Pitching: Some Simple Advice

As we come up on our November 23rd Investor Demo Day  in Bangalore (edupreneursdd.eventbrite.com) and all our Edupreneurs are working on their final pitches, I’ve also been thinking about effective messaging.  When you get down to it, pitching a business is all about effective communication.  In my career as a student, my time in the Silicon Valley Export Assistance Center, and now as a market scout, I’ve seen my fair share of pitches, presentations and demos.  A few tips to make sure your message gets across in a way that’s friendly to the listener. 

#1 Slides are for visuals, not text

As a presenter, you are supposed to give the listener the information they need- in words from your mouth.  Technology is for visuals: photos, graphs, charts, and timelines only.  For examples of great presentation style with proper use of visual aids, watch a TED talk.  They have it down to a science, plus you’ll learn something cool.

If you’re going to read your slides, what’s the point of presenting?  Any slide deck with all the presentation content on it is ONLY for the purpose of email correspondence (though I’d personally prefer an interesting 3 minute video to a slide deck- but that’s personal preference, not industry standard).  Please do not use the email slide deck for live presentations. 


This leads me to #2… Know your stuff and be confident

A simple concept, but many people overlook the importance of practice.  Practice the presentation and know the answers to FAQs about your product.  If you can rattle stats off the top of your head without looking at the slides, even better. 

#3 Brevity

The point of the pitch is to make investors curious enough to have a follow-up conversation.  Hit all the important parts of your business in a pitch and make sure you’ve put the time in to understand what’s critical and what’s not.  A great mind once said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” So true.  Put the time in. 

Village Capital’s Model in Practice

We’ve been running the PALF – VilCap Edupreneurs Accelerator now for a month.  The first workshop was in Hyderabad and it feels like no time at all, but I already find myself in Delhi for the second workshop, so I wanted to reflect a bit on first impressions of the Village Capital Peer-Review Model.

How did it play out so far?

The short answer: wonderfully.

All the entrepreneurs were so excited to provide peer feedback that we had to cut most conversations short to stay on schedule.  The curriculum challenged the cohort to think critically about their business models and the peer review sessions helped them come up with solutions.  By the end of our first four day workshop, people were happy to share their contacts and networks and went home with plenty to think about and work with before the Delhi session.

We’ve challenged our entrepreneurs to create milestones documents and we are holding them accountable to those goals they’ve set for themselves.  Much of the real value of this curriculum comes during the interim time when everyone is back home and can re-work the exercises we put them through, test new hypotheses, iterate their product and take more time to think critically about building their business.

On Day 1 in Delhi, each team gave updates and all of them had found peer feedback to be helpful in re-working or re-communicating their business model.  Other investors have come to me asking for first impressions to see who to keep an eye on, but after seeing how much can change in a month of our accelerator, it’s anyone’s guess who will be the most investable companies in another month.  With the final rank coming up fast, the lower ranked companies have significant incentive to improve and communicate the improvement.

In Delhi we’ve done more nitty-gritty financial work and gone deeper into education-specific issues like pedagogy and measuring learning outcomes.  Since this city is much bigger than Hyderabad, we were able to pull in many more helpful experts and mentors.  Delhi’s schedule has been packed and feedback swift.  Now that everyone understands the peer review framework, suggestions are targeted.  I think we’ve managed to hit the right cohort culture with a general understanding of true vs. useful feedback, and what makes an investable company.  If I had a start-up, I would be thrilled to have this much technical help and expert feedback in one room at one time.

The November 23rd Demo Day in Bangalore will showcase all of our companies at their best.  Get in touch if you’d like to attend.

Demo Day


PALF-VilCap Edupreneurs India 2013 Cohort

Edupreneurs CohortPictured above and described below are the14 fabulous Education Start-ups of the 2013 PALF-VilCap Edupreneurs Accelerator.  We kicked off in Hyderabad for four days of workshops in September and are about to have our second workshop in Delhi.  Reflections on Hyderabad to follow.

40K Plus Education (www.40k.com.au ) – sets up learning ‘pods’ in rural villages which offer gamified, tablet-based after-school tutoring to students of government and low-cost private schools.

