Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

We Really Don’t Dream Big Enough.

Posted on: November 2, 2008

I grew up with a poster in my room saying “The size of your world is as big as your dreams”. It was always there when you woke up to remind you to think beyond the box. It still hangs there in my room at my parents place. It’s the thought that came into my mind when I was browsing through the net, listening to some of the folk’s interpretation of Entrepreneurship.

It seems  to me as if there are a couple of theories floating around these past few weeks.

a) Entrepreneurship is overrated. Entrepreneurship is romanticized, and the often tweeted and retweeted phrase seems to be “My son is without a job, ah! he is an entrepreneur”. Well, That’s probably pushing it far, and yep, perhaps we are breaking the elitism that was once associated with being an “entrepreneur”, but isn’t this what we wanted with all the publicizing that we did and urging one another to chase their dreams? I do see that this could dampen the ones that pride in elitism, but as far as things go, there will always be a gulf between those who can dream, ideate and implement, and those who just wear the badge and do nothing. And really, the more the merrier in this party.

b) There is also this other camp, that seems to think that, Entrepreneurship is too Web 2.0-ised. I can emphatize with this camp.  I dont think entrepreneurship in India is equated with a venture in the web 2.0 world, but most of us derive our first impression from the media that we consume and web 2.0 is essentially Media and new age consumption of those content. You get hit by it in the face over and over again, till you find something interesting. That doesn’t mean that there arent other sort of ventures going on out there. Manufacturing is still one of our strongest sectors and there are plenty of neat things cooking up in that camp. So for those of you freaking out with the thought of drowning in Web 2.0 Gyaan, take heeed, there is a bigger world out there – you just need to step out more.

c) There is a third theory out there that there are a lot of NRIs returning home. And Rajiv Gandhi is rightly quoted that whatever happened a few decades ago was not brain drain, but brain banking. Along with those returning is returning a renewed sense of nationalism, pride, and a whole lot of global interaction practices, that really help us get our quality of work a notch higher to match global capabilities. The complaint is that, along with them comes the baggage to convert the cities of India, into New York and Boston, or London. They do have a point. But sooner or later as these fresh entrepreneurs hit the Registrar of Companies to get their incorporation work done, they will know that things work slightly in a different order in this country.

So, really gentlemen (and ladies), there is not much to fret. You can relax and enjoy the process as our landscape changes before our eyes.

We Really Don’t Dream Big Enough.

What I want to talk about really is not the concerns, but my own concern as to how we aren’t dreaming big enough.  I came across a video at India Interacts, an interview with Gopal Srinivasan of TVS yesterday. There seems to be mention of all the orgs out there, including some blip about “The Proto.in Mindset’. Following the interview closely, I hear him saying that there are lots of Indians trying to do US businesses here in India and its simply not working. That is a very good point and something I strongly believe in. As part of the work at TeNeT and RTBI in IITM, we do incubate companies that aim at Rural India. Trust me, when I say that my heart sinks when people try to fit super-sized urban technologies into that space. Technology has to invisible when it becomes a solution – as for it to really become part of the lifestyle. It’s a mantra i’ve really tried to live by.

What worries me is that the examples that he quotes, the poultry example, or the hospital example are just one angles of entrepreneurship. I agree that education and healthcare are the biggest intervention areas that we need to work in India, but creating any radical change will mean that we need radical policy changes. There are 700 million Indians in Rural India without much health care, but they aren’t dying. They are all getting treated by Rural health professionals (in other words, unqualified doctors, or by trained nurses also diagonising and treating, or pharmacists who are prescribing). We need to find a way to incorporate these things and formalize them as a system. Tell me which Venture capital firm, is willing to stand with a venture that will have to change the way the government thinks? Yet, we do that in IIT. But trust me when I say that it is quite a uphill task and one cant expect changes before three to five years. Most of these investors would be expecting a return and a profit by then. You see what I mean? Change, especially basic lifestyle change will also mean a longhaul game. Are Investors dreaming big enough?

I also think that Technology has to be nurtured. Yes we can think about solutions for our own country, and create poultry farms and money-spinning hospitals, but really how is that going to give us a leverage for us in the global arena? How are our aspirations to become a global nation going to come close to that. The issue with Poultry and Healthcare is that, at the rate the world is moving, there is always going to be a group of people who are going to fall behind. The question is. Are we going to take a stance to have our primary focus taking care of them, or keep our primary focus higher to reach a global audience, find a solution to some of our global problems (climate, energy, finance, communications etc), and then find the means to solve the problems of the lower pyramid?

If I sound a bit too far fetched, let me try this: Take any of the technological advancement or anything that you have, own or find entrenched in your life. Everything from computers to music systems to radios to mobile phones to aircrafts, to submarines to energy, came into our life because someone invested in them. Most of these technologies find their roots in either Military or Space research. Thats the reason why our first step into space is quite a critical one. But some might call that a “Baggage attitude” as well  perhaps. The question comes down to, are we going to outsource all the mainstream innovation to the west and remain a consumer for ever, or are we going to get into the game or not.

I think it is common knowledge now that the two greatest threats that we face are energy and climate. The financial crisis will solve itself – its all a matter of time. The worst that can happen is that we’ll go back to our ways of growing our own crops and working in the farm,but that doesn’t sound so bad as the world shutting down, and us gasping for breathe – or worse, drowning in the molten icecaps. What I fear even worse than that is our children and the generation that follows them taking the flak for what we’ve done to this planet.

