Ronnie Screwvala: No funding winter for startups with real business models

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New Delhi : There is no funding winter for startups and unicorns with great and real business models and for those building organisations to outlast all others, according to Ronnie Screwvala, Co-Founder and Chairperson of higher education platform upGrad.

In an interaction with IANS, Screwvala said that even today, there are investments being closed daily across multiple sectors, as the world faces a great deal of uncertainty over multiple macro-economic factors.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Q: How do you look at the current wave of ‘funding winter’ in India?

A: I am always amused to hear this phrase ‘funding winter’, heard it so often in the last 15 years. I always thought only God was responsible for the multiple seasons we enjoy each year but of late, the private equity (PE) investor community is taking that place with their own patent on seasons.

Summer is when you bask in your own self-made glory, excesses and intoxication of hyper valuations, where no one is accountable and everyone is told to make hay while the sun shines.

Monsoon (unique to India) is a realisation that when ‘it rains it pours’ — good or bad.

Then, of course, is Winter, the time to re-write the same 50-page presentation that in summer months said exactly the opposite — the time to reverse the same intoxication of fund raise, valuations and hyper so-called growth with ‘one time’ write downs and blame the whole world, war, inflation and more, that was lurking around the whole summer but no one wanted to put their glasses on.

Seriously though, there is no funding winter for companies with great and real business models and for those building organisations to outlast all others. Even today there are investments being closed daily across multiple sectors — maybe not with the maverick investors who may be.

Let’s face it, the markets have corrected 10-12 per cent, that’s it. Overall, it is still way higher than pre-Covid and if you look, many companies are at their all-time high. This is also the best time for real businesses and mature founders not inflated with valuations to go out there.

Every company worth its value has to go through multiple seasons, over and over again, and the right ones grow and mature from that.

Also in Winter, the most elegant of snow leopards come out to hunt and be predators, and so Winter is the time for those who want to build to outlast and who want to be predators.

Q: The edtech sector is witnessing layoffs. Is this because funding dried up or there is more to it?

A: There is absolutely no ‘dry spell’. Just because a few handful of start-ups got crazily funded, made them lose all focus, pushed to grow and diversify are now being forced by those same investors to wake up and smell the coffee, does not mean there is any dry spell.

They were misguided by themselves and their Board and now are correcting themselves, unfortunately at the cost of valued working colleagues, but they are the exception, not the trend at all.

Never in a 100 years of education and ‘LifeLongLearning’ has there been a more opportune time to disrupt scale and include millions of college learners and working professionals to re-invent, re-skill and get onto a new growth path in their careers. India is also placed brilliantly to open up the higher education market in Asia and around the world.

We, at upGrad, have stayed away from the hubris of distraction and focused on outcomes and impacting careers.

Let there be no mistake, there is no better time than now. K12 went through its Covid bump and it is now seeing much needed correction, but the majority of companies in edtech are just getting started.

Q: How do you look at the global macroeconomic conditions that have engulfed economies the world over?

There were some interesting themes across the three days at the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos. Here are some takeaways:

A) Those who were questioning the end of globalisation had not really spent enough time defining what that meant in the first place, before sounding the death knell on it. Globalisation is here to stay as the world consumer wants it that way. An 18-year-old Zayda in Bangladesh wants to own an Apple iPhone and the 22-year-old Amari in Zambia wants to graduate from a UK university.

While the world leaders have in their own way created barriers, through war or threats of war and more insular growth, the seven billion+ people on this planet will not let that happen and globalisation will prevail.

B) There is a reskilling revolution that is happening and will be a tsunami over the next decade across the world. Better education and lifelong learning — accessible and affordable to all — digitally can and will add a massive $8 trillion to the global GDP in this decade. Power shifts in countries will take place based on the workforce and their population being ready for the jobs of tomorrow and also be the learning capitals of the world.

C) India also has the place and the position to be the new voice of global leadership — largest democracy, fastest growing economy and a world leader with clarity, conviction and an agenda to put it at the centre-stage in the world.

D) There is no doubt that the world is going to pass through a very, very challenging time. With food being disproportionately available to countries around the world, the poor will get poorer even if the rich do not get richer. Covid is not leaving the planet in a hurry but has got us all hyper alert on health enough to take notice of even Monkeypox – something that was prevalent in Africa for years but ever since it hit the “western” world.

And the war is not going away in a hurry and it will be interesting to see how engaged the West stays as the war prolongs or will they lose interest if it does not serve their agendas.

The big question we also need to track is how polarised the world will get in the next two-three years. All of this will call for incredible world leaders and leadership in politics and in building business and organisations.

(Nishant Arora can be contacted at [email protected])

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