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June 24, 2006

Google sells stake in Baidu

For every reasonably famous (as against "successful") online services business model in the US, there is a copycat being created - and venture capital funded - in China. I'm however not sure what the exit model for VC backers of these copycat ventures are going to be.

Do the investors expect the "originals" from the US to come and acquire these companies? Not likely, going by Google's recent sale of its entire in its Chinese competitor (and search market leader) Baidu.com for $63 million.

From the Reuters report (emphasis mine):
"We have disposed of our modest investment in Baidu," Google spokeswoman Debbie Frost confirmed. "It has always been our goal to grow our own successful business in China and we are very focused on that," she said in an e-mailed statement.

...Google, which acquired its stake in Baidu in June 2004 for $5 million, was once considered a potential acquirer of Baidu. At the time of the August 2005 IPO, Google's stake represented about 2.6 percent of Baidu shares. But Google, a distant No. 2 in the Chinese Web search market, has subsequently moved to establish operations in China and competes ferociously with Baidu in the world's most populous market. Baidu commands the same dominant position in China that Google does in most other countries.

If Baidu can't keep Google interested, all other copycats - and their VCs - better beware.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 23, 2006

Tim Draper, UBS are LPs in PE fund run by Utah Univ. students

From the Press Release:

The University Venture Fund (UVF) announced today it has achieved a final closing of $18 million in funding, an unprecedented amount of capital for a student-run education-based business program. UVF is one of only a few business school venture capital funds, which teach students entrepreneurship by investing in risky -- yet potentially rewarding -- startup companies rather than in safer stocks of public corporations.

UVF is collaboration between students, the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business and the professional investment community. Created in 2001, UVF broke new ground by modeling an aggressive, real-world approach to business education with a self-sustaining private equity fund in which students raise the capital, research the investments and pitch the deals. It is also the first fund to have a traditional limited partner relationship with investors who anticipate reasonable payback.

One of Silicon Valley's highest-profile venture capitalists praised the UVF concept. "I love the idea of the next generation of entrepreneurs being energized and educated by operating a true private equity fund," said Tim Draper, who was an early investor in Hotmail and was at the center of several record-breaking venture capital deals this past year, including the lucrative initial public offering of Baidu, dubbed "the Google of China," and the purchase of Skype by eBay for $4.1 billion. "I'd like to see this kind of education in entrepreneurship spread everywhere," he said. Draper put $1 million in UVF and is its largest private investor.

... The Salt Lake family of two successful entrepreneurs, billionaire medical device inventor James LeVoy Sorenson and son James Lee Sorenson, CEO of Sorenson Media and Sorenson Medical, contributed the founding $500,000 to UVF in 2001 and challenged students to create a self-sustaining investment fund.

Few such higher education programs exist today. Stock clubs and student-led investment funds of public corporate stocks are common, but the educational benefits of UVF derive from the big risks and rewards of investing in little-known, innovative private enterprises for which there are no public market valuations and so are tricky to bet on, even for seasoned professionals.

Twenty-five students commit 20 hours per week to performing due diligence on venture capital investments for professional private equity companies participating in the UVF program. Startup businesses the students find potentially lucrative are then pitched to volunteer investment professionals who oversee which ones are included in the UVF portfolio.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

John Doerr interviews Thomas Friedman on the Energy Crisis

KPCB's John Doerr interviews Thomas Friedman (of "The World is Flat" fame) on the Energy Crisis, its impact and potential solutions. Quite riveting stuff.

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 21, 2006

Recommendations for catalyzing early-stage capital formation

Stanford's Rafiq Dossani and TiE-SV's Asawari Desai have published a research report titled "Accessing Early-Stage Risk Capital in India"
that aims to identify causes and recommend improvements for the lack of funding for innovative startups.

While the authors are well intended, I don't like the idea of getting more government financing - whether directly or indirectly - into risk capital. Instead, I would prefer entrepreneurial and market-led initiatives like Seed Fund, Mentor Partners and Angel Investors (like Nadathur Holdings and Band of Angels) to succeed in filling the gap.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

Khosla walking the talk with Ethanol

So far, Vinod Khosla has done a lot of deep thinking and powerful talking about using Ethanol to "replace all our (America's) oil imports and become the centre of our transportation fuels economy". (See here and here to find out how forceful Khosla can be in his arguments and presentations.)

So much so that Fortune magazine called him the "godfather of Ethanol".

