Episode 08: How one Indian investor found self-confidence on the Internet - Featuring Shuvi Shrivastava

March 9, 2021
IFC talks to Shuvi Shrivastava, Vice President at Lightspeed India, where she invests in startups in the fintech and consumer tech sector. In this episode, she talks about how she landed on a Forbes 30 under 30 list and highlights the struggle with self-confidence, both in herself and other entrepreneurs and investors in India, where opportunities for investment are increasing by the day.

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IFC talks to Shuvi Shrivastava, vice president at Lightspeed India, where she invests in startups in the fintech and consumer tech sector. In this episode, she talks about how she landed on a Forbes 30 under 30 list and highlights the struggle with self-confidence, both in herself and other entrepreneurs and investors in India, where opportunities for investment are increasing by the day.

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Jasmin Bauomy (host): Self-confidence. Those of us who have it probably never think about it. But those of us who struggle battle with it on an almost daily basis.

Questions, like: do I know what I'm doing? And: was this the right decision? Did I say the wrong thing? You know, entrepreneurs just as much as investors are facing these questions.

And so on today's episode, I'm talking to Shuvi Shrivastava about self-confidence and entrepreneurship. She's an investor in India.

Shuvi Shrivastava (VP at Lightspeed India): Both confidence as well as storytelling, I think is a bit lacking even in me personally, as well as you know people around me. And so I think now people are more aware and they're taking active steps to catch up and be better and do better on those fronts. But it's not something that is intrinsic to our culture.

JB: Hello and welcome to another episode of Creating Markets. I'm your host, Jasmin Bauomy. And I'm so excited to introduce you to Shuvi today.

Through her work as an investor, particularly in FinTech startups, Shuvi is contributing to the development of the private sector in India. And she's encouraging young entrepreneurs to reach for the stars.

And to be honest, I just didn't expect that Shuvi and I would end up mainly talking about self-confidence.

I mean, I just didn't think it was something on her mind, considering that I first came across her when I saw her on a Forbes 30 under 30 list.

SS: You know it's a lot of pressure because now more people are looking at you, and so you have to figure your s**t out and do a good job. You know, it's essentially an expectation that some of these kids will end up doing something interesting in life. it's great to get recognition from institutions like Forbes. But at the end of the day, it's just a list and it's not an actual accomplishment, if you know what I mean.

JB: Okay, now that we got out of the way that Shuvi is impressively young, for what she's achieved, I wanted to know how she got there.
Shuvi was born in 1991. She grew up in a city called Ahmedabad where she lived until she was 17.

SS: I grew up in a very academic household. Both my parents are scientists. So, I grew up around a lot of books and papers. And with the staunch resolution that I will not be an academic myself, which is what often happens when you have a very strong push in one direction.

Actually, we now laugh about it. Their way of parenting, there were, you know, a lot of things I agree with. A lot of things I don't agree with.
But one thing I staunchly thank them for is the fact that they gave me access to a computer and the Internet since when I was six years old.

And you can imagine for a young curious child having access to all of the world's information is the best thing you can do because that also really both feeds and fuels your curiosity because you're getting answers to everything you're thinking about. And that's leading to more questions and you're getting more answers, and so on and so forth. And I think that let me be a curious person. I think everyone is born curious but society sort of beats it out of you.

JB: Shuvi's love for the Internet offered her a community and just like any kid of the eighties and nineties, one of those communities was the gaming community.

SS: I used to play a lot of these old school games, right? Prince and Road Rash, Aladdin is what I remember. And then I was a part of this online pets community called Neopets. It was like Pokemon. So, you got pets and then you had to sort of battle with other pets and you feed your pets, you buy stuff for your pets and so on. But Neopets is one website I remember wasting a lot of time on over the years. [laughs]

JB: But more than games, Shuvi really indulged in her love for poetry and writing.

SS: I was also a part of this poetry website where I used to write very, very s**tty poetry. But I think it was a way of still expressing yourself to a larger audience.

And the good thing about the web, again, was it was a place where I could be myself because your offline groups, your school or your family's social circle, there are all kinds of personalities and you don't always feel like you belong to that community. But on the Internet, I always found communities that I felt connected to.

