An Entrepreneur in the true sense of the word, Prasad Vanga’s exuberance is what catches your attention when you first meet him. You would expect the head of a Venture Capital to be formal, but in reality Prasad was all charm with a cheerful disposition. Excerpts of my interview with him:
Was Entrepreneurship a childhood dream?
There is never a straight answer to that question. Growing up I was hardly a model student: not your A’s and B’s type of prodigy. Back in our day, that meant not becoming an Engineer or Doctor and in at least a tiny way disappointing your family! I did an MBA in Delhi and my first job was with a garment export company. Essentially I was looking for fabric colors, Zippers, and the kind. Perhaps not an ideal job on the face of it, but in reality that was where I learnt how to hone my knack in building a rapport with an international clientele. This was also where I realised the vast potential and power of the Indian entrepreneur as someone who would customize and create stuff for the global markets. Fast forward to almost two decades later and I still believe in that potential and do everything I can to help realise it.
What were you doing in those two decades? Was it interesting?
Interesting is one way to put it! Technology always appealed to me, because of which I did some work in ERP implementation. I was to take up a job in the US, but a Visa rejection landed me in Bhopal. Dainik Bhasker was looking to do an ERP implementation across their sites which turned out to be the largest ERP implementation for a media company. From here I entered the call center business, which was all the rave then. Went on to set up a call center in Bangalore, three years later merged it with Essar when they were looking to set something up. This call centre was my first entrepreneurial venture. After exiting, I joined Genpact and in a very exciting role went to head their global Change Management initiatives. This was in San Francisco. I took a little break and did an executive program at Stanford. With the completion of this course I decided to come back and start AntHill Ventures. That about sums up those twenty years.
How did you decide on starting a VC firm for an entrepreneurial come back?
As it is with most things, experience changes your perspective and that’s what happened. Back in 2006 or thereabouts I quite accidentally invested in a company. That company went on to give its investors an ROI of upwards of 20X. That was MedPlus. This experience changed how I looked at investments from a business point of view. Add to this a couple more investments I made in startup that were successful and the idea for AntHill took shape.
Neat! So what do you look for in founders and startups before giving them the nod?
As a VC firm we sort of come in the picture between pre-series and Series A funding. What this means is that the startup has to be in business before we step in. But the principles are the same: we look for persistence, patience, vision and maturity in the founding team. Additionally, we look at the scalability of the idea. What doesn’t work for us though is a me-too product. We’d shy away from investing in something like that.
What is the Startup ecosystem in Hyderabad lacking?
I find it difficult to find talent. By talent I don’t mean engineering, but design thinking. We lack people who can hustle and think globally. At the other end, we need more seed capital. What we have is later stage capital: people are ready to invest and bet on a startup when they have a product, customers and revenue, but not before that. That mindset needs to alter to understand that a product company may not make any money for the first two or four years and that’s OK. But all this will sort itself out as we grow and learn.
What advice would you give our future and current entrepreneurs?
Find a purpose. We’ve stopped asking ourselves ‘Why’. The purpose is very important, it weaves everything together. Always have the progress on the purpose, mapped. Collectively, as a profession, it is of some urgency to learn to articulate value.
— Sameeksha Bansal,