Episode 123 / June 28, 2021

Journey of Reliance acquired, Fynd with Founder, Farooq Adam

01 hr 03 min

Episode 123 / June 28, 2021

Journey of Reliance acquired, Fynd with Founder, Farooq Adam

01 hr 03 min
Listen on

Have you ever heard about Infotel Broadband Services Limited (IBSL)?

Even if you haven’t, I’m very much sure that you can’t deny that you don’t know its current rebranded form.

I’ll give you a hint; this company currently has the largest market share in terms of wireless subscribers (i.e. telecom) in India, even greater than Airtel.

Yes, you’ve got it right, it’s Jio.

Before getting rebranded as Jio, the original company IBSL, was the only company that won broadband spectrum in all 22 circles in India in the 4G auction in 2010.

And later that year Reliance Industries acquired the company.

After Jio’s official launch in September 2016, it gained the first 50 million customers in just 83 days of launch and currently has an overall subscriber base of 414.9 million customers.

“That’s the Reliance way of doing things”, quoted by Farooq Adam, during the podcast.

What he means is that at Reliance, just the sheer scale at which they launch and operate their product and make their marketing strategy ensures the success of the product.

And when Reliance approached him in 2019 after he had raised the Series-C led by Google, this is exactly what convinced him to combine Fynd with Reliance and support the rollout of JioMart.

During the podcast, Farooq talks about the early days at Shopsense (rebranded as Fynd), getting rejected by investors during the first round, and his experience being an Angel Investor.

Notes –

01:18 – Early childhood in Kuwait; getting into IIT Bombay

05:01 – Initial stint with Adsale; adding another sale by recommendations & coupons

10:12 – Visiting Diesel (clothing store) on Juhu Tara Road (Mumbai)

14:58 – Problem statements solved by Shopsense

17:24 – Getting benchmarked against Capillary Technologies by investors

22:40 – Rebranding Shopsense as Fynd to cater to the hyperlocal marketplace

31:26 – “How & when you collect your NPS is very interesting.”

32:08 – Acquired by Reliance after getting Google-led Series-C funding

51:39 – Experience as an Angel investor

52:10 – Co-investing with First Cheque VC

57:47 – Advice to his portfolio companies

59:44 – Book recommendations for founders


Read the full transcript here:



Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x entrepreneur podcast. Today I have with me Farooq Adam, co-founder of Fynd, Fynd was acquired by Reliance Jio, and set out a trailblazing example of how Indian entrepreneurs scale and sell to Indian enterprises and continue to make a large impact. Welcome Farooq to the podcast.


Farooq Adam 00:21

Thank Siddhartha.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:22

Farooq, would love to know about your background, you know, before FYND journey started, where you grew up. Right? Your childhood, what your parents did, right.


Farooq Adam 00:34

Sure. Sure. I was born and brought up in Kuwait, it is a small oil rich Middle East, country. I was born and brought up there. I did my schooling, till 10th. Over there, my mom’s house maker and my dad used to work Hitachi, he was the general manager of Hitachi in that region. So as a kid, we had I mean, I used to hang everywhere he studied in the school he called the Indian School Kuwait. it’s one of the few schools that was there. in Kuwait, did my 10th over there after that I to pursue jee, I moved to India, Bangalore specifically, that’s when I came to Bangalore, then I kind of realize the, you know, the level of competition that really existed in India, when you when you are in when you are in Kuwait, you know, it is a small country with, it’s relatively easy to, you know, top that sort of a small area of any country. Now, you kind of realize, you know, there’s so many more talented people, then you and you really need to put in the hard work to do it. So, the first few years, I first two years after I graduate from 10th, it’s called first view, second view, I didn’t even know what we used to refer to before I came over here. So, I was there. And I did my first view, second view, and even a first attempt at JEE. I didn’t I didn’t get it. And that’s also another hilarious story. We used to have, you know, the two papers, then there was a screening and a mains. And then in that during screening, they introduced negative marking. But the way they wrote it was that for every question attempted wrong, you’re going to be awarded hyphen, one marks. So, in my mind, I read it as you’re going to get one marks anyway, so I might attempt the whole paper. And that’s what I did. I essentially just attempted the whole paper had I not attempted the whole paper I could have, I would have cleared screaming, but I didn’t. And after that, I said, you know, I have to get into IIT. I did do this Karnataka CET exam. so, I did get a good, good rank. And I had the option of going to a few local Bangalore colleges, but I said no, you might as well take another pass at it. So that’s when I went to Delhi and I did my one year, you know, kind of being in the hostel over there in studying. And if you’ve seen aspirants or not, it was a very similar setup over there, I used to stay in this place called Hauz Rani, which was a kind of slump is actually a slump. It’s in front of all the malls today in in Saket, it still exists over there and a lot of the JEE aspirants who study in FIITJEE stay there. So, I stayed there for a year and then I graduated I mean I finished that and then I I got into IIT Bombay, been upstairs for five years at IIT Bombay pursuing my and slowly, slowly kind of pick that pick the tools and tricks of the trade, that eventually we kind of use to build shops and then FYND


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 04:10

So, tell us about the initial, you know, journey of FYND, first because you where you know, you started as ad sales when you were back in job and then you left your job to pursue entrepreneurship. Right.