Callystro Infotech (www.callystro.com ) – offers gamified, activity based learning programs mapped to India’s NCERT syllabus for grades 1-8 packaged in the form of an integrated curriculum delivery and management system for schools (www.cobels.in), as well as a virtual world for individuals (www.mapoosa.com).

EdWell Solutions (www.edwell.in) – operates cost-effective learning centres with an integrated multimedia tech platform to project live presentations from urban based lecturers to multiple rural locations targeting students of primary standard and also implements e-learning solutions for government schools in Uttarakhand.

Effect International (www.effect.org) – is a scalable network of sustainable, affordable private schools. A lean operational model trains qualified edupreneurs to successfully run individual schools supported by a centralized management staff with supplemental curriculum, mentoring, and quality control.

Experifun Learning Solutions (www.experifun.com )- sells kits of hands-on devices to facilitate activity based, hands-on science learning, mapped to every major education board in India.

Magic Pathshala (http://www.magicpathshala.com )- is a mobile education program with lessons to impact literacy and numeracy learning outcomes amongst primary school children in rural India.

MangoSense (http://www.mangoreader.com ) – MangoReader allows users to create, share and learn from stories using simple tools for mobile and web.  Teachers, parents and educational institutions can create new stories or remix existing content for varying competencies or languages.

Sage Services – is a low cost private school chain located in Andhra Pradesh.  It targets underserved communities in mid-sized rural towns to provide higher quality education at the same price as competing schools.

Scholowiz Educational Solutions (www.scholowiz.com ) – offers low-cost, high-quality consultancy, evaluation, and certification services, focusing on affordable schools, with follow-on professional development and training programs that last one calendar year and are delivered online using affordable technology.

SEED Edu Corp (www.SeedSchools.in )- invests into selective low-cost private schools, providing a bouquet of services to improve learning outcomes and operational efficiencies.  Through its curriculum, training and management support, SEED will address the gaps in the low-cost private school segment that have largely gone unaddressed due to lack of resources.

Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions (www.sudiksha.in ) – is a rapidly growing chain of 22 preschools in Hyderabad which taps an overlooked labor pool of educated, usually married women with no previous professional employment experience to run franchise locations near their homes on an incentivized, profit-sharing model.

RMinds Education (www.rmindseducation.com )- is an education management company that works independently or in association with school leaders to establish, operate, manage and develop quality-driven, affordable schools in India.

TeachersLikeMe – is an affordable teacher training and certification programme that utilizes content from open source Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) delivered straight to teachers through a platform that integrates analytics and testing with individualized SMS follow-up assessments.

Teer Design (www.classalyze.com )- Classalyze, the flagship product of Teer, is an online platform that uses classroom assessment data to measure & improve learning outcomes. Teachers are able to design better assessments and analyze scores on a per concept level, and use insights from analysis to improve future instruction by identifying strengths and weaknesses in the classroom.

Attention Entrepreneurs! Sept 18th Webchat: Raising Capital for Your Venture

Join the fourth GIST TechConnect webchat to discuss how to raise capital for your startup!

Log on to https://conx.state.gov/entrepreneurship on Wednesday, September 18 at 17:30 IST/12:00 UTC.

A panel of guest speakers will answer your questions and share their stories of working with multiple companies to raise capital:
• Brad Feld, venture capitalist and Managing Director at the Foundry Group;
• Shari Loessberg, thought leader, practitioner, and Advisory Board member at Accion USA;
• Hooman Radfar, investor and serial entrepreneur, Founder & Chairman of AddThis;
• Amir Hasson, accomplished entrepreneur and Founder of United Villages;
• GIST Tech Connect moderator Ovidiu Bujorean, Senior Manager at the GIST Initiative at CRDF Global.

Whether you are ready to seek venture capital funding or are just looking to advance your entrepreneurial venture to the next stage of development, this event is for you!

