How 100X.VC takes startups from zero to one and beyond
How 100X.VC takes startups from zero to one and beyond
The Mumbai-based investment firm has created a new model for funding and nurturing early-stage startups. The $3 million it has put into 70 companies so far has snowballed into $43 million of follow-on funding from marque angels, family offices and big name VCs
Varsha worked as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs before switching to journalism. She started off at Business India and later moved to Forbes India where she writes across industries and companies but has a bias towards startups, technology and the FMCG sector. She was a national level athlete and now enjoys running half marathons.
From left to right: Vatsal Kanakiya, Yagnesh Sanghrajka,Sanjay Mehta, Shashank Randev & Ninad Karpe, Co-Founders of 100X VC at their office in Vikhroli, Mumbai.
Image: Neha Mithbawkar for Forbes India
When Shashank Moddhia was pitching The Renal Project, his two-three bed dialysis centre startup plan, at an NMIMS-organised pitch fest in late-2019, Sanjay Mehta, veteran tech entrepreneur and angel investor, was in the audience. At the time, Moddhia ran just one micro-centre in Mumbai’s Borivali suburb. Although it was profitable, it was a brick-and-mortar business—one that VCs would typically shy away from funding.
But Mehta saw something special in Moddhia. “He was driven by purpose. He wanted to reduce deaths by making affordable dialysis accessible to everyone.” He cut him a cheque for Rs25 lakh from his newly-minted investment firm 100X.VC.
The Renal Project has since gone on to raise a total of over Rs5 crore from angel investors and micro-VCs and even made an appearance on Shark Tank India where it struck a deal with boAt’s Aman Gupta and Namita Thapar of Emcure Pharmaceuticals. It now runs 25 micro-centres across Maharashtra and Gujarat, each serving 150 patients per month, and plans to scale up to 200 centres pan-India within two years.
“Credit to 100X for taking a bet on us. We are not a health tech company. We are a brick-and-mortar health delivery chain. That’s out of the comfort zone of most investors because it’s not as quickly scalable as a pure tech-based play,” says Moddhaia, a bio-medical engineer turned entrepreneur.
The 100X model is simple: It gives a small amount of money and a whole lot of advice to a large number of startups. It has backed 70 early-stage startups in the two years since its founding in July 2019. With Rs25 lakh (roughly $40,000) invested in each startup, which makes a total of Rs17.5 crore (around $3 million) poured into them. “It’s the fastest deployment of capital by any VC in India,” says Mehta.
100X has been able to achieve this feat because it doesn’t rely on traditional, 50 –to-60-page long shareholder agreements that typically take 3-4 months to close. Instead, it uses what it calls “iSAFE” notes. Popularised by Y Combinator, the famed Silicon Valley startup incubator, in 2013, SAFE notes - short for Simple Agreement for Future Equity – are instruments that promise a stake in a startup at a future date. The open-source document was tweaked by the 100X team for India, hence the “i” prefix, which stands for India.
As per the agreement, 100X hands over Rs25 lakh to each startup it picks in return for a seven percent equity stake in the startup during its next financing round. The simple five-page document is fuss-free, founder-friendly, and ensures fast deal closures. “We worked with our lawyers to eliminate clauses that early-stage founders don’t really need like having a board of directors, liquidation rights and all the other jargon which is not important in the initial stages of a startup. What is important is the survival of the startup and hence early capital is critical. iSafe allows us to provide that,” says Yagnesh Sanghrajka, 100X’s CFO and one of the five co-founders along with Mehta.
Other co-founders include Ninad Karpe, former CEO of Aptech India, Shashank Randev, who launched and ran VCCEdge, the SaaS platform by VCCircle, and Vatsal Kanakiya, an engineer by training who worked as an investor at various funds before taking on the role of CTO at 100X.
100X’s original plan was to invest in 100 startups a year or 25 per quarter, across sectors, using iSAFE notes–hence the name “100X.VC”–but the onset of Covid derailed those plans. “We hope to achieve that target this year,” says Randev, who looks after investor relations.
It is not just the long duration taken to close early-stage deals that led Mehta to co-found 100X. As an angel investor for over a decade, Mehta had a ringside view of the “huge gap” in the market. While there were plenty of angel networks in the country, they had few lead investors who could guide and mentor entrepreneurs.
