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redBus co-founder Sama turns angel investor



In 2006, when incubation programmes, angel investors and mentorship weren’t particularly popular, co-founders Phanindra Sama, and learnt about entrepreneurship the hard way: They didn’t miss a single opportunity to meet mentors and get introduced to organisations such as the Indus Entrepreneurs. They also created a database of bus operators by visiting booking counters at the Kalashipalyam bus station here.

Today, Sama has not only turned an for aspiring technology entrepreneurs, he also spends most of his time mentoring others.

As an angel investor, he has already invested in five-six companies, which he feels are innovative in approach or have teams that are passionate about their jobs. Sama says his investments in these start-ups aren’t driven by the objective of profits, but by a sense of patriotism and passion to boost the Indian ‘innovation’ story.

“I think there are two-three drivers for me. First is innovation: If somebody is saying ‘I will be a copycat’, I may not be that interested unless within that, there are some innovations. I think innovation is a big thing for me. The second is the team. If there are really good and honest people, I don’t mind not making any money, which I can anyway make somewhere outside,” he says. “That is because I have gone through this journey and understand the challenges involved with start-ups.”

For instance, Sama, along with the two other co-founders of redBus, has invested in city-based company ShieldSquare, said to be the only Indian software product company that builds anti-scraping security software, which shields consumer portals against theft of database information by competitors. The product, being sold in the global market, has seen good traction in the Indian market, too, with clients such as and India Property.

“I thought that was great because until now, we were doing services or Indian-consumer-internet kind of businesses,” Sama said.

“Rarely did we come across somebody building products for the world. I don’t know if it is a very wise investment for returns. But for me, it was more of an inspiration to be a part of that and to motivate them,” he adds.

Venturesity, another city-based company in which he has recently invested, offers ‘hackathons’ (hacking contests) as a way to hire talent for technology companies. The company, co-founded by Subhendu Panigrahi, Prashant Koirala and Rajesh Rai, is now looking at taking the whole model online, through which coders from any part of the world can participate in hackathons. “While their (Venturesity’s) business model is innovative and I see this way of hiring and getting critical technology talent as the future, this is also an investment I have made in person,” Sama says. “When I met Subhendu through a common friend, I liked him very much; he is full of energy. So, I told him ‘it’s not about your business; I am investing in you’.”

Besides, Sama has also invested in a company that builds software in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space. Sama, however, doesn’t disclose the name of the company without the permission of its promoters.

Sama made a successful exit from redBus when the company was acquired by South African media giant Naspers in 2013, through its Indian subsidiary, ibiboGroup. Estimated at $100-110 million (Rs 590-650 crore), it is considered one of the biggest foreign strategic acquisitions of an Indian internet asset.

After transitioning his responsibility to the new owners, Sama started looking at the start-up space closely, sometime in 2014.

After from angel investments, he offers mentorship to start-ups or aspiring entrepreneurs, both in his personal capacity, as well as through Kakatiya Sandbox, a platform encouraging entrepreneurship and social innovations. He was also a mentor for the Entrepreneur in Residence programme by Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, his alma mater.

“I get a lot of mails from entrepreneurs… I feel it is a responsibility to help them in any way. It’s because people such as Raju (Raju Reddy, a serial entrepreneur who was on the redBus board) and others came in and helped us that we could set up the company.”

Does he have any plan to start a new venture in the near future? Sama says he is busy reading on a lot of subjects ranging from economics and sociology to psychology, something he couldn’t as an entrepreneur. “Earlier, we were with only one company…like a blind horse, you look only at your own business. Now, I am interested in learning about the lifecycle of a company,” he says.

Source: Business Standards

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