Open pitch for VCs: Seneca (a distraction-free smartphone)
Updated: Sep 1
One line pitch: A distraction-free smartphone. Does everything except wasting time.
An average person in India is spending over 5 hours on smartphone everyday. Out of this, 2.5 go straight into Social Media. That's about 1,000 hours per year. These aren't utilitarian hours. These are hours wasted on unconscious scrolling, on apps which are hacking into people's neurological weaknesses. Social Media Addiction brought to a head by smartphones isn't exactly a "casual problem", it's an incomparable pandemic which is taking people's lives. For perspective, India's 600 Million smartphone users are collectively spending around 600 Billion hours on social media every year. Considering the average Indian's lifespan of 69 years, that's 1 Million lives.
1 Million lives. Taken away. Every year.
Now much can be said about how "many people make a living because of social media", and that these hours are "not really wasted". Also, that they "add value" for a lot of people. The answer to that is very simple: Many people also make a living selling drugs. Time doing drugs is also "not really wasted" as the hours under the bliss also "add value". But most recreational drugs are still illegal, because they hack into people's neurological weaknesses and have negative effects on the subject's mind, body and society at large. The comparison of social networking in the palm of our hands with recreational drugs will seem ludicrous to some at first, but biologically and sociologically speaking, it's a pretty thin thread. It takes time for society to recognise something as a problem and then deal with it legally. Cocaine came in 1865, but got banned only in 1914. Smartphone addiction is new, but pretty swiftly getting realised as something even worse than cocaine. How much time will it take for the nation states to act on it? Only time will tell. But even if and when the governments come around, the approach of "banning things" rarely "solves" a problem. A good solution is a better alternative which people would like to have. This is where we come in.
A "smartphone" which doesn't make one DUMB. A phone which only offers utilitarian functions like Email, Messaging, Navigation, Payment/Finance, Education, a restricted browser, and that's it. No video, no social media. For all those addictions, a person can use a regular "uncool" phone, or a desktop.
Edit: A lot of people think that an app could be used for the same effect and a completely new phone isn't necessary. That's not true. No app can stop the Playstore from giving you the next TikTok, and pushing you back in the addiction hell. This solution can only be provided with a modelled OS on a new device. Anyone who knows this tech deeply would understand.
Market & GTM
India has some 600 Million smartphone users, and 320 Million feature phone users. That's the total Indian base, expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.91%. Our niche product could create a space for itself in this market due a differentiated promise and brand.
Our phone will come in two models and target two kinds of people: Students and Executives.
Students: Over 1 Million students register for JEE every year, 1.8 Million for NEET, 1.1 Million for UPSC, and so on. These people really battle smartphone addiction and need an alternative. More than them, their parents want an alternative, and there's none. They're ready, waiting for someone to take their money, but there's no one willing to take charge. Except us. Think about it.
Executives: These are the superb individuals who are "aware" and status oriented. They want alternatives. They're firstly tired of the constant buzz, and then looking forward to some differentiation in their lives. These folks are willing to shell major bucks for this. According my estimates, there could be a million of them in India alone. And when they buy something, a lot of people follow.
Our GTM will be focussed around these two buyers and we'll cater to them with our two variants.
The basic motto of our brand is unmistakably simple: Giving people their life back.
We're a mission driven company which is simply saving lives. People are growing sick and so is the society. Kids are losing their childhood, the young are losing their youth. If only we could have people look away from their hypnotising machines (without them losing out on anything), it could be a great change. The possibilities are endless. Essays have been, and are being written on what could happen if social media addiction was dialled down "just a little bit". But nobody's doing anything. We are. And we're proud of that.
"Giving people their life back" is a strong statement, and we realise that. We take it very seriously. This is no easy fight. Considering there are several $100 Billion companies doing their best to keep people hooked to the screen, we'll obviously face some resistance. But our conscience is clear. We appreciate all those splendid companies and their empires, but people deserve to have a choice - an option - to live in a different way. It's a fair ask, which has been unanswered for far too long.
The uncomfortable truth about smartphone addiction is that it affects the poorest and most marginalised in the world. Did you know that the top three countries with highest average time on social networks are Nigeria, Philippines and South Africa? They're followed by Colombia, Ghana, Mexico and Kenya. In contrast, the countries with lowest average social media usage are Japan, Germany and UK. You're free to ponder upon this.
