During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dhruv Washishth saw a void in the Indian startup and venture capital ecosystem: a need for a younger VC fund run by younger people. “The legacy funds have done an excellent job and have been excellent mentors, but I believe the next decade will be dominated by younger Indian entrepreneurs who want to go global. “You need a fund that is younger and has worked closely with founders to understand their needs,” Dhruv tells YourStory.
He formed Paradigm Shift in 2020 with his sister Surabhi Washishth and Govind Mundhra to fill this void. The global VC fund invests in Indian startups that have the potential to bring the country on the map. Dhruv approached his sister, Surabhi Washishth, for support in launching a global venture capital fund. Surabhi had previously worked with WeWork India, where she scaled the team from one to 500 and was also a part of the downsizing efforts during the pandemic as one of the country’s youngest HR directors.
Dhruv was introduced to Govind, who was previously the CFO of WeWork India, by Surabhi. Govind, in reality, had previously worked at InMobi.
What is the fund’s goal? “It is important for the core team to drive the fund forward, and they are great partners,” Dhruv says. We, too, must function as a startup as first-time fund managers; we are also raising money. In the last four to five months, we’ve had some really motivational and fascinating discussions. The concept of Indian startups going global is now resonating with industry heavyweights and family offices. Sharing our vision with India’s big funds is exciting, but it comes with its own set of challenges throughout COVID. And everybody is making adjustments.”
Dhruv claims that Indian B2B SaaS startups have already laid the groundwork for putting Indian businesses on the map around the world. “I believe consumer tech and fintech companies that have developed for India’s core markets have the potential to scale globally,” he says. While there is a large India opportunity in Tier II and III cities, the VC fund is looking for niche Indian startups that can scale globally and cater to Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi.
The founders’ enthusiasm for the sector and the issue they are trying to solve, according to Dhruv, is the most convincing and special reason for Paradigm Shift to invest in a startup.
“The primary driver for us is the founder’s passion and intensity to create something that lasts and makes a positive difference in the world,” he continues.
Starting a venture capital fund was a natural progression for Dhruv during his early career. Dhruv saw the early days of Flipkart when it was selling books after graduating from Christ University in 2012. He was enthralled by the startup scene. He created two startups and took a two-month entrepreneurship course at Draper University in San Francisco between 2013 and 2019.
“I was enthralled by it. In 2013, I founded Cheersmate, a restaurant deals startup. “We did the polar opposite of Groupon, which was primarily aggregating these big deals for large groups, and we went the other direction, where we personalised restaurant deals for groups of seven or more,” Dhruv explains.
He was chosen for a young entrepreneur award by the UK government in 2014, so he wanted to relocate Cheersmate to the UK. His company seemed like a brilliant idea at the age of 23, as it provided him with useful insight into the industry and how it was viewed. “However, the atmosphere did not excite me as much as Bengaluru. There were many factors, the most important of which was the slower speed of things in terms of outlook and demeanour. I was given a grant to go there and explore because it was sponsored by the UK government.
But it didn’t strike a chord with Dhruv.
Cheersmate was operated by Dhruv during his time at Draper University until 2016, when it was shut down. He returned to Bengaluru soon after and co-founded Angel Hack with TiE Bengaluru, a large hackathon marathon.
He met several founders during this time, and at TiE Bengaluru, he worked with industry heavyweights to run their accelerator programme, immersing him further in the Bengaluru startup ecosystem.
He had two options: one was to pursue a Masters degree at the London School of Economics, and the other was to pursue an entrepreneurship degree at Draper University in San Francisco, which is run by noted Silicon Valley VC Tim Draper. He decided to join the Draper programme and moved to the United States.
“The two-month programme is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It offers you a thorough understanding of how the valley’s ecosystem functions, as well as the opportunity to meet Tim Draper. You can see things move at breakneck speed in San Francisco. It captivated me and provided me with a unique experience,” says the author.
Dhruv contributes. The Draper programme brought together 30 to 40 entrepreneurs from around the world, allowing him to meet fascinating people and learn about innovative ideas.
Dhruv first encountered virtual reality (VR) technology in San Francisco and was enthralled by its capabilities. Following that, he founded PSV, a company that focuses on education.
VR and Educational Technology
“We wanted to use virtual reality to make education more fun and interactive. For students in grades 8 and 9, we introduced physics and chemistry courses. “We were also accepted into a Boost VC accelerator programme,” Dhruv adds. A BITS Pilani alumnus studying computer vision at Carnegie Melon University was his co-founder.
“We learned a lot about future technology in the valley and how people thought. We did it for two years, but the product-market fit was a challenge. We attempted to market it to teachers and public schools in the United States, but it proved to be a difficult job. It taught me the value of timing in a startup’s growth. Scaling a company can be difficult if the timing isn’t right,” Dhruv adds.
Despite the fact that the startup had a few clients, achieving the next stage of growth was becoming increasingly difficult, and the company finally closed its doors.
Dhruv partnered with Ilya Volodarsky, Co-founder of the Segment Startup Programme, on international development and expansion from July 2019 to December 2020, prior to launching the Paradign Shift fund.
One of the lessons he’s learned as the founder of two startups is to go out and experiment to find the best team to solve any given problem.
Dhruv learned the value of a strong team, the right mentorship, and product-market fit during his journey. He intends to concentrate on the same with his fund.
“Many people have ideas but don’t move on them. The next step is to find the right people to collaborate with and help you crack the idea. That is what we do as a fund. “We look for people who know the business and are willing to take chances in order to push the envelope forward,” Dhruv says.