Our last installment of the "How Did You Get Here" series highlights the co-author of the recently launched Omega Files by Blume Ventures and pivotal part of the Partner's Office, Adithya Santhosh. I particularly enjoyed capturing Adithya's story and his inspirations + aspirations, since I've been in similar roles myself and know firsthand what it takes 'to fly so close to the sun', as someone I once interviewed with described this sort of role. Adithya has had some interesting personal journeys that contributed to intriguing professional decisions. With this, we close this year's behind-the-scenes glimpses of the different roles we've created and nurtured at Blume Ventures, outside of our investment team. It is our deep belief and conviction that our success and the success of our portfolio companies comes from an all-hands-on-deck approach, and the profiles shared in this series are all part of pivotal functions that drive the engine forward. We look forward to your feedback on our content, and wish you and your loved ones happy holidays!
Adithya Santhosh is part of the Partner's Office at Blume Ventures - a strategic, cross-functional role that drives the leadership agenda forward for the fund. One of the first people who did not want an investing role at Blume, Adithya has been a self-confessed venture nerd and has helped bring several strategic projects to light.
Ria: Okay, so Adithya, thanks so much for doing this. I know it's been a while in the making, but very excited to speak to you as part of the next installment in our series on careers and venture capital. Really understanding how you got here and giving everyone a sense of what is the kind of work that happens at a VC fund beyond just the obvious, beyond what's sort of on the front lines. You work in our Partner's office with Karthik - the first person to sort of fully flesh out this function and all that it can do. And I think that will be really interesting for people to hear because this is not part of what a VC fund normally talks about, but there is so much there. So we'll go through the rest of the conversation, your role and what you do. But before that, we'd love to just understand where did your career begin, what sort of things did you do, what were some of the decisions you made along the way academically, professionally that led you to take up this opportunity with us?
Adithya: Perfect. Thank you for having me Ria. I know we’ve had to reschedule this meeting a couple of times haha, but just as you were saying, I think that it took an entire year to get a decent grasp of my “sense of being” in Blume, and now I think it's a good time to share my experiences out there. So to talk a bit about my journey so far, I graduated with a degree in Commerce from the Madras Christian College, Chennai. How I got there, well, as someone who grew up in a fairly middle-class NRI family - you technically have a choice between either continuing your undergrad education overseas, or you go to India and explore the kind of life your parent’s may have led during their collegiate years.
Ria: So just to double click on that a little bit, your family lives outside of India. Yeah. So what were some thoughts around coming back to India exactly for this versus continuing to sort of explore things outside?
Adithya: Sure, so I grew up in Bahrain, a tiny island in the Middle East. As I mentioned before, when I think about education for students who grew up outside (mainly in the middle east since I’m familiar with that part of the world) - there are usually two ways it can go. A small contingent of folks - perhaps 20-30% of the lot may usually emigrate abroad (your US, UK, Canada +) or stay back in the Gulf to continue their undergrad, and the much larger chunk - 70-80% - usually comes back to India. The one’s coming back to India are usually a. either where the student leaves to study & mom-dad stays back for work, or b. when their families decide that it’s time to return back home since their kid’s schooling as such, is complete and they’d want to go back home. The fun part from then onwards is, a group call with friends is a task of coordination with all the varied time zones!
For me, while I initially followed the path of moving towards the US for my undergrad, and actually got into a really good school for economics & business - there was a dilemma brewing on the inside. I’ve heard glorious tales from my parents and extended cousins, on how life has been for them growing up in India - definitely not as comfortable as it was in the middle-east, but certainly more eventful, and of all the friendships they’ve made in school & college that stood to last a lifetime. So while I was following the emigrate-further-outside bandwagon, a last minute calling of sorts compelled me to look at maybe pursuing options in India. I figured I could do my undergrad here, and then if needed, pursue a postgrad outside so as to get the best of both worlds.