Edupreneurs Selection Methodology

The whole reason I am in India is to assist with recruitment and operations of a business accelerator, “Edupreneurs” for education entrepreneurs whose target market is low income students in India.  To understand the accelerator a bit more, take a look at this video:

The lion’s share of this post will be interesting to entrepreneurs and people working in social enterprise and impact investing.  For those of you interested in the companies we’ve selected, stay tuned for upcoming blog posts.

It turned out to be a very selective program.  We received over 120 applications from quality education startups, but could only select fifteen for our program.  The selection committee incorporated a number of different perspectives and backgrounds- important so we don’t miss anything, but difficult because in the end, we all needed to agree or compromise.  There was often tension between an entrepreneur having a great education solution, and that solution being investable.  After all, we do need to see a return on our investment in a “patient capital” timeline.

How Did We Select our Fifteen Companies?

We considered each company against a set of six criteria that Village Capital identifies as critical to success.  Village Capital has run over fifteen of these accelerators, developing their selection process, curriculum and expertise over four years.  Since the $75,000 seed stage investments are pre-committed, we had to make sure that we would be happy investing in any of the companies we selected to participate.

The Six Criteria:

1.  Customer Discovery/ Development

Who are the customers? How does the company know that the customer wants the product?  It is one thing to provide a solution, but if no one wants that solution, or if the company is marketing to the wrong customers, then they are less competitive.  We want to see that a company has done sufficient research and pilots to verify or discover their target market.  This even applies to companies with founders who have substantial experience in the sector.  “Knowing” the target market isn’t enough, we want proof to back up sound logic.

2.  Team

How strong is the management team?  Are there any knowledge or experience gaps in the team?  What is the plan to fill the gaps?  With early stage investing, it is often said that you are investing in the entrepreneur, not the company.  This is because there isn’t much due diligence to be done when a company hasn’t been around long enough to generate data and expose weaknesses.  We want to see founders and executives with substantial sectorial and target market experience, combined someone who knows how to get things done.  We want to see companies that recognize gaps and have plans to fill them.  Don’t tell me that you are ready to scale when your company is a group of silent-warrior tech dudes- who is going to get out there and build the relationships critical to growth?

3.  Product Refinement

How was the product developed?  How many versions were tested with customers?  We want to see a stellar product that was tested extensively with target-market customers, incorporating their feedback into new versions.  We want to see that the company focused on what they do best in order to go to market.

4.  Financials

This is where things are tricky because in early stage enterprises, most of the numbers are theoretical.  Entrepreneurs will predictably inflate their projections- it’s great that you think you’ll have a million customers after just one year of operation…but you probably won’t.  We want to know what the cost of production is, what the price point is, where the breakeven is,  and how much funding is needed to sustain and grow the company.  It is also important for us to know how you arrived at the price point.  A business can’t say something is ten dollars because that’s what is needed to recoup costs plus profits.  It needs to be ten dollars because a market study said that’s what customers will pay.  All the other projections must be based on realistic logic and as much data as possible.  We love data.

5.  Scaling and Impact

What is the plan for scaling and what are the targets?  What positive social impact will the enterprise have? How will that impact be measured?  Is the impact built into the business model?  We want to see that the business can scale.  A model that depends heavily upon specific individuals, or too much skilled labor may not be scalable fast enough or large enough even for patient capital.

Scale doesn’t stand alone for impact investors- as the name indicates, we need to see measured impact.  This is often overlooked, especially in the education sector.  We want to see a product that has built in, measureable impact, preferably with back-end analytics.  For example, in a low cost private school, are the students regularly tested, if so, against what standards?  How do these measurement results affect change in teaching methods?  It is also important to consider how the impact is built into the business model.  Is the customer the beneficiary?  If not, is the business structured in a way that mission drift won’t become a problem?  Cross- subsidization models are often difficult because it is so easy to concentrate on the higher-end market at the expense of the lower-end market where the impact actually happens.

6.  Exit Strategy

How will an investor get their money back?  Early stage companies often haven’t thought much about this, but we want to know the options or the vision.  Don’t tell me you’re going to have a successful IPO, because you probably won’t.  If a company doesn’t know, we just want a walkthrough of what’s been considered or ruled out and why.

