Pop Quiz, Monday with Hemendra Mathur

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The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Hemendra Mathur

Hemendra Mathur
Photo credit: Hemendra Mathur

What is your job role?
I wear many hats which include – investing and mentoring agritech / food tech / deep tech startups and advising investors, corporates, government and foundations with interest in these areas.

Tell us about your company?
I work as Venture Partner with Bharat Innovation Fund (http://bharat.fund/) – an IP-driven early stage fund housed at Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

I have also co-founded a platform in 2018 called ThinkAg (https://www.thinkag.in/) – to connect agritech startups in India with corporates, mentors and investors.

What do you love most about your job?
Almost everything from – scanning, evaluating, negotiating, closing deals to working with like-minded partners to build a start-up ecosystem in India.

But if you ask me what gives me a kick – it is working directly with entrepreneurs as – mentor, guide and co-founder – to scale up businesses. Working through ambiguity, making mistakes, course corrections, multiple pivots, sales pitches, investor search, head-hunting and constantly re-scripting your plans are all part and parcel of motions that you go through while working with founding teams in scaling ideas from scratch.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
Learning about a new idea, meeting high-quality entrepreneurs, working with young, motivated teams and cracking deals. There is so much happening in the start-up world, that a 15-hour workday feels like 15 minutes.

I also believe that we are at the cusp of some transformational changes in India. For example, the tech-driven innovations that I see in the agritech space in linking farmers to market can fix the age-old broken food supply chains in India as well as other parts of the world.

I am confident that in the next decade or so these innovations can change the way food is grown, stored, processed, transported, distributed and consumed in India. Two critical beneficiaries in this process will be farmers and consumers. Each part of the food value chain in India offers billions of dollar worth of market opportunity for such innovations.

How do your co-workers inspire you?
I mostly work with guys who are younger than me. Their energy, diversity, creativity and tech orientation is quite infectious and inspiring.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
I work with multiple teams. To me fun part is more about sharing and working upon new ideas, trying and failing together and enjoying the stroke of luck in between.

People with integrity, intellect, crazy ideas and sense of humor is all you need to have fun at the workplace. Fortunately, there are plenty of them.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
As I mentioned that I work many startups in the food and agritech space. The number of such startups is 500+ in India and is growing enormously.

I find it challenging to keep myself updated on their progress. They also keep coming with tough questions, and I do not have answer all the time. They also seek help in chasing customers, investors and talent. Sometimes I deliver but I sometimes I don’t. I sincerely hope to improve upon my success rate.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
Each investment teaches you something whether it is a success or not. Some of the lessons from my last ten years of investing experience are:

  • Early stage investing is all about one’s ability to identify trends and look for teams who can deliver on it. Spotting trends and top-quartile teams require building right networks with people coming from diverse backgrounds, not necessarily from the investor community.
  • Value creation after investment – irrespective of the stage of investing – is about rolling up your sleeves and working with entrepreneurs day in and day out, more like a co-founder. Capital is vital but so is your sweat in building teams and businesses together.
  • Building a culture of merit, performance, and governance in portfolio companies from day one is critical. An investor job is to keep pushing for it.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
My advice is for the investors who are looking at an early stage investing in food and agri space in India. I will say it is a perfect time to enter the sector but have patience and capital (at least for a couple of rounds) to reap the returns.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:

Twitter: @hemendramathur

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