Meet Piyush Puri, Founding Partner of Mercurius Media Capital

Steven Loeb · June 3, 2024 · Short URL:

MMC deploys a media for equity model, backed by Sinclair Broadcast Group and TelevisaUnivision

Venture capital used to be a cottage industry, with very few investing in tomorrow's products and services. Oh, how times have changed! While there are more startups than ever, there's also more money chasing them. In this series, we look at the new (or relatively new) VCs in the early stages: seed and Series A.

But just who are these funds and venture capitalists that run them? What kinds of investments do they like making, and how do they see themselves in the VC landscape?

We're highlighting key members of the community to find out.

Piyush Puri is a Founding Partner of Mercurius Media Capital (MMC).

Puri also serves as the Executive Vice President of BCCL Worldwide Inc. (BWI), the strategic investment division of The Times Group – India’s largest multimedia conglomerate. In this role, he spearheads Brand Capital International (BCI) operations in Silicon Valley. BCI has played a pivotal role in helping over thirty portfolio companies from North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Australia expand into the Indian market. Additionally, Puri leads New Business Initiatives at BWI and manages the organization’s Finance, Tax, and Accounting departments.

Prior to leading BCI’s international office, Puri worked as an investment banker in Mumbai, where he focused on investments in the energy, ancillaries, and environmental sectors at SBI Capital Markets, India’s top investment bank. He also contributed to China Light & Power’s Merger & Acquisitions team in Hong Kong and India, assisting with their expansion strategy in the Indian market.

Puri holds a Civil Engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), an MBA from XLRI School of Business, and a Master’s Degree in Psychology of Leadership from Penn State University. He is a CFA Charterholder, a Financial Risk Manager (FRM), and holds a Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Indian Art.

VatorNews: A great place for us to start learning about you and your fund. I know that you just launched recently, last week, so this is pretty new. It'd be great to hear the story behind why you decided to launch this fund, how you think about investing, and where you fit into the ecosystem?

Piyush Puri: First a little bit about myself: I am an engineer, I got my engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT, then did my MBA, have been working in finance for the last 15 odd years now. I’m a CFA and FRM and also had experience working in investment banks and private equity venture capital in the past. So, my first job was with a company called SBI Capital Markets, which is India's largest investment bank, and then went on to join China Light & Power, which is the largest power producer in Hong Kong, Australia, and Southeast Asia; I was working in the Hong Kong office in the mergers and acquisitions team. Then in 2014 or 2015, I joined the Times Group, which is India's largest multimedia conglomerate: it's a group that has been in existence for the last 180 years, started in 1838 and created by a British settlement and was handed over to an Indian family in 1956. The Group is still privately held but has a presence across multimedia assets, so if you think of its presence in India, it is the largest in print act, it has a publication called The Times of India, which is the largest circulated English newspaper in the world, has Times Internet Limited, which is its internet arm that began in 1995,  reaches out to around 600 million monthly users in India, is the largest in radio, television, out of home events, and a host of other media assets. 

With that as its assets, the group started something called Brand Capital in 2003, which was its foray into strategic investments. So, the group started making investments using media assets in exchange for equity in companies. In 2003 or 2004, this was a relatively new concept. very few people knew about this idea, but the model really took off at the time and between 2003 and 2024, the group has invested in over 1,000 companies, and has invested over $4.5 billion dollars of media assets across different startups. These startups vary in their lifecycle from early stage companies to companies like Flipkart, which was acquired by Walmart a few years ago, the group is invested in a slew of different sectors, lifecycle stages of companies. 

