Huddle: Incubated the startup Anand Mahindra said he had been searching for


New Delhi: Indian startups in 2020 raised less than $10 bn for the first time since 2016. Consultancy firm Tracxn pegs the cumulative figure at $9.3bn. And even though it’s lower than the previous years—it’s still $9.3 bn—and that’s something to rejoice in a pandemic year! India also had 11 new unicorns in 2020. The year no doubt is ending on a much better note than it had started.

ET Now’s StartUpCentral is putting the spotlight on those that fought the odds in 2020, and emerged stronger. These are those from the ecosystem who played it smart and took calculated risks that paid off.

Huddle, a Gurgaon based startup accelerator is one of them. Tracxn had said start funding dropped by 29% in the first six months of 2020, but 60% of Huddle’s ventures managed to secure new capital.

One of them was in fact a startup that Anand Mahindra signed a cheque for in June 2020. Here is that tweet:

GoSocial was incubated by Huddle. Here are excerpts of Huddle’s co-founders Ishaan Khosla and Sanil Sachar’s telephonic conversation with ET Now’s Nayantara Rai.

Nayantara Rai: How did Huddle start? Whose brainchild is it and what is its USP?

Ishaan Khosla: Huddle started as an accelerator to support startups by being additional founders, and assisting them with support functions. My partner Sanil Sachar and I are entrepreneurs and we’ve known him for over 25 years…we’ve been involved in the sports ecosystem, manufacturing, distribution, media, content, and angel investments. 

At Huddle, we support with functions that startups will typically need in order to grow like distribution channels, hiring, compliance support, marketing, branding, fund-raising and funding through Huddle.

This support incidentally is provided in addition to the investment made.

Nayantara Rai: How many portfolio companies in Huddle?

Sanil Sachar: There are 34 portfolio ventures across Huddle’s portfolio. So if i can take you through the categories. We have retail via F5 and The New Shop. By the way, The New Shop’s investors includes Kevin Harrington, one of the original sharks of Shark Tank.

Direct to consumer is a growing trend as we are betting on Bold Care, The Healthy Company and Wellversed.

Third, India-first apps and under that GoSocial and Shortpedia.

Fourth is deep tech via Trillbit, Brainwired.

We are bullish on EVs, and from that space we have Cell Propulsion and RacEnergy.

Nayantara Rai: Which startups are the ones that have taken off? 

Ishaan Khosla: The current rate success at Huddle is over 70%, with success categorised as the venture either being funded, at least once and/or being profitable.

Nayantara Rai: How did Huddle help in pitching to Anand Mahindra? 

Ishaan Khosla: The Hapramp team, that started GoSocial, was being incubated at Huddle early 2018 when we were internally penning down thesis areas for deep tech solutions. At the same time, the Hapramp team was building their first prototype for an app catering to supporting artists through blockchain. That’s around the time Mr Mahindra had tweeted about Indian made social media apps and on of our mentors at Huddle, Jaspreet Bindra, is the former CTO for Mahindra. So after building the technology with an alpha test which went successfully, we reached out to Mr Mahindra via Mr Bindra. I guess we were aligned to have Mr Mahindra on board!

There was of course a lot of support prior to that. Right from building the app to testing it. The team even attended the Steem Fest in Poland which is one of the worlds’ largest blockchain festivals in the world. That’s where they networked and also got a global perspective for GoSocial.

Nayantara Rai: How did Huddle help startups during the lockdown and how was to mentor during the unlock phase? 

Sanil Sachar: Processes at Huddle haven’t changed too drastically since the lockdown. There is increased communication by 2X as this is a time to ensure that any update is not just missed..but equally important is to see which insight and data node is actually delivery real results.

A video call is set up every 7-10 days per team and in each of them milestones are set. This communication has enabled us to work frugally and effectively. 

Our strength is having a bank of over 70 founders. We all worked tirelessly with investors, and now looking back, I’m proud to say 14 ventures raised funds in 2020. Five other ventures at Huddle are in the process of raising rounds at this time. 

Nayantara Rai: What would Huddle’s advice be to startups today to survive and grow? Would like their do’s and Dont’s? (5 do’s and 5 don’ts)

Ishaan Khosla:

  • The most important is to communicate with your team. They are the strongest asset you’ll ever have and will never be replaceable, so please value them beyond anything else in your venture. Communicate about the good, bad, up, down, plans to execute and what to aim for. Constant communication leads to faster adoption, which leads to knowing what doesn’t work and hence what works. 
  • Don’t chase customers, chase customer loyalty – Speak to your customers often to learn from why they like your product/service and the same as to why a customer didn’t come back to you, so you can improve. 
  • Work with an ‘A-team’! – Get yourself mentors, and members who have been through similar areas within your company’s lifecycle. Get yourself, mentors, across solutions and parts of the business. Having an incubator and accelerator is a massive push as they help you in all aspects of your business before you need them. They help spread your bandwidth without going too thin and hence accelerate you to your goals. 
  • Chase profitability, not valuation – Don’t build loss funded ventures as they will lead to anxious days and anxious nights. Work towards unit economic positivity from day one and set a timeline of when you will reach it. Better to do so before 1 or 2 rounds of investment, as it will then help you command a valuation at later stages with will help you reap the profit-making venture you began to sow. 
  • Know your why – when you start, go in with the thought you’ll fail and then when you do, think of why you started. 

Sanil Sachar: I’ll take the don’ts 

  • Don’t chase funding – attract capital through the work you do, don’t work just so you can raise.
  • Everyone isn’t your customer – Don’t please everyone, work on a common set of data points to grow. 
  • Don’t follow the herd – herd following is for cattle, not teams. Please work on what you do best. 
  • Don’t be a jack of all trades – get yourself a mentor, team members, or any resource in order to concentrate on what you do better as an individual and build a team around your weak points. Work with people smarter than you at all times, and as hungry to learn as you. 
  • Don’t think 100% equity is better than 10% – don’t be extremely possessive about equity as it has no value unless it pays out. Hence, get people on board that can take you there, and for this raise smart capital and not just capital because it is coming at a ‘good price’.    


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