Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

India doesn’t “need” anyone.

Posted on: April 16, 2008

I’m probably taking a 180 degree turn, and maybe a few more swirls on this post, considering my last entry on design and technology, but I think this is gonna have to be said, sooner or later.

There are a couple of things that I am noticing lately.

1. People who are back from the US and other nations where they had gone for seeking employment and are now back, who are absolutely amazed at what is happening here in India.

2. People who are a little hesitant and wondering if the Global economy recession is going to have a hard impact on us, and most of us oldies have realized that we could withstand and live through this to tell the tale – its not even a brainer no more.

3. Then there are the third group of people, who are sitting in their respective cosy offices abroad and are pointing fingers at this country as if its heading towards an impending doom.

4. There is the fourth kind, the ugly kind, which is wanting for some foreign nation to come and rescue us and “take us to the next level”.

I love the first and the second kind. Am tolerant towards the third kind and just hate the fourth one.

Let me start off with an anecdote: About a few years back, maybe ten or so, we were a much different nation. I’ll give you a very simple example: The CDMA Technology of Qualcomm was partly developed in association with IIT Madras. A couple of slip-ups, and we were one of the highest royalty paying countries (close to 7%, when hongkong and the likes were paying half of that, and China paying around 2%) to Qualcomm. Needless to say such mistakes wont ever happen again. In the words of Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, “We are a very confident nation now compared to how we were even a few years ago”. Unless there is an equal opportunity for growth, research and commercialization, we don’t ever sign deals anymore. From a nation that “needed” a break, we are at a point where unless the deal is fair and maybe even lenient, we aren’t interested – we have plenty of other options, and partners willing to work on more friendlier terms these days.

As usual, let me take two steps back and go from there.

I am not sure how many of you have read the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhiji, but there are some pretty shocking revelations for those who havent read it. For one, while reading though the text, you will realize that there was a time when Gandhiji thought that India will only grow to be in its supreme power under the british rule and even served in the british army for a time, as a medic. He never openly confronted the british and was a fabulous diplomat in engaging with the british rule, kept and maintained cordial relationships and only rose to rebellion when blood shed started to happen. That’s when the words “Swaraj” were uttered. We still haven’t accomplished those dreams, and have even come close to accomplishing what that word really means.

But before this generation is over, nay! even sees its grey hairs, I can assure you that we will.

There is a lot of talk, and whispers that the outsourcing industry has reached its peak and is dwindling off. I am not sure how that has to affect us in anyway. For the record, we’ve moved onto better things. Most of the software companies here in India, and even the MNCs like TCS have setup some fabulous innovation labs that are churning out the next generation of cutting edge consumer interaction and lifestyle solutions. Did someone miss the train while our boys were out and are still are buying out foreign companies?. We run one of the biggest airlines fleet. Make the most profitable and inexpensive telecom networks with the most cutting edge technology deployed (Talk about the genius of the AND), have revolutionized the cement industry in optimizing operations costs so low that we have to teach the world how to do it – and Should I even talk about the steel industry and the likes of VideoCon who is bidding for Motorola’s mobile division? We have moved up the ladder of service, into creation, long time ago. Were the naysayers snoring when that all happened?

It is a fact that a lot of prototyping and initial release softwares, applications and products are built out of the Indian subcontinent. So much so, that I think that its even a wise choice for entrepreneurs across the globe to move to India, given that India and China are probably the next two biggest emerging economies which will be bigger than the US ever has in terms of demand, supply and market disruption. You might say that the appeal for entrepreneurs to move to India is still not yet complete, but I can assure you that we’d get there – very soon. If the trend is moving towards there, I’d jump the next boat and get here and find a seat. It will count for something when the masses move in.

Secondly, even as we are racing towards the makings of an innovation hub, there are hue and cry about the fact that we are not “valley-endorsed”. I really don’t understand the issue here. The valley is nothing more than another market for us. The valley is not going to send help, they are not going to send us people to hire, nor are they going to sit there and talk about us folks here – I doubt they even understand the way the markets move here in India. Most are still puzzled as to how we manage to survive and rake in billions with such a low ARPU in running mobile networks. Let them figure that bit out and we’ll talk about understanding markets 🙂

We do not need the silicon valley to tell us that we have achieved what we have set out to do. The valley is not even a benchmark for us to etch for. The valley is just a draft and an outline that we hope to cover. When the indian startup ecosystem is in place, it is going to be dazzling, that i doubt we’d find a comparison in the western world. The closest that we’d find is what goes on in China, Japan, Taiwan and the places around.

