Words of Manish Dalal

My primary exposure to the early stage ecosystem has been as an angel investor for the past year and half. In addition, I am mentoring and advising several startups on a wide variety of platforms.

Here’s How the Tech Startups in India Are Different From Those in the US

Though there are exceptions to every rule, I have found that tech startups in India are primarily being founded by business-oriented founders, while in the Valley we find many startups coming from hard core tech people — people who might, for instance have a PhD in technology niches. I find this rigorous tech approach missing in Indian startups. As a result, I find it easy to perform tech due diligence on Indian startups as the technology tends to be pretty restricted. Evaluating unique and revolutionary technology would have been much more challenging, but I do not come across too many of those in India.

The Low Hanging Fruits in India Are Probably the Cause

The domestic market in India still has a lot of opportunities that are akin to low-hanging fruit. This might be the reason that many tech startups here try to seek opportunities in gaps that they find in the marketplace. But I wish that we could have focused on technology and come out with solutions that are created with the global audience in mind.

India Can Present a Locational Disadvantages for Serious Tech Businesses

Invariably, what we find is that the biggest market for tech startups tends to be in the US. Though the Internet has made discoverability of tech companies pretty easy, there is still no substitute for person-to-person contact with customers, brands, and investors. This also explains why some companies that raise money open shop in the US, while retaining their development work in India.

But There Are Winners in India, Of Course!

Two names that come to mind are Rolocule and Vliv. Rolocule is a Pune based mobile gaming company (Disclaimer: Manish Dalal as well as Ajeet Khurana are investors) that has developed the Rolomotion technology. This gaming technology is truly path breaking and there is no equivalent anywhere. I am impressed by what they have done. Likewise, Vliv has come up with the way that brands can use social videos to engage with their audiences. Their technology is pretty path breaking too. But as mentioned earlier, Rolocule and Vliv would benefit significantly from a US presence.

You can get in touch with Manish Dalal on LinkedIn. We hope to see much more of Manish around StartUp Gang.

13 Comments

  1. Pranay

    August 26, 2013

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    Hi Manish,

    While I agree that Indian teams must leverage our low cost high talent resource pool to build worldclass products to offer a global audience, I have seen that a distributed team usually is able to take advantage of this arbitrage.

    Cases in point could be SlideShare, Fab (who have had a dev center in Pune for years).

    In terms of the India facing market, I do not feel that the ‘low hanging’ fruit are as low hanging as we think, because streamlining operational challenges in India are tougher than they look. And its this frustration that generally causes Business founders like me to turn to startup / find technical co-founders.

    Incidentally, a lot of the great Silicon Valley gurus like Steve Jobs, were sales / business guys who had either never written a line of code or had stopped writing code a while ago so they could run the business.

    These people had a great sense of customer needs and had an understanding of what would work in a product.

    Thanks,
    Pranay

    • Manish

      September 1, 2013

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      Hi Pranay,

      Thanks for your comments. I am not implying that you need to be a “techie” founder to be successful (to your comment about Steve Jobs). I’m simply saying that I don’t see enough innovative technologies coming out of India that may be relevant for global opportunities and which could perhaps drive more $50M-$100M exits.

      Best,

      Manish

    • Abhay Verma

      September 7, 2013

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      Hi Pranay,

      If you talk about Steve Jobs knowing his fair piece of customer needs that’s one. However, he could never have pulled Apple off without for example the technical expertise and knowledge of Wozniak. They together made what eventually turned out to be a great company. Without the technical knowledge in upper management, I personally think start-ups have a tough time being successful AND scale up effectively.

      Abhay

  2. S. Puri

    August 27, 2013

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    What steps has the angel investor or VC community taken to bring out ideas from techies like fresh engineering graduates? Innovative and path breaking ideas are more difficult to find than people with business acumen. If somehow the techies can be encouraged to come out with ideas that somebody else can take care of in terms of making a business proposition out of, many innovative technological ideas can come out of India as well. What do you think?

  3. Manish,

    In my view, a true tech startup has other challenges when operating in India. If you were a startup in India you’d rather be business oriented then a pure play tech co. The buyer ecosystem for technology in India is disastrous and if you really pulled out disruptive tech from the bag, you would remain a great technician, end up speaking in conferences, but will have zero traction to your product or service. It’s common knowledge why India is so, in our culture job security is a social requirement and we will hardly do something that could rock the boat. Not that foriegn companies have it any easier here, they are requirerd to unlearn everything that they learnt elsewhere and relearn the buyer here. India is price concious (only in the head) so they end up wanting a global brand at a price that you would offer them as a startup.

