Venetia Kontogouris, managing director of Palo Alto-based Trident Capital, visits India six times a year. Trident, she says, is committed to the Indian geography where it invested $40 million in five Indian technology-based companies out of its global fund. “Personally, I am more bullish than ever,” she says, reacting to reports that indicated that Trident would be slashing India commitments by 60%. Venetia Kontogouris, who will start looking at bright ideas from India in the first half of 2010, talks to VCCircle about the status of portfolio companies and expansion plans for the year. She adds that two of her Indian portfolio companies will go public in two years. Excerpts:
How did the portfolio companies survive the downturn?
We are trying to build companies from zero dollars, which requires a lot of effort from our side. We spent a lot of time on internet site Minglebox, where we are early stage investor. In the last 12 months, I have been visiting our customers, usually the presidents of the universities and colleges. Now we have about 4 million college students on Minglebox.
In the case of Elucido Media Networks Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore based company which provides digital media solutions, we have got the first clients and we are shaping the strategy for 2010. We are looking at recruiting additional board members and additional talent both for India and the US.
Hopefully, in the first half of 2010, I will look for the right kind of ideas and back them up.
Why did you bet on Minglebox? Is there scope for regional (India specific) or vertical (college students) social networking models?
Minglebox is not Facebook. We are directly servicing Indian students. It is a platform where students sign up to provide right information and communicate with each other. For instance, if a student based in Delhi needs information about colleges in Bangalore, other students on Minglebox can help him. We are going to come out with ratings of colleges to help students make the right choices. We are also working with employers to help make better choices when providing jobs.
How will you monetise this?
In internet, you measure people. Having an audience of about 4 million people in age group 18-22 is significant. The USP of Minglebox is providing serious information about education. Every single advertiser is interested in approaching this segment of audience. We are receiving significant traction from advertisers. Also, schools are willing to give us money because they want access to the right kind of students.
When do you see an exit for your investment in Microland?
Microland Ltd, (a Bangalore based company providing IT management service) , is a company ahead of its time in network management. I can’t think of any company which knows cloud as well as Microland does. The company is going to make 12 significant announcements. We are profitable and we are growing.
I am a new investor of only 24 months. All applications in the next 24-36 months would be on the cloud and Microland is suitably positioned to take advantage of that. I see Microland and Elucido going public in next 24 months.
What kind of sectors would you look at now?
In India, I see a lot of opportunity in business solutions centred round HR and finance, financial payments and digital media. Software is going to be a big component of our investment strategy.
Have you made any investment in the last 12 months?
No. We took a deliberate step to be sure that every single portfolio of ours will survive. I am happy to tell you that in 2009 we did not shut down any of our portfolio company.
For the Indian portfolio companies, we saw a few western clients go slow on their decision making process. We anticipated this and worked proactively to stay ahead of the curve to help profitable companies to stay profitable and put a strategy in place for early stage companies.
What kind of deal activity do you see coming?
I see a lot of mergers & acquisitions happening. Big companies are sitting on a lot of cash but they don’t have new products necessarily. And, there are small companies which don’t have cash but have good products. We constantly receive a lot of interest for some of our companies. There will be a few companies from our Indian portfolio also which will go public.
Will you essentially be a Series B investor in India?
I am agnostic about stage. We are looking for something we believe in. It could even be a public company which we can take global. I would not probably see myself doing seed investments in India. We can look at a company having revenues of at least $1 million to $2 million or a group of people spinning out of a big business.