Being an early-stage founder is possibly the toughest job in the world. At a time when very few believe in a founder’s dreams, when there is little proof of concept and few resources, the most critical decisions have to be made. These early design choices – the first few hires, the early product features, finding the early-adopting customers – can make or break a company. This stage also coincides with the most challenging fund raises. The process can be draining for founders, who typically go through pre-seed, seed and multiple bridges before getting to Series A.
At Sequoia India, we always ask ourselves – are we making the right choices to best serve our founders? Can we do more to give them an ‘unfair advantage’ on the road to success? Born out of our desire to take a big leap forward for early-stage start-ups in India & SEA, we are thrilled to announce an ambitious new program, called Surge.
Last November, we did a series of Twitter polls to gauge how founders in our region are faring. Here’s what we learned:
- Seed start-ups are under-capitalized. While CB Insights reports that the average seed/angel round size globally is now $1.3 million, the first cheque in India remains relatively small. The majority of respondents (78%) to the Twitter poll reckon the typical seed round in India is under 5 crores (US$800,000 at the time of the survey).
- The road to Series A consists of many small rounds. Nearly half (45%) of respondents say that Indian founders go through a seed and one bridge/extension round before they raise a $5 million + Series A. Another 39% say founders will go through a seed and two bridge/extension rounds before they hit that point.
- Early stage fund raising takes up way too much time. More than half of respondents reckon that startup founders in India are spending more than 25% of their time on fundraising across the angel, seed and seed-plus stages leading up to a Series A.
- Founders are getting too diluted too early. Half of the survey respondents said that by the time founders in India get to a sizeable Series A, they’ve diluted their shareholding by more than 25% in various angel and seed rounds.
The message was clear: early-stage founders are still under-served in India. We hear this from founders in ASEAN, too. So we designed Surge to serve founders with an ambitious proposition.
So, what is Surge?
Surge is a rapid scale-up program for start-ups, created to give founders an unfair advantage to scale and grow, make smart business model choices at the start, and raise a Series A round soon after.
Key highlights include:
- Capital: Surge will invest $1.5M in every start-up that is a part of Surge, before the start of the program or very close to the start. By ensuring Surge startups have capital at the start, Surge will enable founders to recruit a stellar team right away, make product and growth investments, and make significant progress during Surge.
- Community: Each Surge cohort will have 10-20 companies; there will be two Surge cohorts/year. Smaller groups equals tighter bonds, stronger community, more trust. Our hope is each Surge founder will be a pillar of support for others in their cohort. The small group size also means Surge will be far more selective than other programs. Surge seeks exceptional founders.
- Mentors: Surge is super excited to welcome an incredible list of mentors, who have agreed to share their time with founders. The initial list of Surge mentors includes some of the most accomplished founders and technology executives in this region, including Byju Raveendran, Carousell’s Siu Rui Quek, Cred’s Kunal Shah, Freshwork’s Girish Mathrubootham, GO-JEK’s Nadiem Makarim, Google’s Rajan Ananadan, Insider’s Hande Cilinger, Mad Street Den’s Ashwini Asokan, OYO’s Ritesh Agarwal, Uber’s Amit Jain, WhatsApp’s Neeraj Arora, Zilingo’s Ankiti Bose, Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal and more. We have dozens of mentors in the pipeline that we will announce soon.
- Cross-border Immersion: Surge is designed to have five modules, which will be hosted across the globe in China, India, Silicon Valley and in Singapore. Our global immersion is a unique aspect of Surge and is designed to give founders first-hand exposure to start-ups and trends in the most important technology markets.
- Company building support: Over a four-month journey founders will participate in Sequoia’s AMP curriculum, which leverages decades of start-up building experience at Sequoia Capital. AMP was developed by our US team, and is adapted to our experiences in India & ASEAN. Founders will also participate in many other workshops, experience sharing sessions with mentors, work closely with experts from various fields like technology, marketing, recruiting, legal & finance and the Surge team itself, to refine their ideas and make rapid progress in the critical early days of building their businesses.
Surge is designed to be open, collaborative and founder-friendly.
There will be a program fee, but this is waived for the first cohort, or Surge 1. For Surge 1, the only ownership Surge will receive will be in lieu of the capital it provides. We expect Surge valuations, in most cases, will be high single digit pre to high teens pre $M, give or take.
At the end of Surge, founders will have the opportunity to raise capital during an “UpSurge” week from a curated list of angels, seed funds and VC’s. If founders of a Surge cohort prefer to wait, they can raise capital during the UpSurge week of the next Surge cohort. The initial $1.5M provides them runway, in most cases, to last well beyond two Surge cohorts.
Surge is also “open-architecture”, and we aim to collaborate with partners across the ecosystem. seed funds, angels, VC’s are welcome to participate in funding rounds – not just during UpSurge Week, but at the beginning, too. We are learning as we go, and to our surprise, some of the start-ups we have pre-recruited into Surge 1 are syndicating larger seed rounds even before Surge starts. We welcome seed funds, angels and VC’s to refer companies to Surge and participate in the seed round upfront.
Surge is open to startups based out of, or building for, Indian and Southeast Asian markets. Early-stage companies, building anything from consumer internet, media, enterprise software, or healthcare to financial services/fintech and direct to consumer brands, are welcome to apply.
No stage is too early. A Surge participant could be someone with an idea and a PowerPoint, or an early-stage founding team that already has product-market fit and a round of seed funding. To find out more, go to www.surgeahead.com.
The first wave, which starts in March, is now open for applications.
Are you ready to Surge?