Getting back to the "brand", we're calling our phone Seneca. Seneca was a Stoic roman philosopher who, amongst other things, said that "we squander our time only to regret it".
The name Seneca captures the essence of our brand in sound and spirit. We think it works.
Ask & Economics
$5 Million. This will get us started and have our product designed, manufactured, tested and sold to an initial batch of people (pre-orders and invitations) in the first 12-18 months of the company.
We'll be working with an Offshore Design Manufacturer (ODM), obviously. At unit level, we'll be able to make a device at around INR 6k in the beginning. Moving on, we'll be able to bring this down to INR 4k. Our selling price for the two models will be INR 12k and 20k respectively.
There are costs and nuances which can only be shared on a "need to know" basis with a few individuals. However, the macro picture is that this could be a niche brand with annual revenues in the range of $2.5 Billion. And we want Seneca to be a "Made in Bharat, for the world" kind of a company.
From a growth perspective, what works for us is that this endeavour is sure to not have a lot of "competition". Smartphone handset makers are deeply tied to the app economy and thus can't risk screwing with it. It'll be the ultimate example of brand cannibalisation and shooting oneself in the foot. And competition from a new upstart is also unlikely as most people wouldn't be able to imagine this as a "huge" business, till the time we're already a proven success. In that case, we'll have the flywheel effect working for us.
Why Nishant Mittal?
I started a company in college and grew it to INR 1.2 Crores in revenues just as I was graduating. That company (The Testament) was built without having ever raised a penny (even from my parents) and had us planning and executing Marketing, Sales, Market Research, and Recruitment drives for companies across the nation.
In our experience, we managed over 1500 recruits, touching base with close to a million people (mostly small businesses, but also end consumers), spread across 300 cities of India. I was the only sales guy in the company and collectively sold services of close to a $1 Million. I remember how we started in a coffee shop, cold calling a bunch of companies and trying to get them onboard to try our "Market Acquisition Consulting". We made them believe we were a legitimate organisation, when in reality, it was just three people with very little idea about life in general. That was years ago.
More than anything, that experience taught us to "read the market", "detect BS" and "think with real understanding of ground realities". As you can imagine, running on ground for companies' marketing, research and talent acquisition leaves no scope for faff. It's all brass tacks. All day, every day.
The Testament was a good business, but it was an operations intensive, cash flow negative, services company, in India. As we grew slightly older, we realised that's not exactly a golden mix of qualities. So I ventured into products.
While building The Testament, I created a crowd based platform for recruitment (called Market Recruit), a crowd based platform for advertising (called Cread - a precursor to today's Influencer marketing platforms), and a social network for creators (called Cread; yes, we retained the name).
These were all great products, and showed terrific potential and promise. But I guess running a company like The Testament, and then drawing money out of it for incubating such products was quite a stretch. The failure of these products drained a lot of money, which led me to move on from The Testament completely in 2019, and start SpotHealth.
SpotHealth really took off. The previous product failures had taught us a lot, and we did really well for a while. We grew from strength to strength (all bootstrapped) in a year, but then came Coronavirus and we were just...destroyed. We pivoted and became a social network for health. Introduced cool concepts like "Sports Dating". But ultimately had to shut down due to my inability to raise funds, and my co-founders leaving for jobs as a consequence.
Now while fundraising has clearly been one of my clear weaknesses, reading the market, building a team, inspiring people to do their best, and creating great products - are all (equally clear) strengths. These skills are currently being utilised by many startups and legacy companies who have me consulting them on corporate strategy, communication and other jazz.
Why an Open Pitch?
As mentioned above, fundraising hasn't exactly been my forte. So I didn't want to waste my time by doing closed door pitches at this stage. A new approach had to be tried and so I came up with this idea. I really care about Seneca. I want to work on it. And thankfully, with this open pitch having gone viral, I am now getting thousands of views and a lot of interest from the investor circuit.
It's not been long and we've already managed to raise INR 1.65 Crore out of the 40 Crores we are set out to raise. This never happened with me before. Good call, and thank god!
To sum it all, Seneca is an important idea, and I'm the best person in the world to do this. Unlike anybody else, I'm putting myself out there and winning people over everyday. How many people can say that? If you're VC, this should move the needle.
Victor Hugo said, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come". The line just fits. Godspeed.
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