Successful entrepreneurs, they say, make the best venture capitalists. While there are several venture capitalists who have never been entrepreneurs but hold stellar records as investors, the premium attached to an investor who has been down in the trenches himself is understandably higher. Also, when such entrepreneurs turn to investing in new entrepreneurs, the startup eco-system gets enriched in a way that is altogether unique. NR Narayana Murthy brings that much sought after unique value to the Indian startup eco-system with the launch of Catamaran Venture Fund.
Murthy turning venture capitalist in itself is not exceptional. India already has a small but fairly influential band of successful entrepreneurs who have brought their experience to bear on venture capital.
Not surprisingly, so far, most have been from the consumer Internet space – the first sector to create venture-backed entrepreneurial successes here. Online marketplace Baazee (acquired by eBay) founders Avinsh Bajaj and Suvir Sujan now lead investments for Matrix Partners India and Nexus Venture Partners respectively. Jobs portal Jobsahead (acquired by Monster) c0-founder Alok Mittal heads India investments for Canaan Partners. Naukri founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani, who staged India’s first successful Internet IPO (initial public offering) in 2006, is currently experimenting with the corporate venturing model – read more in the Outlook Business story here.
The BPO (business process outsourcing) adventurers have not done too badly either. Sanjeev Aggarwal, co-founder of Daksh eServices (acquired by IBM), now runs Helion Venture Partners with his friends. Raman Roy, founder of Spectramind (acquired by Wipro), dabbles in angel investments through the Indian Angel Network. Krishnan Ganesh, founder of CustomerAsset (acquired by Firstsource Solutions), is also an active angel investor. All these gentlemen have put part of their own resources, earned from the success of their entrepreneurial ventures, to work in their venture capital activities. There are many more examples.
But, what makes Murthy stand out is the magnitude of what he has achieved as a first generation entrepreneur. The Internet and BPO czars came long after this software engineer (and six other colleagues) broke free of the shackles of a salaried middle class existence to scale unimaginable heights as an entrepreneur. Infosys Technologies, the startup he co-founded in 1981, is India’s second largest information technology services exporter at over $5 billion revenues today. Along the way, it has created millionaire employees, spawned entrepreneurs and generated hundreds of thousands of jobs. And all this while surviving a couple of economic recessions.
It is not clear yet as to how hands-on Murthy himself will be as a venture capitalist with Catamaran. He is still very closely associated with Infosys as its chairman. Reports suggest that a four-member team is being put in place to manage the fund. However, the fact that he sold shares worth $37 million – The Economic Times story here – to seed Catamaran could be an indication that backing entrepreneurs will be more than an off-the-cuff financial interest.
This commitment is critical for India’s fledgling entrepreneurial eco-system. This market has not yet produced enough successful entrepreneurs to inspire and back new entrants. In the US Silicon Valley, for instance, most iconic venture capital funds are helmed by former entrepreneurs. This has helped create and consistently invigorate the vibrant startup eco-system in the Valley. Where volume lacks, stature can somewhat compensate. Given Murthy’s sheer stature, his entry into venture capital is a big step foward for the startup community here.
We will be watching Catamaran’s future moves closely.