Starting up an eCommerce Venture? Expert Speak- Interview with Nandini Vaidyanathan

Hello Readers, I’m delighted to feature Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan, Founder & Mentor, CARMa Venture Services over this online interview. A TED Speaker and author of “Entrepedia”, Nandini was kind enough to share her thoughts with our community. Here are the excerpts of the interview-

Pawan: Please tell us about the CARMa Venture Services and its value proposition to entrepreneurs?

Nandini Vaidyanathan:  At CARMa ( we mentor entrepreneurs. CARMa is an acronym for Creating Access to Resources and Markets. We believe that these are the two biggest pain points for all entrepreneurs and CARMa was founded to bridge this gap. In my previous company ‘Startups” I mentored mostly startups and less than 5% of the 500 odd companies that I mentored were mature enterprises. That was probably because I mentored absolutely free and since I teach entrepreneurship in several biz schools across the world, most entrepreneurs who approached me for mentoring were in the concept stage. .

CARMa however is different in that we are the only company perhaps in the world whose product is mentoring. Our revenues come from mentoring fee, subscription for our online entrepreneurship course and from buying conversations online with our mentors. At CARMa out of the 200 odd mentees that we have, about 30%  are startups, 40% mature enterprises and  30% are family businesses. Mentoring is an excellent risk mitigation strategy and more and more entrepreneurs are beginning to realize its value. Our products are:

Pawan: What is your view on Indian e-Commerce ventures & its growth potential?

Nandini Vaidyanathan:  It’s a huge & emerging market. We at CARMa are mentoring more than 40 e-commerce ventures. If you do it right I think you are sitting on a huge opportunity.

Pawan: How do you see venture capitalists’ (VC) interest in Indian e-Commerce ventures?

Nandini Vaidyanathan: There are a few who fund e-Commerce ventures. The trick is to find the right guy who will also be a strategic mentor to the start-up. The thing do is articulate a business plan which demonstrates to the investor that your business is capable of several rounds of capital absorption. In e-commerce space, a lot of investment goes into technology and customer acquisition. You need to be able to show that your business is scalable, that you have a sturdy innovation pipeline, and you can offer meaningful exit to the investors.

Pawan: When is right time to get funds/valuation (at which stage)?

Nandini Vaidyanathan: The best time to look for raising money is when you don’t need it! If you try to look for funds when you’re desperate, you will sell your stake for peanuts.. Recently a young mentee of ours sold 45% stake for INR 75 lakh! We tried really hard to dissuade him, but he had been in business for close to two years and was desperate for cash. So he went with the decision. The ground reality is nobody funds an e-commerce start-up at proto development stage (to fund your web portal etc.) The best tiem is when you have acquired paying customers. Get an investor who can be a strategic investor, can help you grow your business.

Pawan: Based on your experience what would you suggest to Indian e-Commerce startups? What are the key considerations entrepreneurs should keep in mind while starting up an e-Commerce venture?

Nandini Vaidyanathan:  Here are a few things –

  1. Serious robust monetization model: Most internet startups think revenue is equal to Google ad sense!!. Ad revenues dried up a long time ago.
  2. Value proposition: Do not try to cut copy & paste from other models. Find out in your area the existing e-commerce players & identify the  gaps.  Build your value proposition around those gaps & differentiate yourself.
  3. Go to market fast. Don’t waste time creating a perfect product. If you can launch in modules go quickly to the market with the first one that you can make money on and you can keep adding later.
  4. Spend less.
  5. Identify several sources of revenue that your business can yield.

Pawan: After talking to few small Indian e-Commerce players I felt operating capital is the single most challenge, what is your take?

Nandini Vaidyanathan: Plan better, spend frugally, estimate resources correctly.. Normally entrepreneurs go to the market and run out of funds because of bad planning. No VC is going to fund at this stage when there are no paying customers..

Find yourself a mentor who can make you address some critical questions such as : What is my product? What is the pain point it addresses? What are the gaps in the market that my competitors have not been able to address?? How do I differentiate? What are my resource requirements ?  Am I factoring my working capital requirements for at-least minimum next 12 months? What portion of my work can be outsourced? Can I do a revenue sharing with my outsourced partners in  the initial stages? How am I planning for my inflows & cash outflows?

Pawan: Will big Indian e-Commerce players eat the minnows?

Nandini Vaidyanathan: Do not forget that all big players like Snapdeal, Flipkart etc., were once upon a time small. Niche players will continue to be niche; I don’t see any predatory activities happening there. If you are robust  no-one can shake you.  Get the monetization model right – that’s the KEY.




She’s a traveling teacher who teaches entrepreneurship in several ivy -league business schools around the world. From being just a word in the dictionary six years ago, it has now consumed her whole being.

Her moment of epiphany happened four years ago when she realized that in India not too many people became entrepreneurs simply because they didn’t know how. So she founded her company Startups to mentor entrepreneurs ( Up until now; she has mentored over 700  entrepreneurs across domains, across geographies and growth phases, Twenty years in the corporate sector, in MNC’s on all inhabited continents, have given her enough reason to say, been there, done that.

Startups has also been involved in mentoring women, at the bottom of pyramid, to become opportunity enterprises creating surplus and generating enormous value. Startups has mentored over 6500 women in economics as plural as  Afghanistan, countries in South and East Africa and India.

In mid 2010, she founded CARMa (Creating Access to Resources & Markets), ( with a lofty ambition: to change the karma of entrepreneurs in India. CARMa mentors startups, mature enterprises and family businesses. The mentoring encompasses getting organizations investment ready, creating business excellence and shortening the learning cycle of entrepreneurs in India.

She writes a regular monthly column for the magazine, Entrepreneur. It delights her no end that it is from smaller towns that aspiring and practicing entrepreneurs reach out to her after reading it.

She is a TED speaker.

She is also the author of the book ‘Entrepedia’- A step by step guide to becoming an entrepreneur in India. This book is a guide book for start-up entrepreneurs in India and has sold over a million copies.

She lives in Bangalore (although she travels 300 days a year!).

Happy Reading!

2 Comments Add yours

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