With an increasing number of startups looking to scale up, we spoke to angel investor and advisor Revathy Ashok about what investors look for. Ashok is one of the early members of the Indian Angel Network and co-founder of Strategy Garage, a boutique advisory for startups & SMEs, and says that investors’ decisions hinge on the entrepreneur. She brings 30 years of corporate experience to the table; her last high powered job was as MD of Tishman Speyer in India, where she was one of 100 partners of the largest professional real estate firms in the US.
“My investment is never about giving dumb money. I am a reasonably active investor and work with entrepreneurs, make connections, help them through their strategy, governance and compliance issues.”– Revathy Ashok
Ashok spoke to Sandhya Mendonca about the qualities she looks for in an entrepreneur and why she does so. “Investing in startups is the riskiest asset class and hence the entrepreneur is key to my decision. I must get the feeling that they have the grit and the resilience because quite often in this journey of entrepreneurship, they will hit roadblocks. The entrepreneur must have the flexibility to not to get stuck with an idea, and to be able to absorb, adapt, change and grow with the market.”
Her investments are sector agnostic, and what excites her are technology-enabled solutions for real problems. She invests in companies that are asset-light, that can establish a product market fit and can command a large enough market. “My investment will be successful if the company gets subsequent rounds of funding.” She says the excitement in being a startup investor lies not in the size of the cheque, but in the opportunity of working alongside entrepreneurs.
Her investment portfolio of 20 companies includes a waste management firm called Saahas Zero Waste, and Ashok says, “I believed in the entrepreneur who put in over 13 years of work long before it was fashionable to look at waste management as a business. Then we helped her transform it into a business”. She is a lead investor in another company, Pikkol which has automated the business of moving and packing. She points out with pride that the company has expanded its services from a pure B2C play to B2B, with 35 marquee customers in a short span of time. She is also very fond of a crowd financing film studio Wishberry .
From being an active investor to becoming a strategic advisor happened fairly naturally, and Ashok and Sekhar Doraswamy, started the Strategy Garage, as a strategic advisory for startups and SMEs. “We advise companies that we might not have necessarily invested in. We help sharpen their strategy, put systems and processes in place for stronger execution capabilities and better governance. A number of failures in the recent past have happened not because the idea or the market was bad. In quite a few instances, the failure was because of poor governance.”
With the entrepreneurship ecosystem maturing, Strategy Garage is also working with funds that have invested in startups. While it helps investors get good returns for their portfolio, its chief objective is to help startups link their finances and strategy, and enable them to raise the next round of capital. And there is the invaluable network that Ashok has built up within the system and uses willingly to connect people and businesses.
She is on the board of a number of listed companies and is the Managing Trustee & CEO of B.Pac, a citizen-led civic initiative to improve the life of Bangaloreans. Her interests in vastly different kinds of organisations hinge around “making a difference in the everyday lives of everyday people.”