Since it was fairly last minute - squarely my fault - I was in a rush to choose places to study in. I was quite late to the application cycles up north (DU) and decided to look for a place down south. A nationally top-ranked Institution with a storied history (I was a huge history buff) were 2 things I had on my list of mandatory must-haves. Naturally, for pursuing a commerce degree with my must-haves, there were very few places to choose from - so when it comes a choice would be easy. A close family friend then recommended chennai which was home to 2 elite autonomous institutions - Loyola College and the Madras Christian College. While I was a fairly last-minute applicant to both these institutes, I did manage to get into both. Loyola made more sense as it was a slightly-higher placed institute and in the city, but I was enamored by MCC. Did you know it was founded in 1837, one of the oldest colleges in Asia and that a decent no. of India’s founding political leaders came in from MCC? I was kind of sold on the beautiful forested campus and their collegiate environment which fostered liberal ideologies. I did live in the college hostel for an initial part of my student tenure there though, and boy that was a fun reality shock haha. I think all NRI kids who choose to come back and study in a government college hostel would have a brief period of total chaos adjusting to that.
College was really fun! I was quite active in extracurricular activities, student politics,and attended a lot of competitions. Even had a semi-entrepreneurial gig in college once. So TLDR, I used to be a free-lance article editor and copywriter who took up mini contracts on Fiverr, Freelancer and other such sites. You will not believe the kind of items I had to write on – ranging from Casino Games to Ayurvedic Products to Gardening Equipment etc, and all from overseas clients, from Australia, the US, UK etc.. Once I began to get a steady stream of in-bound requests, I figured I could enlist a few friends and spread out the work, take larger contracts. Even as a solo agent I was making very good pocket money for a few hours of work per day. So I sort of took in 2 friends who also had pretty good writing abilities, and for a moment it looked like a pretty good side-hustle emerging. But then, third year came and well, I was elected as General Secretary to my department union and then it was a little too much juggling with barely time left. So we took a pause and ended that venture then.
Now, parallely to this gig as I mentioned earlier, I was quite active in competitions, specifically interested in Business / Corporate Case Study competitions - especially the ones organized by large corporate houses. A major one for commerce/business students was the Graduate School Maverick, by Deloitte US-India. It was a pretty huge competition, 3 rounds from zonal-state-national and around 4,000 students participated in it. Our college didn't have much representation at that event, but I was still super excited - so got a team from the college together and kicked off the process. Thankfully, over 3 months we did end up going all the way till the finals and ended up coming Runner-up in the Nationals. And then was also my first interaction with my to-be future bosses at Deloitte.
So I was hired by them later that year, and post college began work in their Financial Audit & Regulatory team covering Fortune 500 clients in the Investment Management Space, and was based out of the Hyderabad office. Here, I was exposed to the beautifully complex world of Hedge Fund’s and other Alternative Asset classes - how they worked, the sheer volume of money and speed/size of their transactions across the world, it was all just fascinating. My work was largely on the regulatory side, testing the risk levels of these structures & their holdings. It was a good 2 years with Deloitte.
Working in an MNC was a fascinating experience, where I really got to appreciate the level of structure and processes that it took to run a mammoth, global, well-oiled machine. While it did feel great at the beginning, I soon began to feel like I wasn't doing, you know, anything intrinsically meaningful enough. For a lot of folks of course, a life and a stable career in a reputed MNC is definitely a very good option, but I always yearned to experiment, build and solve my own set of problems & challenges. In a large corporation, I felt there were no foundational problems to solve or build for, since every significant challenge in building the org was honed over decades of refinement, and you are just there to execute/further carry out a well defined series of duties with a properly charted out career path. This level of predictability, coupled with the general nature of work, for me, did not excite me enough to think about sticking for the longer run. Took me a few months of after-thought to realize that the only place where perhaps I’ll get a chance to actually build, experiment, and solve foundational problems - is a start-up.
Breaking into a good startup was not easy, at all. My criteria was that I wanted to explore a startup building for a space I was genuinely curious about, and run by kick-ass founders who I could learn from. After months of cold-emailing and outreach, I was finally able to break into an Insurtech startup called NovaBenefits, run by a IIT-ian duo with the CEO being a 2nd time founder and an ex-Accel VC - I joined them as the first program manager in their Founder’s Office. Why the founders office? well I wanted to see all elements of building up an operation from the ground up, and I couldn't constrain myself in any vertical then. I still remember my first conversation with the hiring team, it was a pretty simple one - needed a solid First principles thinker to solve problems from the ground up, and the problems are plenty.