Farooq Adam 04:26

how did you how did you get to how did you get to know about ad sales


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 04:31

In my research


Farooq Adam 04:33

Okay, very few people know about this. So, I think very early on. build a company and you study specifically you have to build, build a software company, because anything else require a lot of capital and, you know, no one’s willing to give capital to, you know, a nobody. But for software, building software as a company, which builds software, you don’t really need anything, right? I mean, you need a laptop, a few people and some creativity and a business idea, and then anything is possible. So that was kind of, you know, back of my mind, running even when I was in a in campus, we used to consult, help people build, you know, their website, or some web application that they weren’t, even today, I think, the website that we made for Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management at IIT, it still exists, that’s something we built way back in 2006, or seven. So, after I joined opera, we kind of toying around with the things of, you know, what to build, how to build it. So, opera used to have this, you know, annual innovation contests every year. And, and they were used to give around, I think, you know, 50,000, almost $50,000 as cash price. And I said, you know, that could be a very interesting way of, you know, getting seed money. So, to me between, and I had kind of, the first time I had done it, we all got like a third place or something, and, you know, we got some, some cash for that, but we kind of blew it. The next year in 2010. I said, no, this year, I’m going to get, you know, first, second, third all or as many prizes as can, so I can get that to cash prizes as seed money. And that’s what I did, you know, we applied, you know, I made these small, small teams, and we applied for it. And then I think we got 1/3 Prize, and one popular prize and all that, and we collected some $25-30,000. From that, and for in that one of the ideas was ad sale. essentially, if you walk into a retail store today, how do you get the convenience of online shopping, right? What is the convenience of online shopping, right, you get to see everything at one go, what you’re buying and how you’re buying is then used to give you suggestions on what you should buy next, or what can go along with that, all of that that exists in, you know, the online world, it was missing in the offline world? So essentially, the idea was, you know, adding another sale, right, that’s why the name ad sale, the idea was, you’re going to put a tablet at the time, at the time of Checkout, and based on what you’re buying, you kind of recommend products that can go along with your cart, even if you don’t buy it, you know, we’ll give you a coupon to come by next time. Right. And this made a lot of sense for you know, the, the type of retailers at that time I was we were working with in the US and then we started you know, trying to pitch that idea to US retailers but then the company was kind of going through kind of a reorg in some sense. So me and Harsh kind of decided at let’s just take let’s just leave all of this and start off our own so we in 2012 we quite literally drew from Dell we packed our bags and drove ourselves time come to Bombay and started building it we didn’t start with ad sales initially we were more interested in the electronic health record space that was what our you know, initial idea was that we’re going to start build something in the electronic health record space the electronic health record space in India is nonexistent even today it’s kind of nonexistent, right the players we’re trying to do things but neither the patient really care nor the doctor’s care and the and the healthcare institution as such do not have a framework you know, for really capturing your health history or even documenting your health history. So, we said you might you can do something with that when you started talking to doctors and path lab that’s when you kind of realize that it’s very difficult to sell to doctors, doctors do not really like hearing you know how they can become better or how their practices can be better by adopting technologies. This is the time I think the 2012 Practo was kind of initially launching and we would see you know how practo was kind of working with the market and how we were approaching the market but there was just too much resistance. We had this ad sale prototype that we had built on an on a tablet so one find out of frustration I and Harsh says you know how long can you sit in between four walls and you know, hope for an idea to come in. So, we said let’s go to the market and quite literally we used to work out of his house in Santa Cruz. So, we took the tablet and then we said OKAY, let’s go to Juhu Tara Road, the road in Bombay is where all these all these expensive boutiques are there right? So, we walked into first into an Anita Dongre store right also this was the Anita dongre a bridal store not the not the usual ones when we walked in over there and like bunch of two guys you know in flip flops and jeans, no one will pay attention and we said OKAY theek hai yaha toh kch ho nhi rha hai. But we haven’t I had never bought a diesel pair I didn’t even know; you know, diesel was such an expensive brand. You know, we’ll ask it you just think, you know, a diesel is that brand that you see as counterfeit everywhere, right? And he was one of those cheap, cheap, cheap products, but then you go look into the world and he’s giving you know, jeans of you know, 10,000 rupees 15,000 rupees, and it’s doing the crazy there was like 15000-rupee jeans also, and you have to understand this was 2012 right. I mean, you like people who maybe now are, you know, comfortable buying 10,000-rupee jeans, but 2012 it was unheard of, you know, you’d buy a Levi’s pair for 2000 rupees, and that was like a luxury. to, to a management trainee, who, and this is where you’re going to kind of you believe in kind of the universe aligning with you. So, we start, I start talking to the management trainee, saying that, you know, this is the product that we have built. And you know, this is how it can be used to increase your sales. And all he said is a really good idea. You know, the head of CRM is of reliance brands is here. Why don’t we show this to him? So, I didn’t even know diesel belonged to reliance brands then. And the head of CRM, we show the product, we’re the head of CRM, he said, is a really good. why don’t’ you come and show this to my head of brands incorporate come to our office to cover it and show it to us. I think it is very good. Yeah, this is a good break. Right. So. So we do. So, this is where we know, we take the product, and we go meet them. And we show this to them. They said OKAY, that’s a great, you know, why don’t you do something, show something for us for our diesel store. And when that’s when we knew we wanted to get a designer on board. And that’s when Harsh went and got went on behance and, and found the top designer in Bombay, and then ping the Sreeraman, my third, my third founder, and he said, you know, let’s go meet him. And he and luckily, he was also from IIT Bombay, he was studying at the Industrial Design Center, right, IIT Bombay. So, we bring them in represent the idea, no, this is what we want to do with diesel, this is what we have, but we want to make something really unique and new for them. And so, he made a design for us. And then we took a large it to print out and we went into the store. And this is what we kind of realized early on in our careers is, and he called it like the big paper trick. People really diesel store. And that’s how we got our first client and our first project. And that’s how, and we said, okay, we want to change the name from Ad sale, because an ad sale does not make sense. And so, we want to change the name. Naming is, I think probably one of the toughest things as entrepreneurs we need to do, you know, because if you get this wrong, you’re wrong for very long. And after many weeks of figuring out what we want, I think we landed at Shop sense, because with like making shopping sensational or something like that, and that’s where and then they also had the sense where we could understand what the shoppers were doing it so it kind of made sense. And it had a very kind of add on kind of enterprise product to it. We said, okay, let’s go to shops, and that our shops and schools built.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:47

