“Why are you doing this?”
This is the first question Bejul Somaia asks startup founders in every pitch meeting.
In his nearly two-decade long stint in the venture capital and startup world, Bejul has consistently relied on this question to tell apart bold founders who are in it to play the long game and win at all costs.
As the Managing Director of Lightspeed Venture Partners, he has done that consistently for the past 12 years at the early stage venture capital firm, betting on unconventional names and bold ideas that have yielded stellar returns for the firm.
The examples are many.
Lightspeed was the first investor in power marketplace Indian Energy Exchange (IEX) until its eventual IPO. Later, as Partner, Lightspeed India Ventures — which Bejul helped set up — he was an early backer of OYO when the hospitality company was just two-properties-old; his investment of over $20 million yielded a 35X return when Lightspeed made a partial exit in 2019.
“The one thing we’ve operated by since the beginning is first principles — about what needs to exist in this country,” Bejul tells YourStory.
“We continue to want to support really talented founders very early in their journeys to build, what we hope and what they hope, will be very large companies,” Bejul emphasises in a nearly hour-long conversation with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma, shortly after Lightspeed India announced it raised $275 million for its third India-focussed fund.
The Build-in-India opportunity for startups
This explains why Bejul is particularly excited by the ongoing movement to build a self-reliant India, with Indian startups and India Inc heeding the call to build world-class products and solutions from India.
Bejul says emphatically,
“Could we be more fortunate to be doing what we’re doing in this country at this time when the government is so committed to Digital India and entrepreneurship and to this idea of self-reliance? I think it’s so powerful.”
At the close of its third India-focused fund, Lightspeed — which has so far invested over $750 million in India — said the latest fund will be used to “partner and support bold entrepreneurs building for tomorrow, right from inception through growth stages.”
“Even beyond the entrepreneurs in India, there are a lot of folks in the US who are really interested in coming back home,” notes Bejul, referring to the growing momentum of Indian talent, particularly tech talent, choosing to return home to innovate and solve for India-specific problems with global implications.
“What’s most exciting for us is the idea of first principles… Just because something worked in China or the US, does not necessarily make it the right solution for India. We want to work with founders who are deeply connected to the markets they operate in,” Bejul says.
Indeed, Lightspeed’s investments so far highlight the approach.
Whether it’s Udaan, India’s B2B marketplace designed specifically for small and medium businesses, or Yellow Messenger, Asia’s largest conversational artificial intelligence platform for enterprises, or DarwinBox, a cloud-based human resources management software provider, or OYO, the Indian hospitality chain of leased and franchised hotels and homes that has gone global, or BYJU’S, the world’s largest edtech decacorn, or ShareChat, the largest Indic language social media platform — the common element remains the unique products and services built by these companies based on their deep connect with and understanding of the market.