Now, the godfather is putting his money - via Khosla Ventures - where his mouth is. Khosla Ventures has tied up with Western Milling, California's largest grain milling company, to form Cilion which will produce ethanol using a variety of innovations.

From the Press Release:
Cilion plans to have 8 plant units in production by 2008 for a total of 440 million gallons per year capacity. The first three plants are expected to be in California.

...California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently issued Executive Order S-06-06 establishing targets for the use and production of biomass products. The executive order called for California to produce a minimum of twenty percent of its own biofuels by 2010 and forty percent by 2020. Of the 900 million gallons of ethanol currently consumed in California, only five percent is produced in California.

"Cilion will be able to single-handedly produce all of the ethanol that the Governor has ordered for 2010, based on current consumption," according to Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures. "Governor Schwarzenegger wants twenty percent of all ethanol consumed in California to be homegrown, and we are confident that Cilion can achieve that goal in its first three California plants, comprising four 55 million gallons per year units, that will be operational by early 2008."


(Notice how Gov. Schwarzenegger is being involved in the announcement.)

All of which makes Fortune's hyperbole - "there are venture capitalists, and then there's Vinod Khosla" - ring true.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 19, 2006

First Round Capital

When it comes to clarity of positioning to entrepreneurs, true early-stage firms in India (ie, Rs. Lakhs rather than $ Million investors) would do well to look at the web site of US-based First Round Capital.

This is what their home page has to say:
We are not afraid of investing in pre-revenue companies - and often provide a company's first outside capital. As former entrepreneurs, we understand the challenges of launching a new enterprise. We look to take an active role in most of the companies we invest in. We believe our insight and expertise are far more valuable than our capital -- and we look for entrepreneurs who feel the same.


The site's "Our Focus" page provides a listing of what the firm does and does not look for in the entrepreneurs they wish to meet. (Emphasis mine)

Companies must provide a unique solution to an existing urgent need. We don't invest in companies which try to change consumer behavior or create a new consumer need.

We look for companies that are able to leverage advances in distribution, technology or marketing to change industry economics or invent a new business model.

Beginners make a lot of mistakes. We look for proven management, with emphasis on repeat entrepreneurs who are strong executors.

We love investing in technologies and business models that are able to shrink existing markets. If your company can take $5 of revenue from a competitor for every $1 you earn – let's talk!

Companies must provide a unique solution to an existing urgent need. We don't invest in companies which try to change consumer behavior or create a new consumer need.


And here's probaby the best message First Round Capital's site has for entrepreneurs:
We recognize that time is an extremely valuable resource for an entrepreneur -- and seek not to waste it. We operate as an entrepreneurial shop and are able to make quick decisions. No investment committees. No months of negotiations. If we're going to invest, we usually decide within days.


Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

How VCs can apportion time among their cos.

Howard Morgan has a post on how he manages his own time ("by far the scarcest resource") between the various companies he invests in.

I recommend keeping a sorted list of all the companies you are working on. I use a spreadsheet listing the company, CEO's name and phone contacts, ownership, quick assessment (A,B,C), and potential value (market capitalization - subjective assessment) and contact frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, board only). I try to allocate my time so that I touch base with each company at the appropriate frequency. This increases with both success and problems. If success, I try to help maximize it, since that will improve my overall return for investors, If big problems, I try to help solve or head them off. By doing both, I don't get psychically drained by focusing only on troubled situations.

...Does it work? It's a lot better now than it was when I started as a VC 25 years ago, even though I have 3 times as many investments. Technology (email, cellphone, web), air travel (costs are half of what they were in the 80s), and the savvy of entreprenuers have all contributed to making it possible.

...The final key to making it work is the ability to delegate. Having great partners at Idealab and FirstRound means that I can turn to others when the true overload sets in - a luxury I did not have 1989-1998. And that provides the best work/work balance.




Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 16, 2006

Is a Silicon Valley likely to happen in India?

Paul Graham has a couple of great essays on how other cities and countries could replicate Silicon Valley:

1. The first one,
How to be Silicon Valley
basically says that all it taks is a great university near a town that smart people (aka nerds) like. Incidentally, Guy Kawasaki has a similar essay here titled "How to Kick Silicon Valley's Butt".

2. The second, Why Startups Condense in America, lists "the advantages startups get from being in America".

Extract from Graham's second article:

2. The US Is a Rich Country.

I could see India one day producing a rival to Silicon Valley. Obviously they have the right people: you can tell that by the number of Indians in the current Silicon Valley. The problem with India itself is that it's still so poor.