And the basic problem shops are we’re following a dealer store or people could try virtually, right.


Farooq Adam 13:55

Okay, so what problems we wanted to solve. With shop sense were many folds. One was discovery of products. If you see how products are kind of stacked in a store, it’s very difficult to really know you have to go rack by rack. So we said you know, we’re going to solve the discovery problem, we’re also going to solve the check for availability problem, which means if you walk into a store, and if a product is not available, you could see which other store the product is available, we didn’t we had not enabled transactions in the first go itself, we had just enabled kind of this we also wanted to understand and this was a little farfetched that we wanted to kind of create that sort of, you know, discovery to transaction funnel so we thought you know, if people came onto the device and played with a few products, and if those products got sold, can we kind of you know, infer or you know, what products have what sort of, you know, throughput in terms of you know, visitors to with to transactions, but that really no that didn’t really pan out To you, and this is like, you know, 2014, right? I mean, this is not now all of this feels very obvious. But in 2013-14, people would, you know, even, you know, ask simple questions, right, you know, why can’t he go and go to the other store himself, you know, why do we have to do it for him? Right, and that’s how, you know, entrance. They are, they are Master franchisees and then they are sub franchisee, distributors and franchisees, so these franchises really don’t care whether the other franchisee is successful or the Master franchisee is successful. Even the KPIs of a store are not based on you know, how much business they bring for the overall brand, but it is how much they bring for that store. So, they’re more interested in selling products that are in the store and not really you know, across the company. So, we have to really, you know, move the needle of you know, this kind of changing the organizational culture of these companies to really think about it, you know, an omni channel was not even, not even a thing then, you know, in the, in the, in the US omni-channel had been kind of pushed from 2010 but in India, it was just still considered to be you know, one of those buzzwords that didn’t really mean anything, but slowly, slowly, we kind of push the envelope working with large retailers in the country and Push, push the product in it, in 2015, we kind of had to pivot from shop sense to find So, that was another interesting pivotal journey.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 17:08

So, I would love to know that story like what was it that made you pivot from shop sense to find?