Co-working spaces- A Good Place to Find Entrepreneurs

Regardless of the marathon of training that Frontier Market Scouts receive, we are still essentially thrust into the world and told to “find entrepreneurs.”  In theory, this is easy, especially coming from Silicon Valley, where random people in line at Starbucks will pitch to anyone within earshot.  In the rest of the world, people do not wear a, “Hello, I’m an entrepreneur” sign on their backs- so you have to go hunt for them.

One of the first places I checked out in Bombay were the co-working spaces.  These are all relatively new, but are taking off fast.  Here’s why I think they’re an extra-good idea here:

1. That little yellow triangle with an exclamation point

It is nearly impossible to find good coffee shops with reliable, fast, free wifi- eliminating one of the staple working spaces of entrepreneurs.

Note: If you do want a map of free wifi (may or may not work reliably) in the city, go here http://mumbaiboss.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/WifiMapFINAL.pdf

2.  Yes mom, I do mind if you watch Judge Judy right now

Working from home is kind of a drag.  Most entrepreneurs are young and unmarried (who has time to meet a spouse when you spend all day with your business plan?)  In India, this probably means you are living with your parents, and in Bombay, space is at such a premium that there isn’t much room to work without interruption. Getting out of the house is pretty nice.

3.       Cash money

The most expensive space runs at about 430 USD a month, and others are available for as low as 50 USD a month.  Most offer some kind of tiered pricing option if you only need the space for part of the month. At a minimum, spaces have internet, coffee and desk space without mom.  Winning.

So far, I’ve visited three of the co-working spaces in the city:

The Playce

Though not convenient for where I live, it is a nice space with a very colourful, youthful startup vibe to it.  Something about the desk arrangement, the whiteboard greeting wall, and the friendly atmosphere make it feel fun, collaborative and very entrepreneurial.  The presence of over twenty people working on a Saturday also let me know that it’s still a serious place to work.  Work hard, play hard.

The Playce

Our First Office

This new space already has three locations in city hotspots, Churchgate, Lower Parel and Nariman Point.  Their vibe is professional chic, and the founder, Milind Doshi, seems to be connected to all the entrepreneurs in the city.  More NYC than Silicon Valley, this is the type of place that makes you want to dress up, sit down, and get it done.

OFO Reception

Bombay Connect

A co-working space that caters mostly to social enterprises, the vibe here is akin to a newsroom, cramped, energetic, and informal.  The building interior is very “old Bombay”, with lots of wood, wrought iron and Indian décor. While not the quietest working environment, the place pulsates with creative energy.

Bombay Connect

A Stinking Pile of … Paper

Today marks the end of my registration paperwork for setting up my phone and my apartment. I wanted to see what it would be like to do this the right way, so I endeavored to follow all the rules to get a SIM card and a real lease. It’s been a long journey.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

India developed a ridiculous process for procuring prepaid SIM cards because it has increasingly been a hotspot for terrorism. Starting with the partition of India and Pakistan and the border war that followed, there has been a long history of violence, and not just from Muslim extremists like the Indian Mujahideen. You could make a laundry list of different violent religious and political groups in India. More recent events like the 2002 Gujarat Riots, the 2003 Gateway of India Bombings, the 2006 Mumbai Train bombings, the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, the 2010 German Bakery Bomb, the 13/7 Mumbai Bombings in 2011 and the 2013 Hyderabad Blasts make clear the need for anti-terrorism measures, but it remains debatable what measures will be effective. Since most of the attacks were coordinated with prepaid phones, the extra steps are supposed to be a measure that prevents prepaid phones to get into the hands of terrorists.