Using this model, in 2015 the group decided to expand into larger markets beyond India and it's obvious the first port of call was Silicon Valley, because of the fact that there's so many opportunities there in terms of startups that we can look at, which is when I landed here in 2015, and started the office for the group. So, between 2015 and 2024, we have made investments in over 40 companies using this media for equity model. 30% of that portfolio resides in the US, and the remaining 70% is in international markets like Europe, Singapore, Australia, and other places. But the model was very simple when we started in 2015: we wanted to help companies grow and scale into the Indian market and, in doing so, we were making an investment using our media. So these were companies like Uber, Airbnb Coursera that we made investments in, and that we helped grow and scale in India. The model was very successful, and other founding partner, Satyan Gajwani, the two of us, we essentially started this fund, Mercurius Media Capital; Satyan is a part of the Times of India family, and he’s also someone who leads the digital arm, Times Internet Limited. So, he was very instrumental in doing these transactions in 2015 and 2016; I worked very closely with Travis Kalanick for the Uber entry into India, worked closely with the Coursera team for their entry into the Indian market as well; for the first three years Coursera actually sat out of our offices in India, so it was a relationship that was beyond investment. The idea was, how do we lay a carpet for you to enter into the complex labyrinth  that India is and help you solve that difficult market. 

While we were doing this, one thing that I realized was that there was an appetite that companies in the US had for a model like media for equity, because they realized that media for equity allows companies to shift marketing and communication spills from their P&L into their balance sheet and onto their cap table and this allows them to preserve cash, and instead spend that cash on operating needs, like hiring people, infrastructure, and the marketing needs can be taken care of through the investment that we make. Particularly in India, it worked really well because our presence is all across multimedia assets, so we could give them print, television, digital, outdoor radio, whatever they wanted in India. With that being the premise, in 2022 or 2023, I started working on this idea of Mercurius Media Capital, which was the idea of bringing together US-based media companies and publishers, stacking them together, and then investing their media assets in companies based in the US, or companies looking to target the US market. So, we started talking to media companies who wanted to find a new category of advertisers, who wanted to work with startups, early stage companies, a fresh breed of companies who had previously never worked with them about this concept, and we took their media assets and we started investing it in the startup ecosystem in the US. That's essentially the idea behind Mercurius Media Capital. So, in December of 2023, we closed $80 million of fundraise, all media inventory, with the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Televisa Univision. The two groups over the next five years have committed $80 million for us to invest in companies and this is all inventory that will be provided to these companies. We will do the due diligence on finding these companies and we'll invest in these companies on their behalf. So that's the model. 

VN: I'm actually not really familiar with that model, it'd be great if you can talk about how that works, the media for investment, why that's beneficial for those companies and how that works.

PP: The media equity model has been around actually since the 1980s. Sporadically, people have done it in the US but if you look at an institutional level, it's really in India and in the European markets that you will find media for equity taking place. In India, Brand Capital and the Times Group have been doing it for the last 20 years, like I mentioned, but you also have companies like Axel Springer, Bertelsmann, ITV Ventures, who are also doing it in the European market. 

The model is very simple: let's say, a company needs to reach out to its consumers and for doing that it spends $1 million in media every year. Instead of it going to a Google or a Facebook and saying, ‘Here's $1 million of cash and allow us to spend this $1 million in marketing on your platforms so that we can get more consumers,’ in this case, the media company, or a fund like us, receives that million dollars in marketing but that's in kind, it's a value that they're receiving. Against that they're giving us $1 million dollars in equity. So, it's a media for equity barter that's really taking place. 

VN: Why hasn't that really taken up in the US to this point? Why is it why India and Europe went further along in that process?

PP: One of the reasons is that, up until recently, cross media holdings in the US were somewhat restricted and that didn’t allow any single group to have a presence which would allow its company that it was investing in to use television, digital, outdoor radio, and everything under the gamut of media. In India, it was so successful because Times Group was able to offer all kinds of media assets and therefore give a share of voice to its companies across multimedia platforms. Something similar is also happening in Europe but I wouldn't say that it hasn't happened in the US at all: Comcast Ventures, for example, they have done it, they still do it, they've had this practice for a while, also Discovery has done it. Many, many other names have also done it but nobody has done it in an institutional manner where they have turned it into a whole business unit for itself. 

