Why do Indian startups have lower valuations and what to do about that?

They are lower. But thats the market . The market sets the price. More demand and more risk mitigations ( all kinds of risks ) will increase valuations. In order to play the fundraising market , you need to understand the PE / VC dynamics and LP- GP dynamics like the back of your hand. Most people would advice you to just focus on the business and not learn all this useless finance stuff, but I tell you this IS business. 

So lets look at the dynamics involved in the valuation:

1. DCF ( even though, this is applicable for Series B + startups only )

2. Expected increase in valuation on return just in terms of IRR

3. Tangible and intangible perceptions about your country of operation and thus your currency / how susceptible it is to FOREX risks (  if most LP money is USD based. If the LP money is INR based, you sure as hell are not going to get high enough valuations even if these LPs are agnostic to dollar fluctuations)

In a startup, you are always up against time, constantly running a race and much like dating, you should build a pipeline of large viable candidates who will be interested in your value proposition and qualify / disqualify them quickly based on their interest levels, move on, Close a few potential second dates, negotiate and enter a relationship with usually, one, sometimes two.

But prior building the pipeline, look at this decision tree

1. Do you want to go global somewhere down the line? 
Ask this very early irrespective of how guilty they make you feel for thinking scale when you are just a 3 person team.

If no, then you are stuck with INR money from INR based valuations. The road ends here for you wrt commanding higher valuations and options. But you can still make a successful business with good returns all INR based. The bad news is beyond Angel and Series A stage , most of the money that comes in is USD based and hence very susceptible to Forex risk and thus decreases your probability of successively raising more and more rounds. 

2. If yes, then most startups consider moving abroad to HQ.
Where? This depends on so many factors and I am sure your lawyer, rather than me,  will do a better job of explaining this to you.

3. Move and then build a pipeline. Pipeline of investors as early as Series A, who have USD money and invest in you with a global perspective so as to make you competitive( valuation wise) when you eventually list in an IPO amongst your US based competition.

This is a very simplified decision tree. But there are so many operational factors you should consider before projecting global ambitions.

Most important thing for you to remember is, you need to know the market like the back of your hand. 
Past trends, similar business models, listed market comparables, valuation multiples, what those multiples are based on, which geography commands how much, where the markets are shifting, the 5- 10 – 15 year  perspectives of your industry. 

You see, the average generic investor, will never ever know the market as intimately as a startup CEO should, unless they know a well entrenched entrepreneur, in the same market segment and industry , on whose first hand counsel they can rely on. Consultants, advisors, etc don’t know the front end battles of a market and always go on hearsay and anecdotal evidence from entrepreneurs in the industry.

So dont take it personally and argue, when an investor says the valuation is too high and you believe that you are priced competitively. Just nod politely, move on and close the deal with the others who agree that you know the market better than they do. After all, lofty and unachievable valuations affect the company’s future prospects as much as it does the investor’s  personal interests. A good CEO understands this.

About V

Tried building a sky scrapper. Now Re-building it again with worn out tools.
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