2023 has been a memorable one for all of us at Fireside Ventures. Yoga Bar has begun taking clean-label, healthy food across India in partnership with ITC. boAt has gone from dominating the headphones space to being a strong #2 wearables brand, second only to Apple. And in a landmark move for Indian new-age brands, Honasa – parent of Mamaearth and other brands - is now a listed company.
Fireside was founded with the vision of building iconic consumer brands, and we’re seeing the first wave of these brands receive the respect and recognition they truly deserve. It’s both inspiring and reassuring to see that all these businesses have been built sustainably.
Our journey has always had responsible consumption at its heart, and our understanding of the Value of Good has only deepened over the years. This year, we’ve articulated the three pillars of this practice, but it’s been a part of our DNA from Day One.
As Fireside moves into another year – as a collective of individuals who bring their strengths to act as a force of good at the highest level – these are our guiding principles:
Founder First describes how we solve for founders’ dreams by being true partners - in good, bad and tough times. We recognise that it’s a privilege to be a part of their journey, and treat, engage, critique, and support them with empathy, respect, and authenticity. Planet First is our commitment to build responsible consumer brands that doing good for society and the planet, and building a better world for tomorrow. One Fireside reflects our belief that a better world cannot be built alone. We’re building an institution to last with a culture where the strength of the collective is greater than the sum of individuals. Where we're all working towards a common goal.
The practice of putting ourselves in the founder’s shoes, and actually being a part of their journey, and not just their Board, isn’t something you can describe in literal terms. There’s no handbook that can tell you “Do X when the founder does Y.” So our approach is one of respect, and empathy. We want our founders – indeed, all founders – to succeed, and we help them in every way we can. Our diverse perspectives allow us to help them in many ways, but it is this respect for their journey, and empathy towards them as people, that guides us in every conversation, in every interaction.
“Fireside has a very different world view from other funds. They don’t want founders to stay literally hungry. They are very ‘pro’ founders moving to a market salary. They keep saying ke thodi secondaries kar lo, paise bank mein rakh lo. Don’t worry where your next holiday comes from.”
Anurag Kedia co-founded Pilgrim, and describes Fireside as a co-founder and not an investor.
“Their consumer brand knowledge has saved us time and effort on many mistakes. We need not reinvent the wheel. Kannan and Jyotbir were by our side, actually helping run the business. I can describe the Sweet Karam Coffee journey so far in two clear phases: pre-Fireside and post-Fireside.”
Nalini Parthiban co-founded Sweet Karam Coffee, which Fireside worked with for almost a year before investing in the brand.
“They treat us with so much respect for what we’ve done in our earlier roles. Maybe it’s because they aren’t just investment bankers turned VCs – but all of them come from similar operator backgrounds.
Just like any growing brand we face a lot of crossroads, but the practicality and the comfort they give us, the reassurance that this happens with early stage – that is very helpful. Hence instead of just managing the relationship, we can be transparent and honest.”
Sumant Kakaria co-founded Solethreads, which Fireside tracked for a couple of years before investing.
“Dipanjan and Anshul were just so humble, so grounded. Talking to them wasn't just a conversation, it was always a learning session. Especially in those early online days when we were still trying to figure things out, I got heaps of validation from our interactions. They were always ready to share – data, case studies, you name it. If it was shareable, it was on my desk. That's how we built our rapport over time. Now, whenever I need a bit of gyaan or just want to bounce off an idea, Dipanjan is just a call away.”
Umar Akhter founded Koskii, in which Fireside has never invested.
“The Fireside family” is the most honest description of our relationship with our founders, and that’s why you’ll find us engaging deeply even with Fireside founders where we have little or no commercial stake left in the business. Even though they’ve moved on much further than the early stage, we continue to be family. To help them navigate good times and bad. Sometimes, we help evaluate new ideas and directions. At other times, it’s connecting the dots. You can’t have that kind of a relationship without absolute trust, without the “safe space” that you build over time.
“COVID hit and people weren’t shopping for jewellery. We were running out of cash and it was tough to execute. From providing me with funds, to brainstorming with me for hours on other ways to raise funds, to exploring strategic partnerships with several other platforms, Fireside did it all. Even when we decided to take the strategic acquisition route with Nykaa, they helped with the deal construct, the numbers. They went out of their way to ensure that the founder and team was not compromised.”
Shuchi Pandya founded Pipa Bella, a portfolio company which Fireside exited through its sale to Nykaa. Shuchi is now a part of the investment team at Fireside Ventures.
At Fireside, sustainability is every part as important as profitability, and it is new-age brands that will actually help restore the balance between people, planet and profit. They’re the ones who are building businesses around a planet-first mindset. We believe in doing good to do well, and we’re consistently working to help our companies move up the sustainability chain. Just like we have playbooks for digital marketing or platforms, we have a playbook and resource directory for all aspects of ESG.