They say you have to be careful what you wish for haha, and oh boy - was that a wild shift to a startup!. I wanted things to build & fix, well here was a whole lot of stuff that needed fixing, and oh they needed to be fixed yesterday. While it was a sufficiently gut-wrenching ride that one can expect on a proverbial rocket-ship, I had a lot of fun! There is a particular infectious energy in a startup, especially an early stage one, where everyone is concerned more about building and scaling, vs my previous workplace where focus was on executing well for the week and then it’s waiting for the weekend. What would have been a “very tiring stressful day” back in an MNC, suddenly became a regular Tuesday - but the surprising part is, no one ever felt that transition happening. We were all solving foundational problems in our own way, and our impact was almost directly felt on the co’s growth. For me in particular, I enjoyed laying the groundwork for building up and scaling core functions such as Finance, Business Intelligence, Sales & Revenue Operations etc. On overall, It was like the Wild west of work haha, but I enjoyed and learnt a lot from it.
Ria: That's a lovely description of a journey and I think you brought it alive a lot before jumping into how, and I was just looking up a first message you sent me on LinkedIn, very generic and it was actually, I think we were talking about the Network programs role? But I have a couple of questions that I wanted to ask you about. Any formative moments that you had growing up that you felt made you comfortable with these sort of unstructured situations? I think it's a broad question but I've always found that people have certain experiences or certain values that have come from their parents, their family, like you said, things that your parents had influenced you, right? Yeah. Certain experiences that made you comfortable with being a certain way or doing things a certain way that then naturally flows into the kind of roles that you play in a workplace.
For example, Rohit when he did his interview with me last spoke a lot about how when he grew up his dad was posted in a lot of different places and so it was just him and his mom and they had to do everything. And so now when he's in roles like the ones that he has been in, it's very natural for him to just be hands-on. We keep talking about someone being hands-on, but those experiences made it in his mind to do everything. And I resonate a lot with what you say because I've been in these sorts of roles and I think you talked about bringing structure to chaos and organizing and getting things done and I gravitated towards a lot of those roles myself and I used to always wonder why, where it's come from. But I'll save my parts for later. But for someone who's been on a very similar trajectory and takes a very similar approach to problems, I'd love to hear if they may or may not be related, but are there just some special moments in your life that you remember growing up, whether it was in the Middle East, I know you have family in India also, whether it was there or any conversations with parents or family that brought in certain values to you that you carry into the workplace today?
Adithya: Wonderful, I mean life growing up was a pretty decent one. Mallu boy with a tinge of Gujarati descent, growing up in the Middle East, may have to think a little hard to think of some moments…
Ria: No it's okay.
Adithya: Sure, so not any pivotal moments per se, but maybe some early history on a few formative habits that I now link some of my approaches to work from.
So as a child, I was very introverted - I know it’s hard to believe for most folks who know me now haha but I was super quiet. A strong love for reading blossomed very early on, nurtured by a teacher-mother and most of my early years were spent curled up with some of the classics. I joke now, that some of my best friends during childhood were Charles Dickens, Enid Blyton, Mark Twain, Dan Brown etc. Then slowly, I began to earnestly follow and watch world leaders, prominent speakers etc. command the stage and audience with their strong command of the narrative, and it felt exciting to try to be like that. So I pushed myself to get out there, go for Model UN’s, Public Speaking Competitions and slowly “broke out of my shell” so to speak. But back to the point - my intense love for fiction very early on, built a very healthy imagination. While it may not have been very helpful then, I always felt that a strong imagination, an ability to “day-dream” situations has actually helped me in my job. It allowed me to kind of absorb, assess, break down and play out very abstract problems internally, which then led to simpler ways of solving them.
