Ram Shriram’s has had a busy couple of days since he arrived in Delhi on the 14th – I almost got an interview with him on the 19th, while he was in Mumbai, but finally managed to speak with him on the 20th while he was stuck in traffic in Bangalore, to catch a flight to Hyderabad. So for once, I’m glad there was a traffic jam. I spoke to Shriram briefly about his exit plans for Naukri and Cleartrip, his investment Future Bazaar, the impact of the downturn in the US economy on India, and more:
Does working in India require you to deal with a different set of ground realities – is the whole investing/incubation/exit scenario different here?
So are valuations out of whack in India?
Valuations are not out of whack, but they certainly are rich.
How far behind the curve is India in terms of product innovation?
India is a little bit behind China and US and it’s largely driven by the fact that the size of the market needs to grow. The talent exists, but to build a larger business, you need a larger sandbox.
Have you seen any India specific user needs – beyond mail, matrimony, jobs, news etc – which can usher in a whole set of usage?
Well, we have just announced an investment in Future Bazaar – a hybrid offline-online ecommerce model. They have the warehouses, supply chain, and we’re offering users a sale selection on the web.
How much have you invested?
We’re not disclosing that, but we’ve picked up 15 percent stake alongwith KPCB.
More in the extended text
What about your investment in Zoomin (photo sharing)?
Zoomin is a hybrid model. The management and founding team is the one with half.com. A lot of the front end of photo-work is about the UI. The initial uptake in terms of transactions and usability is pleasing to us. We’re selling tons and tons of digital cameras in India, so there’s potential.
What’s the impact of the downturn in the US economy on the Indian startup-VC ecosystem?
Spending in terms of Indian startups will continue – you may actually see more investment in a downturn, because the money has been been raised, and will continue to be spend. There might be a decline is tech spending, in retails. That’ll have a ripple effect throughout the economy. We’re just beginning to see the effects in the US. I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t predict how long it will last.
Any investments in the social media or content space in India?
We’ve got nothing to announce on the content side. In case of Social Media, we’ve looked at some companies, but again – nothing to announce.
What about issues with the monetization of social media?
It’s still early days for monetization of social media, and perhaps the models need to be figured out.
You’ve stayed invested in Naukri post-IPO. What are you plans for an exit?
We’re looking long term, and not looking every day at whether we should exit. That’s not our approach. There’s lots of scale, breadth and depth in Naukri, long term potential. They’re still India’s largest.
Going forward, do you see any synergy or conflict between Naukri and your other investment – Plaxo?
No we don’t see any synergy or conflict of interest between the two. Each is doing well in its domain.
What about your exit strategy for Cleartrip?
We’re thinking long term with Cleartrip as well. It’s a competitive market and they’re leaders in a competitive market with a strong brand, continuing topline growth, and perhaps they sell more online than other sites. We’re much more capital efficient.
Any advice for entrepreneurs from Ram’s Book Of Mistakes?
Just one that I’d mentioned at the event in TiE – don’t have too many meetings and keep your meetings crisp and short. Stay externally focused – on your customers, and focus internally when you have to hire.