Vikram Bharati is the founder of Draper Startup House (International). Draper Startup House is a global chain of hostels targeted for young startups and entrepreneurs. They aim to provide affordable yet soulful hostel accommodation in the heart of every major city in the world. It is a space to explore and engage with likeminded people who are on the same entrepreneurial journey. Their mission is to enable ONE MILLION entrepreneurs worldwide by 2030.
In an earlier role, Vikram led the VC investment of The REAPRA Group and managed the portfolio of existing investments. REAPRA is a venture builder and VC investor across Asia. Vikram also led the investment efforts of COENT Ventures and managed the portfolio of existing investments. COENT Ventures is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the REAPRA Group. Vikram was also a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Vikram Bharati says:
The first thing to understand is that Venture Capital itself is a business just like any other business. In fact, it is a very tough business. VCs have to go raise capital from other rich individuals or organizations for their VC funds, and then they have to find really good deals and provide good returns for their investors, above and beyond what the market can provide them. Once you realize that Venture Capital is a business, then you start looking at it from a different angle. These VC funds have certain mandates (size of the investment, sector of investment, etc..). So, it is important to know which funds would be the right fit. My advice would be two things: Research very carefully which VC funds have the mandate to invest in your type of company. 2) Don’t be afraid to look globally for funding. Don’t stick to just your country or region. Most of our investors were from outside of Asia.
Read on to know more about Vikram Bharati and his journey:
From Tribe Theory to Draper Startup House ( @dshglobal )
— Draper Startup House India (@dsh_india) January 23, 2020
Please tell me about your background, and what are you working on currently?
Vikram Bharati: I’m an Asian American who was born in India but grew up in California for most of my life. I studied finance at the University of California, Riverside, and did an MBA at the University of Southern California (USC). My professional career was working at J.P.Morgan for over seven years.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
Vikram Bharati: In 2014 I took a sabbatical and went backpacking around the world. What was supposed to be a six months break ended up two years of solo traveling around the world to 50+ countries. It was during this time that I fell in love with backpacking. I stayed and worked in hostels all over the world. And it became clear to me that every hostel I stayed in was purely focused on travel and tourism. But I could see that those spaces could be used for much more than that. They had the components needed to become entrepreneurial and startup hubs.
What is your current main product, and (If there is any) can you share any product pivot story from founding to the current product?
Vikram Bharati: Hospitality is the foundation. On top of that, we layer on an entrepreneurial ecosystem that comprises of entrepreneurship education, access to capital, and global networks.
How much money (funding) have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Vikram Bharati: We are still a very early, early, early-stage company. We initially raised a seed round of $1.3 million from Reapra, Superangel, and Aurum Investments in 2018. Then Tim Draper invested $3.5 million in our latest round at the end of 2019.
How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start? And Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Vikram Bharati: The core of our business is hospitality. So we get our customers through normal hospitality channels such as third-party booking sites. But around 50% of our guests come from word of mouth. We haven’t started doing paid ads.
Which is the best marketing tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
Vikram Bharati: Word of mouth has been the best marketing tool for us. Since we are a community-focused business with a very targeted niche, people talk about us and recommend us to their friends.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Vikram Bharati: Marketing is just a tool to increase awareness. It is not the end product or service. Most of the time of a Startup should be spent on building the product or service. Not the other way around.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fund-raising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors and which channels worked best for you?
Vikram Bharati: We are not a technology startup. We are a capital-intensive business with physical hospitality operations. So capital is a critical requirement for us to build our business. Most VCs were not interested in us because we didn’t fit into the typical mold of a technology startup. So basically, every VC we approached wasn’t interested. I spoke to pretty much every VC in Singapore. There are a lot of them here. Eventually, REARPA, AURUM Investments, Superangel, and then Tim Draper understood us. All of these came to us through referrals by our network.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles in the process of fund-raising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently? (Your insight or advice on this would be very helpful for startups)
Vikram Bharati: The first thing to understand is that Venture Capital itself is a business just like any other business. In fact, it is a very tough business. VCs have to go raise capital from other rich individuals or organizations for their VC funds, and then they have to find really good deals and provide good returns for their investors, above and beyond what the market can provide them. Once you realize that Venture Capital is a business, then you start looking at it from a different angle. These VC funds have certain mandates (size of the investment, sector of investment, etc..). So, it is important to know which funds would be the right fit. My advice would be two things: Research very carefully which VC funds have the mandate to invest in your type of company. 2) Don’t be afraid to look globally for funding. Don’t stick to just your country or region. Most of our investors were from outside of Asia.
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Vikram Bharati: Currently, we are focusing on getting our core right. We will most likely raise additional capital at the end of 2020 for growth. If any investors are interested in our next round, please reach out to me.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Vikram Bharati: We are still trying to figure out the right model. But basically, we want to find the right entrepreneurs around the world who are passionate about what we are doing. Our expansion starts with identifying these individuals who will become the core anchor for a new country expansion.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global marketing?
Vikram Bharati: Same as above. Marketing is just a tool. The product or service has to be good.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company? (or What should all first-time startup founders know before they start their business?)
Vikram Bharati: Cash flow. Figure out how to start generating cash flow right away.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Vikram Bharati: The best business advice I got was “figure out how to start generating cash flow right away.”
What are the one or two things that you would do differently to improve your life (or what kind of personal habits would you improved?) if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Vikram Bharati: I’m happy with how things have gone with my life, so I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything. But if I have to choose something, I would not have stopped playing volleyball or surfing. I used to love doing these two sports, but I let them slip. Maybe I’ll get back at it again. ☺ `
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