Inflexion – Technology Summit: An evening of insights and observations

I was invited to “Inflexion” an event organized by Signal Hill and iSPIRT. The duo have in the past co-created the report on Technology M&A in India (link) which was very educational, so my interest was piqued and decided to go.

The evening was started by Scott Wieler, Chairman & CEO Signal Hill. He mentioned that $6.9Bn of VC/PE money has been invested in India in last four years (2011-14). However, the M&A value generated is just $1.7Bn. So with a value creation ratio of 0.2x, India is far behind US (3.0x) and Israel (5.3x). This led to the insight that M&A values will need to increase by more than 15x over next 3-6 years for this ratio to catch up to US and Israel levels. My hope is recent acquisitions by Flipkart (Myntra), Snapdeal (Unicommerce), Facebook (Little Eye Labs) and Twitter (ZipDial) – are good trend in this direction, and we will see a lot of action happening in next couple of years. This augurs well for Indian entrepreneurs.

Next came the retrospective by N.R.K. Raman – co-founder of i-FLEX Solutions. Very interestingly his company was probably the first VC/PE backed unicorn in India! They were bought by Oracle for nearly a billion dollars. A lot of i-FLEX’s story was about perseverance and street smarts. We keep on talking about product-market fit – this was a phenomenon written all over i-FLEX’s success. The founders were working in the banking software industry inside a bank (Citigroup) – and understood the inefficiencies of the system. They jumped the boat, separated from the mothership (albeit Citi wrote them their first $400k) – and launched a product that found ready takers in the market. It was not the dramatic high burn, breakneck growth story but rather a well thought out, methodical plan executed with hard work and business fundamentals kind of story.

As the night became young, Flipkart’s co-founder Binny Bansal and YourStory’s Shradha Sharma, stepped onto the stage. Binny said that the one thing keeping him awake at night is “finding high quality talent and retaining them” – interesting to note that the big guys have still the same challenges as newbie startups. As an investor, I feel it is becoming very competitive to hire good talent. That one perfect designer or product manager you have found – chances are will have multiple offers in hand, if not thinking about doing his own startup already. The other big focus area that Binny mentioned was mobile – if you look at the data, I think the writing is on the wall – by 2016 – 80%+ of India’s internet population will access Internet more by mobiles than by desktop and my guess is 60%+ of India’s internet population will have never accessed internet using desktop. So Flipkart’s worries are talent and mobile.

Then Sharad Sharma, iSPIRT co-founder and Governing Council member, delivered a short punchy talk. He explained how small sub $50m dollar exits are the lifeblood of any tech ecosystem. Unless they happen in enough numbers we won’t get Billion dollar exits in the long haul. I learnt that iSPIRT’s M&A Connect program has been instrumental in getting Facebook, Corporate Executive Board, Yahoo, Intuit and Twitter become first acquirers in India! The M&A Connect program is now on a one-acquisition-a-month run-rate and aspires to get to a one-acquisition-a-week rate in the coming years. What an inspiring story of volunteer magic changing our ecosystem for the better!

Sharad then talked about global SaaS startups. They are gaining momentum. He also outlined why software product startups targeting Indian SMEs will be big in the coming three years.

We then broke for drinks and dinner. The book “Conquering the Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere”, authored by Ravi Venkatesan, iSPIRT Adviser and former Chairman of Microsoft India, was gifted to attendees of the event. It promises to be an interesting read.