JB: Shuvi still writes a lot. She puts out these semi-regular Medium articles about things that she's learned from life and her work.
And I really encourage you to find them and read them. In fact, she coincidentally just wrote an article about the confidence to take risks in an entrepreneurial and investment sense.

And finding her crowd on the Internet from a young age, as well as feeding her curious mind is something that has really shaped the way Shuvi approaches her work as an investor.

SS: You know there's the most straightforward answer which is that being a curious person, being a self-learner is a very useful quality as an investor which I think was enabled by my surroundings or my environment growing up.

But the other thing I sometimes think about is the Internet was always a place for weird people in the beginning, right? Because the more conventional people would find friends offline.

But it was really the more unconventional people who had pen friends online, right? And I think that gave me the confidence that it's okay to not like the same things your friends do.

You will still find people who are like you, and that weirdos add so much value to the world in general, right? You should not discount weirdos just because they're not the majority.

And so I identified as a weirdo growing up and I think founders to a large extent are also you know not very conventional. Like, their career paths will be very very nonlinear, right? You'll have three years of sometimes doing nothing and then you know three years of starting a company that's growing at a breakneck speed. So it just helped me internalize the fact that it's okay to not be “normal,” quote-unquote.

JB: "Normal" wouldn't be the term that I'd use to describe Shuvi or her career path, for that matter. She studied engineering in New Delhi and found herself in a consulting job right after college.

SS: I realized that what works for other people might not work for me because it was one of the most coveted things to do out of college, but I personally did not enjoy working with large companies very much.

Technology was, you know, back in 2014, 2015, this new space that was coming up. We were seeing a lot of tech startups. So, I got exposed to that world.

And when I used to meet founders is when I realized that you know this is actually a space that I would enjoy being a part of because you know with startups it's always like you're the underdog right. So these are small teams and every person's really pulling their weight. And you're taking on large companies, essentially. And I love that whole mission of battling mediocrity or battling the entitlement of large organizations.

Funnily, in the time that you spend before actually quitting, is when the Lightspeed opportunity came up.

JB: Lightspeed India Partners is a firm that has invested in Indian companies and others in South Asia since 2007. And they're particularly focused on early and growth stage tech companies. Shuvi joined them first in 2015.

SS: At that point, in 2015, Lightspeed was a very small fund in India, barely four people in the team. And they were launching their first India funds.

And when I met the team members, I was blown away by how smart, how first-principled they were. And I was like, every time I followed good people, good things have happened.

I don't know what venture capital is. I don't know what starting my own company will be like but I think that if I'm around the right people, that's broadly the right direction.

JB: Shuvi stayed with Lightspeed for a few years and ended up leaving India to work in Silicon Valley. But a year later she returned to India to start her own venture. And we'll get into how that went after a quick break.


JB: Before our break, Shuvi was telling us that she joined Lightspeed in 2015, and then a few years later she went on to work at a startup in Silicon Valley and returned to India in 2018, where she started her own venture. Or should I say “ventures”?

SS: So, actually, I worked on seven different products in about a year and a half. It's funny. I think my background as a VC in my earlier life made me a little bit too risk averse.

By risk averse I mean, I had seen very smart people sometimes get stuck on the wrong idea or the wrong market and spend a lot of years and it not yielding anything. And I was very afraid of ending up in the same place.

JB: In one of her articles, Shuvi reflects on the ventures that she started and ended up not pursuing. One of them is a platform where homemakers in India could find an audience for their skills that largely go unappreciated outside of their family. And the other one was a tool that would help Silicon Valley startups for example, hire engineers in developing countries, and the list goes on and on.

SS: So, I was trying to be very intellectually honest. Like, if something you're working on is not working, move on to something else.
Now, the counter argument to be made here, which I can now say in hindsight is: you're never going to hit product market fit in two, three months. There is no way that's going to happen unless you just get super lucky.

Though, I do feel my takeaway from that was I don't enjoy operating as much as I thought I did and that I missed investing. And I wanted to come back to venture capital.

No matter what you do in life, just having that psychological buy-in is so important. So, that period helped me realize that I truly, truly enjoy investing.

JB: And that brings us to now.

