On Deck launches in India
November 28, 2021
Hello folks. It was Thanksgiving this week in the US, and we're making the most of the long weekend. Personally, I am not looking forward to getting back to the grind on Monday. Anyway.
There's been a lot of start-up news recently, and today we're focusing on the recent announcement by On Deck that they're officially launching support for India. Full disclosure: we're a bit biased in covering this news since I'm a founding fellow for On Deck Angels, and Anmol was an On Deck fellow with ODF4, but we do think the company is doing some interesting stuff in rolling out support for India.
So what does rolling out support for India and Indian founders mean? A few things
On Deck is launching a dedicated Community Fund for India, and inviting folks to co-invest. The big news on this front is that @balajis will co-invest $10k in all ODX companies based in India. That's real bullishness on the ecosystem. As a reminder, as part of the ODX program, On Deck invests $125,000 for 7%, giving founders the room and leeway to test ideas
On Deck is also helping de-risk the founder journey by giving Indian participants in ODF up to $25k to cover personal runway. Perhaps most interestingly, On Deck has partnered with @loophealthHQ to provide free health insurance to founders up to the first six employees of the company. The coverage includes not just insurance coverage, but also access to Loop's in-house doctors, and mental health experts.
When we spoke to On Deck founder Erik Torenberg ahead of the announcement, he rightly noted, "The biggest constraint on startup creation is the number of founders. This is especially true in India -- there’s still a strong stigma around failure, not enough support for people at the absolute earliest stages of starting up (many times pre-conviction on an idea). We’ve structured ODX (and ODF) to get people off the sidelines and start building, even if they didn’t think of starting a startup and becoming a founder as a viable path for them." The company is bullish on seeing more entrepreneurial talent come through the On Deck pipeline in India. "We’ve historically had strong Indian participation in all our programs, but founders are the center of the On Deck ecosystem, and I’m most excited about seeing more Indian founders and companies get created through ODF and ODX," Erik told us.
Indian participation in On Deck isn't new, of course, and many On Deck alumni were were willing to discuss how much and why they valued their On Deck experience. Raj Sheth, who has headed companies like FlyData and Decalab, is currently going through ODF11, and ODX. A serial entrepreneur, Sheth is now venturing out of his comfort zone of B2B SaaS, and experimenting with ideas around how people will live and work in the distributed future. For Sheth, On Deck has been a hugely important part of this experimentation in ideas. "It has put all my brainstorming and ideation on steroids," he told me when I spoke with him. "The most important thing is the community. The energy is very infectious, and you get to learn about what others are working on, and really ask people about their areas of focus. For example, if I want to talk to people about real estate tech or prop tech etc. there's a lot of support to just reach out and do so, because you are within a warm network."
Both Sheth and Nitesh Agarwal (CEO of Dive), highlight the importance On Deck can play in leveling the playing field for Indian founders. Agarwal told me, "One of the biggest challenges for Indian founders is that we often just don't have the exposure required to build a global company and community. On Deck gives you this. I was able to get feedback from folks in the US, LatAm, Europe etc., meet Angels from all over, a really just expand my horizons." For Sheth, "On Deck has helped level the playing field. Indian founders are in the same session as founders anywhere." Amrit Singh of Loop Health who also went through YC pointed out the different environments of the two programs, "On Deck was very open and collaborative; YC was a lot more pressure. Pivoting through different ideas during YC itself is tough because there’s a lot of pressure to show growth, traction. On Deck gives you a lot more room to grow."
Of course, while all that maybe true, On Deck's success in rolling out support for India and Indian founders will also be tested by the amount of local content, context, networks and support the program manages to build out. Singh, who was part of the second ODF cohort in person in New York noted that, " On Deck will need to replicate a lot of the things they have done in the US in India. We were meeting venture investors, the networks are immediately relevant in the US. I think they should try to replicate some of that in India." Being part of On Deck now, I do think this part is true, and the value On Deck provides founders who are building for India, will be dependent on this. Of course, there's more than just supporting founders in India, I think On Deck can also support the Indian ecosystem by getting more angels to invest in India, making founders realize the opportunities to hire in India etc. But that will depend in some part on also showcasing opportunities in India to the broader On Deck cohort, and it's to be seen how that plays out.
To understand more about On Deck's plans on the ground, I had a quick chat with Gautam Shewakramani, Head of APAC and India on how he's thinking of On Deck in India. For founders thinking of applying to On Deck, Gautam's answers provide a clear sense of the value prop, and lay out the initiatives that the program has in the works!
Can you share a bit more about your plans for India? We know On Deck is very focused on India, but given the program is virtual what does that mean practically?
