In addition to his role as India Partner, Sudhir Rao is also the founding managing partner of IndusAge Partners – an India and US focused venture fund. Sudhir has been a leading industry pioneer in the capital markets in India for over 33 years. He was one of the founding directors of Karvy Investor Services Ltd. and Karvy Stockbroking Ltd. involved in providing Investor Services, Merchant Banking and Retail Financial services.
For many years, I have been driven by the understanding that capital bridges effort, outputs and outcomes. Technology is a significant contributor to productivity and progress—The prudent alchemy of technology, talent and capital can drive a sustainable, meaningful and exceptional economic outcome.
What is one piece of advice for founders?
Focus on building talent above all else. When we look at commonalities across companies in our sector of investment, the highest prerequisite for scale is attracting diverse cross-functional talent. Think about matching talent to the stage of your business as well. What’s right for zero to $1 million? $1 million to $10 million? Your talent needs are different at every stage.
Please share a bit about your training and professional background.
I studied accounting, getting my CPA equivalent in India, as well as my CMA (Chartered Management Accounting). With management accounting, I learned how to look beyond the numbers alone—learning commercially prudent strategies and directing activity-based thinking to help build and manage a successful business. That was foundational learning for me which has paid dividends throughout my career.
On the personal side, I was very influenced by the people in my life. My mother for frugal thinking and sharing; my wife from her defense services background for rigor and discipline in execution and transfusing her passion for the arts and literature; and my father, who came from a very poor background and risked everything to make a change. At 14, he embraced risk and set out from his village in rural India to build a future for him and his family, migrating to a city for a better life. He was a real risk-taker and passed the entrepreneurial instinct on to me. He’d say, “If you see the status quo that needs change, you have to step forward and make the change happen.”
At 25, I began my journey as an entrepreneur, looking for sectors primed to embrace change. I co-founded an electronics company with a partner. We learned the ins and outs of the tech startup world, and lessons about how best to deploy our individual time and energy on the right focus areas. This is where I learned first-hand that businesses require a diverse set of multi-disciplinary talent in order to succeed.
Entering the 2000s, I shifted my focus from building my own businesses to helping others build their business as an advisor and venture investor. Ever since I’ve backed companies creating technology that drives the economy forward.
Is there an achievement you’re most proud of to date?
Yes, I would say my contributions to building and institutionalizing the capital markets in India. In ‘89, India was beginning to change, liberalizing with policies shifting away from the ‘license Raj’. I saw the opportunity opening up in India for the growth of capital markets.
I joined a partnership and for 10 years, we built India’s largest public capital markets intermediary, helping to build the ecosystem and infrastructure as the market institutionalized. We were servicing about 20 million shareholder accounts in a tech and digital-first approach. We saw the onset of regulation, embracing it and sitting on the leading edge of regulation, standards, and compliance. It was a very interesting and exciting time which transformed India’s economy.