I would say that we are already far behind in the investments that we should have put in these areas. If we had focused and invested on terraforming, we probably would have an answer to atleast avert some of the greenhouse effect that we are trapped in. If we had started imagining how we would fuel our cars once we reach mars (where there is no gasoline), we probably would have started to develop engines that can run on Helium and Hydrogen much before its too late.

I do not think we have the liberty to just play a catch-up game anymore (atleast not just that alone. We need to balance both). I am sorry to break that news to the old-timers, but thats the world we are in. We have an opening and a window to design the way this world is going to be tomorrow. We need social responsibilities (I totally agree), but we also need to invest in technologies that can make our lives efficient – not productivity wise alone, but also consumption wise, and that means we need people who can try, test, experiment and learn so that we can do that iterations faster.

We need entrepreneurs who will give this country its vision for the next twenty to thirty years. Where will our dreams be in terms of space, defense, lifestyle, and how will be take care of the poor and the weak amongst us. And more than all that, we also need investors and visionaries (like the likes of Khosla, who can think ahead of the curve), and not take sides of the spectrum, but be supportive and think long term as well.

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12 Responses to "We Really Don’t Dream Big Enough."

Great article and btw that comment about my son being an entreprenuer was one I tweeted about when I read Ted Turner’s interview :D, wasn’t meant to be offensive.

@Karthick,
Nah, didnt take it as an offense, but that quote has been all around. I guess Entrepreneurship is an abused worth, truth be told 🙂 I belong to the “Entrepreneurs are born, not made” camp 🙂

great post ..the only fear around is folks have started justifying ther confusion and lackof focus with the term “M An entrepreneur”

I have been thinking how technology should be customized for mass Indian use and your point about Indians trying to do US businesses here in India makes a lot of sense.

I read Gurcharan Das (TOI) who says that the national health insurance scheme for the poor is going to be a success b’coz of the smart cards they r using.

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOI&BaseHref=TOIM/2008/11/02&PageLabel=16&EntityId=Ar01602&ViewMode=HTML&GZ=T

Good post Vijay

I think your point of dreaming big enough is well articulated and in this context if dreaming big enough is equated to taking on Govt. and Govt. policies..then I am with you.

But I think as a community there is a certain glamour and hype around a tech/web 2.0 start-up in India which leads to a ‘Follow the hype’ effect primarily because this is what most founders are exposed to. I don’t think investors cite inability to change govt. policy as a reason not to invest in health, food, infra.. I would assume if they were enough good companies out there..they would invest. And if they are enough good companies out there..a serious effort can be made to change govt. policies.

On the innovation point, I think both companies such as Suguna Chicken and global innovators like the one’s India should be creating are equally important and deserve support.

@Vivek: My rule towards that is that as long as they are not harming anyone, let them be 🙂 They’ll come around.

@Ranjan: Would be nice to see how they explain smart cards to rural folks. I guess the key is in how its implemented. Might work, but its way too early to call the shots on that.

@Sudhir: That was precisely my point. Be it broiler chickens of web 2.0 or defense startups, we need the diversity. And my claim would be that there are more than enough startups outside the web 2.0, just because a few journos are stuck and wouldnt smell anything more than web 2.0 startups doesnt mean that there doesnt exist a world outside of it.

The key point that I wanted to make was that web 2.0 or not, we need all of them. It is simply childish to take any sides, and “demand” certain kinds of companies to be started – to each their own and at the end of the day, lets remember that is only the entrepreneur who has the right to call the shots… and let them do what they wish to do.

Its basically the young brigade who are into the startup bandwagon. Its actually easy to start a company when all you have to do is load some open source software and buy a domain. Startups in fields of manufacturing, health and infrastructure would need high capital, experience and much more than a college degree. That is the reason why we see fewer of them.

It is often not enough to “dream big”. One also needs the necessary support system to realise one’s dreams. Without a support system to nuture these dreams, they often perish untested. Several organisations do exist that mentor dreams, but in the end everything boils down to dollars and cents and no dream is worth anything if it cannot generate revenue!

@smartrah: I’d agree with you. But its also such a pleasure to see the young brigade into it, isnt it? There is plenty of time to evolve 🙂

@Vijaya: Well, that’s what a business eventually boils down to. As to whether it makes revenues and can sustain itself or not. Otherwise, it’d be an NGO, I suppose 🙂 so Yep, totally agree. Though, the article was more towards looking outside the usual..

It is an interesting post. I firmly believe that there is a need to use technology in order to bring about rural innovation. Technology is not an end in itself but must be a means to achieve something that benefits the underserved.

I came across this website called http://www.rangde.org that enables individuals to participate in microcredit. I think its worth having a look. This is definitely a new age NGO.

You just said it in the last paragraph – “How will we take care of the poor and the weak amongst us”. I firmly believe in it – I don’t know what gave human beings rights to destroy everything else – weaker human beings, other species, the planet for our selfish dreams, to satisfy our ego. We are not the chosen ones – this planet belongs to everyone, we seemed to have forgotten that. We need visionaries who will make these thoughts a way of life, a doable task and not an Utopian theory. We need visionaries who will help those at the bottom of the pyramid create wealth to better their lives, and at the same time protect and conserve the amazing world that we inherited.

And I’m not saying we have to move away from technology, we will need technology to maximize the efforts. But what we should focus on is the end goal, and not technology itself.

[…] Anand writes on his blog that Indian entrepreneurs really don’t dream big enough. And that got me […]

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