Another, my mom is what you may call a classic over-achiever. I’ve lost count of the number of degrees and gold medals she has attained haha. Growing up, she always instilled in us a sense of holding yourself to a very high standard, and constantly aiming to beat that - and that was not just in academics, but more facets of life. More interestingly however, it’s mom’s dad, my grand-father, who had a significant influence on me. Grandpa is an electro-mechanical engineer, who had a very successful career across India and the Middle East, back when it was mostly sand over concrete haha. Ever since his retirement, and now touching his mid-80’s - he still designs, builds & repairs almost every fixture in our home by hand. Despite having the resources to commission whatever he needs, he loves tinkering around with whatever’s available, and has a palpable joy in seeing his designs come to life. While I did not pick up the mechanical joy to tinker around (that went to my engineer brother), I could attribute my desire to understand & build systems and structures from him.
Finally, wanted to highlight one very memorable moment when I was growing up. This was around 2011, when the Arab Spring was in full swing - it was a period of massive civil unrest across the Middle East, triggered in Egypt and then flowing across the region. The country was in a near civil-war type set up, with riot police and military personnel manning roads, and protests/attacks on facilities happening every other day. This particular instant happened when we were heading to school on the bus, early days of the unrest. Suddenly out of nowhere, a few rioters surrounded the vehicle on the highway, armed with molotov cocktails and proceeded to get the driver to stop in his tracks. I cannot imagine how it may have gone, had it not been for the swift arrival of the police who proceeded to disperse the rioters with tear gas canisters. Why is this memory important, I still to this day call Bahrain my first home, and absolutely love the place, the culture, the food and the people - but those early instances kind of sear into your mind the fact that at the end of the day, it is not your home, it’s somebody else's. When harsh times set in, there may be a flare-up of anger towards those who emigrated there to take up jobs and opportunities, which may be seen as taking them away from the local nationals. It made me realize then that wherever I go, India will always be my home & country - and if I were ever to build something - I would love for that to be in my own nation, where I have all the right.
Ria: Thank you for sharing that. I think that's a very powerful moment, a powerful emotion that I think there's a lot of us, myself included went through, I mean particularly people who you can say fall under the India one, a classification that our friend and colleague has come up with people who've had the privilege to go to other places and then suddenly you have this realization that that can only take you so far and ultimately there is something that pulls you back to what your roots are and that intangible and that idea of you said, of coming home of not feeling like an outsider anymore, I think are very powerful triggers towards finding your purpose, finding something that you want to dedicate the next 10, 15 years to. Yeah, and I think building for India comes within that, right? So I think No, that's really interesting. So let's talk about Blume. I know we approached you or we sort of convinced you to apply for this role. Talk to me about what the role was communicated to you when you met Karthik. What did he share? What excited you, what was a bit scary and since then talk to us about actually what you've been doing on ground, how that's changed a little more than a year since that process started.
Adithya: Definitely, so to pick up where I previously left off, one of the area’s of responsibility that I had in my previous start-up, was to engage with our Investors (I was what you may call a de facto head of investor relations - of the many hats worn in the startup). Interestingly one point to engage with my colleagues now in Blume, is on their pain of receiving and reading through portfolio company MIS’s - especially given that I used to prepare and send the MIS to our Investors back then haha. Fun to see things on the other side now.
So, back to the point, my fascination with the VC world grew during those engagement periods. Interestingly, the more I began to learn about the world of venture, my fascination for VC encompassed learning about the entire structure around it. So I did occasionally read up about VC funds & podcasts, their structures, about their investment styles and moreover on how funds raise capital, judge their performance etc. I was, to be very honest, never really interested in the Investments side of things. It always felt like I was just seeing 30% of the venture world via the capital deployment lens, and there is so little public knowledge on the remaining 70% of the same.
So around the time when I was contemplating a move to a more P&L owning role in a different start-up, wanting to explore a new sector and geography, Blume connected with me, mid-2022 I would say. They had a newly-minted role, similar in principle to what I was doing for my startup but for a Venture Fund, working directly with Karthik Reddy, our founder and managing partner, on broad strategy, platform-portfolio interventions, and helping maintain relations to industry associations/ government bodies amongst other projects. In summary, pretty much like your Chief of Staff role, but for a Venture Fund. To say this role intrigued me, would be an understatement.
