It’s time to change pre-seed investing: Presenting Atoms from Accel

Prayank Swaroop
Partner, Accel
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When I decided to start my first company, I distinctly remember that I had an idea, and I’d then sought to build a team around it. One of my closest friends at the time was the one I discussed this first with, and without missing a beat he said ‘Let’s do it!’. 

I was 21 and he was 20, we were still in college. 

We went recruiting on campus, getting four other college friends on board. The criteria was simple - they had to be smarter and more hardworking than me. They agreed. Our recruiting efforts took less than three days. The idea was me and the co-founder would go bring business. And our smart team would deliver the product. 

The next day, I contacted the tech company I had interned for in my first year of college. One phone call and one meeting later, we had a customer willing to give us 50% of revenue for the product we would build, and he wanted to do the marketing and sales worldwide. 

I’m talking 20 years ago, so SaaS wasn’t known back then in India, and we were kids still in college, so this looked like a sweet deal. 

I should emphasize that none of us were thinking of building a unicorn. The startup was just something which was pretty cool to do. It was 2001, the dot com bust hadn’t happened. All of this was just too exciting. 

I remember the first team meeting - we discussed dividing our team of 6 people into groups of 2 to start looking at the product problem. 

Things progressed, and a  week later, we got somehow connected to an angel investor. We called him through our hostel phone booth, and astonishingly he told us he would give us INR 2 crores as seed money, and that he expected us to give him 10 crores from us in 3 years. 

It was quite dizzying to think about that number, we just wanted 2 lakhs to buy laptops for the six of us. 

That’s when it struck me that I had no clue what I was doing. 

My team could see my doubts, and in three months of starting-up with all that excitement - I had called it quits. 

When I think about it, we were product builders and engineers - but we had no idea how to build a business. I had never interacted with investors and that interaction was downright scary. I decided that I need to work at a professional organization before doing my own startup - to learn how to do engineering, product management, marketing and sales. 

Fast forward to today.

Imagine you start your company, and one week later you can have a 1:1 with Girish of Freshworks, or Abhiraj of Urban Company, or Sriharsha of Swiggy, or Amrit of Zetwerk - and ask them for their advice, and probably even have them as angels on your captable.  

Then a week later, imagine that you could spend time with KPS (CTO of Chargebee) to understand how to build your engineering team, with Nandan (co-founder of Swiggy) to understand how they manage their ops in the first year, or with Arvind (who is COO of Vedantu and has been COO of Blackbuck, Bluestone and Taxiforsure) - on how to scale up.

Consider a scenario where you have access to a network of founders, who support each other by answering questions like - How do I file VAT in Germany, can anyone share best practices for ESOPs, has anyone used a good sales consultant. If you had a network which had 150+ such founders, on the day you start your company - would it be a competitive advantage? 

Imagine if the week after, someone who has done this before can sit down with you to discuss and debate the OKRs of your startup, discuss and debate on what you should be doing for the next 30/60/90 days. Someone who has been on the journey of hundreds of companies can give advice on what to prioritize and what not to. Imagine if you have someone who will be there with you through thick and thin - right when your app downloads aren’t happening or when you get your first million dollar revenue day.

I can imagine what would have happened if I had all of this when I started my ill-fated young startup: I probably would have gone somewhere with it.

Atoms is our effort to bring all these what-ifs to reality.

Though the core of Atoms is making sure founders have all the mentorship they need, that’s not all. 

Introducing the Atomic round - $250K in non-dilutive capital

The early needs of a startup have changed dramatically in the last few years, and there’s a need for this kind of early capital, with minimal constraints, to help founders take that step into what could be the journey of their lives.

So finally, if you have an idea or if you have no revenue or you have no customers (not even in trial) - we definitely want to talk to you. 

Since I have joined Accel over the last ten years - I have seen more than 200 companies funded by us. 160 of these were seed funded. 40 of them were just a team and an idea - just like when I started in college, like Flipkart’s founders a couple of years into their jobs.

This is what we aspire to do at Atoms: Bring the founder focus back to seed investing.

Apply here.

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