“Many of our companies and founders have sustainability ingrained in their DNA. With Fund I, we witnessed a generation of brands built on clean ingredients. Fund II brought with it social consciousness - Gynoveda, Traya, FS Life. In Fund III, we're seeing sustainability emerge as a business model. Solethreads uses recycled materials like EVA for flip flops. Sweet Karam Coffee uses clean ingredients, and has adopted better recycling practices. The Good Bug has taken a plastic pledge, and is part of a movement towards better health. Inito is providing femtech solutions that help women take back control of their health. You can also see this pattern in the consumer brand ecosystem in brands like Neeman's, SuperBottoms, Juicy Chemistry, Amala Earth, and Bare Necessities. We are very certain that new-age brands will be responsible brands."
Reemsha Reen heads the ESG practice at Fireside Ventures.
“Our health and wellness portfolio companies aren’t solving for specific problems alone, they have already improved the quality of 500k+ consumers’ lives. From breaking societal taboos around menstrual health, and normalising living a diabetic life, to creating a supportive, non-judgmental community discussing fertility issues, and recognising that mental health is as mainstream a problem as the common cold, they are making a massive and lasting positive impact on society.”
Ankur Khaitan leads consumer health investing at Fireside Ventures.
New-age founders, building a new kind of business, have a unique approach to ESG. On the other hand, legacy companies are addressing the space differently, significantly improving supply chains or packaging or even digitisation. We have a lot to learn from both sets of businesses, and we’re sharing those learnings with the ecosystem at large. “The rising tide lifts all boats” doesn’t apply to a booming economy alone – imagine the positive impact of a booming ESG practice among all companies, big and small.
“Since inception, Licious has had a constant focus on quality, sustainability, and traceability. ESG for us isn't just to tick a box, but it is a way of life, when we continually seek opportunities to create a positive impact on our Environment, People and Processes. We strengthened our core ESG team with our Chief Quality Officer becoming our CSO, and supporting him is an able team of experts. To drive this further, we have created CFT teams across all functions and together we are working towards a robust integration of sustainable development practices across operations.”
Vivek Gupta co-founded Licious, which is setting global standards for the industry, whether in waste management, environmental practices, or health and safety.
Only culture can harmonise the values of a company so that there’s a consistent experience internally as well as externally. We want Fireside to continue to empower the consumer brands that India, and the rest of the world, needs.
“We’re building an ‘institution to last’ here, a culture where the strength of the collective is greater than the sum of the individuals. We have good diversity in gender, but even more so in thoughts and ideas. Our people come from consulting, investing, entrepreneurial, operating and functional experiences - together that brings huge value not just to the organisation, but also to our portfolio companies.
How do we do this?
We have a playbook approach to initiatives, where, in addition to an investment vertical, each Principal/ Director owns a horizontal program that impacts the entire portfolio – across ecosystems, partnerships, and growth vectors - that incorporates learnings and best practices for all organizations at different stages.
Another aspect is that not one of our incentives are linked to a single deal, they’re all linked to the fund succeeding, and Fireside succeeding - which is when our companies succeed. More so, the incentives of the investing and operating team are the same across the same level of impact. We’re all in it to make the founder and our portfolio company successful, together!”
Nandika Pradeep leads Strategy and Human Capital at Fireside Ventures.
All the culture design in the world cannot help without transparency and candour. Today, at the Fireside table, there are many voices. There’s also the room for those voices to be heard. Our alignment in thought and deed comes from that deeper space, where there is always room to debate and discover, to roll up our sleeves and dive in, to learn more about things we don’t know enough about.
“If I have to be really candid, I think Fireside preferred me to my husband! 😊😊😊 It would have been very easy to front Anand, who comes from an FMCG background, as the face of the brand, but no! They are very woman founder-friendly to the extent that I think they actually prefer women founders for that magic to work. There are so many women founders who are superstars in the Fireside portfolio – Suhasini, Shauravi, and so on.”
Nalini Parthiban co-founded Sweet Karam Coffee which Fireside worked with for almost a year before investing in the brand.
“Working with the right people matters. I consciously chose Fireside given my comfort with Kanwal, Dipanjan and the team. I felt that they understood me as a founder. And Fireside has never disappointed me.”
Ayushi Gudwani founded FS Life, which counted Kanwal as an angel investor before raising its Series A from Fireside.
2023 will always be remembered as the year that D2C went from earning their shelf space in households to carving their name on Dalal Street. Technology, policies and initiatives like ONDC are making our ecosystem so much richer. India now ranks among the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world.
The new-age consumer brand landscape enters the next level in 2024. And we’re ready for it. Our alignment in intent makes what we do for our portfolio and our partners so much simpler, yet, so much more powerful.
Thank you for being part of our journey – and best wishes for the New Year!