Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida alumna Garima Seth(GS) learnt the nuances of mergers and acquisitions, business transactions and finance at S&P Global for more than a decade before chasing her entrepreneurial dreams and launching Boon Capital Advisors, her own boutique investment banking firm. Her company has been named among the top 10 investment banking companies in India in terms of the number of transactions that they did last year.
Garima is also associated with the Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Foundation (WIEF), an incubation-cum-accelerator centre dedicated to building, improving, protecting, mentoring and funding women entrepreneurs.
Before starting her firm, Garima was part of S&P Global for almost 12 years, managing their Mergers and Acquisitions and Private Placements teams, as she gained profound insights into the investment domains of India and the United States. In an exclusive wide-ranging interview, she discusses, among other things, the various stages of start-up funding, the motivations of angel investors, fond memories of her formative years and why it is a great time to be a start-up founder in India.
BB: Please tell us a little about your education and professional journey.
GS: I come from a family of academicians and professionals in Allahabad, now called Prayagraj. My grandfather was a well-known engineer and architect at the time India won Independence. My father is an engineer from IIT Kanpur, my elder brother is a chartered accountant and my sister a finance professional with Standard Chartered Bank. When I was growing up, Allahabad was a city renowned for people with an academic bent of mind. I completed my graduation from Allahabad University. After that, for my postgraduate studies, I did my MBA from the Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida. Subsequently, I worked with Standards and Poor’s Global Ratings before embarking upon my entrepreneurial journey with Boon Capital Advisors, a boutique Investment banking firm.
BB: What was the inspiration behind turning entrepreneur and launching a boutique investment banking firm with a focus on early-stage start-ups?
GS: Having worked with S&P for more than a decade, I thought rather than forming one company which could be a part of the start-up ecosystem, why not do something which could build several such success stories. This is when I thought of creating an investment banking company for very early stage start-ups. There were a lot of investment banking companies which were doing work to raise funds for group stage companies that had already attained a certain level. But when I started, I tried to promote people who were starting from scratch. This is what I started with and it has been a successful journey so far. Within a span of three years I can say we are quite connected in the ecosystem with a network of around 450 VC and private equity funds. We have a network of more than 100 family offices and Micro VC funds. We have more than 200 angel investors in our network and in these three years, we’ve done about 36 transactions across sectors that include successful companies such as environmentally conscious ride hailing venture BluSmart in the electric vehicles space. We did their seed stage and now they are at the Series A-Plus stage, where British Petroleum Ventures have already invested 25 million dollars in them. Now they are seeking to raise around 70-80 million dollars.
BB: Please tell us about the various stages of start-up funding and at which stage does your company come in?
GS: Alright, let me explain. The first stage is the seed stage in which people have created a prototype for their business, they know what their product is and they are ready to launch the product but they need money to launch it and go to the market. Then comes the pre-Series A in which they have launched the product in the market, they have the proof of concept and have started doing early revenues. At this stage, they need more money to establish themselves in certain areas or acquire target customers etc. Series-A, of course, which involves larger cheques like 5-8 million dollars, is more focused on growth and not for validating the business. The seed stage is more about validating the business, Pre-Series A is when you have early revenue and want to prove you can scale the business and Series-A is when you’ve scaled it. The IPO stage is 3-4 stages even ahead of Series-A, which is followed by Series B, C, D before you venture into an IPO when a business really wants to make really big money in the range of 20 million to 100 million dollars.
We specialise between seed stage to the Series-A stage, which is quite early in the journey and help raise up to 8-10 million dollars. What happens is that once an institutional investor invests in a company, raising larger rounds for them is not such a big issue because existing investors help them. Where we help founders is mostly in the seed stages or pre-series stages where they don’t have a clue on how to raise funds. What we do is evaluate the kind of founders they are and the business idea, whether it is ready for investment or not. In case we think the company or business ideas are very good, we prepare for them for investment and then take them ahead to our set of people. Investors have been really happy with the kind of work we have been doing and keenly look at whatever we send to them.
BB: What do you look for in an entrepreneurship idea?
GS: When we evaluate a company we look at a few factors: First, obviously we look at the background of the founder, how strong are the founders at building a business and whether they’ve built a firm or sold it? Secondly, the business idea must be original and not be cloning another business. Also, it can be disruptive in nature. I always ask one question to aspiring entrepreneurs: Are you leveraging technology to disrupt the market? For instance, BluSmart has created this fleet of electric vehicles. Think about an EV version of Ola and Uber. Moving away from fossil fuels unlike established cab aggregators is their disruption and differentiator. So, they are doing their bit to conserve the environment of the National Capital Region. Also, they have looked at the pain points of existing aggregator customers such as surge pricing and cancellations, to improve their customer experience. To founders from tier-2 and tier-3, I say: You may work locally, but you must think globally. Don’t make products just for local consumption. I come from Allahabad and that is why the focus on promoting founders from small cities has always been there. The people have skills and are very hard working but their exposure is limited. These are the people that need mentorship and support and we should be able to provide it to them.
BB: What are your memories of the time you spent at the Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida?
GS: One learns a lot at management school. Apart from the technical knowledge, which is of course, required when you are entering the workforce or launching a business, the soft skills and life skills that I acquired at Apeejay have really helped me evolve into a successful entrepreneur. Also, my two-year stint at the Apeejay institute of Technology—School of Management, Greater Noida between 1999 and 2001 taught me the art of logical and independent thinking. The faculty and my classmates made me a good thinker.
BB: How do you look back at the association you had with Standards & Poors Global Ratings?
GS: Those 12 years were of key importance in my life. I learnt everything about how transactions work, how valuations work, plus, of course, how to be more process-oriented and organised. These have also helped me in my current business. Being organised, process-oriented and disciplined is something that I learnt during my long stint at S&P.