Farooq Adam 17:15

multiple things and oddly enough, when you’re building a company, not everything is really in your control, right, I mean, they are market forces, they are in investor sentiment. So, in 2013-14, after we had kind of started getting good traction, in Can you take this, you know, this product outside, can you build the building India sell it to US. But what was happening in 14-15 was enterprise SAAS in built from India and sell to the globe. That story was really not panning out. even companies who are raised a lot of capital were really struggling. Due to that capillary was saving, I mean, people investors who had invested in capillary they were, you know, sending all sorts of signals, you know, this sort of model will not work. So, we had to absorb those sorts of headwinds for our enterprise SAAS. Second, what was happening was This is still pre Jio, right. But everyone wanted to invest. I remember in meetings, you know, they have been told that, you know, forget all of this, just build an app where consumers come in, buy anything from you read, it doesn’t matter. Just make an app so that we can, you know, fund you, we really love you, we really like your team, and we really know why we really believe that you can build it. But this is not fitting in our you know, the fun to use. And we met everyone in the Indian VC market. When I say everyone, I said everyone, right, I mean we reach at multiple stages, but in 2014, we kind of took a hard call and realized, you know, this is not going to happen, no matter what we do is not going to happen. So, let’s kind of you know, take a stock again of situation and we literally went on the whiteboard, and we wrote down all ideas that we thought making a sock brand, you know, business like a zoom car business like we work and we wrote everything and when we will deep after each of these models to really understand you know, how could they could scale whether they could scale over the internet scale. While doing shop sense also we got a real sense of a few things that in India, you know, getting SAAS revenue So, so based on those things, we went after each of these business models, and then eventually we came back and realize, you know, what we had itself was so, so powerful. And what we had was, essentially, we had built so many connectors to get data out of these enterprises systems, you know, from, you know, SAP, to, you know, file systems, everything. And this kind of became the core IP of the company, where we could connect any enterprise data source and get data in real to our close to real time information. And we said, okay, why don’t we then use this data and then make shopping discoverable on an app? And that’s when go ahead. Okay. So that’s when we said, So, we have, and we could get data in real time. So, we knew which store was talking what product in in close to real time. And in 2012, you know, hyperlocal was kind of becoming a thing, right? hyperlocal grocery shopping, grofers was building that. There was someone else also, I forget was into hyperlocal. We said, Fine, you know, maybe if that’s what the world wants, we said, we will use this and build an app, which will enable people to buy clothes from nearby stores. And in 2015, we did a recap of our cap table, rebranded ourselves and launched the FYND app on 20th of October 2020.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 22:12

Yeah, and what did you get? What did you miss?


Farooq Adam 22:15

Okay, so, so we looked after all the different models, and what we realized, you know, what we had was really powerful and meaningful, which was access to real time data, through all the different types of enterprise systems, SAP, Oracle, and all the way to, you know, these file systems that existed in the legacy systems. And we thought, you know, we’re going to take all of that data in that and, you know, merge it with your rich catalog and make it shoppable. And that’s what we did in 2015. We kind of recap the company, raised, raise new capital and rebranded shop sense to fynd and we launched our first consumer product on App Store and Google Play Store on 20th. October 2015. That was when we launched Fynd.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 23:09

Very cool and, and can you share your journey raising capital? Tell them like the struggles, including the angel round, and the VC money?


Farooq Adam 23:19

Oh, yeah, sure.


Farooq Adam 23:33

Our first round was relatively easy. The first round I think we raised was around 300 300k I think of that 100k we got from Powai Lake ventures that was the fund, Zishaan used to run to see Zishaan was a senior from campus. So, I knew So, we actually made a prototype and he showed it to him and he said we I showed Okay, we will like to invest so zee and Powai Lake ventures, I think we will the second investment or first investment after housing, or before offering housing is about that. So


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 24:24

I think Ola would have been the first one?


Farooq Adam 24:28

Yeah, so Ola, I think wasn’t really done using Powai Lake ventures as a group. But yeah, I think that was Zee first investment. And so, we got like 100k from them. And then 200k we got from Sasha. so harsh knew Sasha from campus because of his to organize this thing called a e-cell. So, he knew that and Sasha knew of opera solutions as a company because he was a he was he is a is a big investor. In fractal, so he kind of knew how opera was doing as compared to fractal because they were they were in a both spaces. So, they. So, he had an idea of you know, what sort of, you know, talent for expertise the company had. So, it was essentially just a bet on us, and not so much on what the business model is or you know how you’re going to go about doing it. I think the first 300k was relatively easy to get after that,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:31

for this one on the same mock up that you showed to diesel, right?


Farooq Adam 25:36

Yeah, no, no. So, this was after we actually launched it in diesel. So, in diesel, there was actually a working prototype, so people could go and see it. Right. So, we didn’t get it on a mock, we actually got it on the first first release, right? I think we got like the first quarter of 2013. And we thought, you know, raising 300k, like, was a big deal, right? Like today, 300k is absolutely nothing. Someone else would. And so, what we found was that we were not getting meaningful feedback. And on the other end, you know, consumer internet companies were, you know, just going in raising all sorts of crazy numbers. And this is when you know, Flipkart was doing mass made major rounds, when Myntra was doing major rounds. Ola was doing big rounds. And the key common theme was them, you know, built for customers and not for businesses. And, and that’s what we really struggled with. And so, in 2015, when we went when, when we went about after we build Fynd


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 27:22

When was the first VC round after that?