I'll talk about why companies are now actually looking at it, why companies like Sinclair and Televisa want to work with us on this, and why it makes so much sense, but I'll quickly answer your question about why it makes sense for startups, why they want to do this. So, other than having to pay cash, let's say if a startup spends $10 million every year to run its operations and, out of that $10 million, $3 million is spent on marketing. And let's say the startup has raised $20 million in a round so, over the next two years, it will be spending $6 million in marketing. Now, by us coming in, what happens is we take away that $6 million in cash spent in marketing, and instead replace it with equity; the startup now has an additional $6 million of pool available of cap that it can spend on its operating assets, on its team, on its infrastructure, and therefore the runway that it has goes from two years to almost three years for all operating capital. So, that's one. Second, when we are working with these startups, there is an added benefit of having direct access to the publishers of these media companies, the publisher itself, who's essentially there to tell you what is the best use of that money that has been allocated to these startups. So, they are the ones who I trade very closely with these startups to understand what is working and what is not working. Unlike Google or Facebook, it's not just a flick of the switch, where you turn on your programmatic ads, you hope you will get customers, and you have a certain CAC that comes out of it. Here, it's more bespoke in that the media companies work very closely with the startup to find out what will work really well for the startups and, accordingly, increase the efficacy and efficiency of that media that is deployed. So, these are the two big reasons why startups consider this model: more operating capital available to them to spend on other requirements, and also better use of their media that has been deployed because officials have  skin in the game, they have to make sure that these startups do well and, therefore, they ensure that the startups spend this money judiciously.

VN: Are you vertical agnostic? Are there certain verticals, certain categories, where you're looking to invest in? What's exciting to you right now?

PP: In the last 10 odd years of investing using media assets, we've come to a conclusion that there is a certain lifecycle of companies that work well with this model: companies that are Series A and beyond; companies that the wherewithal to take on a large marketing budget; to suddenly have a very large influx of customers as a result of that marketing; and have the infrastructure to handle that traffic. Those are the companies we essentially work with. So, almost always you'll find companies that are Series A and beyond, and in some instances, companies that are far beyond, that we work with; like I previously mentioned to you, the companies that have been able to make the best use of this model were companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Coursera in India, very late stage companies. That's the first point in terms of lifecycle. 

In terms of sectors, we tend to gravitate more towards consumer-facing companies for the simple reason that this is marketing and media and, therefore, consumer-facing companies who are looking to connect with their users are able to make the best use of this marketing and media when they work with us. So, more often than not it’s consumer facing companies, though we do have some B2B companies as well, but the portfolio will always be 75-25 in favor of consumer facing companies. Now, the sector's more specifically that we are looking at, we are looking at DTC brands, companies that want to establish a direct relationship with their consumers rather than going through an intermediary or marketplace, they are low hanging fruit for us in some ways. We are working with sectors like gaming, healthcare where, again, it's very important for the brand to establish itself in the mind of the consumer for them to resonate with that brand. We are also looking at some B2B SaaS platforms where the intent is to just get that mindspace to the consumer and, essentially, build brands. So, one of the companies that we invested in is a company called Deskera, which is an aggregate of QuickBooks and an expense file. Essentially, a bookkeeping and accounting platform that is completely online. So, they want to reach out to small and medium enterprises and they are right now doing a campaign with the help of Sinclair, where they're trying to address the Midwest market by reaching out to these small and medium enterprises and telling them about alternatives that exist for them outside of QuickBooks, outside of SAP. Essentially, the smaller businesses that right now haven't completely automated the process of accounting and bookkeeping, and can do so with the help of somebody like this. 

VN: How much are you investing in a company in an initial check and over the life of the company? And how many investments do you plan to make in a typical year?

PP: A typical check would be somewhere between $1 to $5 million, that would be available to the company for a specific series. So, our model runs on a series basis: every year a new series starts and resets at the end of the year, then a new series begins. So, we did the first series in 2023, which was concluded in December of 2023, so we only had time to make one investment in that year. In 2024, we have already made three investments and we're looking to make somewhere in the vicinity of six to eight investments this year. And the total capital that we'll deploy this year would likely be in the vicinity of $10 million but our intention is to have this total capital available to deploy every year: we want to take it from $10 million to almost $25 million by next year and our intention is to deploy $100 million of capital every year by the year 2027.

VN: You said that this works for companies that are Series A and beyond. Is your typical company that you invest in, are they going to be around a Series A or B?

PP: Yes, they’ll be a Series A or Series B, and we’ll come in at the same valuation and the same terms at which the company's either received funding in the recent past, or the company is about to raise a round, we tie ourselves to that fund. So, we let the market discover the value of the company, instead of us asserting what the value of the company would be because it is a different form of investment, it's not a cash investment, and therefore it's important to let the market discount the value. We just tag along at back.

VN: By Series A, and especially by Series B, there's got to be traction for those companies, they have to have customers, they have to have revenue. Is there a minimum for those things at that point? Do you want to see the minimum amount of ARR, a minimum number of customers, for you to want to invest in them? 

PP: One of the points that I was previously alluding to was the idea that there has to be wherewithal within the company to take on more consumers. In some ways, that ties to this question in that we definitely want to see traction, we want to see a product that has already been tested, has been tested at scale, because what we have experienced is, when we invested in Flipkart, we invested $100 million in the company; now, $100 million dollars can suddenly bring a very large number of users to you, are you ready to handle that traffic? So, we often invest in companies that have raised at least more than $5 to $10 million dollars, these are companies that are already generating revenue. I wouldn't say these are companies that are bottom line positive already because at Series A and B it's still hard to get to the bottom line breakeven but it'll always be a revenue generating company. You would see ARRs that would be greater than at least $2 million, if not more. One of the companies that we invested in, Coursera, that's a company that is doing more than $50 million in revenue for the last many years. So, it varies in different companies but, yes, there's suddenly a threshold after which we start considering these companies or we don't.

VN: I assume also their point they probably have some amount of product market fit. So how do you vet that? What's the process there? What's the due diligence on product market fit?

PP: These are companies that more often than not have already found themselves in the US marketplace and they've already been doing some amounts of marketing activity in the regions that they want to go after. So, in some ways, we try to identify during our due diligence phase whether or not these companies have already established that the product market fit in the markets they want us to go after and only after we are certain that, yes, there is indeed a solid product market fit, and we see that initial traction from the consumers from within that market. Only then do we start looking at whether or not we should come. So, product market fit for us is to make sure you check the box, even before we think about that investment. It has to happen or must have already happened in some way for us to consider that investment.

VN: What about the founders? I know that especially in the early stages and Series A that the founder is very important in terms of making that investment. So, what do you want to see from that founder, that CEO, that team that makes you want to invest in them?

PP: In so many ways, while we do a lot of due diligence on every company that we invest in, the answer on whether or not we invest hinges on who the founder is, what's behind the founding team, or the larger team that's running the operations. So, we spent a good amount of time understanding the vision of the founder. For us, it's very important to understand what it is that the founder wants to achieve in the short term, which is important and that can happen through marketing, but what is the long term goal? What is the vision of this product? And where is it headed in five years from now? Because that's really where scalability comes in. As a founder gets too enmeshed in small details, and is too worried about what is going to happen in the next six months, and not thinking as much about where this product is headed in the long run, they might be able to get to that six month mark but not having the vision for the five year mark is not going to, in the long run, help companies scale. So, a vision is very important for us, a vision that has an actual impact on the world around us, is something that we also consider: we want companies that are clearly setting themselves apart through USP, that are saying, “here is how we differ from our consumers, here is how we have evolved the ongoing trajectory of this product within this market that we play in.” So, it's very important to see where they lie on the evolutionary arc of that product and if they're not at the tip of that evolutionary arc, then it's a product that we believe is already being commoditized and, therefore, that's something we don't want to look at. 

