Sequoia India woos early-stage startups with new program 💥👋

Sequoia India woos early-stage startups with new program 💥👋

Drop #38

'Simi' by mixed media artist Radio Rani

top of mind

→ This week's top of mind by inkmango reader Meghna Rao. Opinions below are not necessarily our own.

India hit 13 unicorns in late 2018 — fourth most in the world — but others worry that VCs are investing more money in fewer startups.

And the country’s top VCs are noticing. This week, Sequoia India announced Surge, an accelerator-esque program for early-stage startups focused on South Asia and Southeast Asia. The program will invest $1.5m into 10-20 companies (even “just an idea or a powerpoint”), twice a year, before companies join its 16-week program. Founders will go through modules across China, India, Singapore, and Silicon Valley and present to investors during a demo week at the end of the program. The program sounds similar to that of Y Combinator, one of the earliest accelerators, but Surge's check size is 10x.

Sequoia India is better known for participating in large rounds in South and Southeast Asia’s biggest companies, such as in a $1.1b investment in Indonesia’s Tokopedia in December 2018 or $1b in India’s Oyo Rooms. Five months ago, Sequoia India closed a new $695m fund.

Sequoia India’s new program seems like its best bet to attract top, early-stage startups so that it can get in earlier at lower valuations. And it’s a competitive space: India has 1b+ people, rising disposable income, and growing smartphone ownership. As India's startup ecosystem matures and almost 80% of founders expect investor exits by 2024, why not take a chance earlier?

Agree? Disagree? Email us your comments at and we'll share some of the best ones.
business & economy
Spice Girls charity campaign gone awry. The T-shirts were for a charity campaign backing gender justice. But the Bangladeshi factory workers, mostly women, earned as little as $0.45/hr and were forced to work 16-hour days. House of Lords member Meghnad Desai argues that these wages are still above poverty levels and that garment workers would be harmed if the work disappeared. (Guardian, Guardian editorial, Reuters)

Everest fraud leads many insurers to threaten to stop coverage. Some Everest tour companies make more money from helicopter rescues than from the trek itself. Of 1,600 helicopter rescues from January to August 2018, 35% were fraudulent, costing insurers $4m. (NYT)

South Asia has the world's highest real interest rates. Sri Lanka (6.2%), India (4.3%), and Pakistan (4.3%) are among the top five. Sri Lanka and Pakistan top the list partly because of their currency crises: both want to encourage people to keep rupees within the country. (Bloomberg)
tech & science
India has launched a 2.6lb satellite into space. A group of students from Chennai-based space education firm Space Kidz India have built the Kalamsat-V2, the world’s lightest satellite to go into orbit. The satellite took just six days to make, at a cost of $16,887. India’s earlier 2014 Mars mission was also staggeringly cheap at $74m. (BBC, BBC)

Indians are so crazy about mobile video, they use YouTube like Google. Data is so cheap that Indian smartphone users are surfing the web through videos, without wifi. YouTube watchers can use voice to search in different Indian languages and use a light version of the app that uses less data. India's smartphone market grew by 10% in 2018 vs. the global market shrinking by 3% (and China's shrinking by 15.5%). (WSJ)

South Asia contributes to 70% of worldwide snakebite mortality. (BMJ)
Priyanka Gandhi, ex-PM Indira Gandhi's granddaughter, steps up. Considered the natural heir to the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty and more charismatic than her brother, Priyanka Gandhi is now helping her brother Rahul as the Congress Party general secretary in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a critical state for the 2019 elections. A pre-election poll in UP shows that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party could be in trouble. (FT)

India celebrated Republic Day on Saturday. Republic Day commemorates the day the Indian Constitution took effect, January 26, 1950. (Washington Post)

In India, Mahatma Gandhi seems less relevant for Hindu Right and lower castes. Among Hindu nationalists, supporters of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, Gandhi is seen as weak for allowing Pakistan to be split from India. And though Gandhi lived ascetically and stood up for lower castes, critics argue that he didn’t question the system enough and had close ties to India's elite. (NYT)

South Asia and North America are the most welcoming to immigrants. The World Economic Forum surveyed 10k+ people globally. A majority (57%) believed immigrants were "mostly good" for their country; 66% of North Americans and 72% of South Asians agreed. India is one of the top destinations for immigrants — it was home to 5.2m in 2017, most of whom came from neighboring countries. The US was home to 44.5m immigrants in 2017. (CNBC, Pew)

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah will run for president; US and Taliban draft a deal. Abdullah ran in 2009 and 2014 but didn't win. He accused Ghani of fraud in 2014 and was appointed chief executive in a U.S.-brokered deal. Meanwhile, under the latest US-Taliban draft deal, all foreign troops would leave Afghanistan within 18 months of the deal being signed. (Bloomberg, Reuters)

US ban on Venezuelan oil may mean cheap resources for China and India. Venezuela is India's fourth largest oil supplier, after Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. (Bloomberg)

Hundreds of crocodiles are being removed from the site of the world’s tallest statue so tourists can seaplane in. The statue of Sardar Patel in Ahmedabad, India is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Crocodiles are a protected species in India. (CNN)
movers & shakers

Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist, shares his views on how to build the future with Y Combinator's Sam Altman

Indra Nooyi, former Pepsi CEO, among candidates to lead the World Bank

Mindy Kaling's Late Night snags the honor of the biggest US-only rights deal at $13m — thanks to Amazon Studios — beating out the record set by Kumail Nanjiani's The Big Sick (also bought by Amazon Studios)

Fatima Ali, Top Chef fan favorite, dies at age 29 after a two-year battle with cancer; she had wanted to open a restaurant featuring the flavors of Pakistan

Ross McDonnell, award-winning filmmaker and photographer, chronicles the makeshift prosthetics Afghan men have created for themselves

Thousands of Nepalis chase their Gurkha dreams in the annual doko race; they must carry a 25kg sack of sand in a “doko” wicker basket on their backs while running 5km up a steep mountainside — those who finish in less than 46 minutes have a chance to join the Gurkhas, the legendary brigade of the British army

Usha Vance may be depicted in the film version of JD Vance's Hillbilly Elegy
on our hit list

Read. Golden Child by Claire Adam follows two Trinidadian twins and their divergent fates

Live in Oakland, CA. Kamala Harris hosts a rally from 12-2pm PT

Eat. Zareen's in Mountain View and Palo Alto whips up the best Indo-Pak and FREE chai

Listen. Now that all of T-Series is on Spotify, go for Lootera's haunting soundtrack ("Manmarziya" is a fave)
Comments from last week: An inkmango reader (and Harvard Law School grad) noted, on Indian-Americans in Trump's White House, that the US Courts of Appeals are actually broken up into several circuits and that Neomi Rao has been appointed to the DC Circuit. She's not the first Indian-American to serve on the appeals court — Sri Srinivasan is also on the DC Circuit. She is, however, the first Indian-American woman on the DC Circuit. Thanks for the catch!

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The Indian-Americans in Trump's White House ⬜🏠

The Indian-Americans in Trump's White House ⬜🏠