Farooq Adam 27:28

So, after that, we in 2015, we did a recap, and Sasha re-invested in that we raised a million dollars in 2015. And 2015 was equivalent to what it is today, in terms of you know, people raising, there is a ridiculous amount of money on you know, all sorts of ridiculous valuation that was the same thing in 2015. 2015 was the you know, any, any, anyone with a with an idea with a degree from IIT would turn up and you know, raise a few million dollars. And it was very weird. And, and this is the same time, you know, when you know, Tiger was writing really large checks and really fast. And, and so but towards the end of 2015-2016, the sentiment just turned. And it became a nightmare to raising 2016. So, so what we were told is, you know, reach a few 1000 transactions a month, they you know, have some 10-15,000 active users. So, you should be able to easily, you know, do a, you know, a 10 million valuation series A, you could do it like, three, 4 million you can raise on your $10-15 million valuation. That’s if you had this model fraction. And on the last day of the sale, I remember we kind of sold every flipflop, Nike flipflop was there in the city, we sold all of them after when we were having such a difficult time, you know, trying to get it fulfilled because we sold everything in the stores. And then the store guys also got really irritated because now they didn’t have anything to sell to customers who walked into a store, right? And so, it was kind of a very weird situation. So, after that, when we went to the VCs, again, the goalpost started shifting. First, they said transactions. So, we got two transactions. After that, they said, shows your repeats. So, we didn’t have really great repeats. So, we started working on our repeats. big, big, hairy audacious goal, we are going to sign up 1 million people in six weeks, and we’re going to do 100,000 transactions, we’re going to do 100,000 transactions out of that. And that’s what we what we did between June and July, we acquired a million users. And we can break into the top 10 ranks on App Store Play Store for shopping, and we are getting tremendous traction. And also, we are able to reduce our cost of install to few rupees. And this is before Jio, Jio has not really come in so they’re not as many users online as before, and we really created the first installs signups and I don’t think we crossed 100k transactional but I think we got some 50-60,000 transaction based on that growth, you know, something very interesting started happening, people started you know, noting noticing us, right people started writing into a straight telling you know, how that So, one of the first funds to kind of reach out to us was This is a very interesting fund where they kind of you know, track which companies is kind of breaking out by studying public data on play store AppStore and some other sources. And they reached out to us saying you know; we will want to talk to talk to you. So, via Kunal, Kunal Bahl founder of Snapdeal, so they were also investors. in us, we got introduced to Rocketship, based on our traction. They were how we were growing, they said yes, we said we will want to be part we will participate in your series a. Then we got IIFL activated his first venture fund, so we were able to convince them to lead a round. Then we got FJ lab, again, they kind of saw a growth, and they’re able to invest in it. So kind of brought this all together, I think, the half million round towards the end of 2016


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 34:05

And by 2016, you were only running on that $300,000 you had raised in 2013. Right?


Farooq Adam 34:11

No, we raised a million dollar in between, in 2015. We had to raise a million dollar right. So again, again over there, right. So, what we did was in early 2016, we kind of realized we need longer runway. So we went to the team and I think we were around 50-60 odd member team and we said if we are good we will have we are having trouble raising capital. So, what I would want you to do is tell us how much salary you cannot take home. So, people will be reduced salary from 30% to 50%. And for us we had made zero and we said we will in towards the end of it we will return once. Once we raise the capital we will return all of that plus we will you know put in a 20% bonus on top of that because imagine if you kind of deferred your salary of every month, we also then kind of realized how finicky the Indian customer is they, how deal hungry they are, and what will they do to kind of sabotage you know, installs which are worthless, and you know, how what a scam, all these affiliate marketing guys are, and so it was a mid of 2017, I think, then we shut down, And in 2017, we were working with Google to bring shopping on to the end of 2017, we kind of shut down zero cash on delivery, once we realized, you know, all the scam that was happening with you know, affiliate traffic and consumer generally exploiting your systems. And towards the end of 2017, we got a term sheet. So, we were working with them. And then towards the end of 2017, we said, you know, we are racing around, would you like to participate? And that’s when we were able to get the Google Shopping team to invest


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 37:42

How big was the round with Google?


Farooq Adam 38:10

and I think one day, we got a call asking the Reliance industries, one to come in to commence to talk to you.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 38:22

We would like to know in detail how the deal went right? From the call till like end?