A pivotal reason for me to consider this opportunity was the chance to work with Karthik. I was familiar with Karthik, as are most folks in the Indian startup & venture ecosystem, having heard about him, Sanjay and how they founded Blume - I’ve even heard a few podcasts he had appeared in then. Coming from a startup with prominent investors, I’ve only heard great things about Blume, so the firm was already sold on me. Karthik, to me, came off as an enigmatic, energetic and slightly intimidating personality. Now, over 1 year of working with KR, I can definitely say that I still am, and probably always will be, slightly intimidated by him haha but in a good way.
So Karthik, now that I look back it’s probably one of his trademark meeting styles, took my interview when he was in the car heading for a meeting/appointment. My first interview where the interviewer was mobile on the road, but instead of throwing me off, thankfully I had recalled a podcast where Karthik spoke about his passion to squeeze as much time as possible in a day, sort of getting 25 hours of work done in a 24 hour day. This seemed to fit right in, making use of spare time in commute. We had a good conversation, and I still to this date appreciate how honest he was in his expectations, and even acknowledged the sheer ambiguity around this role, why he decided to commission the same and explained its criticality in these 1-2 years before embarking on a new fund journey. My understanding of it was similar to the initial conversation with the HR team about the requirement, and further got to know how the scope of the role might transcend all 3 pillars of the firm - most of the work being across the Platform, Corporate verticals, and to a fairly smaller degree on the Investments vertical. What truly intrigued me about the role, was that even apart from Blume, I rarely saw anyone in the entire venture ecosystem do something remotely similar then. The fact that I would be exposed to uncharted waters and diving into studying the hidden 70% of the venture ice-berg, and that too from a prominent veteran of the craft, made my decision to join quite simple.
One year into it, I would like to quote a term Sanjay Nath once used to state my role in Blume- “Our In-house Mckinsey”. While the components of my duties have not largely changed, their composition and weightage have, and will continue to. I spend a significant portion of my time in advisory & strategic planning for Blume’s individual functions across all our 3 verticals in advance of our new fund cycle, and then managing key cross-functional projects for the fund from a platform/portfolio & corporate intervention perspective. As is the nature of such a role, there was a bit of ambiguity in the beginning, but now it’s relatively much more clear. Year 1 was largely about discovery, and beginning to lay down the foundations of work for going deeper in year 2.
Ria: Give an example of a couple of projects that you've done and a couple of processes that you've taken over so people get a sense of at least at Blume Partners office role. Definitely.
Adithya: Sure, just to give the readers context - Karthik and Ashish, Blume Partners, aside from their investment sectoral coverage also manage/oversee the Platform and Corporate teams, teams which make up over 60% of our headcount. At Blume, we champion the Platform approach to venture, and are probably the biggest platform VC of our stage in India.
And to clarify again, the Partner’s Office is similar to your CEO/Chairman’s Office, where my role is to technically act as the Chief-of-Staff, or a Lieutenant to the Managing Partner by supporting the smooth functioning and success of all ambits of work under their charge.
One of my most important duties here, with Karthik, is to run the strategic planning exercises for our functional leadership - which we have an interesting moniker internally. To put it simply, we are helping in planning out for not the fund today, but the one tomorrow. Blume is a Platform VC (Platform + Corporate + Investments) and is a combination of those 3 attributes. Now, how do you design plans that can sustain our same level of excellence & performance (both function vertically and horizontally), but in a different, larger fund. It’s like our weight class increasing in wrestling, suddenly you are in a new division, with a newer situation & newer set of problems — so consciously helping to lay the groundwork for that.
