Utsav Somani, who helped AngelList launch in India and oversaw its local operations for five years, is gearing up to find more ways to help founders. On Wednesday, the entrepreneur said he had raised $2 million for his new venture, called Offline, that will aim to bring the top Indian startup founders together and form a community so that they can upskill and discuss the problems challenging their growth.
Paid communities have been ubiquitous for large business owners, and multi-geography organizations such as Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) have existed in India for traditional businesses 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 haven’t necessarily had a similar community to turn to until now.
Somani said in an interview that he identified that there was a need for a specialized networking platform while working with over 150 startups as an investor. In July, he left his top role at AngelList India and subsequently founded Offline.
“Over the last seven-eight years, the Indian ecosystem has taken a huge, huge jump into this stratosphere,” he said. “We’ve attracted so much capital, but are we becoming better founders ourselves… everybody started 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 are required to pay an annual fee of about $6,000 (500,000 Indian rupees) and a one-time fee of $600. To even apply, founders must have either raised $5 million, or generated $5 million in revenue, or achieved a $10 million exit in the past.
Yet, fulfilling these prerequisites doesn’t guarantee a seat at the table. Candidates undergo a rigorous interview by the Offline team and the final selections are then presented to a Membership Advisory Committee. This strict screening process is aimed at maintaining a community comprising only the crème de la crème of startup founders.
“We are not looking to scale up to 1,000 members in a year,” Somani said. “What we’re looking is for a couple of 100 members in the first couple of years.”
Upon successful membership, individuals are grouped into ‘pods’ with 6-8 peers. They gain the privilege to participate in meticulously curated monthly meetings dubbed ‘off-the-record’. During these sessions, a skilled executive coach provides insights and solutions on diverse issues. Each meeting is guided by a playbook, which draws inspiration from the methodologies of Georgia Dienst from the Mochary Method.
Members can attend unique social events and connect instantly for advice. They can also network with peers from different chapters online or at annual retreats. Every Offline member must sign a strict privacy agreement, ensuring confidentiality during interactions. With an aim to include only the top 10% of India’s tech founders, the platform mandates a minimum 80% attendance rate.
VC funds like Peak XV Partners (previously Sequoia Capital India & SEA) host events to aid startup founders in skill enhancement and networking with seasoned founders. However, these events tend to be aimed at their own portfolio startups.
“We are not judging you based on who you raise capital from and what investor you have on your cap table… we are a very neutral platform,” said Somani.
A number of executives and founders, including those with Groww, Razorpay, Polygon, CoinDCX, UltraHuman, Park+, M2P, Fashinza, Xiaomi have backed Offline in its maiden funding. Better Capital, DeVC, Huddle, and Riverwalk Ventures also invested.
Somani said some of Offline’s investors may become early customers and help promote the platform in their own networks.
While Offline is a unique move for Indian startup founders, the U.S. already has some of its competitors including Hampton by Sam Parr and women executives-centric Chief, which is valued at over $1 billion.
“It’s a very large business if you get a focused community in a world where there’s too much noise,” Somani said.
He noted that while India is the first and foremost market for Offline, it has Singapore and Dubai on its cards. The application window for Offline’s membership will open starting today.