How Helion co-founder is going long on consumer startups as an angel investor

Seven months into starting his own seed investment venture, Kanwaljit Singh, co-founder of Helion Venture Partners, who quit the VC firm in March this year, has already invested in 12 companies and is looking to invest up to 20, primarily early stage consumer brands.

Fireside Ventures, which Singh formed after his exit from Helion, would invest $50,000 (Rs 33 lakh) to $200,000 (Rs 1.31 crore) in each company.

“I can be actively involved with 14-15 companies while my investment portfolio could be a little bigger,” Singh told VCCircle. “If I can build a small team and infrastructure, I can go up to 15-20 companies,” he said.

“I don’t have a fund size, I don’t have an exit horizon and I invest as and when I find something interesting. Obviously, I invest my own money. I am looking at early-stage small-ticket-size investments,” Singh explained his investment approach.

Singh, who started his career with Hindustan Unilever, focuses on investing in consumer brands and about half of his investments are in food and beverages startups.

Fireside Ventures has invested in Delhi-based coffee brewer Bonhomia, Mumbai-based ice cream and yogurt brand Hokey Pokey, nutrition bar maker Yogabars, fresh meat online delivery startup Licious, ecommerce platform for regional food brands Delight Foods, rewards app Bounty, online marketplace for shared accommodation Nestaway and online shopping site Shopalyst. Singh has also put in additional money in his earlier investment beverages company Paper Boat.

Shedding light on his approach to investing in consumer brands, Singh said, “You need to have the ability to invest in a company over a period of time—not necessarily large chunks of money. The investment model is that you invest slowly first, build it over time and stay invested for a longer period of time.”

“For example, for Paper Boat my own belief is that I don’t want to exit for the next 10-15 years because the real value will happen only at the later stage. They don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars of capital. They will grow on their own,” he said.

According to Singh, typical VC style investment does not work well for early stage consumer startups. “My logic is that a fund structure becomes difficult to sustain a model where you have to invest slowly and stay invested for a long time because funds have a limited fund life and everybody is incentivised to invest upfront and exit in five years,” he said.

“So at least in these early stage investments, I am better off putting in my own money,” Singh added.

However, Singh is working on a co-investment network that includes former Coca Cola vice president Shripad Nadkarni, former Reliance Retail president Bijou Kurien and former Infosys global sales head Basab Pradhan.  

“Obviously, my own money is not enough for these companies. So I have built a partner ecosystem. We invest not as a group but if I see a good deal, I go to them. It is not angel network—it is just an informal group of like-minded people investing in same companies at the same time,” Singh said.

For the past seven months, Singh has been running Fireside Ventures all by himself. “I have consciously avoided building a team since my feeling is that first let me be confident that I want to do this on a long-term basis. I am now reaching a point where I will have to take a decision on building a small infrastructure which helps me do this. If I do all by myself, it is going to restrict the number of companies,” he said.

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