Lokesh Sikaria: On the Keys to Achieving Success as a Start-Up
Moneta Ventures is an investor in Engage3’s Series B round of financing. Their mission is to identify and accelerate the growth of the most innovative companies in California’s capital region.
Lokesh Sikaria, managing partner at Moneta Ventures, commented in a recent press release, “Engage3’s management team has a great record in the retail space. Their demonstrated domain expertise combined with current customer traction, the technology platform they have already built, and the product roadmap makes a very compelling investment thesis.”
Prior to his work with Moneta, he was the Founder and CEO of Sparta Consulting, a global IT consulting firm, and grew Sparta to more than $100 million in revenue in just five years. A Berkeley graduate with an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree, Sikaria was sent to work on a project at Intel by his first job with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
He greatly enjoyed working in Folsom and the ecosystem he found there, so he decided to stay and cultivate his industry within the region. We decided to sit down with him and understand his personal and professional motivations and what he believes are keys to success when starting a business.
What does it take for a company like Sparta Consulting to grow from 0 to 125 million in revenue?
Well, a lot of money. That’s when we realized that the ecosystem for that kind of growth just wasn’t here, in the greater Sacramento area. We knew we wanted to be the ones to start a fund here and focus on investing because we knew that there were other companies just like us, who were doing well in their business plan and growth but didn’t have the necessary funding. So I think the secret to building up a business is to have access to capital, a reasonable space and strong teams. I like to quote Ben Franklin, who said that “we must all hang together or we will all hang separately.” And I think the mindset of a team should be that we’re all in this together.
What traits do you look for when you hire someone for a team?
Evaluating how people react in adversity is the key. How do your team members react when things aren’t going according to plan? As a start-up you can almost be certain that things will not go according to plan, and when that happens, do your partners quit? That to me, is the defining criteria of the team.
In what ways, other than revenue, did Sparta see a lot of success and growth?
The key thing with Sparta was to let our employees participate in our success or failure. We let our employees invest in the company at the same price that we invested at, so by the time Sparta was sold, I held 20% of the company and the remaining 80% was owned by other employees. What’s really special is that when Sparta sold, for every 1 dollar invested we made $4.93 with around a 65% return per year. And I think we made 15 millionaires out of the process. For a lot of the families and employees with us, this was very special.
Do you have a thesis for how to make your investments or a criterion for choosing companies to invest in?
We have three filters that companies that are pitched to us must go through. From the onset, we knew we wanted to deploy at least 70% of capital in the greater Sacramento region. We all came from a tech background, so we wanted to invest in tech companies first and then slowly expand to other areas of investment such as healthcare or Ag-tech. We also focus on companies that are within half a million in revenue to 5 million in revenue. And we do this because when you focus on companies when they’re in the initial stages, it’s a lot more fun and interactive and rewarding to participate with them rather than when they become big corporations.
How have you persevered through some of your most difficult challenges while running Sparta Consulting?
What’s the best way for a start-up or a growing company to get your attention?
I suggest that the first step is to have your ducks in a row. Make sure you know who you’re selling to from a customer standpoint. You should ideally have a few customers already, have some beta customers, and at least a minimum viable product. Then the best way to approach Moneta Ventures is to reach out to Sabya Das, Associate Partner at Moneta, or apply on our website.
One of our challenges when assessing companies is that since there are 4 of us the business, the volume becomes very significant. We looked at 440 companies total to get to the 20 companies that were selected in Fund 1 and Fund 2 over a three and half year period. So it is competitive and it is challenging, but it doesn’t mean that just because we aren’t interested, that you’re not going to be successful.
Do you have advice for start-ups who are just entering the world of planning and creating their vision on what the process looks like?
There needs to be a balance between the planning and the execution. We want entrepreneurs to focus only on one or two things out of the 50 million ideas they might have, and then pursue them wholeheartedly. You’ve got to plan your actions and decide which idea you will pursue. In general, if you spread yourself too thin, it’s a problem. There will be obstacles and offsets. But you have to continue and give it it’s due before deciding to call it quits. That balance is key.
There’s an analogy in marketing that I think really captures the idea. What you want do is fire bullets, and then where you succeed, you want to fire cannons there. That’s the right mindset. Get to the ideas that hit, and when you know this is the right place, go at it with cannons.
What do you enjoy about being a VC?
I really enjoy the cyclical nature of it and seeing the successes come out of our investments and coming right back to us. We’ve created this foundation of providing each other value and working with each other as a team by sharing successes. The fun part is to be able to see the success come out and how that success feeds right back. What you do comes right back to you.