Another of my favorite duties here, and this also where my small degree of overlap onto the investment side lies, is to manage & sit in on Karthik’s Investment Pipeline call’s. We meet about 4-5 Start-up’s a week, almost all being very high quality referrals to him from other VC’s/Unicorn Founder’s/Super-Angel’s etc and it’s titled K20 - 20 minutes with Karthik. The unique part about Karthik’s pipeline call’s, is that it’s the closest to Sector-agnostic as it can get in Blume - we’ll be meeting a health-tech startup first, a ed-tech startup next, a agri-tech one third and an AI enabled SaaS play in the fourth. I always look forward to these, as I get to see how these amazing founder’s pitch, the fascinating new business models of today and how Karthik assesses their core value offering, back-story and arrives at their motivation for building.
A long-term project worth mentioning, which might also be released later this week, is the Omega Files. For those reading now, hopefully you would already be knowing what they are, and you may have gotten a chance to browse through the work. For the uninitiated, the Omega files are a system deconstruction of our Maiden Fund, disclosing a decades worth of learnings across core area’s such as Fundraising, Pipeline & Portfolio, Performance and a sneak peek into winner stories. Remember when I spoke earlier about the 70% of venture that may be submerged below for rarely anyone to see? Now we have taken a snapshot of it, from Blume’s vantage point, and shared it with everyone to see. it’s probably the first of its kind, definitely in terms of depth of detail and transparency, anywhere across the venture world - both locally and globally.
Ria: So you worked on getting all of the information, authoring it obviously together with Karthik, but figuring out the narrative for it and what stood out to you when you were looking at all of that probably from the closest quarters compared to anyone in the fund. What did it tell you about Blume and what did it tell you about what were Karthik's reasons for wanting to release it?
Adithya: So I would love for folks who must have read that report to share their favorite takeaways, but for me there were a few that stood out. There is always a moment of awe when we finally see something that we’ve only always read about, and I had that moment of mine when I saw the Power Law section, where just ~20% of our companies generated almost all our fund returns. It was awesome to put it together, and take it in.
I learnt a lot about the early years of venture craft surrounding Blume Maiden’s fund, with mini crash courses on each segment from Prof. Karthik. He has been waiting a long time for this dream project, years actually, to work on and publish these findings and lessons. There are many reasons why he wanted to, a few I could think of right now, is to set a new standard of transparency in this industry, celebrating a culture of openly sharing our hits and misses, teaching about venture craft to the emerging managers etc.
Ria: Yeah, normally we hear Fund Managers only talk about their winners, right.
Adithya: From most of them, yes - only the return metrics and the winners.
Ria: You don't see what didn't work or companies that closed down or were written enough.
Adithya: No, exactly. Also the fact stands that we are probably one of the most private of the private asset classes. As a result, we barely share anything out there, as an Industry itself. In this era of being more open, especially with a lot more scrutiny coming in from sophisticated larger Investors / LP’s and regulators, it might actually help to be honest and upfront with it. Might actually get you some brownie points
Another very interesting data point we put out there, is that - surprisingly - we didn't do any bias in selecting our Fund I founders, with more than 2/3rds being from a non-elite tech background, but surprisingly the remaining 1/3rds who were from a elite tech institution actually delivered almost all of our returns. Why is that, we don't know - it could be a bias at the later stage of investors who prefer pedigreed founders, or network effects of their institution, but we want the folks out there to decide on their conclusions from this.
Ria: Yeah, it's correlation, causation.
Adithya: Exactly, and it’s the point which we agreed upon in the end, if you see when the report comes out - people can see that we never had any bias when deploying capital. How it turned out to be when the time for returns came, well that’s the part to figure out.
Ria: No, those are some incredible insights and I think together with that a lot of, so the strategic planning process, the fund deconstruction report and supporting some other core processes has been part of your role. I think it also includes supporting our finance, investor relations, a bit more of I would say on Blume as the GP. So I think what I'd love to know is what do people not understand or what do people not see about everything that it takes to build a successful VC fund that happens behind the scenes and where does a role like this play a part in that?