There are many problems with this:

  1. Anyone determined to kill people as a political statement is not going to be deterred by the process of getting a SIM card.
  2. Rules only work when they can be enforced AND when there are no loopholes.
  3. People who would otherwise try to follow rules will become frustrated with the formal process and circumvent out of convenience, reinforcing a lack of respect for rules and regulations. This logic applies widely.
  4. These types of rules make it harder to do business, which hurts the economy.
India Ease of Doing Business, World Bank (Click on Image for Clarity)

India Ease of Doing Business, World Bank (Click on Image for Clarity)

Before the SIM Card There Was the Apartment

Before I could experience all of this SIM card fun, I needed a place to live. In order to rent an apartment here, you must find a broker, who will charge a ridiculous amount to find you an apartment. Finding a good broker is a bit of a pain, and recommendations from friends come in handy. Things like Craigslist are mostly used by brokers, so there aren’t too many direct deals between landlords and tenants. This is probably due to the amount of paperwork/appointments needed to rent a place. I’m okay not knowing how hard things would have been without the broker.

For a formal lease, you must negotiate the lease terms in a thirty page document. Once the terms are agreed upon, you submit copies of passports, visas, photos, proof of employment, contact info for proof of employment, fingerprints, proof of previous addresses and post-dated checks for rent. If you are single women trying to rent a place, there needs to be some kind of appropriate parental presence to validate that you aren’t prostitutes (seriously, this is the assumption of many people- in this case, my roommate’s dad came to meet our landlords). Paperwork gets submitted to the police on behalf of the landlords, and a separate police background check is necessary for the housing society (similar to an HOA). Later, all the renting parties and all of the owning parties need to show up together at the police station to have a photo and fingerprint taken. This whole process takes forever and requires much negotiation, time, and paperwork.

Relevant Discussion, or “How to Feel Guilty for Complaining”

I’m actually blessed to have paperwork. I was able to furnish countless passport photocopies and verification to these businesses, middlemen, and government entities that demanded them. Between my files and the internet, I can trace most of my life in a big paper trail that most of us take for granted. Many people do not have this luxury. According to Unicef, only 58 percent of children born in India are registered at birth, and of those registered, not all have birth certificates, meaning that millions of people don’t have access to the cycle of documentation.

For example, you need a birth certificate to get a ration card and you need a ration card to get a driver’s license. Many of the papers that people have in rural areas are invalid when they move to a city- a big problem in an age of increasing urbanization. This means that before people can even think about waiting in the registration office to validate a lease, they must somehow acquire new identification. Judging by how difficult all the rest of registrations are, I’m certain that the process of acquiring new ID is near impossible or requires lots of “fees”. I can’t imagine the frustration. If you want to know more, see this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-18141584.

Crossing the Street in India

A defining factor in the boundaries of an affordable private school’s market

I challenge you to cross this

I challenge you to cross this

Remember Frogger?

Remember Frogger?

I was reminded today that one of the craziest things about India is that there aren’t any crosswalks/ zebra crossings and cars don’t stop for pedestrians.

So how do you cross the street? Check out this video:http://www.snotr.com/video/404/Crossing_the_street_in_India

It takes “go with the flow” to a whole new level. I ever feel there isn’t enough “excitement” in my life, I’ll go out and cross the nearest street.

In all seriousness, this is a pretty big issue with infrastructure here. There are always throngs of people out walking and there are neither sidewalks nor crosswalks to assist them with safe travel. Crossing in groups is always a little easier, but for small children it can be a big problem. Drivers simply aren’t looking for tiny humans on the road, so many parents forbid their children to cross alone. According to Grey Matters Capital’s 2012 Affordable Private Schools Sector Analysis Report, one of the factors parents consider in choosing a school is if there are any large street crossings. So when we do a market analysis and consider direct regional competitors, the one across the street may not be a problem due to the boundaries created by dangerous busy streets.

India Round II

Okay, but what are you actually doing in India?

One of the keys to poverty alleviation is education- investing in human capital. For the next six months, I’ll be working as an investment scout for the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) and Village Capital sourcing companies for a business incubator and developing pipeline for the fund’s ongoing activities. PALF was started a year ago as the impact investing arm of Pearson Learning. They make minority equity investments in startup companies that create affordable learning solutions. Village Capital runs a unique peer-evaluation business incubator where fifteen companies go through training and mentorship, then vote on each other’s business models, with the two highest ranked receiving $50-$75K pre-committed seed capital.