Meaning of Dia:
Bring light to disruptive ideas.
We are a startup advisory and investment firm based in New York City. We partner with entrepreneurs to build scalable global businesses. We focus on digital technology-driven ideas that create lasting value by fundamentally transforming large, antiquated legacy industries. Healthcare is our primary focus.
The transformative potential of digital technology is well established. The industry that bears true testimony to this potential is media and entertainment. Almost every aspect of this industry, from content creation to distribution to consumption to monetization, has been fundamentally transformed over the last twenty years, benefiting all stakeholders.
Going forward, as digital technology expands into the mainstream, we are at the cusp of a similar transformative phenomenon in legacy industries. Over the next twenty years, multi-trillion-dollar legacy industries like healthcare, finance, education and food will see a global transformation that may very well dwarf what we witnessed in the media and entertainment industry over the last twenty years.
We launched Dia Ventures to help facilitate this next round of innovation, sparking an even bigger transformation cycle within legacy industries, as our team helped, and in some cases led, the previous round of transformation within the media and entertainment industry.
Our offering is distinct because of the below reasons:
Our track record in building transformative products and businesses globally, given our foundational knowledge in digital technology and its creative use to transform an industry,
Our high-touch operating model, whereby we spend majority of our time in helping build portfolio businesses,
Our platform, that provides our portfolio firms unparalleled value during all stages of their growth, from inception to exit, and
Our unique theme and focus.
When I was in grade school in Shahjahanpur, a bustling North Indian town with clear night skies, I loved to tinker. I’d cobble together model airplanes out of spare parts of scrap metal and bits of rescued rubber, then would hawk my sculptural wonders to my neighbors door-to-door. I enjoyed commerce as much as creating.
While we are counseled to “put childish things away,” my hobby followed me to the college where I took up Aerospace Engineering. I somehow made it into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) - so legendary I’d later discover, that it ranked fourth in the world to produce venture capital-backed start-up founders (closely behind Stanford, M.I.T. and UC Berkeley).
The skies continued to inspire my first-ever product, a weather forecasting model for India. Scientists abroad had built existing models that did not include good knowledge of the unique local continental shelf and storm systems. No wonder they were so inaccurate! I leveraged my undergraduate study of computational fluid dynamics to bootstrap an innovative weather forecasting solution for the government-run India Meteorological Department. It predicted, with over 90% accuracy, surges in sea levels when tropical cyclones hit the coastline of Eastern India. My solution also found favor with a raft of countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal.
It was Nobelist Niels Bohr who once wryly said, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.”
Blame it on the cockiness of youth, but I thought, if I can predict the weather, the sky is the limit.
If luck is when “preparation meets opportunity,” I had won a chance to embark on one of life’s great adventures – to leave my home for the great unknown. Even as markets in early 1990’s were opening up in India for the first time since the country’s independence, I accepted an academic, merit-based full scholarship to the University of Maryland at College Park’s MBA program. I landed in America the same week as Netscape went public in August of 1995. Amazon had raised its first round of funding that summer, and eBay would launch a month later. I was right where I should have been – at the dawn of the Internet!
Business school provided me a commercial lens with which to study technology trends and evolution in consumer behavior. Combined with my training as an engineer, the experience added rigor to my lifelong outlook to look up and beyond, imagining a star that wasn’t shining yet. Now I had the tools to coax this star — or an idea — into being through equal parts sheer will and skill, creating a scaffolding for its light and warmth, until it had volume and mass.
Within a few months after joining business school, I joined a young technology start-up providing financial services - the term “FinTech” had not been invented yet. I ran the company’s business development, and we IPO’ed in November of 1996. My founders instilled within me a perspective on company building for the long term. While other flashier IPOs during that first dot-com bubble flew too close to the ‘sun’ and ‘burnt up’, ePlus, Inc. is not only alive today, it is thriving. In 2018, our little IPO generated over $1.4 billion in revenue.
If there was any doubt about me venturing outside of the Internet for a career, my ePlus experience had sealed the deal. Early Internet pioneers were essentially media companies. Media and entertainment therefore became the first major industry that would get disrupted by the Internet. So I dove straight into this exciting journey.
B.B. (or Before Bingeing)
Twelve years ago, I was working at AOL on the webcast of the Live 8 concert. While the Live Aid reunion was a bona fide success - so much so that everyone after AOL’s webcast was declaring MTV - and broadcast TV - dead, I was able to parse the signal from the noise - to see enormous opportunity in doing the counter-intuitive - bringing long-form television to the Web.
Today, watching a half-hour comedy, a one-hour drama, a two-hour movie, or bingeing an entire TV season, is a no-brainer. But back in 2006 when we launched In2TV, America’s first on-demand television service on the Web, where “Welcome Back Kotter” met “La Femme Nikita,” people thought we were certifiably crazy. YouTube was still in beta; online video meant 1-2 minutes. Gartner, the leading technology research & advisory firm, declared that In2TV’s high-definition service, which I led launch, would become as critical to the future of online video entertainment as Apple’s iPod was to the future of the music industry.
And, of course, it was more obvious - if technically just as formidable- to see that Live 8 webcast had validated not only live concerts, but also live entertainment programming online. I helped launch Network Live, which would become the first multi-platform live entertainment digital company. It extended access to live venue performances beyond physical venues to a virtual global audience through Internet and satellite distribution. And, an actual global audience: I ran business development and content acquisition for TotalMovie.com - Latin America’s first online premium video streaming service; founded Mela, which brought same-day international online releases to Bollywood theatricals; and served as the interim CEO of Secret Cinema, a London-based company that has redefined storytelling through live, immersive experiences.
And yes, you can blame me (in part) for TMZ - that celebrity gossip website. While introducing investigative journalism into the tabloid mix is a fine legacy, TMZ deserves to be credited as the first major media property to successfully graduate from the Web to broadcast television (most go the other way), pioneering the cross-media platform.
Perhaps for my TMZ penance, I can point to my role in launching NBC Learn in 2008, a pioneer in what became known as the “EdTech” space.
As a first draft of history, In2TV led to Hulu, launched by NBC Universal’s digital media team that I’d joined from AOL to run the company’s global product development. Earlier, television networks had already emulated In2TV by putting all of their fresh primetime shows online. But Hulu.com provided advertisers the largest premium inventory for video advertising, the crème de la crème of the exploding digital advertising industry.
So, my hunch was on the mark. The first industry that technology remade from the inside out was media and entertainment. In the process of my launching new products and ventures in this space, I learned how to fundamentally transform an industry through digital technology and its components - mobile, social, big data & analytics, cloud computing, and AI – all of which were born and evolved during the digital transformation of this industry over the last twenty years. An example of a company that deployed many of these tools is the global API platform, Apigee — acquired by Google for $625M — which I advised from startup to IPO.
Going forward, as digital technology moves into the mainstream, we’re at the cusp of a similar phenomenon in larger, legacy industries. Digital technology will make these industries more responsive, inclusive, efficient, and, yes, innovative.
I launched Dia Ventures to help drive this next cycle of transformative innovation.
I’m frequently asked, “Why Dia?” The word translates across many languages as light, day, and showing daylight. From my days of launching model airplanes to building global digital media businesses, I still look up and out, scanning beyond the horizon for the light of a future-to-be written.
This interconnected future — with its imminent ubiquity of sensors, machine learning, and oncoming of AI — has the potential to surprise and delight the consumer as never before. Helping build technologies and companies that will realize this promise is my lifelong calling. Especially as I look through the eyes of my young daughter…Dia. Then, I, too, am filled with starry wonder.