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BW Businessworld

Is India The New Palo Alto?

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If you’re reading this as an employee of some company, half of India is looking down on you. If you spend an hour at Starbucks, you will quickly realise that most of the tables are no longer filled by multi-level marketing guys making a sales pitch, but by corporate types sitting with prospective partners, planning their next. And the basis is not just generating wealth nor YOLO (you only live once), but probably ‘if they all can, so can I’.

Is India disrupting? Yes. From booking a yoga instructor to ordering groceries to getting my taxi in the next six minutes, … everything is ‘disruptively mobiled’. Already, more than 10 startups have crossed billion dollar valuations in the past 4 years, and funding is readily available for someone who hasn’t studied at the Ivy Leagues. