Aspirations supersede resources for startups: IAN investor

Indian Angel Network member and investor Ajai Chowdhry shares his insights on investments and views on startups in India. He says entrepreneurs should have belief in themselves, and fire in the belly to move fast.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

Startups in India are growing. There are a lot of young entrepreneurs and dynamic business personnel who are challenging the status quo and making their dreams come true. To help them achieve their dreams and start solving great problems, there are plenty of investors in the Indian startup circuit, and, as mentioned in this earlier article of mine, I'll be featuring them once every while. The very first investor I take a look at is Ajai Chowdhry, who is part of the Indian Angel Network (IAN).

The Indian Angel Network.

Started in April 2006, the Indian Angel Network brings together highly successful entrepreneurs and CEOs from India and around the world who are interested in investing in startup or early stage ventures that have the potential of creating disproportionate value. The IAN, in addition to money, provides constant access to high-quality mentoring, vast networks and inputs on strategy, as well as execution.

It has a broad spectrum of investment sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, banking, retail, telecom and embedded domains, and IT products and services. Some interesting tech startups from its portfolio are Aurus Network, Hashcube, Stayzilla, Consure, WebEngage, Eureka Technologies, and Innovize.

I had a chance to catch up with Ajai Chowdhry, an IAN investor member, over an email interaction, to discuss what kinds of investments he makes in association with the IAN, and some insight into his background, investments, and what kind of startups he prefers working with.

Ajai Chowdhry, who is also one of the six founding members of HCL, began his journey with technology three decades ago with a dream to give India its very own microcomputer. He has put a lot of effort into consistently contributing in building the brand "India" on the IT world landscape, and is pioneering the cause of developing the Indian IT industry. With a pedant sense of entrepreneurship, he currently aims to incubate entrepreneurship by aiding startups through his association with the IAN.

Ajai Chowdhry
Ajai Chowdhry, Indian Angel Network member and investor.

He spent many years creating close to 15 or 20 businesses within HCL. When he made the decision to take a retirement from HCL in 2009, he decided to join the IAN to invest in startups. He prefers making investments through the IAN as the secretariat takes care of lots of issues. He typically invests through his investment companies, and, depending on the company, his investments are between INR5 million to INR20 million.

According to him, the key to success of any startup is the team, and most of the ones he has invested in have had trouble hiring sales people. He typically insists that they do this early.

"I am still early in this area. However, I had a very good exit in a company called Druva. They succeeded because they got in an excellent person to head the business who has great business development skills. Of course, they had a great product at the right time," he said.

He thinks that India needs many more angel networks, and highlights that the US has close to 900 as compared to just four or five in India.

If you as a startup need to get an investment, you could approach him directly or preferably through the IAN. He believes that startups can grab his attention by having an excellent plan and a pitch. "But I first like to see the team behind the plan," he specifically mentioned. It's quite a good philosophy, I'd have to say, especially with so many talent acquisitions being very popular across the global startup circuit.

When asked about what the next big thing in the Indian startup market is, he said that it's a very vibrant market and he sees a lot of good ideas out there. "I would like more education institutes to encourage and teach entrepreneurship," he added, and also mentioned that he is sector agnostic when choosing startups.

His advice to startups is quite simple, but at the same time great: He says that startups and entrepreneurs should have belief in themselves and fire in the belly to move fast. The best is when they also have a complementary team consisting of sales, tech, accounting, and operations.

Most importantly, he finished on a very profound note. He added that for any startup, "Aspirations are more important than resources, as resources happen when you aspire high."

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