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Beyond the check: value creation, diversity, and tech

Published on May 10, 2023

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In a recent episode of Indonesia Digital Deconstructed by AC Ventures, the firm’s Principal of Value Creation Samira Shihab and B Capital’s VP of Strategy and Operations Chandan Deep joined host Leighton Cosseboom to discuss how VCs are addressing a new-found imperative to offer value creation to startups in Southeast Asia, beyond just writing checks.

The conversation explored the diversity of founders in the region and the importance of matching skills with market opportunities. Samira and Chandan acknowledged the need for greater female representation and highlighted their initiatives, Connected Women and Stellar Women, aimed at empowering women in tech and female entrepreneurship.

Chandan identified significant potential in Southeast Asia’s emerging B2B market. Both guests underscored the dynamic and diverse nature of startups, emphasizing the crucial role of supporting them with experience, network, and capital. Here are a few key takeaways from the episode: 

Beyond the check: value creation, diversity, and tech

The transcript below has been condensed and edited for focus and clarity.

Leighton: Can you tell me about your respective roles and how you ended up on the value creation side of VC? 

Samira: As a founder-turned-Head of Value Creation at AC Ventures, I apply my entrepreneurial experience to support our founders, post-investment. Our focus is to strategize growth, maximize investment returns, and address key challenges across areas like business development, governance, and talent. The goal is to provide strategic and operational support, ensuring that our approach to value creation aligns with the specific needs and thesis of our firm.

Chandan: As a consultant-turned-tech-operator and now a strategist, my role at B Capital is to partner with founders to drive growth and scale. I see myself as a thought partner, advisor, and facilitator, working on three main fronts: growth acceleration, operational improvements, and establishing partnerships and networks. Regardless of the unique challenges each startup faces, our North Star is to be the most value-added investor on the cap table. We structure our operating team accordingly, built by founders for founders, to encompass operations, capital advisory, and talent management.

Leighton: What are some common challenges B Capital tackles in Southeast Asia, and can you share any success stories?

Chandan: Working with one of our portfolio companies in India, we helped them scale up revenue by almost 8x in the last three years. Despite the pandemic, we collaborated with BCG to define this company’s go-to-market strategy and introduced them to over 100 new customers. I later assisted in setting up their customer success function, which led to re-onboarding almost 50% of churned customers and achieving best-in-class retention of 95%+. The company’s strong NPS scores from customers and partners indicate our efforts have been successful, contributing to their phenomenal growth and creating a category-defining business.

Leighton: Sam, could you shed light on the role ACV plays in guiding startups through subsequent funding rounds?

Samira: Indeed, fundraising, especially in the current tech winter, poses a significant challenge for startups. Our value creation team, including Maliekah Harjani who specializes in capital advisory, as well as other members and the investment team, support our portfolio founders in securing funding. We assist with everything from preparing due diligence material to deal closure. Our extensive network of potential downstream investors, including local, regional, and global funds, along with our LPs, provide added value. Recognizing that each founder has a unique level of fundraising expertise, we offer support where it’s needed most, whether in financial due diligence or crafting a compelling pitch. Our aim is to not only lend a helping hand but also to transfer our knowledge, enabling founders to become more independent in their fundraising efforts.

Leighton: Do you find yourself guiding startups in perfecting their pitch to increase valuations, and if so, how does this process unfold at a granular level?

Samira: The support we provide our founders varies greatly, dependent on the stage of their company and their own experience. For instance, we recently worked with two college grads who had a thriving business but lacked the confidence and storytelling skills to attract their next investors. In such cases, our role involves instilling confidence and providing a framework for effective communication, especially as many investors hail from regions where English is the primary language. In other cases, we’ve worked with founders who can tell their stories well, but struggle with presenting neat, compelling financial data. Here, we step in to help organize their data rooms and offer frameworks to effectively present their numbers. For later stages, like series B or C, our role often revolves around networking, leveraging our global network to connect them with the right investors. Ultimately, fundraising is a sales game, and our goal is to provide all the necessary tools to ensure their success.

Chandan: With the current market conditions, fundraising has become more challenging, even for startups with great numbers and stories. Recognizing this, we’ve built a separate capital advisory team led by my colleague John, who has experience in investment banking and fundraising. His global network of investors has proven invaluable for our portfolio, especially for growth-stage startups. We also offer tangible assistance like helping with banker selection, defining the pitch narrative, and customizing it according to the target investor. Additionally, we’re focused on enabling strategic M&A conversations for our later-stage companies. We’re also facilitating venture debt conversations, as venture debt has become a more viable source of funding in Asia. Finally, we’re working on IPO readiness for our larger portfolio companies, advising them on board composition, governance, and financial reporting.

Leighton: What is Connected Women? What is Stellar Women? 

Chandan: Coming from India where only one in five women work, I felt like an anomaly in my early career due to the lack of women and role models around me. While at Twitter, I aimed to build a tribe of allies for women. We realized a community can be a force multiplier, providing thought partners, champions, and sponsors for women to openly discuss their challenges. To increase our impact, we joined forces with Meta, Google, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and MasterCard, allowing us to connect women leaders across various tech fields. This initiative, known as ‘Connected Women’, began in Singapore and quickly resonated globally, leading to local chapters in the US, Sydney, and London. Now at B Capital, I’m exploring ways to extend this initiative within the VC ecosystem, where it’s more than needed.

Samira: Stellar Women, a community platform for women leaders and entrepreneurs in Indonesia, was something I co-founded four years ago. We started with 16 women and now, we’ve grown across the nation. We offer support to female founders and business owners through education, resources, mentorship, and programs like accelerators and incubators. I was recently surprised to find that our membership had reached 30,000, a testament to the real need for support among female founders. I started Stellar Women based on my own journey and challenges as a female founder, recognizing the struggles we face internally and externally, from societal expectations to imposter syndrome, and beyond. 

Leighton: Samira, now that you’re about a year on, what has been the most surprising thing about working closely with founders and startups in ACV’s portfolio? 

Samira: Working in value creation is fast-paced, mirroring the speed of our founders. Initially, I believed there was a formula for identifying the best founders, thinking that if certain attributes were present, they’d lead to the best companies. However, I learned it’s not that simple. The success of a founder greatly depends on their fit with the industry and market opportunity. Our founders come from diverse backgrounds, ranging from unicorn graduates to highly operational or visionary strategists, making it impossible to predict who will be the most successful. Another surprising aspect has been the changing tone of the startup ecosystem. Last year, hiring for our startups was easy, but this year it’s become a challenge due to the current climate. The right hires can significantly influence a startup’s trajectory so this really factors into our focus and calculus.

Get the full episode for free on Spotify, Apple, and Google.

See also: AC Ventures and BCG release the definitive report on Indonesia’s booming fintech sector
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