“India has more interesting startups that I imagined”, Said a Venture Capital friend today. I think I was more happy and excited about that statement than knowing that India even had product startups – whenever that date was. But all jokes aside, India is very deceiving. The looks of it, and what you see from it can be very misleading. A very aptly put example would be the research centre which houses TeNeT. The building from outside is anything but ordinary, but houses 27 companies – atleast their core teams – and brings in close to $100 Million in revenue. Don’t let the looks fool you. I have been saying this for ages, but as Siddharta Govindaraj, the man behind the Open Coffee Club Initiative in Chennai puts it “I’m always surprised at how many start-ups I’ve met at OCC. Who knew that there were so many?”

A rough estimate puts the number of startups that emerge in India at around 500-600 a year (those with a focus on technology). There are far more companies that spring up in the non-technological sectors, which are also companies that are following the traditional routes of running the firms as proprietory/partnership entities rather than incorporated and chasing venture capitalists. One truly doesn’t know the size of the startup community in India, till you start making mental figures of all the companies that you know of, and how many of them fall off the radar but continue doing some excellent work – many of which are operating out of residential zones well disguised.

Scoble has a post on the state of entrepreneurship in Israel and how the valley tends to revolve around companies that are birthed in the valley. I thought that was obvious. News around home is what is easy to access, verify and report. Some of our Indian blogger friends have set out to make an open note to Scoble inviting him to visit India. Well, we’ve always been great hosts, and we would love to host him. But as a guest and as a spectator to the silent growth and supremacy that we are growing into. The valley, especially a mere media figure who hasn’t even bootstrapped a venture of his own, has little to offer us -we have way too much noise of our own and we need to fix that as it is. We definitely don’t need more. We will learn from the likes of Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet,Paul Graham, Ray Kurzweil, William Gibson, to learn the tricks of the trade and play the games as per the rules of the Arena – fair and square. We will work together. We will embrace knowledge and partnerships. But we will follow no one, nor allow others to lead us.

A question I am often asked on this topic is as to why we don’t feel the speed that other economies that are rushing to catch up and leadm seem to ooze. It’s the difference between a mouse and an elephant. A quote by Rama Bijapurkar during a keynote was that, The markets and the size of the “influencers” in most markets are so small that its these few elements who need to run to and fro frantically to cause change. The difference and constrast is that of a tennis ball flying from one side of the court to another, and a mountain boulder which starts to move. We, being the sizeable nation that we are, are a hard lot to move. But considering that we’ve started to move, I doubt its going to be that easy to stop it before we catch up or overtake the rest of the nations. We really are an elephant that learnt to dance.

Our “Swaraj” is not too far off. There is a steep path to climb with the poverty, education and all the inequalities that we compass, but its surely not impossible to dream, dare and achieve.

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12 Responses to "India doesn’t “need” anyone."

(I didn’t read the full article so sorry if I misunderstood something)

Please don’t hook up words like Swaraj with our apparent success in IT. Who is going to solve glaring problems like population, poverty, corruption, lack of education, infrastructure, civic sense and any sense of pride in the country? Your software? The day we will have Swaraj is when every person gets to live a life he/she wants to live. Writing software and buying companies is not the way to Swaraj.

My 2 cents.

Shashank,

Fair point. Removed that word from the title. That said, I never claimed “software” was going to solve problems. Confidence, and the ability to look for answers within ourselves and the society in taking responsibility will. You should go through it in its entirety sometime.

Thanks again for the quick response.

PS: This is probably a time in history, after independence, that our sense of pride in being “indians” has been an all-time high. You should visit us sometime mate 🙂

[…] on April 16, 2008. Happened to see this post from The Startup Guy. Some of my thoughts on this. (Of course not to hurt […]

Good post.

