Outstanding Women

Modest All-rounder

Tracxn Technologies co-founder, Neha Singh, has combined her coding skills and business acumen to build an indispensable guide to India’s start-up ecosystem

Photograph by RA Chandroo

It takes a while for Neha Singh to open up. Finally when she does, she prefers to talk about her company, Tracxn Technologies, than her personal achievements. Don’t be fooled by the soft-spoken demeanour though, because behind the modesty, lies conviction and drive. At the helm of a successful analytics firm, Singh isn’t your average B-school student-turned entrepreneur. A Sequoia Capital alumnus, she has closely observed the birth of the start-up universe and assimilated significant insights along the way. This entrepreneur has not just picked up the language of business, but is also a master of the entire spectrum of coding languages, right from Python to JavaScript. And that gives this techie an envious advantage in her field.

 “Starting a business of my own was something I didn’t even consider during my growing-up years,” reveals Singh. Calling her family academic-oriented would be an understatement. Singh was surrounded by super-achievers at home, in her residential colony and even at school. Her father was a nuclear scientist at the prestigious Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai and so were several others, whom Singh interacted daily with, at the Centre’s residential township, Anushakti Nagar. “All around us were families who had kids studying at the country’s premier educational institutes. Thus, from the very beginning I was a studious kid,” she recalls. Singh followed her father and brother, both IIT alumni, by enrolling for computer science at IIT-Bombay in 2003. That’s where Singh, who was attracted to the ever-evolving world of tech, narrowed down her specific area of interest.

Tech to business
Even as an undergraduate student, Singh kept up her academic record by topping her class. She went on to pursue her masters degree from the same institute and was a regular face at college tech competitions. That resulted in an offer from a company that millions would kill for — the search engine major, Google. Although the tech space interested her, Singh, however, wanted to focus on the future. “I was fascinated by technology and its impact on all the other sectors. At the same time, I was curious to know more about the business side of things,” she says. So, Singh opted for a job at the global consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group in 2008, instead. As an associate who worked on the retail, energy, telecom and consumer goods sectors, Singh began understanding the nitty-gritty of running a business.

 A little over a year later, Singh then decided to broaden her horizons and applied for a job at VC firm, Sequoia Capital in 2010. It was the learning there that built the foundation for the entrepreneur-in-the-making. “The VC universe was in its infancy back then, there were not many names I had heard of,” recalls Singh. But it was here that her interest turned into a potential market opportunity. “As an investment analyst, I had the chance to know more about the strategies of successful businesses right from the top level,” adds the former analyst, who oversaw the series-A funding rounds of several emerging Indian start-ups such as Practo and FreeCharge.

 While at Sequoia, Singh had identified one such market opportunity that was derived from her own need as an analyst. While scouting for worthy business ideas to fund, like any other investor, Singh also relied on her network and spent a huge amount of time sifting through data that wasn’t always available from one source. That’s when the programmer in her decided to try an alternate route and she decided to deploy her coding skills to develop a software program that would help her shortlist companies based on certain metrics. Singh discovered she wasn’t the only one combining code with analysis. “The VC community is a small circle and there are not a lot of VCs who can code. So, that’s how I found out that there was another analyst at Accel Partners who had developed a similar program,” she says, describing how she found her co-founder and future husband, Abhishek Goyal.

 In addition to sharing common skill sets, the two began ideating on a business proposition in 2012. Having worked as investment analysts, the dearth of information on potential investees led them to think about a Gartner-like analytics firm for the Indian market. “While working at Sequoia, I discovered that private market data is very inefficient. Sometimes for fairly basic details, we would end up spending two to three days. I knew that with a service like this, there was scope to create a major impact on the sector,” says Singh, elaborating on the intent behind founding Tracxn Technologies. So, in 2013, she quit Sequoia and began work on her start-up.

New kid on the block
“My parents certainly hadn’t imagined it would grow into something so big,” recalls Singh, while conveying how she had complete support of her parents when she started out. Singh attributes her big leap of faith to the role model she watched right from the time she was a little kid — her mother. “She got married in her early twenties and went on to have three kids. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing her studies after all that,” beams the proud daughter. And so in May 2013, Goyal joined hands with Singh, pooled in their savings and operated out of a tiny space at their incubator’s (Lightspeed Venture Partners') office on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park.

 Post that, they hired two engineers and began creating a data platform where start-ups would take pride in getting listed. Tracxn focused on two areas to create this database — upcoming sectors and investable start-ups. The platform would look out for emerging sectors, corporate acquisitions and VC funding. They also started tracking a whole lot of things like job boards, domain registrations, playstores, freelancing websites, activity of ex-founders, etc. So, the minute a founder registered a website, posted a job looking for an engineer or designed his website, Tracxn would get an alert. In addition to this, start-ups would be tracked on the basis of innovation, scalability and their impact potential.

 “The first year was a little tough, not taking a salary home and managing expenses in the Bay Area,” admits Singh. Within a year’s time, given their strong network and proven track record at their respective VC firms, they secured angel funding from the likes of Sachin and Binny Bansal of Flipkart, Sahil Barua of Delhivery, Mohandas Pai, Nandan Nilekani, Ratan Tata and many more. They soon counted marquee names like Sequoia, Accel, Matrix Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, etc among their clients.

 When the time came to scale up, Singh realised it was better to move to India. So, they made Bengaluru, the IT hub of India, their headquarters, with another office in the Bay Area.  Today, Singh’s company boasts of serving over 200 clients including VCs, corporates and PE firms such as Walmart, Andreessen Horowitz, Flipkart, Samsung, Mercedes-Benz, Target Corporation, Bosch, Deloitte, etc. In June last year, the start-up turned incubator with the launch of Tracxn Labs that reportedly secured $10 million in funding.  

 With a focus on markets in over 30 countries including India, China, North America and Southeast Asia, it is set to grow to other frontiers too. But, the woman at the helm of a firm, that grew from two engineers to 360 employees this year, hasn’t changed a thing about her work schedule. She continues to work 12-hour shifts, including weekends.

 So, how easy or hard is it working with your spouse? “There are times we end up taking work home,” she says. That’s because there is so much still to do according to her. “Our main aim now is to help investors and corporates track innovation more efficiently on a global scale,” she explains.  To achieve this, Tracxn plans to expand coverage to Latin America, Israel, West Asia, Europe and East Asia. In addition to adding more sectors, it plans to also increase its product offerings for each customer segment.  An ardent follower of tech maven Elon Musk, Singh’s mantra for success continues to be “Aim high”.