Farooq Adam 38:38

June, July of 2018. And Reliance runs this incubator called Gen Next ventures. and Harsh was invited over there to speak about how, how we how we got growth, or how we got traction. But then he decided to speak on how we how we build the organization culture. So instead of growth, and that was a presentation he made to some cohort of Gen Next ventures, as part of the Gen Next ventures monthly update, they then sent the pitch that we had presented in that in that session, which got them and really interested in us saying that, you know, this is exactly how we think and this is exactly how we want to build. So, we should talk to these boys. And that’s how we got then invited to we got invited by the chairman’s office to come and meet. So, one fine day. Me and Harsh, then go to reliance corporate Park, which is on the outskirts of Bombay, and we are told that we are going to meet Manoj Modi, sir. And at that point of time, we were working with Reliance brands for almost like four or five years now, but we have never actually had interacted anyone with anyone at the leadership. So, I said fine, okay, you know, it’s one of those meetings where we, you know, introduce ourselves what we’re doing. And you know, if nothing else might open some more business for us. At no point of time, in our mind, it was that, you know, we will, you know, get into an, you know, large acquisition deal or any of that, because we had just raised money from Google, I think, a few months also that 90% of the money was not used, or 100% of the money was not used. So, we really not were looking for any capital, or anything. So, we walk into the room, and it’s quite an intimidating setup, right. I mean, you’re sitting in this room, which is overlooking a helipad, and you can see a kind of helical, helical helicopters land and come and you’re like, oh, wow, okay, that’s, that’s really, and you can kind of see all of this, right, this, this whole campus is a huge campus, it’s a lush campus with lots of building and you kind of realize all of this was built. Because one person one finally decided that he wanted to build, and what it is now is the genesis of one man’s idea, perseverance, and you know, or whatever you call it ambition. And you can really get awed by that all of this was not there, you know, 30-40 years back, and this kind of was built on that vision. We sitting over there, and then, you know, so there are a bunch of people from the copdev, a bunch of people from Gen Next venture, and then any gentleman walks, walks in, and hands over the card, and it says, Manoj Modi, so we start explaining, you know, what we do, how we are helping them how we work with retailers, and how we working with and then things like that. And then he starts describing the vision of new commerce of the reliance, and how they want to build how they want to really build for India, while connecting, you know, the last mile with Kirana stores, with stores, with their own supply chain, and how they want how they want to kind of, you know, bring everyone in this new ecommerce, like physical, as well as the digital together. And it was a great vision. And there’s something we were doing, but our scale was not as large as, right. I mean, when we started conversation with the numbers, they would throw at us in terms of, you know, they say, you know, in a given day, they generate 100 terabytes of telecom record call record data. Or we know the number of call minutes that are happening, or the number of everything, the scale itself was so difficult for us to even think, think of in you keep hearing it. You could read about it, but when you really meet people who have built it, right, that was really fascinating. So, we started having, so what happens if the first meeting happened? And it was the end? Mm sir asks. Okay, so what? So, he though I asked you Okay, so what should we, what should be the next steps? So then, so we have that, you know, half an hour, 45 minutes. But he says, why don’t you meet me? No, I tell him, okay, I’m going to think about what should How should we work together, and I’ll come back to you by Monday. And this meeting was this meeting was on a Wednesday. And so, in that call, it was made as if, right, they want to seriously look at look at us as a company that they would want to kind of join forces in building the blink jiomart. And this is when you know, jiomart was not even not even released. Then we went to when we when he said, you know, okay, so then we went and started talking to different people and, and then I remember going in talking to Sasha and saying that we went to Sasha and he said, you know, Sasha, this is what is happening? We don’t know how to get out of this situation, right? We really don’t want to because he just started building right? I mean, why would you and we have all the capital in any kind of everyone kind of told us, you know, try to get out of the situation without spoiling your relationship because you work with them and you continue to work with it. There’s no way You cannot work with the largest retailer in the country. And that’s what you know, then we kind of decided in our next meeting next week, that we will go and tell them that, you know, we were not looking at anything. And so, we go to their head offices. And we will kind of come a little early. So, we are doing, we went with Sasha office was right in front of us, we met Sasha, we came down, and we’re going to make a simple thing, okay, we’ll quickly say that, you know, as a company, we are not capable of the scale that you require, you know, we don’t have the talent to leverage, bol dete hai talent hi nhi hai, hoga hi nhi. So, we walk into that one boardroom, there. And again, it’s a huge boardroom. And then there’s some people in one corner, and then there’s some people on the other corner, and we’re sitting in the middle on the other side. And then, you know, a lady walks in, and she turns out to be Isha Ambani, and now me and harsh looking at each other and saying now it’s going to be very difficult to say anything. So, this is this is that so and then, and then sir comes again, and then. So, we had made some, you know, ridiculous notes around how we cannot do scale or anything. And then he starts talking. He starts talking of, you know, the scale, the ambition, the resources that will be available, how large a business we want it to be, and how much we’re willing to invest. And, and he’s nice, then I asked him, you know, point blank to that. I told him actually that, you know, that fine, you know, we believe in being brutally honest. So, I’m going to honestly tell you, that everyone has told us not to do work with you. Right. So, then he asks, he asked me, right, so but what do you think it forget what people have told me? What do you think? So, as I am feeling no such problem as such, I have no, I’m not finding any reasons to do no, to build a belief. So, say said, so then you believe in? Why don’t see that? And why don’t you do one thing? Why don’t you go and talk to all the people who build Jio with me, because they are the same people who will be you will be working, when you when you will be building Jiomart I said, Fine, okay, I’ll meet them also, then I’ll understand, you know, who these people are, how they build everything. And then we got to meet in all the leaders at Jio at Reliance, you know, engineering Anish Bhai, Kiran Thomas, Pankaj Pawar we met all of these people, and all of them, you know, what we kind of felt was, you know, the way they think of scale, the way they think of approaching from kind of market first, you know, going after the whole of the country is fundamentally different from you know, how we think, because we’ve been made to, when you read, you know, the valley folklore, right, everything starts from, you know, doing that small pilot, finding your niche audience, you know, doing your product market fit, and then you know, scaling, failing, here the thinking is very different. The thinking is right, you are going to win by deploying at scale, you launch at such a large scale, that there is no one who can then kind of even come and compete with you. And this is what really distinguishes, you know, the reliance way of doing things as compared to anyone else out for them everything we have, you can win only if you have scaled and you use that scale, you know, to get a better rate, you get better access to customers, you’re able to win by scale, because you are every everywhere. And that really kind of push the needle, move the needle for us. And then I think towards the first half of 2019, first quarter, first month of 2019, we got a term sheet. From then mid, mid 2019, I think, August 1 or July 30th. The deal was kind of completed, we still own a large part of the company, the founders and employees, we own around 16-17% of the company. And the remaining is Reliance. So, we continue to run Fynd as it is, we enjoy using all the tech, all the tech all the expertise that we build at Fynd and working with the larger Jiomart and putting our product wherever required.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 49:42

