Imagine yourself as a young bird. Peering over the edge of your nest down a steep cliff.
Imagine yourself taking the first step down into the abyss.
You know you are up against physics — needing to defy gravity, the most powerful force in the world. Biology is not particularly helpful either, with weak muscles and unproven wings.
Yet you jump.
It is an act of courage but it is one that is all but inevitable — taking that leap is in your DNA.
The first rush you experience is fear as you barrel downwards but then your adrenaline kicks in — a magical alchemy of will, belief and determination winning over the forces that weigh you down.
Every startup is like that young bird. And that first leap is the first year of starting up.
We at Together, made that leap exactly one year back on this day.
We are a VC fund but we are a startup too — not just because our team is made up of founders rather than financiers but also because we conceived the idea of Together with the belief and mindset of a founder. A belief that within the startup investing spectrum, there was an untapped white space for an operator-led VC entity that was “founder-first” in all respects. Our North Star was to support ambitious, purpose-driven teams with not just capital but also with community and operational know-how in a manner that was unique and compelling — aligning all our efforts and actions to empower founders with the benefits of the right expertise, from the right people, at the right time. Beyond the time and counsel of our founding partners who are founders like you, we offered an ecosystem of 150+ operators, who can help you with operational expertise, connections and tactical contextual advice.
There were definitely some doubts and some fears but we didn’t fall. We took flight.
While there were a bunch of hard-earned lessons that we learnt experientially, the one aspect that we are completely satisfied with is that we lived by our principles — across every company and every interaction from founder meetings to day to day operations. We were always guided by our North star to put the founder at the center and act as a support and enabler. Despite having a relatively young team, we were able to gain respect from founders and create a distinctive space in the market. As a result of which, the best, most well-aligned founders reached out to us to explore relationships. In our very first year, we grew the Together kudumba by 15 ambitious startups and we couldn’t be more grateful that they chose to partner with us.
Like everything else, it all starts with team and culture. We deliberately put together a team that could help us build the culture we wanted — smart people with no prior experience in investing but those who were humble and hungry and could think from first principles.
Then we laid out the ground rules to govern every touch point with our customers — the founders who we talk to. These rules were simple in principle but tough to execute. Before meeting founders, we do deep homework so that the interactions are informed and contextual. We don’t prejudge any founder or business and go in with an open mind without falling into the trap of pattern matching. When we communicate with founders, we are candid and share clear and actionable feedback. Also rather uniquely, we make it a point to actively solicit feedback from the founders that we talk to — we have no hubris and want to learn and improve too.
When we greenlight funding partnerships with founders, we lead with conviction. While we have made a few investments alongside other large marquee VCs, we have equally backed companies with large cheques to the extent of $3m completely on our own even when there are no other co-investors. We are focused and stick to our SaaS knitting as we believe that this is the domain where we can offer maximum assistance beyond capital which is largely a commodity. That said, we are not fanatical about competition and our broad ambit to work with the entire community beyond the founders that we have backed — both other founders as well as investors.
For the 15 companies that we have backed, we try to ensure that we are always available and approachable — not just for sharing good news but to also lend a caring shoulder for the bad news. We spend time and bandwidth talking with portfolio founders and offering advice and counsel whenever needed.
One other way in which we are unique is that we actively try to help companies even if we don’t invest. Given the narrow remit and thesis of our fund, there are often cases where even though we are impressed with a team or idea, we cannot back them with funding. We have made it a habit to routinely help such folks out with connections, hiring and even routing to other investors with whom there might be a better match. Over the course of the past year, we have met over 900 founders and assisted a large number of them in some way or the other. While we ostensibly have no financial incentive to do this, our overarching belief is that if India SaaS rises, we all will do well.
Another key facet of Together is our commitment to the community. Right from the start, we were very clear that rather than just chasing financial returns, we want to work with a “pay it forward” credo. A crucial part of this community approach was the network of 150 founders and operators who served as a force multiplier for our footprint. We also have held a number of events, both formal and informal gatherings to share experiences and create serendipity.
The next piece of the puzzle is our content pillar. We have candidly documented how and why we backed the companies that we did — the expectation is that this gives the community a glimpse into our investing process and world view. Our team members have also shared their personal experiences and learnings transparently and openly. On a broader note, we believe world-class thought-leader content around SaaS can be crafted from India. Our initial contribution towards this goal has been around creating market landscapes that attempt to dive deep into a particular segment or niche and offer original thoughts and insights — these pieces are labors of love requiring enormous inputs of time and effort but it is a worthwhile investment as the final goal is to build a comprehensive repository for our “Build in India for the Globe” thesis.
Finally, we have the focused “pay it forward” initiatives that we have launched this year — SourceCode and BrainstormTogether — each of these geared towards filling a specific gap that we saw in the ecosystem to help the broader community with knowledge and mentorship.
When we started Together exactly one year ago, we did so at a time when there was an unprecedented bullishness around startups. Today, in a lot of places, this bullishness has been replaced with bearishness around funding and the broader macro economy. But we at Together are continuing to actively back ambitious founders and assist the founders that we have already backed in getting to their next milestone. The general sense of fear and uncertainty doesn’t faze us one bit and we are well and truly “open for business”!
We are in this for the long-term and continue to believe that there is a huge opportunity to build marquee generational companies as technology adoption continues to accelerate and SaaS eats Software. If anything, we are using this period of calm and introspection to double down on all our efforts around investing, community and content. We have an interesting array of initiatives that we will progressively share with founders and help the broader ecosystem.
To wrap up, the young bird has taken off but it is just the beginning of a long journey. We have been energized by all the founders who found it worthy of their time to talk with us and are thankful to the founders who chose us to walk alongside them in the most important adventure of their life. We also feel an immense sense of gratitude for the institutions who have backed us and the operators who are part of our network — these folks are truly the wind beneath our wings.
We are Together.
If you are a founder undertaking a great adventure, we would love to meet you. Together, let’s fly.
— Girish, Manav, Shubham and Avinash