We're very bullish on India. The tech ecosystem in India has come of age and there's no better testament to that than the record number of unicorns, investments, and startups we're seeing today. But we haven't even reached the peak of what is possible for tech in India. We believe there is so much more potential to be unearthed in the years to come.
We believe On Deck's virtual-first nature is a strength. If we had been in-person, we wouldn't have been able to have 100s of amazing and talented India-based fellows participate in our programs. Our plans for India are to leverage the benefits of a virtual first, global program and combine that with local support.
In practice, this means that we're helping India founders at all stages - from pre-conviction (i.e. those who are considering starting a company to folks already building (i.e. we’re heads down building our business)
What does this mean for India-based founders?
If you're pre-conviction and aren’t sure you’re ready to take the plunge into being a founder:
ODF, the On Deck Founder Fellowship is now free. It’s a community and program to explore starting a company: research markets, validate an idea, find a cofounder, level up your founder skills, etc with the confidence and commitment that we will fund you via ODX ($125k) as soon as you’re ready and have conviction in starting your company.
We’re prioritizing India-sourced donations to our access fund to people in India - these fund our runway grants of up to $25k to cover personal runway while potential founders are exploring ideas and building conviction.
If you have conviction and are ready to start a company or have already started building:
We're building a dedicated layer of support in India to support founders with early customers, hiring, talent (via OD50 and our talent hub), and founders (via ODA and our partner investor network). This sits on top of our global network.
We're giving founders a local Build Partner. This is someone who understands the Indian market, its challenges & opportunities. The Partner will work very closely with them as they start building and set milestones and help deploy On Deck resources to support them. It’s truly the best of both worlds -- India and Silicon Valley.
We're going beyond network and community and are really doubling down on India. We're putting our money where our mouth is and doing our part to lower the barrier for people to start up.
We’ve committed capital to India, with a dedicated India-focused fund and are opening the fund up to those from the Indian tech ecosystem.
We're providing India-focused programming & curriculum that are directly relevant to Indian founders - whether its managing angels in the local context, setting up a Delaware C corp from India, figuring out go-to-market or distribution in (or from!) India, thinking about hiring and ESOPs, etc.
We're built out a suite of deep partnerships with companies in India that serve India For example, we've tied up with Loop Health, an On Deck company; they will provide 1 year of free health insurance and doctor consultations for On Deck founders and early employees, to RazorPay for banking, payroll and corporate cards, among others.
More broadly, what in your view is the value prop of ODX for Indian founders?
There’s a few things that make ODX valuable, especially for founders in India:
It’s completely customized - we’re not a founder factory - you get a dedicated build partner that works with you to guide you to product-market fit, coordinate your raise. Founders and companies come in at different stages and build at different paces. We don't view ODX as a 3-month sprint to Demo Day - we support you with your raise when you want on your own terms.
We support you earlier — we are backing founders, not just companies. You can join ODX pre-idea, pre-cofounder, and we'll help you find all those things. For example, we’re backing an Indian founder in the prop-tech space who has conviction on wanting to start a company, is clear on the problem, but is still figuring out what the solution could look like. It’s a massive opportunity, and we want to give him the resources, time and space to figure out what that looks like before he starts building.
I touched on this earlier - you get unlimited access to the On Deck network, which means access to thousands of potential customers, hires, and investors. Our sector programs provide expertise and support to founders in any of the sectors we cover, this is in addition to all the local support we’ve built. Access to On Deck is really a key differentiator, it’s hard to understate how important this is. It used to be that capital was scarce (you needed $5M and an MBA to start a company), then product was scarce (you needed technical skills). Now community and talent are the new scarcity. What's hardest today is getting your product in peoples' hands, getting the right cofounder, team, and support. The best thing you can do as a founder is surround yourself with a community of people who will be your early collaborators, possible customers, and backers, who care enough to give that early, critical feedback… and On Deck does just that.. and the dedicated India community fund also ensures strong incentive alignment between community members and founders -- both the capital and the unfair advantage/value comes from the network.
And on the flip side of that how does On Deck represent India in program content - speakers, example case studies etc.?
On Deck in India isn't only about bringing the global tech ecosystem to India. It's also about bringing India's tech ecosystem to the rest of the world. We have hosted (and will continue to host) people like Anand Chandrashekaran (EVP Product, Five9), Sajith Pai (Investments at Blume Ventures), Shivku Ganesan (CEO, Exotel), Vaibhav Domkundwar (Better Capital) for hands on workshops, discussions, and fireside chats on topics that are not only directly relevant to Indian founders, but to founders all over the world that are building companies. We've had some fantastic companies being built from India that are targeting the global market such as Dive (raised from Sequoia Surge) and OSlash (raised from Accel). (We've written more about OSlash and Ankit's journey with On Deck here.)