In poor countries, things we take for granted are missing. A friend of mine visiting India sprained her ankle falling down the steps in a railway station. When she turned to see what had happened, she found the steps were all different heights. In industrialized countries we walk down steps our whole lives and never think about this, because there's an infrastructure that prevents such a staircase from being built.

The US has never been so poor as some countries are now. There have never been swarms of beggars in the streets of American cities. So we have no data about what it takes to get from the swarms-of-beggars stage to the silicon-valley stage. Could you have both at once, or does there have to be some baseline prosperity before you get a silicon valley?

I suspect there is some speed limit to the evolution of an economy. Economies are made out of people, and attitudes can only change a certain amount per generation.


Extract from Kawasaki's post:

Absence of multi-national companies—especially the finance industry. If your companies have to compete with conglomerates or banks like Goldman, Sachs throwing money at people, it’s going to be hard to get anyone for a startup. Pity the startups in New York, London, and Singapore. Come to think of it, how many tech success stories have come from these cities? There is intense competition for employees in Silicon Valley too, but we’re using the same currency: the upside of equity, not high starting salaries.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

"No choice but to revert to nuclear energy"

Peter Wagner, General Partner at Accel Partners, believes the US has no real alternative except to revert to nuclear energy. Speaking at a panel on "The VC Forecast" at the recent IBF venture capital conference in San Francisco, he said nuclear generated energy along with improved battery technology will result in "nuclear powered cars" driving on the streets of San Francisco in 10 years.

While nuclear power generation is not a direct opportunity for VC-backed companies, there might be related opportunities, in a nuclear-led energy ecosystem, that start-ups could tap.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 12, 2006

"India has the fourth largest Internet user base"

Or is it the 10th largest? Depends on who you ask.

According to the Computer Industry Almanac, India was in fourth place with 50.6 million Net users (and a 4.7% share), behind only the US (which, at almost 200 million users, has a 18.3% share), China (120 million, 11%) and Japan (86 million, 8%).

From the CIA's press release:

The worldwide number of Internet users surpassed 1 billion in 2005—up from only 45M in 1995 and 420M in 2000. The 2 billion Internet users milestone is expected in 2011. Much of current and future Internet user growth is coming from populous countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia. In the next decade many Internet users will be supplementing PC Internet usage with Smartphone and mobile device Internet usage. In developing countries many new Internet users will come from cell phone and Smartphone Internet usage. The U.S. continues to lead with nearly 200M Internet users at year-end 2005. The two most populous countries—China and India—are now in 2nd and 4th place in Internet users. Other populous countries such as Brazil, Russia and Indonesia have also moved into this ranking.

Internet user penetration is now in the 65% to 75% range for the leading countries and future growth is limited. Internet user penetration for the populous and developing countries is in the 10% to 20% range. The developing countries have room to grow and wireless web usage will account for much of future Internet user growth.


According to comScore Networks however, India is 10th among the "Top 15 Online Populations by Country". (The company's methodology is not known beyond the fact that it "excludes traffic from public computers such as internet cafes or access from mobile phones or PDAs". Guess, not counting Internet cafes makes a huge difference in the measurement in countries like India).

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

What is the name of KPCB's India fund?

Answer to this quick quiz question: "Murugan Capital"!!

Don't beleive me? Check out IPO filing of KPCB's first Indian portfolio company, InfoEdge India (which operates Naukri.com), for confirmation.

Here is a guess why KP chose Murugan (a handsome Indian god) - and not something like "KPCB India" - for its Indian name: Since KP does not have a India dedicated fund yet - unlike Sequoia - it just needed a random name for its Mauritius-based unit. And someone at the firm thought of Murugan Pal, founder of one of KP's portfolio companies in the US. Given that another PE firm has names like Bach, Beethoven, etc. for its Mauritius entities, can we expect KP to come up with more mythological names for its future entities? Guess, time will tell.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 11, 2006

Podcast with Mahesh Murthy

Kamla Bhatt has a podcast with Seed Fund founder Mahesh Murthy.

In this podcast interview Mahesh talks about VC funding trends and investment opportunities in India. Seed Fund recently closed a round of $10 million of funding. They plan to invest in early or the seed round of funding for Indian start-ups. Mahesh says that there is about $1 billion in the investment pipeline that various VC companies plan to invest in India.