And the acquisition was close to right as reported in public media of $42 million for 84% of the company.


Farooq Adam 49:52

That’s correct. I think the numbers I don’t think there was any nothing wrong in the numbers the way they went about doing the deal was So, whatever use your previous round, we will give an 18 or 20% bump. Because anyway, that money is going to go to the, to the investors and all they care about is their hurdle rate. And that’s why so I think, everyone, a lot of people made money who are invested with us in the initial days. But I think the guys who came in, in the last round, they just got like an 18% IRR.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 50:25

Got it. And how is your journey being post acquisition? Right? You have been an active angel investor. Correct? Right. So, I would just love to touch upon that journey. When did you make your first angel investments, and if you can share your list?


Farooq Adam 50:41

my first angel investment actually was way back in 2013. And that time I, we invested in company, a friend of mine from campus, he used to work in this company called idea Forge, the drone company, and then he left it, the first deal i did was in 2013, was in this company, I forget the name of that company also kind of shut down. But I’ve been in angel investing in 2013. And the simple idea was essentially if you know, people who I know are on campus for investing, who are starting up, I would invest in them and our cheque size used to be relatively small, small, then we will kind of pull in together and you know, do like a 25 to 30 to 50 lakh rupees round whatever they wanted. And this is in that time, you know that there wasn’t any right pre seed round, or there wasn’t any, you know, these Angel syndicates, right? It was it was much tougher to raise capital, especially your first round. And I think in 2017 or 18. With Gagan Goyal, we kind of institutionalize this fund called first cheque, which was essentially right, anytime I would invest, first cheque would also kind of go invest along with me, and then it kind of became making easier for me to, you know, get access to deal and become easier for me to invest in a larger, meaningful, full manner. So, I think that between 2013 and now I think I’ve done maybe close to, you know, 30 odd deals. And now I’m kind of, in the last, you know, a year or so I’m trying to do a deal a month. And we’re the focus I’ve kept is consumer internet, enterprise, SAAS, that those are things that I really understand things that you guys don’t like, and I don’t understand as you know, Ed Tech, and healthtech for that matter. I don’t understand even though this is a really hot subject, but consumer internet SAAS we do. I also used to also do D2C brands before but I kind of stop doing that. But in D2C we got really good brands, we got Chaayos, mcaffeine, pernia’s pop up shop we have.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 53:37

which would be your angel investment, which turned out to be largest, the top five or six ones?


Farooq Adam 53:45

in terms of valuation, the top five I would say, There’s Bizongo is one. Yeah, Chaayos is there which is become big, then there is m caffeine, which has become big. In that recent cohorts, they are some which I hope are going to become big. But then those these are kind of yet to happen. But these three tops three or I know they’ve become big; they I think all are kind of in the 20 to 30x return range.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 54:27

And have you taken any exits till now?


Farooq Adam 54:30

No, not yet. The problem is, even if you get an exit right away, where do you really deploy that capital? And I did that that’s really a challenge, right? I mean, if you if you figure out how to deploy it. With that sort of extreme returns, you might just keep it over there because you know, these guys are continuing to do well and they will continue to give you higher return. So, we did not cut any exits. For me. There was this one company with did return some money back because it shut down. But it took her like a haircut but not really a bumper return on anything.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 55:09

What are the principles of building a company that you learned in the last eight years? Some of the things which you wouldn’t do now, if you start again, some of the things which you would emphasize, you know, from day one, because now you have scaled fine to certain level, and now working at one of the largest scale enterprises, you know, not only in India, but mainly Or what you would tell, you know, your angel investing companies from the process of building a company, if you have to summarize in, you know, eight to 10 pointers?