Instead, they were most financial investors who were unable to add any real value to startups. Moreover, lead angels who were good—such as Rehan Yar Khan or Sanjay Nath, for example—went on to set up larger funds—Orios and Blume, respectively— investing larger ticket sizes because the economics were better, explains Mehta. With 100X.VC the team hoped to fill that void and build credible deal flow from the ground up.
Along with the Rs25 lakh entrepreneurs receive as seed capital, they are given 100+ hours of mentoring, guidance, and networking support over a one to three-month period. The 100X team helps them think through their business models, refine their pitches and make the connections needed to take their product or service from “zero to one”, as Kanakiya puts it.
The period culminates in a ‘VC Pitch Day’ where entrepreneurs give a three-four minute pitch to an invite-only gathering of marque angels, HNIs, family offices, micro-VCs and larger ones. So far, of the 70 startups 100X has funded from the 20,000-plus pitch decks it has received over the last 2.5 years, 80 percent have gone on to raise follow on funds. The $3 million that 100X has invested has led to $43 million (Rs318 crore) in follow-on funding from 600 investors, says Sanghrajka.
“I call it validation capital,” says Rohan Lodha, founder of Super Scholar, a Mumbai-based platform that connects students to paid internship positions at top startups after they complete a free but mandatory skill training curriculum. The edtech player was selected by 100X as part of its Class 06 portfolio which was announced in December 2021. It raised its first round of follow-on funding of $400K from investors such as MAGIC fund and Silicon Valley-based but India-focussed fund 2AM VC, among others, in January 2022. “Other investors are more likely to invest in you once you have been a 100X company, because they’ve done the work of bringing you up to a certain level,” says Lodha.
Others like Smiles.ai—a Benguluru-based startup that leverages proprietary technology and a network of health care professionals to provide low-cost yet high quality dental care services and products through online consultations, at-home services and a physical clinic network—was part of 100X’s Class 01 portfolio in December 2019. It went on to raise $1 million in seed funding from Sequoia Capital India and Chiratae Ventures in January 2021 after a 100X Pitch Day. More recently it raised $23 million in Series-A funding from Alpha Wave Incubation and its existing investors.
While 100X doesn’t do follow-on rounds after the initial Rs25 lakh cheque it cuts, it remains invested in the companies and hopes for minimum of 20x returns. It hasn’t exited any of its portfolio companies so far but returns when realised will be ploughed back into 100X and reinvested into startups, says Mehta. “So, you can see, we don’t operate like a typical VC fund.” Presently 100X gets its capital from Mehta’s family office, Mehta Ventures. Going forward it will look for outside investment, he says.
“Think of 100x.VC as a discovery fund,” says Brendan Rogers, co-founder of at 2AM VC. The early-stage, Indian-only, sector agnostic fund has invested in ten 100X portfolio companies so far. “100X has helped us dramatically in getting access to high quality founders and deals. They’ve done all the due diligence and hard work of getting startups to a level where they are investable and can take off in terms of growth,” he says.
Dravya Dholakia, founder and director at Dholakia Ventures, who has invested in 10-12 100X startups as a follow-on investor, concurs: “We can blindly back a 100X company. The due diligence we need to do is a fraction of that we would do for a non-100X company.”
So what does 100X do to take startups from zero to one and make them attractive to follow-on investors? “We provide a combination of smart capital—which is capital and education—and network,” says Randev, who looks after investor relations. It helps that the five co-founders of 100X come from various vantage points, he says. “We’ve been builders, jump starters, growth hackers and we’ve spent a lot of time scaling companies from the scratch.”
Mehta, 51, for example, is a two-time entrepreneur—one venture, a steel trading exchange, went bust during the dotcom crash and another—a software solutions company—he exited with handsome returns. He has since been an angel investor betting on companies like Oyo Rooms in its early days and exiting at a cool 280x.
Karpe, 61, comes in with solid operational experience having scaled Aptech from its early days to a formidable vocational training provider. Prior to that, he was the India head of CA Technologies, the fourth largest software player at the time. Sanghrajka, 55, has been a CFO at varied organisations from Bessemer Venture Partners to MT Educare and a Phoenix Mills group company.