With so much money in the pipeline the inevitable question is what are the areas or sectors for investment? Mobile applications and content is Mahesh's answer. The math is simple he points out. There are over 80-85 million cell phone users, and for millions of people in India the cell phone will be the basic access device to the Internet. Mahesh's point is supported by a recent investment of $10 million into Mauj, a Mumbai-based mobile gaming company.

How much money is needed in the seed money for start-up in India? Mahesh says that in the initial or the seed round about $500-800k should get the start-up going. Indian start-ups do not need $2-3 million, the typical amount that US-based start-ups require at the seed fund stage he points out.


Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

Mary Meeker's game changers

Morgan Stanley Internet analyst Mary Meeker's presentation at the Stanford business school provides an overview of Internet and Technology industry trends including a lot of interesting data and analysis.



Mary Meeker

Especially telling is the chart on how the combined market caps of the Top 5 global Internet leaders (Google, Yahoo, eBay, Yahoo Japan and Amazon.com) have moved from the year 2000 via the "Internet bust" of 2001-02 to 2005.

Top 5 Global Internet Market Cap Leaders

Google + Yahoo! + eBay + Yahoo! Japan + Amazon.com

• $ 2B = market value - pre-2000 IPO
• $178B = market value - Nasdaq peak – 3/10/00
• $ 32B = market value - Nasdaq trough – 10/9/02
• $262B = market value - 11/11/05


As Meeker points out in another slide, what we have witnessed is that while there has been a "Boom -> Bust -> Boom-let" pattern in Company Creation, the trend is atually "Boom-let -> Bust -> Boom" in terms of Wealth Creation.

Going forward, here is what Meeker considers as current and potentual "Game Changing" technologies:

Wireless (Duh!) - as mobile leads Internet is most markets outside the US. She points to an emerging "Mobile-PC" paradigm (similar to client-server) where users program their PCs to serve abbreviated version of their content wirelessly to their mobile devices.

Storage - an iPod Nano packs 4GB in < style="font-weight: bold;">
Broadband

WiFi?

Video applications


VoIP - 61 million Skype users as Oct. 2005

User Generated Content

On Demand Software

Open Source?


Click Here to download the presentation.

Hat tip: Matt MaCall


Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 04, 2006

Trends in Indian Retail

Business Today has a report on the state of Indian retail and emerging trends in the industry.
REAL ESTATE AND MALL ECONOMICS


Biyani paid a cool Rs 250 crore to buy this mall from the Piramals

Retail, someone once said, is about three things: Location, location and location. In a real estate market gone crazy, retailers are finding rentals choking their profits. Consider Mumbai. Rentals in suburbs like Bandra and Juhu are in the range of Rs 150 to 250 per square foot. In Tardeo and Nariman Point, it's even higher at between Rs 250 and 400 per sq. ft. Says Ajay Bijli, MD, PVR Cinemas: "High land prices are pushing rentals beyond what retailers can afford."

The only way a retailer can survive the squeeze is by being someone the developer of, say, a mall would want as an anchor tenant. A position that some players like Pantaloon, Trent and Shoppers' Stop seem to have attained. "The anchor tenants, who are responsible for attracting the greatest footfalls to the malls, pay rents 40 to 50 per cent lower than those of other smaller stores," says Nagarajan Narasimhan, Head of Research at CRIS INFAC. In an evolving retail market, the profit zone for a retailer moves from purchasing to supply chain and then to real estate. But in India, where rental costs can be between 8 and 15 per cent of total costs, retailers like Pantaloon's Kishore Biyani are already discovering that there's more money to be made leasing space than retailing.


Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

ICICI Bank's "branchless" rural thrust

Business Today has a detailed article on ICICI Bank's massive rural thrust using a franchisee model.

This is a scaleable model," says K.V. Kamath, Managing Director & CEO of the bank, describing his "No White Spaces" rural business architecture-a mix of franchisees, micro finance instititions, NGOs and branches-that provides for "touch point" within 10 km of every rural customer. Every touch point is financially viable; branches are opened only where business volumes are large; other places are serviced by the so-called "non-branches". This is in contrast to the strategy of public sector banks, which have indiscriminately opened branches all over the countryside. Result: 80-90 per cent of their 60,000-65,000 rural branches are bleeding.