@ Not getting employees for start up
What I have observed in US is that people take more risk than Indians. They will put almost everything at stake to get the company moving. We Indians traditionally think many times even before taking a loan for 2- wheeler. More Risk = More Returns/Losses
@ Using Indian Startup products
I agree to what you have said in the post. There is no sufficient coverage. If a US startup sneezes, that will also be covered in TechCrunch.
@ Attitude
I have observed another thing. When u email an Indian startup for giving feedback/comments, you almost never get reply!
@Me too Phenomena-
We like to follow what US has done. I am not saying that is bad. I am yet to see an innovative startup in India which has rocked the blogosphere. How many orkut/myspace/facebook like startups do we have? I have lost count 🙂

Vijay,
This is very thought provocative article. Your experience, knowledge have fueled this. Its indeed a exciting time to stay back in India, contribute to the inclusive growth and be a part of the celebration. Being involved in social sector, I am confident that We will address the challenges surrounding us. With Amazing Talent, Enormous Resources, Strong Values, Bharath will cruise ahead and ahead to the destiny.
Thanks a bunch for sharing your thoughts. I am re-re-reading it 🙂

@Shashank
Lets stop finger pointing. Lets pitch in some way or the other to solve the challenges around us. Volunteer for creating civic sense, spread the good word of helping opportunity deprived, Involve in a school for teaching kids… These are small ways where evry one can make a difference…
I am leading a group of 50+ like minded volunteers. We are empowering a rural school http://divyadeepatrust.org near Mysore. From past 2 years, we are able to sustain it and now we are sprinting ahead in all terms. Infrastructure, Corpus Funds, Electricity etc.

Imagine the whole youth of India spending their 2% of their valuable time, money, effort to contribute for inclusive growth.

WE, together going to make it happen.

Prabhu:

I agree with what you say. I also agree that its not going to happen overnight. Also most of the cases you are mentioning are about Internet companies. The internet is possibly the furthest reaching media platform that exists. If we cant effectively leverage that, are we doing something wrong?

About Hiring People:
Lets forego the US for a moment. Look at Europe or even Israel. Even look at Malaysia. I was chatting with the Malaysian Innovation Ministry and they were one step away from breaking into tears that no one joins a startup. The government has gone to the point of giving away free money for big corporates to setup offices in Malaysia and Singapore and its hurting smaller companies.

Even take Israel. There are very few engineers there.

Show me a company where the founders can roll up their sleeves and write code, and still need trouble. I’ll then agree then we have a problem. Most companies want to play manager from day one.

About VCs: VCs will never invest early at a stage where its nothing more than an idea. No way, no how. Things are not going to change. We better learn to live with it and work around it.

Support from Fellow people:
China speaks Chinese. We speak English. That’s a problem. Perhaps its time we start actually understanding some of our pain points and build solutions rather than indianizing existing solutions?
We are not without examples. Look at Shaadi.com. Do you use Shaadi or do you use Match.com? Do you use Yatra/Cleartrip/Make my trip or Expedia.com? Do you use 70mm, or Blockbuster.com?

If there is a “relevant” solution, I don’t see a issue here.

Global Approach: This is one I’d agree whole heartedly. We need a global approach. But there are lessons we need to learn. We can only go fight the giants outside our doorstep, once we have strengthened ourselves. People are going to fiercely guard their turfs and we better use strategies like what Subex did (go everywhere but the US, grow and then hit the US) to survive.

I’d also say that Global users come with global troubles. One that has built a product and attracted beta customers would know this issue. All the feedbacks and bug fix list that will come in, it will be easier to turn around with your initial customers here in India.

We need a blogger community to replace what Techcrunch does, for the Indian community. Pluggd.in, Webyantra, Contentsutra and are all heading on the right direction and if any, Pluggd.in will uniquely position themselves to play the Techcrunch of India. There is also this business blogger network that is going on lately who are working towards building a vibrant blogger community. We should be pitching towards the same goal.

I think I’ve answered it all.

Well said. I moved back 3 years back and heading a product company and its simply amazing! We are competing head-on with companies in the Valley and other places in the U.S. The playground is now open. The show is on.

Its a very nice and inspiring post.

@Puneeth: Thanks.

@Sahil: I know that feeling. Keep going.

@santhosh: Thanks.

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