I have known Dev Khare for a while as the silicon-valley-based venture capitalist with Venrock, the iconic Venture Capital firm that lists companies like Intel, 3Com, and Mentor Graphics among its successful investment portfolio! Active in the mobile and web space, Dev’s investments included Slideshare (yes, that’s the company I wrote about recently, and that got acquired by LinkedIn), Appia, Turnhere, and Lavante, during his 5+ years with Venrock. Dev is quite unlike most other VCs that I meet, be it in India or the silicon valley. He leverages social networks super effectively to reach out to like-minded entrepreneurs; he is active on Twitter with 3000+ followers and as many tweets to his credit; he is on Slideshare with 178 followers, and of course LinkedIn with 3000+ connects! Then he writes a blog (Nextwala.com). He has answered over 22 questions on Quora, where he has 700+ followers. A hard-to-beat act for anybody! Such is the enthusiasm and energy that Dev exudes for discovering the right entrepreneur who he would like to work with. It doesn’t stop here. His ability to connect and relate to entrepreneurs thereafter is also a tough act to follow; his background of having been a startup guy himself, with Covigo (a mobile middleware firm acquired by Symbol Technologies), seems to help him put himself in their shoes very easily. So, when I heard that Dev is moving to India, and that too to New Delhi, as a part of the LightSpeed Ventures team, I was curious to know what prompted the move. From what I hear from my VC friends, Bay area and Silicon Valley is still where the action is, and India is perhaps where the valley was in the 80’s, with still a long way to go. So I decided to meet with Dev on my next trip to Delhi to hear from the horse’s mouth on what attracted him to amchi Bharath.
Dev is quick to point out that the availability of useful services online for social networking, shopping, job hunting, recruiting, finding life partners, entertainment, education and advertising are fueling people’s desire to come online…and there is a virtuous cycle between this trend and the ability of other companies to provide better and cheaper Internet access, mobile devices and payment methods. The willingness (on the part of consumers and businesses) to spend on these online services is small today, but growing fast. He also believes that the startup eco-system will start to mature and deepen over time, including a focus on high-quality design, crisp execution, lots more big-vision projects and more home-grown India-focused value propositions. But, he says, we are still at such an early stage that there is a real opportunity to make a difference, and be among the small group of people who are driving change here. The Indian market is more wide open given that the industry is in its nascent phase, and there are still only a handful of truly early-stage Indian VCs. And then of course, there is the lure of his hometown Delhi with friends and family that can never be explained with cold logic! Makes sense, and we will always love to see some good competition here within the VC community!
Dev is excited with the numbers that he sees in the mobile internet (his) world here. He is betting that the installed base of true smartphones (Android/iOS) will expand dramatically - from around 10-15 Million today, to 100 Million+ over the next 2-3 years - what with handset & data plan prices expected to drop, thanks in part to the rumored 4G roll-out from Reliance that is expected to disrupt the telecom industry here once again (See http://www.nextwala.com/nextwala/2012/02/currentmobile.html). However, for this to translate into a real opportunity, he feels that it’s important that the apps ecosystem move out of its current dependency on operators, and learn to sell to consumers directly. Video,audio and gaming apps that show non-linear organic growth excite him. That is what he saw with Slideshare, where he was an early investor, and he hopes to see more such ventures coming up soon.
So what kind of founders/teams does he bet his firm’s money on? Dev says founders need to be aggressive, with an ability to “punch through the walls” when required. He likes to see founders who make it happen without giving excuses.
And when they see such teams, Dev says LightSpeed completes due diligence before putting the term sheet on the table.
Interestingly, he has already found one such team to invest in. I can’t reveal the name right now except to hint that it reminds me of jingling bells. So folks, watch this space for further news…