Interview of Suhail Sameer- President of RP Sanjiv Goenka

Interview of Suhail Sameer

Suhail is a President in the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group. He leads Corporate Strategy for the Group, and launched and run the FMCG Business for the group, starting with the brand Too Yumm! In the past, he has led various practices at McKinsey & Company. Currently, he is a Member of the CII FMCG committee; and a Mentor of Change at Atal Innovation Mission. He is hugely passionate about entrepreneurship and invests in early-stage companies. He also serves in the Investment Council/ Advisory committee(s) of some other prominent funds.

What is your investing philosophy?

I believe in investing in areas where I (or my network) can add significant value, especially at the early stages. The value add could be in terms of knowledge (e.g., in FMCG) or access to potential clients (e.g., in technology areas).

What has been the most important investing lesson you have learned so far?

The founder is the most critical determinant of success, especially in early-stage companies. A great founder (even with an average idea to begin with), would fail and learn (and improve his idea in the process), would hire great teams, and execute brilliantly.

Which has been your best investment to date?

To date, in terms of pure financial returns, it would have to be Rupeek Fintech (a gold loan financial services company). Having said that, there are many other companies in the portfolio that are doing incredibly well. The company which I am most excited so far by is MamaEarth, where my seed investment is already tracking at 20x+, based on the last round led by Sequoia.

Can you share any investing mistakes that you made and the lessons we can learn from it?

I don’t look at investment decisions as mistakes. Most of the investments I did, I would do again. Having said that, I have learned that as an investor, it is also my role to help the companies in terms of guidance, connecting them to clients/ investors, sometimes to just show them the mirror, and many times to just let them be (as they are doing a great job).

Is there any particular investor or author who has had a significant influence on your investment thinking? 

Not really. Having said that, I closely follow Fireside Ventures and look up to Kanwaljit Singh as an investor (and a backer of many brands I admire).

What would be your advice to Entrepreneurs seeking funds?

Be clear if you need the funds (or if it is better to boot-strap); how much funds you need (raising too much or chasing valuations can be damaging in the long term); look who you are raising from (what value would they add).

Do you invest in specific sectors? If yes, then which are the sectors?

I am a sector agnostic investor. Having said that, I look to invest in areas where my network can add value. So, a lot of our investments tend to be in consumer, technology, SaaS, financial services and food services.

What is your outlook for the present startup ecosystem in India?

My outlook continues to be bright. This is one of the best times to start a business in India. The evolution of digital to enable micro-targeting potential customers and direct-to-consumer selling approaches has made it easier to drive the initial traction. The eco-system (investors, technology providers, e-commerce and logistics providers) has matured well. Of course, the long term outlook on India’s growth story makes it even better.

According to you what is more important (Team, Idea, Traction, etc.)?

Founder and the team first. The rest is all addressable.

According to you what is the perfect time for a startup to raise funds?

I think the right time depends on the type of company one is building, the sector one is playing in, the current competitive landscape and how initial traction of the idea has been. The answer would probably be different for each company.

What is the value add that a founder gets, along with your investment?

I have been a consultant, investor, corporate employee, and have launched a business. While playing these roles, I have built a very credible network. Thus, an investee company gets this knowledge and the network, apart from the capital.

Would you like to share any of your recent investments and why did you select them?

My most recent investment has been made in a personal care brand NatHabit. It ticks all the boxes I look at – great founders (wealth of start-up and corporate experience, and good educational pedigree), brilliant space (Natural, toxin-free, freshly made, effective products). I am a huge believer in the themes of Natural/ Ayurveda/ organic/ fresh from the farm, especially when it comes to personal care and food.

Answer in one line:

Share your original quote: I am not sure if this is original, but I always say to my founders – In hindsight, everyone’s smarter. So don’t dwell too much on past mistakes.

First 3 slides that you look in a Pitch Deck (in serial order): Team, space (sector), uniqueness in approach (why will you win)

How would you define Startup: A company solving a real current issue, and/or bringing something new to the market, which satisfies a currently latent need

What are the attributes of an Entrepreneur: Ability to take decisions; hire better than self; resilience; adaptability

What are your views about StartupLanes?

A great platform for start-ups as well as investors to connect and learn.