Farooq Adam 55:53

Okay, so be product lead. Number one, if you’re building for enterprises, or businesses do product lead, there’s not a strong enough emphasis in India to build product lead companies, a lot of times you know, you have companies which make a product but that requires so much more effort to sell. So, make become first the product lead, have a really strong high bar for you know, design and consumer experience, right? Today, the difference between a consumer product build in India, and that is built in the US, there is nothing, it’s there’s no difference, right, you will have to hold that, but really high over invest in engineering, the I cannot emphasize this enough, and for you to really over you know, get a great talent and attract great talent and retain great talent, you have to have a really good culture. And when I say culture is right, so, the company is a kind of reflection of, of what the founders, founders know, right, and if the founders, you know, people used to do sales before or people who were not anyway, I kind of understand how tech products are built, they then build this organization, which are very, you know, sales driven, sales, sales first, which does not really attract, you know, the top talent into your company. So be very careful of, you know, how you go about building this culture, because end of the day, you need people to build and only then you can sell you can’t sell before building you have to build first and but so you need to attract the high quality, quality builders. When create your, you know, talent acquisition team from day one, that’s going to be your competitive advantage. And it’s kind of moves from, from the culture point of view, raise money when you don’t really need it. And this has been, you know, one of those hard learnings for us, and this, I’m going to keep telling my investing companies also, a lot of times when you know, invested in bonds come in, and you know, founder’s kind of all at all pricey and picky saying that, no, I’m not going to take the money. Now I’ll raise it after this. After that, you don’t know how the world is going to change, right? If the world is kind of conspiring to, you know, give you resources, you know, just take, take it right, and we have a saying in in the right ghar aayi Lakshmi ko mana nhi karte. That’s exactly what it is. You do not say no. To this, just take it you never know when you will be required. Growth solves our problem. So, for all your problems that you might have just focused on growth, that is your NorthStar, nothing else you know, and no matter how fast your product is, no matter how shiny a product is, if people are not using it, it’s got no value, right. So, growth will solve all your problems, it will solve the problem internally, externally, everything and the end of the day, right? The company’s aim is to make product which reaches you know, millions of consumers 100 of enterprises, right. And if you’re able to kind of demonstrate that in a meaningful manner, and fast, you will be able to sort of time companies keep just, you know, over thinking about it and over engineering it without going, going to the market. What else and keep learning. Be humble. Just be with the attitude that we don’t know things. We are figuring it out. And I’ve seen it with everyone is figuring it out, you know, two founders of the largest companies, two founders, a small company, everyone is figuring it out. We really do not know how the world is going to evolve. We really do not know, you know, what will what works, what doesn’t work. Everyone is figuring it out and it’s okay. It’s okay to not know just be with the attitude that you know, I have the mental models and the building blocks to keep figuring out as delegates I get more information and read like crazy, right? Read like crazy. Lighting like me like I’ve given you so many points now.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:00:07

Yeah, definitely. And what are some readings, right? You said to read like crazy that has influenced your business decision making?


Farooq Adam 1:00:15

Sure. So, the first book on my list is High output management by Andy Grove. I really love that book. Good to Great, Jim Collins, that’s been really been helpful. Measure what matters on okrs has been really helpful, all of these books. And there’s another book, which we used when we were pivoting called Exponential organizations. That also really helped us you know, to pick things what we should do what we shouldn’t do. Because then your founders, right, I mean, you have your choices need to be really well thought through. Because if you make them wrong, you don’t have the liberty to you don’t always have the liberty to change, right. So, when we’re doing a pivot from shop sense to find, you know, exponential organization really helped us after that there are tons of books that we read on an ongoing basis. But these three, four books have been really helpful for us in, in thinking of how to build an organization that works has an organization that is you know, both customer centric, also employee friendly. Also, it grows also fast. So that’s, that’s that those have been books really helpful. High output management, I think you can skip the first few chapters. But after that, it’s really, really helpful.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:01:31

Thanks a lot. It was wonderful knowing your journey finds journey.


Farooq Adam 1:01:35

Thank you, Sam. Thank you. Thank you for having me said that. And I hope this inspires you know, 100 more entrepreneurs to start up. You know, last word for entrepreneurs over there. it’s never as easy or as linear as you’d expect it to be. It’s going to be if you’ve ever gone trekking in Nepal, right? They call it Nepal flat, which is essentially up and down, up and down. That’s what exactly is going to be it’s going to be a journey. It looks like Nepal flat. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

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