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Wild, wild east
August 8, 2005
By Ishani Duttagupta

Remember Ashish Gupta? The co-founder of Junglee Corporation has come a long way from 1998, when he made his first millions after the web services company was acquired by Amazon.com for a whopping $230 million. Gupta hasn’t lost his appetite for creating and investing in companies and was one of the earliest investors in Daksh, the BPO company which was acquired by IBM for $160 million last year.

“I feel happy about Daksh for multiple reasons of which one is indeed the validation of KPO and BPO as areas where the team and I bet quite early. The other is the pleasure of having participated in company building with one of the top teams in the world in that space. The team was always focussed on validation from customers because that was a precondition to build a business and hence subsequent investors.

An advantage that an individual investor has over a venture investor is that the decision process for investing does not involve educating at large. In fact, this education process is frequently one of the assets of a venture firm,” says Gupta who has recently joined Redwood Shores, California, based early stage VC firm Woodside Fund as venture partner.

Some of his other investments include Bodha, a web-services integration solutions company acquired by Peregrine; Obongo, a unified login company acquired by AOL; and Pointcross, a business process interaction management solution company. “In India there are enormous opportunities in general and the challenge is how to focus on the right ones while not being on the ground and respecting the capital intensity of sectors like retail.

Some areas that are interesting to me are - next generation BPO (more vertically focussed or specialized opportunities), technology-powered businesses that solve a non-tech problem, and also some specific intellectual property oriented product companies. I have some associations in companies of each kind as a way to learn more,” says Gupta.

Some of the companies with which he is working in India are Merittrac that provides candidate assessment services to most of the top IT/BPO companies in India, Textual Analytics Solutions (TAS) - developing cutting edge text analysis software and using that to provide solutions to some of the top internet players in the world and Musigma which provides analytics services to several global players. At Woodside Fund, he is on the boards of NuSym, an EDA company and Veriwave, a test equipment player.

But Gupta, a Stanford and IIT-Kanpur alumni and holder of seven patents, also believes in the fun aspect of business. “The entertainment sector is very compelling - as people are looking for ways to have fun. As an individual, I have invested in Mark Pi - a Chinese food franchise in India.

Another sector that is very appealing to me is ‘technology powered’ businesses that are delivering a non-technology service. For example, travel services which leverage technology. I have recently got associated with MakeMyTrip,” he says. But he also has a caveat for this:

“Some of these businesses do not lend themselves to early-mid stage venture investing because of the economics. Some are cash-flow businesses which will continue to pay dividends but not provide an exit, or they do not require enough cash to make sense for conventional venture capital, or require so much capital that only private-equity players could play in them.”

As an ex-IITian, Gupta works actively with the alumni network. “I work with several IITians and rely on several others for mentorship. The network brings with it a lot of opportunity and responsibility. Opportunity in that a lot of IITians are great entrepreneurs and therefore are a great source of learning and offer the opportunity to invest/participate in successful companies. Responsibility in that some of the alums are first-time entrepreneurs and are looking for mentorship,” he says.

And like many other Indian American techies, Gupta is obviously betting big on India. Last year he spent the first 6 months on the ground - running Tavant's (a company that he has co-founded) operations in Bangalore. This year, it has been two visits until now to help introduce the Woodside Fund team to India.

“In the 1990s the credibility of the Indian tech entrepreneur and Indian independent CEO was established. This decade is establishing the credibility of the Indian tech industry being run out of India,” he says.

As for his partners and friends from Junglee, he is in touch with most of them and is even helping co-founder Rakesh Mathur in his current business venture.




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