15 July 2008

How to fool the media..lessons from Helion VC

Now, now.
Ashish Gupta is a nice bloke. He is the guy who co-founded Junglee.com which was sold for a reasonably obscene amount to Amazon.com. Ashish has gotten rich, and he was always clever (You know, IITK, Stanford, all that). He is one of the key blokes in Helion, a confident, smart venture capital fund.
Ashish also knows his Hindi well. He probably has heard the story of Ashwathama from the Mahabharata (Read it here)

To cut a long story shot, Yudhishtra does not lie but wants to weaken Drona. So he announces the death of an elephant called Ashwathama in a manner that conveys to Drona the impression that his son is dead.
The story is now re-told in the age of venture capital funding.
Helion has supposedly denied funding SMS Gupshup -- a hot Internet startup founded by some very smart guys of whom I have written.
The so-called denial, which is reproduced below, came after very respected technology blogs including GigaOM, TechCrunch and others reported it.
Please read it below, and then read my comments that follow, which I have marked in bold letters.


Well last week the news of Smsgupshup being funded for 10 Million $ by Helion Venture Capital and Charles River Ventures was published all across the leading digital blogs in India. It all started with a plug by pluggd and spread to medianama which also had an excellent article on why Smsgupshup would need the 10 Million $ (medianama is started by the earlier editor of contentsutra), vccircle and contentsutra itself (which aggregates news from vccircle now a days for the lack of an editor). Also techcrunch seems to have picked the news up as well and linked to pluggd as the source. They have an update as well terming it as an unconfirmed story. (thanks raghav for the techcrunch update)


While all this was happening WATBlog was trying to get in touch with both SmsGupShup and HelionVC on any official update on the status of the funding if any. And here I am publishing the respective responses from the concerned parties on the issue.

Response from Chirag Jain, VP India Operations "Thanks for your mail. Unfortunately we have not issued any notification and are not in a position to make any comments at the moment."

Well the above diplomatic answer was expected. But what was not expected is a categorical denial from Ashish Gupta, Managing Director - Investment Advisor of Helion Venture Capital.

ashish gupta

Ashish Gupta

When we emailed Ashish the following "Just wanted to confirm this story and if possible get some bytes from you on the same. SMSGupshup has raised 10 Million $ funding from Helion VC. Will await your response on the same.

Ashish sent us the following one line reply "the line below is incorrect."

On probing further with this question "Would it be correct to say that helion has participated in the 10 million funding? Will await your response."

Ashish Replied "we have not done any funding for Gupshup."

So as far as we know and from the Horses mouth itself and not from any reliable anonymous source the funding has not happened through Helion Venture Capital atleast till 4th of July and thats when we recieved this denial from Helion.

So did blogs report something on speculation? And why didn't Smsgupshup deny the story? And who are these sources that are confirming the story when Helion itself seems to be denying the same! No one will know until and unless both these parties come forward and speak up. On the issue of Smsgupshup's funding I have no doubt that they both need and to certain extent even deserve the funding given that smsgupshup has taken off as the premiere group sms service provider. But who are these investors we shall hopefully know soon


My take: Please read the above carefully.

1) Ashish denies funding Gupshup -- What he does not say, in true Yudhishtra style, is that the company that owns SMS Gupshup is Webaroo Technology (India) Pvt. Ltd.
You don't fund a Website -- you fund the company owns it

2) Helion routinely issues newsletters and tom-toms its investments. If it has not done so in this instance, it is because the funding has not tied up, or the news got leaked before the deal could be ready for announcement. It probably is still in an advanced state of negotiation.

3) There is no outright denial -- If the deal was closed with no funding from Helion, it would have been more forthcoming in its denial

4) There is a vague, cryptic sentence that says "The line below is incorrect" -- What line? Why be cryptic?

It is very clear that the balloon got out of hand before it could be filled with Helion's helium...so we got a lot of hot air.
Smoke and mirrors?
We shall wait the final and official word. But I will stick my neck out and say the original story was not a plug.
Blogs attempting to break new ground in journalism need to read through the spin and denials.

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