The world of venture investing in 2023 was subdued to say the least. In India, deal activity was mainly seen in the early stages and late stage continued to remain cautious like in 2022. The time between successive rounds lengthened and round sizes reduced. This has brought some much needed “sanity” in the startup ecosystem. Due diligence is stronger, valuations are rationalizing, although still much higher than what most private market companies should be valued at.
Founders are focused on high execution, listening to customers, taking fewer risks, going slower, aiming for positive unit economics and path to profitability — read as freedom from constant equity fundraising :) Life has been tough for founders in this environment — difficult to fundraise, banks still not supporting, difficult to hire great talent, managing board expectations, key employees not seeing any ESOP liquidity and churn at the top management.
Investors are not doing “irrational” deals, have less FOMO and are focused on strong post investment governance and portfolio management. Down rounds, internal rounds, bridge rounds and lay-offs will continue to happen in 2024 as VC funds manage expectations of global capital allocators, and thread through the economic cycle. We expect this behaviour to continue till mid 2024 and then hopefully start getting better.
We saw in 2023, VCs doing PE style deals like NBFCs, HFCs, brick and mortar (non tech) deals and similarly PE funds investing in online only consumer brands. This convergence is good for the ecosystem as more avenues of fundraise open up for founders. We feel that the ‘multistage strategy’ will not play out well in India. Larger VCs will reduce exposure to seed stage deals from their anchor funds once the late-stage deal activity picks up. Eventually, funds will operate in their ‘stage’ based on their AUM size, portfolio strategy and avoid small distractions.
Exits — 2023 validated that the Indian IPO market is vibrant for late-stage startups and one can go ‘public’ sooner in India than in any other geography. Larger VCs are now more aware of what the Indian public market wants/rewards and are gearing their next IPO bound portfolio companies on those lines. Liquidity events through M&A by established Indian conglomerates continues to remain slow and there is a huge potential to be unlocked once they open up their balance sheets to startups. Hopefully, this will happen in 2024.
Gemba Capital Portfolio by numbers (since inception)
Gemba Capital Fund I made 10 investments in 2023
- We invested in Luru, a zero-friction revenue workspace built for enterprise sales team productivity. We were the 1st investors to commit in a $1.4M pre-seed round led by India Quotient.
- We invested in Alltius, an AI-driven platform for conversational assistance in software products primarily to help and guide users in their product journeys. We co-invested along with Neon Fund, Stellaris and others in the $2M pre-seed round.
- We invested in HighXP, a mobile phone game development company building in the social-casual category from India for the world. We were the 1st investors to commit in $1.5M pre-seed round led by 3one4 Capital
- We invested in Volt which provides plug and play infrastructure for instant loan against financial assets such as mutual funds and stocks. Other investors include Titan Capital, All-in Capital.
- We invested in MoMoney, a savings app providing multi-asset investments through Dynamic SIP along with Instant credit.
- We invested in Piiko, a med tech company converting sample collection centers into diagnostic labs through its AI based flagship product. We co-invested in a $1M pre-seed round along with Capital 2B.
- We invested in Mannjal, a tech platform for NBFCs to partner with banks for co-lending. We invested in the $1M pre-seed round led by Sparrow Capital.
- We invested in Shoption, India’s 1st irrigation focused tech enabled B2B marketplace connecting manufacturers and distributors of agri-irrigation equipment with retailers in rural areas.
- We invested in the seed round of Navadhan along with Anicut Capital and Varanium. Navadhan is an RBI-registered NBFC that specializes in offering short-term credit to rural businesses in India seeking working capital and capital expenditure financing. The company raised $5M Series A round led by Prime Venture Partners in which we also participated.
- We invested in Fairdeal, a distribution-as-a-service (DaaS) company, it is a tech-enabled retail market access platform for consumer brands enabling offline commerce for them, digitally. We co-invested along with Waterbridge in the $1M seed round.
Key Highlights in 2023
- Showroom, our high conviction 1st investment from Gemba Capital Fund I raised $6.5Mn in a Series A round led by Jungle Ventures in which we also participated.
