EXCLUSIVE: Inside Ritesh Agarwal’s family office and its early investments
- Aroa Ventures is Ritesh Agarwal’s family office. While Agarwal remains committed to growing OYO, Gaurav Gulati heads ScaleX Partners which manages investments for Aroa.
- In an interview with Business Insider, Gulati gives an overview of their investment strategy.
- The firm has disclosed five of their investments exclusively with Business Insider.
While Agarwal continues to concentrate on his hospitality venture OYO, Gulati took charge by launching ScaleX Partners – after selling his co-working space startup Innov8 to OYO in 2019 – which manages investments for Aroa and other family offices.
Pandemic year was the best time to start investing
Aroa Ventures, last year, has made several investments with ScaleX as an advisor, claims Gulati. While it did not disclose details about all its investments yet, the company revealed five of its investments, exclusively to Business Insider.
|Startup||What they do||Investment amount|
|Stockal||Investment platform that helps Indians with cross border investment portfolios||$1 million|
|SelFin||Fintech startup that lends working capital to small businesses in India||$1 million|
|Orange Health||On-demand diagnostics lab||undisclosed|
|Zingbus||Online bus ticketing platform||undisclosed|
|FWD Learning||Skill training platform||undisclosed|
The pandemic provided Gulati and Agarwal an opportunity to invest in businesses at a better price. “For us what was most important was identifying those businesses that may be experiencing a temporary glut in sales. But the fundamentals of the business are strong, they're actually addressing or providing a product or service for which demand exists,” he added.
The stockbroking industry has been heating up with more and more millennials moving towards investing in the public markets. And the interest has also been towards expanding their investment portfolio to include US stocks. That’s where companies like Stockal come in, which help Indians invest in US stocks as well. Stockal was founded in 2015 and is based out of India and the US.
As per Stockal, Indians remitted over $878.8 million (₹5,603 crore) for investments abroad in the fiscal year 2018-19 from $246.9 million (₹1827 crore) in FY15. As of August 2020, the daily transactions at Stockal had gone up from ₹3 crore the year before to ₹10 crore.
SelFin, founded in 2016, lends working capital to India’s thousands of micro, small and medium enterprises. A spokesperson for Aroa broke down their investment strategy behind SelFin and said that the demand for debt and equity finance by MSMEs is already estimated to be north of $1 trillion as per estimates by International Finance Corporation.
“SelFin is enabling thousands of MSMEs in India to meet their business financial needs and putting the unbanked on the path to become part of the banking system. For instance, consider small garment shops and snack stores in a smaller city like Panipat. They need money during covid. The founding team knows how to help them grow their business. SelFin's loans are also healthy with a very low delinquency score,” said the spokesperson.
Orange Health operates in the fast growing health tech industry, as an on demand diagnostics lab. Founded in 2020, the startup was also a part of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 batch.
“Timely diagnosis and treatment are more crucial than ever – with Orange Health patients can get diagnosed much faster and get better treatment remotely from their own doctor. Small diagnostic centres in India have the massive opportunity to receive an infusion of technology, have the ability to be part of a brand and gain higher revenue growth. A thesis identical to the one behind OYO,” said the Aroa spokesperson.
Online bus ticketing startup Zingbus falls in the travel and tourism category which also comes of interest to OYO. Founded in 2019, by Prashant Kumar, Mratunjay Beniwal and Ravi Kumar Verma, Zingbus was a part of the Y Combinator Winter 2021 batch. Interestingly, the three of them had earlier built online rental startup TipiHomes in 2015, which they ultimately sold to OYO in 2016.
“There are over 300 cities/towns in India with a population greater than 100,000 people. India's growing economy and urbanisation have led to a consistent increase in the demand for intercity travel. Zingbus is using technology to standardise the intercity travel experience by making it safe, reliable, and affordable for the masses. Zingbus is an example of how former OYOpreneurs (term used for OYO employees) are building top companies and we want to support them,” said the Aroa spokesperson.
Operating in the booming edtech space, FWD Learning helps people with industry-ready skills and also connects them with mentors and experts in the market. “As per the eighth edition of the India Skills Report (ISR) -- less than half of the Indian graduates are employable. FWD Learning is an innovative tech enabled platform which will help increase employability of individuals entering the workforce as well as allow professionals to remain relevant and ready with industry-ready skill courses,” said the spokesperson about the investment.
What else are Agarwal and Gulati looking to invest in?
While there have been media reports about the fund size being ₹100 crore, Gulati insists that the fund doesn’t have an earmarked number for investments, but instead will have a rolling fund. “In the months and years to come, there'll be other pools of capital. There will be other sources of capital potentially, as well, that will come into play,” he said.
The idea behind its investments is to help early-stage startups, along with seed-level and series A investments. The firm hopes that its investments in late stage companies will be a revenue-making opportunity by betting on companies that have already been delivering growth.
But a lot of its investments will not be where they have a ‘pure play financial role’, instead it hopes to handhold startups in their journey of growth.
And without delving into further details, Gulati said they aren’t taking the usual route of weeks of due diligence, but aiming at faster rollout of cheques to entrepreneurs.
Pine Labs reportedly joins the long list of Indian tech startups heading for an IPO