For obvious reasons, companies that are looking at AI, or integrating AI into their workstream right now, or are somehow offering it to the consumers, has become important to us, because it's very obvious now that AI is going to disrupt almost every space, every sector that is there. So, why not look at that? In fact, we've been looking at that for the last two and a half years now. The idea is, are you changing the way that product, that market, that service already functions? Are you distancing yourself enough in that space that you cannot be seen as a commodity? And what's your long term vision? 

For the founder, specifically, we definitely go in on their track record. If it's someone who's been a serial entrepreneur, that, of course, gives us a lot of comfort; the fact that they have proven their execution capabilities, proven that they can take on a new project and execute it and bring it to its fruition, that's very important to us. Then we spend a good amount of time also going through what the rest of the team does within the company, particularly on the technology side and the sales and product side. These are the factors that we generally spend time on during our due diligence.

VN: In your initial explanation of this model, you had mentioned that a lot of companies were using this model to enter the Indian market. Is the reverse also true? Are you investing in Indian companies or European companies that want to use this model to then enter the US market?

PP: As of now, while our focus is on looking at companies that are in the US, and targeting the US marketplace, we are very open to the idea of companies that are coming from outside the US but want to look at the US as an important market for them. So, we're not actively seeking that right now. If somebody comes along, or during a business development we come across a country that's very aggressively looking at the US marketplace, we would look at them but, as it stands right now, there are so many opportunities within the US marketplace itself that, really, there's no dearth of opportunities in terms of investments that we can find within this market. So, the focus is on the US right now but if we do come across an opportunity that lies outside the US and wants to expand into the US, we are very happy to look at it.

It’s funny, the first investment that we made in a company called Deskera, they were a Singapore-based company and they ended up setting up shop in New York a year and a half ago and we have invested in them. So, now they see the US as their primary marketplace and for us that was important. For us, it was important to determine, is your focus on the USA? And if that's the case, we are all in to work with these companies. 

VN:The last couple years have been not the best for raising capital for anybody after a couple of years of  inflated valuations. So, where do you see things now versus maybe a couple years ago? What does that mean for the companies that are looking to raise funding, especially the ones, if you're a Series A investor, who have received funding maybe a couple of years ago: where are they now? What's happening to them?

PP: There’s several layers that we can peel off here. First, you’re right that 2021 and 2022, in some ways, affected the market with very high valuations which were not sustainable and we saw what happened subsequently, both in public markets as well as in private markets. As a result of that, the private markets  over the last year and a half, the funds have, in some ways, not been too keen on deploying capital, because they don't want to deploy capital at the valuations that were established in 2021. And companies, for obvious reasons, don't want to do a down round. They are saying, “we raised at this valuation in 2021, for whatever reason, that is the valuation that was given to us by the market, we don't see a reason why we would do a down round.” And it's never good for the company's lifecycle to have a down round anyway. So, with that, what has happened is in 2022 and 2023 there was a lot of I'm used capital that was sitting with these funds, capital that was not deployed. So, companies that were smart companies that figured out that it might be a tough road ahead, preserved their cash well and have, essentially, been waiting for a turnaround in the market to start looking to raise capital again, and so have the funds. But the problem is that a new cycle begins very soon and LPs, of course, want this capital to be deployed for it to be eventually returned in the future; all of that has led to some issues and some problems in the market. If you look at the secondary activity in the venture capital ecosystem, it has been at its lowest for a long time. There was a small turnaround that took place in Q4 of 2023, where the secondary activities finally picked up after dropping I thin six quarters in a row, and then in 2024 it’s fallen back again. If you look at LPs infusing capital into new funds, there is an increasing concentration of capital taking place with just a few funds. So far this year, of all the capital that has been raised, if I remember reading this correctly, 44% has only gone to a16z and General Catalyst, so there is a greater concentration of funds that's taking place with just a few venture capital funds out there. 

