Utsav Somani, who helped launch AngelList in India and oversaw local operations for five years, is gearing up to find more ways to help founders. On Wednesday, the entrepreneur said he has raised $2 million for his new venture called Offline, which aims to bring together top Indian startup founders and create a community where they can share expertise and discuss issues that challenge their growth.
Paid communities for large business owners are ubiquitous, and multi-geographic organizations such as Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) for traditional businesses have existed in India for some time. These platforms provide networking opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with peers who share similar interests and goals. However, startup founders in India do not necessarily have the same community to turn to as of now.
Somani said in an interview that while working with over 150 startups as an investor, he recognized the need for a specialized networking platform. In July, he quit his top role at AngelList India and later set up Offline.
“In the last seven-eight years, the Indian ecosystem has taken a huge, huge leap into this stratosphere,” he said. “We’ve attracted a lot of capital, but we’re becoming better founders ourselves… Everyone starts talking about personal therapy, but is there a way for us to think about professional therapy?”
Offline operates as an exclusive, paid community where members pay an annual fee of around $6,000 (500,000 INR) and a one-time fee of $600. To even apply, founders must have either raised $5 million, or generated $5 million in revenue, or reached a $10 million exit in the past.
However, completing these prerequisites does not guarantee a seat at the table. Candidates are rigorously interviewed by an offline team and the final selections are then presented to the Membership Advisory Committee. This rigorous screening process aims to maintain a community of only the crème de la crème of startup founders.
“We are not looking to grow to 1,000 members in a year,” Somani said. “What we’re looking at is 100 members in the first two years.”
Upon successful membership, individuals are grouped into ‘pods’ with 6-8 peers. They are privileged to participate in carefully curated monthly meetings dubbed ‘off-the-record’. During these sessions, a skilled executive coach provides insights and solutions to various issues. Each meeting is guided by a playbook, which draws inspiration from the Georgia Dienst Mochiri Method.
Members can attend unique social events and connect instantly for advice. They can also network with peers from different chapters online or at the annual retreat. Each offline member must sign a strict confidentiality agreement ensuring confidentiality during interactions. Aiming to include only the top 10% of tech founders in India, the platform mandates a minimum 80% attendance rate.
VC funds like Peak XV Partners (formerly Sequoia Capital India & SEA) organize events to help startup founders upskill and network with experienced founders. However, these events are aimed at their own portfolio startups.
“We don’t judge you based on who you raise capital from and which investors are on your cap table… We are a very neutral platform,” Somani said.
Several executives and founders including Groww, Razorpay, Polygon, CoinDCX, UltraHuman, Park+, M2P, Fashinza, Xiaomi have backed offline in its first funding. Better Capital, DeVC, Huddle and Riverwalk Ventures also invested.
Somani said some offline investors can become early adopters and help promote the platform within their own networks.
While offline is a unique move for Indian startup founders, the US already has some competitors, including Sam Parche’s Hamptons and female executive-focused Chief, which are valued at more than $1 billion.
“If you get a concentrated community in a place where the world is very noisy, it’s a very big business,” Somani said.
He mentioned that India is the first and foremost market for Offline, but Singapore and Dubai are on the cards. Application window for offline membership will open from today.