Today, Shuvi is the vice president of Lightspeed India, where she spends most of her time investing in fintech, but also other consumer tech.
And if you read Shuvi's writing on Medium or LinkedIn, you'll know that she's not one to shy away from talking about her failures. But of course, Shuvi, just like many of us, still sometimes struggles with confidence.

SS: Even in my current line of work, every few months I have this whole self-doubt meltdown, internally. Am I doing the right thing? Do I know what it takes, etc.? But I think that's a healthy self-doubt.

I think it also keeps you on your toes, right? It makes you work doubly hard. I think insecurity can be a source of great motivation as well, which is how I try to take it. Sometimes, it can be crippling, which is what I've been working on. But I think most other times, one can use that energy and channel it into more constructive purposes.

I think my large repertoire of failures keeps me going because it tells me that failures come and go and that you can always pick up yourself and things can look different tomorrow.

JB: Operating in a country like India, meaning a country that's huge and immensely diverse, can be challenging. And sure, in terms of investment, there can be risk involved just like anywhere else. But the opportunities for investment are kind of endless.

SS: There is all this literature around how India is closer to the European Union versus America, just given the diversity of our different segments. And not just on an economic scale but also in terms of social scale. Different preferences, different cultural behavior. So it's a tough market to build for.

You know, I think that's why platforms work better than you know building for one specific niche because one specific niche might not be large enough from a market standpoint.

What excites me is always the strength of the mission and the purpose that founders have.

I think those are founders who are really quite personally connected with the problem they're solving are the ones who end up having the resilience and grit to see their tough times through.

And so for me, I think that's the most important and most inspiring part of my role. Just meeting people who are personally on a mission to solve this for the world.

JB: The ecosystem for entrepreneurs and investors is maturing in India and it's really coming into itself.

SS: I'll start with what is working currently, which is that there's enough capital available in this market--domestic and international capital--that's looking to fund young startups.

I think on the talent front we are still developing. India is like a 10-15 year old startup ecosystem. So, a lot of the functions, for example that you will have a pool of candidates to always choose industry leaders from in the US, you don't always have in India, right?

A lot of times, folks have to groom that talent themselves. So talent is still building out.

And so how quickly can you ramp up high quality teams is, I would say, a little bit different in India versus the US.

JB: There is another challenge that Shuvi believes entrepreneurs and investors are facing in India, which is that Indian entrepreneurs can sometimes just be a little bit too modest when they pitch their ambitions.

SS: When you're a new investor and used to only American founders pitching me there's a certain kind of storytelling that you end up believing. Versus when you come to India and people are sometimes a little more real, right? They're not always painting that big beautiful picture. And so, it does take some time to calibrate and adjust to this market and what's normal here.

And this is similar across markets, which is, one can't look for perfection too early. I'm repeating this because I end up making the same mistake and I hear my friends at other funds also look back at the startups they failed to invest in, and they were like: Oh! I was looking for too much perfection too soon in the journey.

But I think that's always a good reminder as an investor.

JB: With the advice that Shuvi is giving investors here, it’s kind of important to point out that there’s a lot of investment interest in the Indian market right now.

Just as an example: Stop-Winlock’s has a committed portfolio of 6.3 billion USD there--and the opportunities for investment seem endless.

SS: India is at a very interesting stage of growth wherein you actually have opportunity across spaces, right? Whether it's education, whether it's gaming.

Only in the last 2-3 years, I would say, is where smartphone penetration has gotten to half the population. Digital payments are growing every year-on-year. So, what I'm trying to say is, these are all spaces where we've seen digital acceleration happen. So, there are a lot of very interesting tailwinds because of COVID and the lockdown that happened after.

So I think the opportunity is quite broad and large at this point for anyone interested, and we already have so much interest.

JB: And that was it for this episode of Creating Markets. If you liked this episode, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts. It'll help other people discover our show so much easier.

And if you're not an Apple podcast, just maybe share this episode with a friend or a family member, or maybe a colleague who might be interested. It'll make all the difference to us.

If you're curious about Shuvi's writing and work, I'll put a few links in the description. Thanks to Shuvi for finding the time to chat.

Creating Markets is a production of the IFC comms team. And this episode was sound edited by Nicholas Alexander and hosted by me, Jasmin Bauomy.

Thanks for listening. And I'll talk to you again soon.