Startups bring in industry veterans as advisors to help scale up

Startups bring in industry veterans as advisors to help scale up


Amid a rush of capital into Indian startups, a slew of fast-growing companies including Simplilearn, Bizongo, Zoomcar, Arya and Wakefit.co are roping in experienced advisors from India and abroad to help scale up to the next level of growth.

Demand for such advisors in the startup ecosystem has soared three to four times since pre-Covid levels, executive search firms have said.

“Scalability is the biggest issue these startups are trying to solve,” Reet Bhambhani, senior partner at executive search firm EMA Partners, said. “Most of them have ample access to capital, and now they want seasoned hands. Nearly every startup now is trying to bring in advisors, either as non-fiduciary advisory board members, consultants or even on their board.”

Self-drive car rental services provider Zoomcar, for example, brought in Uri Levine, a mobility guru, as chairman of the board earlier this year to help with international expansion, while edtech firm Simplilearn has brought in Deborah Quazzo, a known name in the education investment space, for advice on new products, pricing and the target audience.

Online mattress brand Wakefit.co has roped in BK Jamal, an expert in the wood industry, as an advisor on scalable production set-ups while Bizongo, an ecommerce platform for customised goods, recently created an advisory board, bringing in Manish Choksi, vice-chairman at Asian Paints.

Former Nabard chairman Harsh Kumar Bhanwala joined Arya’s board of directors as an independent director recently to advise the agritech startup as it scales and reimagines the ecosystem through a portfolio of agri-services.

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“The rise is driven by more startups going public or planning to in the future,” said Anuj Roy, managing partner at executive search firm Fidius Advisory. “Also, when startups bring senior advisors on board, it gives them more credibility if there’s an investment round lined up.”

At most of the startups, where the average employee age ranges between 26 to 32, these advisors, many of whom have decades of experience, provide specific domain expertise, strategic direction, and know-how.

“It’s a helpful balance for sure. It provides different experience and different perspectives that can benefit management and other employees,” said Greg Moran, CEO and cofounder of Zoomcar, which is eyeing an US listing in the coming year.

Levine’s “appointment will help us with international expansion and to further disrupt the market with ZMS, our mobility offering”, Moran said.

Simplilearn CEO Krishna Kumar said Quazzo’s inputs are extremely valuable and her years of experience will be highly beneficial for the company where the average employee age is 26-27.

Bizongo CEO Aniket Deb echoed this feeling when he said, “Manish (Choksi)’s three decades of entrepreneurial and leadership experience will be valuable in scaling business growth.”

He said after its recent Series C fundraise, Bizongo is “focusing on creating a stronger portfolio of customised goods and also ramping up expansion efforts into international markets”.

Startups find it makes business sense to bring in experienced people in advisory roles.

“There is great value in the mentorship we can receive from senior members. They have experienced the vagaries of the market and can foresee unexpected challenges as well as hidden opportunities,” said Anand Chandra, cofounder at Arya. “However, newer startups may find advisory positions more cost intuitive and affordable,” he said.

Simplilearn’s Kumar said, “Typically we see senior advisors getting more of ESOPs and less of the cash component. However, in more mature companies, the cash component may be higher. At unicorn companies, such advisors or board members may be paid up to $250,000 (about Rs 1.85 crore) a year (including cash and equity).”

Sometimes, advisors are being brought in for short-term or specific projects – in some instances to get a company IPO-ready. In other cases, there are longer term contracts, for 24 -36 months.

“People get compensated anywhere between Rs 2-6 lakh a day for working 2-3 days a month,” said Bhambhani of EMA Partners. “In smaller startups, there could even be a profit-sharing arrangement in lieu of their time,” she said.



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