New age start-ups get support from angels of a different kind

  • Suveen Sinha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 30, 2015 09:40 IST
Illustration: Jayanto

Renu Malik began to cry. A gynaecologist in east Delhi, she had married a paediatrician. Not just that, 37 of her husband’s cousins were doctors. Renu had sent her only son Ritesh to Theni, a small place in Tamil Nadu, to do his MBBS. And now he was saying he won’t be a doctor. Worse, he wanted to join a start-up.

A few months later, in 2013, all the doctors in the extended Malik family were rejoicing. Ritesh’s start-up, Adstuck, had sold an app for Rs 6.4 crore.

Using his share of the money, Malik became an angel: people who invest in the early stages of a start-up, when the big fund houses won’t give them the time of day. At 26, he has already funded 20 of them. He is one of several from myriad backgrounds to do so. These are not the usual technology entrepreneurs investing in technology start-ups. These are the unusual angels.

Robin Uthappa is never too far from the Indian cricket team. He is never too far from a kitchen either, cooking frequently at home and telling restaurant chefs to customise his food. He was the first to invest in iTiffin — a Bangalore-based online service that delivers nutritious meals to your doorstep — putting in Rs 1.5 crore. “Robin also helps us design meals and reach the right audience,” says Tapan Das, iTiffin’s co-founder.

Shravan Shroff owned and ran the Fame cinemas till 2011, when he sold them to INOX for Rs 65 crore. He put 10% of that money in 30 start-ups. One of those was ZipDial, known for its service that connects brands with consumers through missed calls. Twitter bought it in January for a reported $30 million. Shroff stays invested in OYO Rooms, a network of hotels online and offline that is getting high valuations. “This is what I know, this is what I do. The minute I stop, I will die,” he says.

Read: India learns to 'fail fast' as tech start-up culture takes root

On the other hand, Ravi Kiran finds angel investing the best way to learn. Kiran was a top executive with advertising and media buying firms for 20 years till 2010, when on his way to Cannes he ran into Sasha Mirchandani of Mumbai Angels at the Paris airport. Mirchandani asked Kiran if he could help a start-up understand the mindset of media buyers. Kiran did, and was hooked.

He has invested Rs 5-10 lakh each in more than two dozen start-ups. “You can learn from books, magazines, YouTube videos, or by watching people who do things. The last option costs a lot of money, but it is extremely exciting,” says Kiran.

Rajesh Krishnan was with Lehman Brothers when it collapsed in September 2008. He moved to Nomura, which bought Lehman Asia, and on to Standard Chartered.

Even as the financial world shook, real estate was making money. In 2011, he left his job to set up Brick Eagle, which does affordable housing. He has gone on to invest in a number of start-ups, all doing things within affordable housing: TPC (construction technology), Xeco (branding and marketing), Phalcomm (online platform to sell houses), Foyr (online interior designer), and Botsworth (robotics for township management).

Many of these unusual angels continue to do other things. Krishnan runs Brick Eagle. Kiran works as a management consultant. Shroff has a large portfolio of stocks and bonds. Uthappa plays cricket.

And Ritesh Malik owns and manages a hotel in east Delhi, which he built on family land when still in medical school. All the income from it goes into start-ups. Besides, his Project Guerrilla has a programme called Entrepreneur in Residence, under which three start-ups have been given a room each in this hotel.

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