In certain ways, we see all of this as an opportunity because, if a company is looking to preserve its catch, and not spend that cash on marketing, then they can work with us during this time and we can come in and give them that marketing and media and tell them, “why don't you keep preserving that cash that you have instead of spending it in marketing, essentially, elongating your runway?” So, we see this as an opportunity in some ways where we are an alternative form of investment that allows these startups to preserve cash, while still reaching out to the consumers that they previously wanted to reach out to. All in all, I have to say, I mean there's several factors; it's also an election year so things are uncertain, but the capital markets, particularly the public markets, have shown some signs of life. I mean, I'm saying this and in the same breath I also recognize the fact that S&P is trading at its all time high, so these are contradictions that we have to somehow understand but, definitely in terms of where the economy is headed, everything looks good. I'm hoping that there is a turnaround in the private markets, as well as small and mid cap markets, in the near future. We were starting to see the signs of this at the end of 2020, hopefully that will continue as we go into this year.

VN: It’s interesting what you said about the concentration of capital into just a few funds. Part of the reason that we started this column a number of years ago was that there was a proliferation, especially in the early stages, of new funds that were coming up. We decided to do this column to talk to them and let them tell their story. If there's a concentration of capital in just a few funds, do you think that some of those firms that have popped up in the last four or five years are not going to be able to raise a new fund going forward? Is that going to be harder for them?

PP: Very possible and very likely that will be the case. LPs, at this point, are looking at firms that are able to deploy that capital meaningfully, and then have them continue with their concept of intake in terms of how they see that capital going in and how they see the capital coming out in a seven to 10 years timeline. If that doesn't happen, in some ways, it disrupts how these family offices, hedge funds, think about deploying capital and the cycle of capital in the long run. So, I can see that concentration of capital moving towards a few funds for that same reason. If everybody who's somebody in the startup ecosystem is going to reach out to a16z to raise capital, then LPs have an obvious reason to go to a16z every time to deploy that capital. So, some funds that in the recent past deployed their capital and are looking to do a second or a third, if they're not one of those more prominent names, then they are going to indeed have trouble raising more capital.

VN: I guess you're in a pretty good position because you don't have traditional LPs. So, you're not in a position to rely on limited partners for your fund.

PP: That also gives me an opportunity to tell you about why the LPs that we work with are working with us. Why are these media companies so excited about this model? Because the conversations that we've had so far have led to most people saying, “this is a great idea.” “Let's do it,” or. “Let's do it in the near future” is the answer that we get. So, for publishers, there's a few things about a model like this, and this is something that we learned over the 20 year history of Brand Capital when we did this in India: as a publisher, you probably already have a certain set of advertisers who advertise with you and then there is a small churn in that school of advertising that takes place every year. Now, that churn would probably be, let's say, 10% or so, I'm just taking a hypothetical number, but a small number that will bring in a new set of advertisers and they will also lose some advertisers in that process. What's not happening in this process is companies that are startups, that are starting now, that are starting to advertise and looking to reach out to their consumers, these companies are not considering these more traditional sets of advertisers. So, if you look at the larger marketplace in the US, the total advertising pie in the US is somewhere in the vicinity of $400 billion, $375 billion to be precise: 75% of that goes to digital and 17% goes to television, and then the remaining is distributed between out of home, print, radio, and others. The growth of that $375 billion is really coming from digital, it's still growing at a double digit number. Now, if you double click on that $375 billion and 75% digital, you find that in the digital space there's a trampoline that exists between Amazon, Google and Facebook. Put together, they take over two thirds of the market, around 65% of the market, and then you add a TikTok, you add a Microsoft, you add an Apple on top of it, and you're easily close to 80% already. So, what has essentially happened is, advertisers who were previously very important for these startups to consider have fallen off the cliff in terms of their advertising spends with these startups. Startups only think in terms of flipping on the switch of a Google or Facebook, looking at the ROI of that campaign, and finding out what is the immediate benefit that they can have from that campaign. But, if you don't go via multimedia assets, you don't do television and other media assets along with digital, you're not getting a share of voice of the consumer, you're not building your brand with the consumer in the long run. So, there's no retention of that brand. Maybe you'd be able to get a one time purchase or  customer acquisition but, in the long run, you're not building a place for yourself in the mind of the consumer. So, what we're trying to do is reach out to both traditional and digital publishers and we are saying, “you probably have a lot of inventory that is going unused right now, that has an opportunity cost of zero because this is perishable inventory. If there is a slot on television that has not been used that day, it's gone forever, the opportunity cost of that slot is zero. If you're a digital publisher, you're probably selling some of your inventory to programmatic through Google or Facebook, and those are being sold at bottom dollar you're getting very little for it. And that's your opportunity cost. So, instead let us monetize this inventory. Let us compound the value of this inventory by investing it in the startup ecosystem, giving you returns which would come in the future, but which will be multiple times higher than what you'd otherwise receive for inventory that you're currently selling.” 