    Tech startups need users who are willing bite the disruption, customers who are willing to trust their own instincts rather than vote against it. The United States has seen the flourish because of the ecosystem there, people are willing to work with true tech players as long as they check their boxes. So, we are struggling to find a real tech startup in India that has succeeded, whereas we could pull up a list of tech startups that have either died in the process or have rebased to an other market.

    Thanks,
    Shomiron

    • Manish

      September 1, 2013

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      Hi Shomiron,

      Thanks for your comments. My hope is that we could build great tech startups out of India that can be relevant to the world, not just to India. If the market is the US (or some place outside India), so be it. To your point, it does not seem like a lot of startups are finding product-market fit along with paying customers in India. And this situation does not seem to be helping startup progress / maturity and possible exits.

      Best,

      Manish

  4. Kunal Sharma

    September 7, 2013

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    Hi Manish,

    What I feel like is the problem with Valley start-ups in comparison to for example Indian start-ups is that they tend to be well connected too. A lot of start-ups benefit from online buzz and media exposure (of course). Geographical proximity is an important factor in being successful to generate public interest. I think collaboration could be key here for start-ups in India. Or one step further: economic zones for start-ups in India?

  5. Ashlee Agnihotry

    September 14, 2013

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    Perception is the key role played in any visionary foundation,be it any start up or other tech business.If the person is not having any talent or knowledge to excel but has a splendid idea that if worked on, can do wonders, then no matter what the venture will enjoy success.
    Knowledge being on other side gives confidence to an aspiring entrepreneur and boosts the morale of the person thus strengthening the ideas and vision on which the business may be based upon.
    Thanks,
    Ashlee Agnihotry

  6. Sakthy

    September 18, 2013

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    Now what i feel or what i have in my mind bringing up these startup companies to light.
    For this just internet is not only enough, more and more people should know in detail about them and theirs benefits. The success of these companies completely depends upon how people are able to digest what we say.
    And i would say ideas and innovations are and has always been the success worldwide.
    the mix up of technical support from the science and technology field and then fusing the investment, the plan is in concert.
    In India so far there isn’t much number of students who think about this or want to reach or gain that position, everyone is busy to look after their life for present without thinking the future.
    HERE is where our problem grows even now.

  7. Priyank Agarwal

    September 20, 2013

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    In a country of 1.26 billion finding people with innovative & new creative ideas is uncommon mostly because from our childhood we are fed not to look outside the box. Whereas if you go through the life of successful people you will realize that they had the will to “Think Outside The Box”.

  8. Rishab Mehra

    October 11, 2013

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    Hello Manish,

    Thanks for the insight into the differences between Indian and US entrepreneurs and ecosystems. I am a first time entrepreneur, who came back to India from LA to pursue an idea. Of course I greatly underestimated the level of patience, hard work and push that is required to do a tech startup in the India.

    It seems like everything is much harder to achieve from building a quality team to raising capital to getting users. However, for me the most frustrating experience has been finding a co-founder or mentors. I truly believe that we have a good product which is turning into a great one soon but I am facing problems in terms of product strategy and go to market strategy as I am the only founder.

    I have attended some of these startup events but frankly saw very limited return because of the quality of people who turn up and the way these events are structured (one way communication leading to the speakers running away from the over-populated event). I tried reaching out to the so called ‘Indian startup mentors’ but it seems like they are too busy (usually no reply).

    Well maybe my product sucks or maybe I am too small right now for anyone to care about but if the ecosystem was a little more guiding/helpful, I feel like an immense difference would be made to the motivation and strategies of young entrepreneur.

    Anyways, I am sorry to be rambling over my problems with the community. I just wanted to know, if there are any places or people that I should approach to get grilled by difficult questions and come out with clearer decisions to pursue.

    My product is called ww.musejam.com and it’s currently in the live music space, however, our next version will give us the ability to grow it in other entertainment sectors quite easily and quickly.

  9. Antriksh

    October 26, 2013

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    Hi,
    The perception of Indian startups being styled as Low-hanging Fruits is appreciable as well well-put. I agree that seeing a gap in the market or the strategy of existing players leads only to a start-up; but looking at a wider scope with an essence of technology gives birth to a start-up soon turning to get mature!

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