The ICICI bank model, which draws on the experience of fast moving consumer goods and telecom companies, has never been tried in banking. By partnering with franchisees like Likhite, ICICI bank is eliminating both the fixed and recurring costs of maintaining branches. "Our approach to rural banking is based on a partnership model," says Mor. Franchisees like Likhite even share business risks with the bank-they put up 10 per cent of all advances, pocket 10 per cent of profits and also share a similar percentage of any losses. There are also other franchisees who procure business for a fee but don't share the risks. If the model succeeds, it could become the template for all future rural banking initiatives not only in India but in other developing nations, and provide an alternative to the one pioneered by Bangladesh's Grameen Bank.

... ICICI bank's rural rollout blueprint has a staggering sweep: it plans to cover 600,000 villages in 600 districts by 2008; that's effectively the entire country. In the first phase, it has already covered 60 districts mostly in the south and the west; this will increase to 200 by the end of 2006-07. "We are also tying up with NGOs and other community-based societies to deliver our products; they are closer to our customers and understand their language," says Hegde. The bank is training and equipping NGOs to handle its products and has already transformed 100 of them across the country into micro-finance institutions (MFIs).


Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

Google meets Dilbert





Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

June 03, 2006

"Start-up capital is the greatest need in India": John Doerr

In this WahIndia video John Doerr of KPCB, says during his recent trip to India it was very clear that there is huge shortage of start-up capital in the country.

He said, right now KPCB's India focus was in the areas of "Wireless and Adoption of Internet". He feels there will be a growing biotech and life sciences industry in India and "of course" outsourcing.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

"Limited founder sales aligns VC, entrepreneur interests"

VC Jeff Bussgang provides more support to the idea that letting founders take "some money off the table" would align their interests better with their VC backers.
Entrepreneurs typically have all their financial eggs in one basket: their start-up. When they have a chance to make good money with 100% certainty, their instinct is to jump at it. If they hold out, “double down” and pursue a bigger outcome, they are simply adding financial risk to their personal portfolio.

Let’s do the math on an example to see how this plays out. Let's say an entrepreneur owns 10% of their VC-backed start-up and someone comes and offers them $100 million. Thus, they stand to make $10 million if they proceed with the sale. Let's say a VC fund owns 20% and thus will take away $20 million, but assume they’ve invested $5 million already in the company, yielding a net capital gain of $15 million. Further, let’s say the VC’s “carried interest” is 20%. Therefore, the general partners of the fund take home $3 million. Let’s say there are 6 partners that split the carry evenly – that’s $500k for each general partner.

So the entrepreneur is thinking “I can take home $10 million now and change my life” and the VC board member is thinking “I can take home $500k and have an 'ok' outcome for me and my fund. But if I push the entrepreneur to ‘double-down’, perhaps we can sell this thing for $200 million in two more years and perhaps we should do a few acquisitions to bulk up to aim for $400 million in four years.” See the problem?

This debate tends to be one of the hardest around the board room, particularly today as the IPO market remains dead but the M&A market has become fairly robust. One discussion I’d like to see more of: VCs allowing entrepreneurs to take money off the table to align interests and address this conundrum. Perhaps I’m too “soft” on entrepreneurs, but I have no problem with an entrepreneur taking a few million off the table so that their mortgage and college tuition is covered, freeing them up to embrace more risk and swing for the fences in a way that is aligned with the VCs. We recently did this in one of our portfolio companies and I've seen a few early exits recently in other start-ups because the VCs didn't do this.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

"It is good time to be an entrepreneur and tough to be a VC"

Mercury News has an interesting interview with former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel who recently joined with two other PayPal co-founders to launch the $50 million Founders Fund to invest in consumer Internet start-ups.
Q What's it like to be a venture capitalist these days?

A If you're a Sequoia or a Kleiner Perkins, which invested in Google, you probably made more money off of your investment in Google than from all of your other investments in companies that didn't go public combined. The lesson for VCs is that you have to invest in a company that has the potential to be worth $1 billion.

Q There has been a lot of money pouring into venture capital since 1999. Won't that kill profits for most VC firms -- because there are so many competitors?

A In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, it was hard to be an entrepreneur, and good to be a VC. In the late 1990s, it was good for both entrepreneur and VCs. In the early 2000s, it was bad for both. Now we're in the fourth zone, where it is good to be an entrepreneur and tough to be a VC.


Obviously, this is in the US context. In India, as John Doerr has figured out, start-up capital is still very scarce.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.