Teruhide Sato, Founder & Managing Partner, Beenext
In the last few years, Indian founders and the Indian startup ecosystem have grown by leaps and bounds. We’ve been following this journey for nearly seven years. We have witnessed companies invent and innovate in every aspect of business, whether it is technology, core infrastructure, people management, or customer understanding. The tailwind of a progressive government approach to startups, as well as an industry-led push to realise the digital India dream, have greatly aided this journey. BEENEXT is a ‘founder first’ firm, and our learning is inextricably linked to the incredible journeys of founders from whom we learn every day.
Based on our proximity to these founder journeys, we believe there are a few aspects and trends that are clearly visible in India and, more broadly, across emerging regions such as South East Asia.
• The transition from founder to CEO:
While it takes time to adjust to the role of CEO of an evolving company after being the founder who developed the company’s first product, this timeline has clearly shrunk. Today’s founders are much more “ready” and “prepared” to take on the scaling role. This deep understanding of issues related to organisational growth, establishing a company culture, and evolving relevant metrics and OKRs, in our opinion, aids product evolution.
• Awakening to a strong focus on the customer experience:
We have always been impressed by the product quality and ‘Jugaad’ innovations. It was never a question about the Indian founder’s unique ability to quickly innovate and hack together a working prototype that’solves’ the problem! Today, we are ecstatic to see the inherent customer focus in many of our startups from the start. It’s encouraging to see this customer obsession becoming more of a norm rather than something that needs to be addressed as you progress from a PMF (Product Market Fit) sniff test to a full product launch.
•Doesn’t mind venturing into adjacent markets:
As the startup ecosystem matures, founders are taking more daring risks to gain a strong customer mindshare and loyalty in a product category. Change and expansion are visible in any marketplace, whether it is B2C fintech or B2B focused. To provide a complete solution, startup teams are building products and entering adjacent markets without hesitation. This, in our opinion, is a critical point in cultivating a long-term ambition of category dominance rather than just product/feature dominance.
•Paying attention to inefficient systems and processes in order to capitalise on opportunities:
Traditionally, India has been known for developing products and services to support other industries. We are currently working with founders who are developing deep subject matter expertise in a specific area and unlocking process efficiencies through a combination of hardware and software thinking. Whether it’s manufacturing, logistics, supply chain, agri-business, or healthcare technology, the founders aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty in order to find the best ways to contribute. They are not limited in any way by the software, but are designing products/services with a variety of capabilities.
We are currently working with founders who are developing deep subject matter expertise in a specific area and unlocking process efficiencies through a combination of hardware and software thinking. Whether it’s manufacturing, logistics, supply chain, agri-business, or healthcare technology, the founders aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty in order to find the best ways to contribute. They are not limited in any way by the software, but are designing products/services with a variety of capabilities.
•Crossing the habit change inflection point:
It’s a difficult problem to work on products/services that eventually end up making a customer’s life easier and enabling a new way of transacting or consuming. However, thanks to the digital and mobile internet revolution, this is now possible. The foundation of digital infrastructure advancements has enabled the founders to create innovative products that simply do the right habit transformation for its users. The classic example is UPI, which enabled digital payments, spawning a slew of startups across the value chain payments, lending, SME accounting, and so on. As a participant in the early stages of a startup, we continue to learn from founders about what makes a great business tick. It is also our responsibility to empower and enable these founders to confidently face these challenges. There has never been a better time to visit India and witness these changes firsthand as well as through the eyes of visionary founders.
Teruhide Sato, Beenext’s Founder and Managing Partner
Teruhide Sato was a founding member of the Japanese arm of CyberCash, a US online payment company (now known as Veritrans) and a SoftBank Corporation joint venture. Teru was a student at Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management at the time. He co-founded BEENOS (formerly known as netprice.com), a global internet and e-commerce business incubator, in 1999. Teru, as CEO, took the company public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2004. In 2011, he co-founded Open Network Lab, one of Japan’s first seed accelerator programmes dedicated to developing domestic startups with globally competitive products. In 2015, he founded BEENEXT, a Singapore-based early-stage venture capital firm that invests in India, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the United States to support and invest in tech entrepreneurs with a bold vision to make a significant impact on society. Teru was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader in 2008.