- Zuper raised a $32M Series B round led by Fuse Ventures. We were among the first investors to invest in the seed round in 2020 and thrilled to witness their growth over the past three years
- We had partial cash exit at 8x MOIC and 80% Gross IRR from one of our Agri tech portfolio companies.
- Govind Lohia joined us as a Principal in the investing team.
Sectors to watch out for in 2024
Health tech: some whitespaces we see are in AI in diagnostics, primary healthcare, pharma value chain, bioinformatics, genomics, personalized medicines and super speciality businesses. A more phygital business model approach needs to be adopted in this space.
Gen AI: New applications need to be reimagined from a Gen AI perspective, where Gen AI is a first-class citizen. Built it from scratch with Gen AI design and workflows as the core. This is where the next big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Meta, will be built in the coming decade. New technology takes time to become mainstream — it’s better to invest at the ‘beginning of the cycle’ rather than ‘end of the cycle’ — Gen AI is at the beginning and if you are building a B2B Gen AI SaaS startup with one or more of the below characteristics, then reach out to us:
· Domain specific knowledge
· Connecting unique /proprietary datasets
· Building integrated workflows for enterprises
· Building vertical or function specific small-language models
· Building tools for easy AI adoption in enterprises
Fintech will continue to attract the maximum capital as always. Sub-segments like credit cards, infra-embedded finance, insurtech, cross-border/trade finance, collections tech, savings, co-lending platforms, housing finance are all white spaces to work on.
Gaming we feel this is the right time for India to build global gaming studios. Quintessentially, the SaaS story will now play out for Gaming in India — “build in India for the world”. Gaming startups can be highly capital efficient and can give big outcomes for small funds — ideal for seed investors like us.
Manufacturing: With China+1 sourcing strategy, India’s share in global manufacturing will increase driven by domestic consumption and exports. With a median age of 28, a full 10 years below that of China, India has a key advantage in terms of labor supply. It is the best time to build in the manufacturing space.
SaaS We are seeing more SaaS companies (Indian founders) incorporating in India as compared to US earlier or doing the reverse flip. This is mainly due to difficult current fundraise situation in the US, to raise capital from Indian AIFs and to eventually list in India. Vertical SaaS, Enterprise SaaS, DevOps, Modern Data Stack, Security are some of the interesting areas. US continues to be the largest market and founders who have experience selling in the US, will have a natural edge over others.
Deep tech: VCs are opening to invest in startups solving hard problems. We see investments in semi-conductor space, medical hardware, EV, space tech, climate tech, aerospace and defence, all indications of this trend. These are all tech IP driven, capex heavy (R&D) businesses which have a longer gestation period.
One of the most important aspects of running a VC business is “Consistency” — in our strategy, in our execution, in our team and in our performance. We strive for it. 2024 is a very important year for us, as we launch our
“Gemba Capital Fund II” an INR 250 Cr (~US$ 30M) fund to invest in seed and pre- seed rounds in scalable tech startups led by founders who have an unwavering ambition to build world-class companies.
VC has and will always remain a slow game. Not a rat race for quick external validation through markups. VC factory can no longer keep manufacturing ‘value’ at every ‘stage’ of the assembly line and pass the final marked-up product to the public markets for consumption. At Gemba Capital, we need to avoid distractions in 2024 and do some good old, disciplined seed investing. That’s it.
If 2024 turns out brutal, always remember the Stockdale Paradox.
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
— Admiral Jim Stockdale
A token of gratitude
A big heartfelt thank you to all our founders, LPs, lawyers, fund admin, accounting teams, employees, venture partners, scouts — all of whom who have helped us in our mission in 2023.
Onwards and upwards from here as we strive to build one of the most respected domestic micro VC Fund in India.
We wish you all a great 2024!
From all of us at Gemba Capital.
Disclaimer: This blog is a Year in Review performance blog and not a solicitation of any kind for anyone and neither it is a part of any marketing docket/collaterals/documents of Gemba Capital.