Adithya: Sure, as I had mentioned earlier, we are champions of the Platform approach, why is it so important? One of my most important lessons here in Blume was to realize that the best VC is not who just allocates well, it’s one who exit’s well. And it takes a village to exit. To reiterate my favorite point earlier, amongst the 70% of what goes on in a VC fund that is submerged from plain view, constitute the members of that village. It includes all your team of platform / corporate specialists who assist the company in getting their next rounds of fundraising, get debt and GTM support to them when needed, organizing events and mixers for them to meet more of the ecosystem, financial and legal advisory work, talent advisory support etc. and so forth. Essentially when you take a cheque from Blume, over and above the money, you are buying into a priceless support org of advisors deeply committed to helping you grow and thrive. A strong thesis behind the Platform approach is that we’re doing all we can, from our end, to maximize the chances of our companies growing and succeeding - and in turn, it contributes towards us generating the returns we need to deliver to our LP’s
A role like the one I’m playing, hopefully helps in acting as a key integrator in understanding and maximizing this horizontal stack of value we promise as a fund, via these portfolio & corporate interventions.
Ria: Was there a moment in the last 14 months or maybe in your first six months also where you felt like, I'm not sure what I'm doing and conversely was there a moment after that where you felt like, I got it, this is where I'm meant to be? Was there any eureka moment? Were there any sort of realizations or feedback or validation?
Adithya: I think this is probably for most folks generally, but the first few months were of course alongside a steep learning curve. Thankfully given the nature of my role, I was expecting to be all over the place, at least for the beginning - now I am still all over the place, but more like organized chaos haha. I can thank my startup gig for preparing for almost all kinds of corporate shocks and swings, highs and lows. Interestingly, it did take me a minute to get to the groove of a Venture Fund. To put it as a mini contrast maybe, in venture I've found that there is a high theoretical learning curve, favoring a knowledge-heavy, research oriented way of work. Whereas in a startup, it’s largely an experiential curve, favoring quick practical applications
Adithya: Yes, to put it in a simple manner, in a startup - one fire’s first and then ask where. In a VC, you gather together first, collect the telemetry data, decide together on a best course of action and then set your angle. It’s a little slower, but of course, when each shot is worth a few million $, you better be taking all the time you have to diligence the same.
Ria: We are more consensus driven. It can be a blessing and a curse, but yeah, we are consensus driven here
Adithya: Exactly. So that's something which was also fun learning for me as well. The DNA of the Investment process, that is an aim for consensus but actively encouraging healthy debate, testing the fundamental models of an idea/concept from first principles etc. slowly seeps into other parts of the firm.
Ria: How do you feel like you've grown as a person in these last 14 months? I would love for you to reflect obviously technically and pure raw content and knowledge, massive download, but given the uniqueness of your position in working with all of the partners and the key stakeholders, external agencies, government, regulatory, how do you feel that you have learned what has changed in you as a professional as a person?
Adithya: I feel like my stint at Blume really helped me mature as a professional. The last 14 months, working with the folks here have been nothing short of a privilege, and I always aim to collect the stories and lessons of almost everyone I interact with, just because it’s so fascinating. The learning curve is probably one of the steepest I’ve ever had to encounter, but it was one of thorough enjoyment. Now I am able to see VC from the eyes of all our stakeholders - about how from different angles, the same venture fund may look like a. A pot of capital waiting to be deployed, b. a collection / portfolio of companies, c. a risky asset class where a Global LP has put 5-8% of their allocation d. an asset category that is still making waves in the country and one where the regulators are acting fast to catch up to the changes.
So many lessons learnt, way too many good ones that naming just a few would be criminal haha. Maybe I can write about it in detail later. One very interesting learning, I think every one of our partners internally knows - very well - that we are in an 80/20 world, where a large % of our investments would sadly go bust. But that still does not stop them from putting the same energy and unbridled enthusiasm into all the 100% of co’s, until the very end of their journey’s. It taught me a lot about putting your best into all you do, with as much enthusiasm as with everything else, and simultaneously internalize the learnings from failures but keep moving forward.
Ria: Awesome. So one last question I think to sort of tie together the role and its impact. And then I want to ask you a couple of quick fun questions just for folks to know a little bit more about you. Also, how should someone, should someone consider this role versus an investment role in general? What do you get out of it in terms of an understanding of the VC space? And if firms don't have a partner's office role, why should they consider investing in it?
