Introducing ‘Operators Studio’ — Backing gritty founders who are solving real problems

I am really excited to kick-off 2019 by introducing ‘Operators Studio’ — my endeavor to invest in & support founders globally, by being with them in the trenches right from a really early stage. As you will see on the website, Operators Studio is all about “Backing gritty founders who are solving real problems “ — supporting innovative technology startups through early capital, deep operating expertise, global networks and a personal sounding board.

  1. The Genesis

While I left my Venture Capital career 5 years back to become a full-time operator, I still wanted to keep that one element that I most enjoyed as a VC, in my life — partnering with entrepreneurs to solve really interesting problems and build innovation-driven companies that move the needle for the world. As I transformed myself from an ‘investor’ to a ‘builder’, I also started investing in startups in their angel/ seed rounds, supporting founders at a deep operating level, working with them through their biggest tactical & strategic challenges, as well as most importantly, being a friend & sounding board to them.

Over last 5 years, I ended up investing in & supporting >15 startups across the world, along with my full-time operating stints. As I travel on the path to discovering my own differentiated world-view, investing style and what really excites me both as an operator & investor, I thought this is the perfect time to institutionalize my efforts. Hence, Operators Studio was born!

2. How is the Operators Studio Mandate Unique?

In my experience as a VC, angel and tech operator across US, China and India over last decade, a key gap I have observed is that the entire business & venture environment leans towards only a certain kind of business — that which is attractive to institutional investors. This means characteristics such as potential ‘moonshots’, going after humongous market sizes 
(as per guesswork), exit potential that moves the needle for institutional funds, and aligning with trends in-vogue (AI, ML, AR, VR, Crypto etc.).

Due to these filters, an entire gamut of tech businesses that are solving true ‘operating’ problems for customers/ users, which are often unsexy and lag behind latest trends, get completely overlooked. By the way, in majority of cases, these customer-centric businesses are highly innovative in their own right, and can often be built to be economically-viable without overt dependence on external capital. And in the process, generate solid financial returns and entrepreneurial gratification for all stakeholders over the long term.

The Mission of Operators Studio is to back exactly these kind of companies — those that put the customer’s problems first, leverage practical tech innovation to solve them, and are founded by tech warriors — entrepreneurs who are visionary, humble, resourceful and believers in deep execution. It doesn’t matter if a space or product is considered unsexy, unattractive or out-of-trend by the financial ecosystem or media — as long as the company is solving a problem that matters for the world, customers/ users are vouching for it, and founders are willing to be in it for the long haul and build the company in a way that’s most suited for realizing their vision, Operators Studio will be a believer in it!

3. How does Operators Studio Add Value to Founders?

a) Early & “patient” capital — will mostly invest in friends & family/ formal angel/ seed rounds; will be flexible from a stage perspective (‘Day 0’ co-founders coming together, pre-PMF, post-PMF to even Series A and beyond).

It takes at least a decade for a business to realize its true potential. We take an “evergreen” approach, supporting founders for whatever time it takes for them to realize their vision.

b) Operating guidance — deep-dive product sessions, go-to-market strategy, hiring, user acquisition, customer introductions, pitch decks, investor connects, exit discussions.

c) Global networks — helping companies go global via access to market knowledge, business expertise and networks across the “tripod” — USA, India and China.

Operators Studio will be flexible from a mode-of-involvement perspective, as long as its Mission is being fulfilled — in addition to investing directly in companies, this could involve direct ‘Day 0’ incubation, becoming an LP in other funds to get access to the most-promising companies, partnering with high-quality accelerators/ incubators, collaborating with established tech companies to unlock synergies etc.

4. Why This Name?

I have consciously avoided names like ABC Ventures or XYZ Capital. Operators Studio stands for a fresh venture-building approach —to me, this name is very significant as it communicates key tenets of this approach:

Operators — looking for companies that are solving real operating problems for customers/ users, backing entrepreneurs that have a rigorous operating mind-set, supporting founders by adding operating value to companies, helping them work through on-ground operating challenges rather than giving theoretical advice.

Studio — rather than being a conventional investing entity or a personal asset allocator, the vision for Operators Studio is inspired from boutique movie studio models (the likes of Hello Sunshine founded by Reese Witherspoon; Blinding Edge Pictures by M. Night Shyamalan; or Color Yellow Productions by Aanand L Rai). Its ethos is based on how these studios operate — looking for a unique story (problem to be solved) to tell to a specific audience (target customer), assembling/ supporting a team that brings to the table diverse skillsets needed to tell this story most effectively (backing gritty, execution-focused founders) and executing at economics most optimized for the story to be delivered most efficiently (capital efficiency, driving optimal returns).

5. Active Portfolio

My entire portfolio of companies is now under the Operators Studio umbrella. Following are the companies (currently-active) we are proud to have backed so far (in alphabetical order):

1) Artifacia (Toronto/ Bangalore) — AI-powered platform that helps e-commerce brands create and manage shoppable photos

2) Distributed Systems (San Francisco) — identity solutions for dApps (acquired by Coinbase)

3) Hate2wait (Gurgaon) — queue management product for SMBs and large enterprises

4) Instashift (Estonia) — global peer-to-peer platform to buy/ sell cryptocurrencies

5) Lets Venture (Bangalore) — India’s most trusted platform for angel investing and startup fundraising

6) My Ally (San Francisco Bay Area) — world’s only AI Recruiting solution for fully Automated Interview Scheduling and Recruitment Coordination

7) Scandid (Pune) — eCommerce deals & price comparison platform, now offering omni-channel commerce solutions for the global travel retail market

8) 91Springboard (Delhi) — category-leading co-working space in India

9) Trailze (Tel Aviv/ San Francisco) — making tough-terrain outdoor navigation easy (hikes, trails etc.)

10) Tydy (Gurgaon) — global onboarding & training product suite for the distributed modern workforce, bite-sized+gamified

11) Widget (San Francisco Bay Area) — transforming images and documents into customer communication channels, all without apps, phone nos. or forms

12) Yulu (Bangalore) — re-defining urban mobility in India via smart dockless bike sharing system

6. The Future

Am super-psyched to grow Operators Studio as a passion-driven parallel track, along-side my main operating career. I see tremendous opportunities for using tech innovation to solve really interesting problems and build outstanding companies, in markets as diverse as US, India and China. At the same time, am excited at the growth prospects of the current set of portfolio companies, several of whom are already emerging as category leaders.

Whether you are a founder, startup employee, established tech exec, angel, VC or corp dev professional, am eager to connect with you — for feedback, to exchange notes, collaborate or just brainstorm. You can Email me, as well as connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

I thank all the founders, startup teams, investors as well as other tech ecosystem professionals that I have had the privilege to work with over the past decade. Here’s to leveraging entrepreneurship + tech innovation to solve the world’s most pressing problems over the next 50 years.

PS: for more details on Operators Studio, check out our website.

Author: Soumitra Sharma

Operator-Angel I Product Leader I US-India corridor I Believer in Power Laws I Love building & learning

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