Vinod Jose says India will continue to be the focus of Konglo Ventures in the coming years. (Handout photo)
Startup investment is like playing in a cricket test. It is a long and drawn-out affair; you need to know when to play and when to stay away. It requires a lot of patience and lacks the glamour and excitement of other formats – that is how Vinod Jose, the co-founder of Kerala-focused Konglo Ventures, sums up the investment group's tactics.
The group shepherded by him has a record to back it up as Konglo is now celebrating a decade of its existence, with a portfolio of investments in 21 startups and four exits, amounting to a funding total of over 7 million US dollars. Among the firms they backed include Profoundis, BuildNext, Zoko, Woolly and Carestack and some of the startups they funded have been acquired by bigger players.
Konglo has made the majority of its forays into Kerala-based companies or those with links to the state, and that has made it one of the prominent investors’ forums in the state.
“Now is a great time to be in the market as we can have detailed conversations with startup founders,” says the Calicut REC Engineering College graduate, who was in Trivandrum for a break last week. Vinod as he is known among his friends, says the funding winter is a good time for genuine investors to move in.
“In 2021, the founders were impatient as there were a lot of players waiting with money. There was liquidity in the system, and it was going everywhere. It went to stocks, it went to real estate, and of course, to startups as well. Now that has changed.”
Vinod who spearheads Konglo Ventures and Callapina Capitals had taken the conventional path after graduation, landing a job at Accenture in Bangalore. While he enjoyed the financial independence that came with the job, he couldn’t shake off his desire to explore the business field.
His first venture was in real estate in Bangalore, where he and a couple of friends tried their hand at matchmaking between sellers and buyers who placed ads in local classifieds. It sounds like a slapstick comedy, but Vinod and his friends managed to close a deal and earn around 10,000 rupees. “That was a lot of money in 2006, and the satisfaction it brought me was beyond any salary I had received until then. We created something out of nothing,” he recalls.
However, bitter lessons were in store when Vinod and his friends came up with the idea of entering the wine sector. Their plans fell flat after arranging a meeting with a wine consultant. It was then they realised that besides ambition, they had nothing else to offer. The encounter with the blunt wine expert was a wake-up call for Vinod and his friends, making them realise the seriousness required to become successful entrepreneurs.
Motivated by this experience, Vinod decided to pursue an MBA in Germany, which raised some eyebrows among his family and friends. However, despite successfully completing the programme, he faced difficulties finding a good job in Germany due to the language barrier.
During this time, Vinod stumbled upon the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T Kiyosaki, which became an “Aha” moment for him. He started delving into serious reading about business investments, and his blog now lists some of the books he recommends for aspiring investors.
In the meantime, Vinod was hired by a startup in Germany, which eventually led to a job at a consulting firm by 2011. As the firm had a project in India, Vinod and his wife made the decision to base themselves in Cochin during that period.
During that time, Vinod reconnected with some of his engineering friends, many of whom had spent eight years working and had moved up to middle-level management positions. It was a joy to reconnect and reminisce about the good old days through WhatsApp chats, he recalls.
“What I realised was that we didn't have any new content. It was just the recycling of the same old events. We needed new shared experiences,” Vinod explains. This realisation sparked discussions about doing something focused on Kerala and India, utilising their collective experience, network, and resources.
The group, which had grown to about ten people by then, faced a common challenge – most of them didn’t want to take a step that would disrupt their current lives. They were looking for something they could do on the side. After exploring and discussing various business ideas, the suggestion to invest in startups gained traction, given the blossoming Indian tech scene. This led to the establishment of Konglo Ventures, with offices in Cochin and the United States.
“The idea behind Konglo was to look beyond money, to create value and be in a position to influence outcomes,” he says. Vinod compared it to the movie sector. “There are new producers all the time, but there are a few who have been around for a long time. For them, making money is one of the aims on a long list of targets. They focus on value creation.”
The Whatsapp group cofounded by Robin Jose and Vineeth Mohan has now grown to over 70 members, predominantly made up of people with links to Kerala, but there is also a fair number of non-Malayalees.
The startups send their pitches through Konglo website while some are referred to the group by members. The members discuss, evaluate and analyse among themselves before deciding on investments, a model they have fine-tuned over the last ten years. Most members retain their day jobs and Vinod himself continues his stint at a consulting firm.
Looking ahead, the Konglo co-founder predicts a bright future for investors in India. He believes that India will drive the global economy in the coming decade, as the talent pool in the country now has exposure to product culture. “We will have world-class products coming out of India soon,” he says.
But when it comes to Kerala, he strikes a cautionary note. While he appreciates the intent of agencies like Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), he points out that they are limited by the framework of government bureaucracy. Although bringing in dynamic leadership at the top is a positive step, they still have to operate within entrenched machinery.
The grants and other incentives provided may stimulate startups, but entrepreneurs who are spoon-fed often struggle to survive the challenges of establishing themselves. A true entrepreneur is able to identify opportunities, formulate a plan, and execute it. This resilience and resourcefulness are the true qualities of an entrepreneur.
“I cannot do what they do. That is the reason why I have immense respect for entrepreneurs, and that is why we are willing to pay a premium for their value,” says Vinod.
However, he does see the green shoots of an organic ecosystem starting to emerge and highlights the coworking space Atomic, located adjacent to TechnoPark Phase 1 in Trivandrum, as a promising development. He believes that the people leading that hub have experience in establishing successful startups, which will be beneficial for newcomers.
Regarding his plans for the coming years, Vinod mentions that he is currently occupied with Callapina Capital, a 4 million US dollars fund he launched in January of this year alongside Anas Rahman Junaid, the creator of Hurun India. The fund aims to make 15 investments within a two-year period and has got off the block quickly. Vinod states that by July, the fund hopes to have six investments completed, with five of them in India.
The confidence obtained from this has made the duo plan for something much bigger, a second fund of 30 to 40 million dollars. Vinod says they are already working on the plans and their track record over the last ten years should help them reach the target without much hiccups.
Looks like they are getting ready to play another long innings in the startup investment arena.
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