Randev, 41, brings his experience of building from scratch and leading revenue and growth at VCCircle, while Kanakiya, the engineer and youngest person on the team at 25 years, comes in with an understanding of deep tech and investing experience across multiple funds from Silicon valley to Mumbai. “Together they fit like pieces of a puzzle,” says Rogers, “which helps them to identify very early-stage companies and then give them a right direction to scale and grow.”
“We position ourselves more as a finishing school rather than a purely capital giving VC. It’s literally like transforming diamonds in the rough by giving them the polish they need,” says Mehta.
As he talks, he pulls out a pitch video that Kerala Banana Chips, a Class 03 100X portfolio company, sent to the team when applying to 100X in December 2020. In it, the founder Manas Madhu rambles on about ‘Beyond Snack’, the parent company of Kerala Banana Chips without highlighting the key aspects of, say, the taste and texture of the chips that are made in a hygienic, no-human touch factory as opposed to the unclean, unorganised fashion in which chips are usually made across India.
Mehta then pulls out another, slicker, 3.5-minute pitch complete with data and visuals where Madhu highlights the superior quality and taste of the chips, the market size and growth trajectory. The difference is stark – a product of one month of mentoring on the positioning and branding, says Mehta. Manas bagged Rs1.5 crore from investors on Pitch Day after giving this revised pitch. He is now raising $5 million in Series-A funding, he says. Sales have been growing 50 percent month-on-month, recently hitting Rs1 crore in monthly revenue.
“Sanjay Mehta and his team are the best in the business,” says Anand Lunia, founding partner at India Quotient that invested in RecordBook, a 100X portfolio company that helps SMEs manage their data, workflows and teams using a mobile first approach. “There is a big gap of a platform / community along with the first cheque in any startup. Y Combinator has been sub-par in India. Angel money is rarely high quality. 100X is filling a huge gap here, particularly in Mumbai and also pan-India.”
I00X.VC receives 50 to 100 pitches per day on average. The initial screening is done by Mehta and Karpe. If they like what they see, they get in touch with the founders for additional information or meetings. At that stage, all five 100X co-founders weigh in on the decision to invest or not.
“Most VCs would look at a pitch from the lens of what could go wrong? We’ve flipped that question to look at ‘What can go right?’ By changing the perspective, we’re able to go for those moonshots,” says Karpe of the selection process. The team has basic filters in place, he adds, like the founding team’s background, size of the market opportunity, strength of the business model, its moat, and a conviction that returns will be at least 20x.
Critics argue that the seven percent equity that 100X takes during the startup’s first round of funding is excessive because the founders’ equity is diluted up to say, 25 percent or more after just that round as other investors come in. “That’s a lot for a founder to give up at a pre-Series A or Series A stage,” says one investor.
However, entrepreneurs who been through the 100X programme that Forbes India spoke with felt otherwise. “For the value that 100X gives us, seven percent is hardly anything,” shrugs Lodha of Super Scholar.
Hitesh Kakrani, co-founder and CEO of Smiles.ai, says, “I get asked this [whether the seven percent equity is too much to give up] by a lot of founders looking to apply to 100X.VC. I always tell them it is contextual based on your circumstances at the time. It’s easy to look at things retrospectively and say it’s too much, but at that point in time you were nowhere and they helped you get to a certain level,” he explains.
Going forward, 100X has announced that it will give each of its portfolio companies Rs1.25 crore, up from Rs 25 lakh, in return for a 15 percent stake in the startup at its next fund raise. “We believe capital is firepower in this environment,” explains Mehta of the move.
Alongside, it is also scaling up its not-for-profit initiatives such as ‘100X Gurukul’ a free, 12-week programme comprising live and recorded sessions to help entrepreneurs scale their ideas rapidly and sustainably. Founders’ Dating is another not-for-profit initiative to help founders find the right co-founders for their businesses.
Separately, Mehta conducts a five-weekend long, pro-bono venture investing masterclasses at regular intervals to help individuals break into angel investing. Although he won’t say it in so many words, for Mehta, it always has been and will be about building and growing the ecosystem.