Adithya: Sure, so as I may have highlighted in an answer earlier, the chances of finding an exactly similar role may be difficult. Mine is probably suited for the kind and stage of VC that Blume is, hence it is a little customized for the same. The good news is, a lot of diverse VC funds may slowly begin to offer up similar roles as they expand, and all you need to do is to keep your eyes peeled and build good networks around the venture ecosystem.
I’ve covered the deep breadth of understanding you may get from a role of this nature, and if you are someone who is intrigued by the same, Platform/Corporate roles may be for you. These are the not-so-sexy, but equally as critical-roles in a venture fund’s success story as your companions on the direct investing lines. I know a lot of folks may be dragged into the vortex of VC employment for its allure, but please take a moment to actually judge the kind of learnings you may want to take out of it. If you err on the side of proving value across the board, whether it may be to 100 or so portfolio companies in a VC roster, selling the fund to sophisticated LP’s etc. then a Platform role might be a fit for you. Fair heads up though, given platform/corporate are specialized units of practice, I feel the requirement of experience and skill-set’s may be of a slightly higher degree than your other general analyst roles.
Ria: Okay. No, that was a great, I think deep dive. We've had a good long conversation, but I think one that's much overdue, a great one to sort of end the year with because I think because of this role we've been able to deliver on a couple of really key strategic projects that we are celebrating towards the end of the year. So just a couple of quick fun questions to ask you. What's the last book you read that was not related to venture capital or startups?
Adithya: Yeah, that's a good one actually.
Ria: I know that's why I'm asking you haha.
Adithya: So, I can give you three. But the last non-finance book that I read, is this one called Freakonomics, re-reading it actually after a few years.
Ria: Of, yeah, yeah I've read it earlier.
Ria: And then you shifted to Bombay for this role. Yes. And I know we've had a lot of conversations around exploring Bombay, and I know obviously you've spent more time in our office late finishing up work, but of the places that you've explored, what's been some of your favorite places or spots in Bombay that you've discovered?
Adithya: So which list would be complete without mentioning the famous Marine drive?
Ria: I was waiting for that.
Adithya: Haha, I mean controversial opinion maybe, but one advantage of growing up on a small island is you are always close to the beach. So sadly, marine drive has never struck me with the awe or love that it’s fans beholden it to.
Ria: It's okay, you can pick another place also.
Adithya: So I generally like Thane, Navi Mumbai, a huge fan of Leopold Cafe, and the various hotspots of Kamala Mills. But another iconic place, if I had to pick, would be Juhu Beach - primarily because of its vibrant micro-culture.
Ria: Super last question, controversial a bit, but given you know the org inside out, and I think you've gone so deep with all of the leaders here. If you had to work in another team or Sub-function, who would you choose and why?
Adithya: So earlier this year, I had a chance to work with our Growth Investments team, and with its Lead Vikram Gawande. Since Growth Investments were an increasing priority for us, and with Vikram being the sole dedicated person on that wing, Karthik requested me to help him out in getting things started on some critical work concerning our key growth portfolio co’s. While it was a few months of work, I had a really good time working with, and learning from Vikram, or VG as we call him here. Aside from being a good friend, Vikram is an excellent mentor, and I enjoy the active debates we have on a number of items, and constantly push him to share his views and diverse learnings. So If I had to choose, I’d choose VG and Growth.
Ria: Super, super, thanks so much. I think this was great. I hope this shines a deeper spotlight on everything that venture funds do outside of investing. Right? I think you brought up a key point that it's not just the investments, it's the exits that get you the glory. And I think we've geared ourselves around that message and a lot of what the Partners Office across Blume is doing is helping us gear towards that. So I think that's been a key focus for us. Thank you so much and hopefully get to see a lot more of your journey develop over the next few years with us.
Building a Content-first Venture Capital fund with Rohit Kaul | How Did You Get HereRohit Kaul leads all things Marketing and Content and has taken up the heavy mantle of helping Blume retain our pole position when it comes to being a content-first, content-led VC fund.
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