So, for publishers it does a few things: it allows them a new stream of revenue, because when the startups consume that essentially turns into revenue for them. It creates a new category of advertiser who had previously never spent with them; these are companies who would otherwise never consider a media company that's in a more traditional space. We get them acquainted with the idea of spending on television, spending on radio, spending on print. When these new categories of advertisers start spending, there is a pool effect. What we say in our lingo is,”ads begets ad,” so when you have one advertiser from a new category spending with you, a competitor sees that and they follow suit. Now, the competitor can do that through the media for equity route, or the competitor can just come and spend with you in cash but, essentially, it's bringing you a new set of advertisers that had previously never spent. So, that's the reason why publishers are interested in this model. 

Coming back to your question about whether or not we have that same set of challenges, you're right, we don't have the same set of challenges about raising capital from the set of LPs because it's not cash capital. Our challenges are slightly different in that the media industry as a whole is going through some period of turmoil, as I'm sure you're aware. There is consolidation happening in some places; in other places, the bottom line is becoming more important for these companies. Therefore, we come in and we say, “you probably have unused inventory, allow us to invest your inventory, and allow us to monetize it using the venture capital ecosystem. It will also do one more thing if you're a publicly listed company, you’ll have your value portfolio, which is your existing revenue streams, and then you now have a growth portfolio, which is all your venture capital investments. So the market will recognize that and the multiple that you'll have on your stock will also be higher as a result of that.” 

VN: You said you did four investments so far and I know that you mentioned at least one of them. If you want to go through each one of those investments, and why you chose to invest in that company, that would be great.

PP: Deskera was the first one that spoke about. This is a company that we believe can reach out to a very large number of small medium enterprises in the US that are not able to get the benefit of a service like an SAP or an Intuit right now in the US. These larger companies are focused on a middle enterprise or a large enterprise but Deskera is looking at small enterprises right now and helping them with their bookkeeping, their accounting, their tax, their expense management, and doing all of this in an automated manner, online on the cloud. So, that's what Deskera does and there is a very large number of small and medium enterprises in the US that they can go after, so the market opportunity is huge. 

The second company is a company called Edly, a company that's based on the East Coast and the company's founder has extensive experience in money management, and comes from a very financially rich background. So, the company essentially provides students with last mile loans and it does that through private investors. So, right now, let's say a student reaches out to a bank and receives a loan of $150,000 for his or her education, and then also requires another $1,000, for finding a place outside the campus to rent or for everyday expenses or any last mile requirements that they might have. Edly comes in and, through an income share agreement, provides these students an opportunity to take on that loan. Because of the fact that it's an income share, instead of it being a certain amount of payment that has to be made at the end of every month, it is instead dependent on the income of the students, the income that they make after they've graduated, they've finished their schooling, and they're now working. So, in some ways, it ties itself to the idea of fairness and how much is the student earning and, based upon that, how much school can pay back to these companies. So, we believe, in some ways, it's a very disruptive model. Again, a model that has in some form existed in the US in the past, but hasn't been turned into an institutional asset itself. 

