Eximius Ventures is a micro-VC fund, founded by Pearl Agarwal in March 2020, that aims to nurture young talent in the industry by providing smaller seed investments and supporting entrepreneurs with necessary paperwork so that they can focus on product development and innovation.
The fund also serves as a peer to entrepreneurs, providing strategies, network access, and guidance to help them propel their business forward. The fund aims to eliminate the traditional power dynamic between investors and entrepreneurs and create a more collaborative relationship.
Eximius Ventures is backed by a Solo GP. Pearl spent a decade investing across US and UK before moving back to India in February 2020 to start Eximius. Having grown up in India, she had always been extremely passionate about the Indian start-up ecosystem and helping founders building in India for the local economy.
She moved to the US in 2010 to pursue her business degree at McCombs School of Business and post that began her investing career investing across a multitude of products within private markets. She spent her time investing across 200+ venture capital and private equity funds at UTIMCO ($40bn endowment fund), facilitating multi-billion transactions at Merrill Lynch, and investing in large listed / unlisted companies at GIP ($70bn PE fund).
However, during her time there, she kept working with and investing in early-stage companies in India in her personal capacity having made 15 investments across notable companies like BluSmart, Infeedo, GroMo, Trell, CrowdPad etc. Apart from this, she also launched DotReview to enable founders to access unfiltered and authentic reviews on VCs. We are publishing an interview with Ms. Pearl Agarwal, Founder and Managing Director:
Q.: Please tell us how you started your fund. Please share with us your investment thesis and what makes your fund unique in the ecosystem.
Ans: Growing up in a Tier 4 town in Orissa, I had seen micro and solo entrepreneurs around me trying to make a life by setting up small businesses. Their zeal and passion had always inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship but at the same time I knew that the opportunities available to them were not enough to make a dent in the ecosystem. I wanted to help these entrepreneurs with access to more opportunities to pursue their dreams. This led me to start Eximius in 2020 after spending a decade investing across multi-billion companies in the US and UK. In February 2020, I returned to India with the sole aim of making fundraising seamless for entrepreneurs in India.
As a micro VC fund, we believe that relationships can be formed not forged, and work on building a long lasting relationship with our portfolio founders where we prioritize authentic conversations over formal business updates. In addition to that, we make decisions quickly, keep the process simple for founders, and also reserve capital for follow-on rounds.
We go beyond being an investor. We aim to be the first institutional cheque in a company with equity cheques of up to $500,000 and invest in emerging trends within fintech, healthtech and gaming.
Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the Indian VC space, learning that you have? Who in your mind is your ideal founder? Who all are the stars of your portfolio and why?
Ans: It has been a positively surprising experience to see the maturity and depth that this generation of entrepreneurs bring to the table. Most of them have built companies before or scaled companies as a part of founding teams of high-growth start-ups, and understand what it takes to succeed in this space. For us, the biggest learning has been being able to identify these resilient entrepreneurs, who are willing to stick around and build despite the market challenges.
In my view, an ideal founder is someone who is deeply passionate about the problem statement they are solving for and willing to stay connected with the users until PMF (Product Market Fit) is achieved to see how users are interacting with the product. We believe that in the initial days everything in a start-up is evolving, and the founders have to be willing to challenge their own biases and build from a first principles basis to be successful.
There are several, but if I had to pick a few, I would say the following:-
- Eka Care: Started by the ex-founders of Goibibo and the chief architect of Aarogya Setu, they are building a digital connected ecosystem to bring doctors, labs and patients onto one platform, thereby making healthcare more affordable and accessible to Tier 2 / 3 towns.
- Stan: Esports is a growing segment in India with over 85 million viewers. The way players and fans engage in Esports is truly unique, and Stan is utilizing the intersection of web 3 and gaming to make this interaction even more captivating.
- Jar: With increasing digital transactions, old habits of penny savings had started to vanish. Jar is utilizing this age old offline behavior in the online environment to enable GenZs and Millenials to save better. Within a short span of time, they have managed to acquire over 5 million users and raise at a valuation of $200 million.
Q. : Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture? Please explain in detail. (Total investments + initiatives launched + exits)
Ans: Since inception of the fund in March 2020, we have launched three initiatives and made several investments across fintech, gaming, healthtech and web 3.
- Fund I – We raised our maiden fund of $10 million in March 2021. We aim to deploy this across 25-30 companies in fintech, healthtech and gaming. So far from the fund, we have made a total of 16 investments – 10 where capital has been deployed and 6 where we have provided commitments. Out of these, 8 investments are in Fintech, 1 in Healthtech, and 7 across Media, Content & Gaming (including 2 across web 3). Some of our notable portfolio companies include Jar (raised from Tiger Global at a valuation of $200 million after our investment), Eka Care (raised Series A from 3one 4 and other undisclosed investors after our investment), Zorro (raised from 16 other unicorn founders) etc.
- The Gaming Lounge – To further promote the gaming community in India, we launched a separate IP, the Gaming Lounge to bring together founders and funders in the community to interact with each other through events, content and facilitate capital to promising start-ups. Through the Gaming Lounge syndicate, we have made one investment in Esports XO, an online esports tournament management and discovery platform.
- Student Venture Partner program – To facilitate entrepreneurship in college campuses, we launched an initiative through college representatives to invest upto $500,000 in student entrepreneurs building ambitious businesses.
In addition to the above initiatives, we have also led multiple community events, participated in industry forums related to Fintech, gaming and web 3, and are constantly looking for ways to encourage more entrepreneurs to come forward.
Q. : What are your thoughts on Web3 investment momentum?
Ans: Though in the initial stages of development and user adoption, web 3 as a technology is here to stay. It essentially allows users to retain control over the data that they generate and utilize it as they deem fit. Over the last few years, we have seen several companies emerge to solve the basic engineering problems within web 3 such as facilitation of transactions and play to earn games. However, there are still a host of problem statements that remain unsolved, which will make user adoption and interaction a lot more seamless. We are looking forward to the next generation of builders solving for these.
Q. : As a VC, what are some of the expectations founders have from you? Is there a difference in the Indian startup ecosystem from that in the West?
Ans: Founders expect you to be a good sounding board and listen to them when they run into dilemmas. As investors, we believe that our primary role extends beyond helping them solve business issues to actually understanding the turmoil a founder might be going through in their personal or professional lives to be able to provide adequate support. They often expect their investors to have their back and support them in difficult times in addition to extending their network and resources when required. This is very similar to what start-up founders in the West expect. While business goals of each founder might be different, the way they want to form relationships remain inherently the same. Though the nature of the relationships tend to be slightly more informal in the West.
Q.: What message do you want to convey to founders who would like to pitch to you?
Ans: To founders considering pitching to us, I want to emphasize that our priority is providing top-notch service and support. Our investments are made based on a deep understanding and conviction in the idea. We also prioritize building connections within the community to aid the growth and development of the startups in their early stages.