The third company is a company called RVnGO, it's essentially a marketplace for renting an RV It's a new and budding space, but also a space that has a lot of demand: if you look at the numbers behind how much Americans spend on purchasing RVs or renting RVs, it's a very large market but, surprisingly, there is nobody who's actually been able to create a marketplace for users like you and me, if we have an RV, and we want to rent it out to somebody because RVs stay idle for a very long period of time. So that is what RVnGO allows you to do; it's basically an Airbnb but for RVs and it adds a layer of protection on top for the person who's renting these out. So, by default, anybody who rents out, they have to purchase insurance, which is a very strong protection, both for the person who's renting it as well as the person who's giving the RV out.

VN: What are some of the lessons that you've learned as a VC in your time doing venture capital?

PP: In some ways it harkens back to what I was telling you previously about what we look for in the founder: it's very important, irrespective of the cycles, the fads, the buzzwords that are always around you in this space, when I first started in 2015 the Internet of Things was big, AR/VR was big. and where is it now? I mean, nobody is talking about connected refrigerators anymore, because this isn’t something that people need. So, in some ways, you really have to think about what is the use case for the product that you're proposing? It might sound very unique, might sound very innovative, but is there a possibility of scale? And that's what differentiates most products that are successful from the products that are not successful. So, scale is something that we always look at. 

While we're looking at scale, at the same time it's very important to consider whether or not that scale, in turn, can commoditize the product very easily. So, what are the barriers of entry? What is the moat that you're creating around the product that allows you to ensure that this cannot be copied and immediately replicated in another market? And even if it is copied, it can never achieve the scale and success that your product can achieve? So, scale, but be careful that it doesn't get to a point where it's easily commoditized. That is what we look at as far as the product is concerned. 

Now, keeping in mind all the buzzwords and everything that's happening around you, it's still very important to be aware of what is going on and what's new but, at the same time, at the end of the day, it all comes down to business models. Increasingly, in the last 10 years, there's been a movement away from at first just onboarding consumers to top line, to bottom line. In some ways, it's a very good thing that has happened for this space because, eventually, if it's not a product that can generate a bottom line, that can have a green profit after tax, then it's not sustainable in the long run. So, no matter how good the product is, if there is no sustenance around that product, it's not going to survive. Therefore, at the end of the day, the business model is really what drives a product's survivability. Of course, it goes without saying, as venture capital. folks, all we are doing is really around the set of founders and founding team who's working on that product. So, I cannot overemphasize the importance of that role and that team in making the product successful. 

VN: What's the part of being a venture capitalist that really motivates you, the part of the job that you love the most? Why do you want to do this? Yes.

PP: There's several reasons but the biggest reason for me is, I'm so close to the nerve center of what's happening as far as innovation is concerned. We get exposed to what's up and coming first, before everybody else does, and that's really exciting for me. To be able to see what direction the world is headed in, what's going to happen in five to 10 years from now, and just having a window into what that could look like, is incredibly exciting. To be able to work with a set of founders who are so invested in what they're doing, so passionate about wanting to make their product or service successful, to see that passion and set of people around you, in turn really motivates me to work really hard and ensure that I find the best set of founders. So, part of the reason why almost all innovations, at the end of the day, happen in Silicon Valley, I mean, no surprise that OpenAI also happens to be in San Francisco, it's for that atmosphere, it’s the set of people that you're always surrounded with, who are working on something that's 10 years ahead of its time, working on something that will be not just a gradual change in the way the world functions, but would be a significant change. That's what really motivates me. In some ways, I feel it's my contribution back to the ecosystem that I'm working in. So, it's really the passion of people around me, and that helps me stay very passionate about this. 

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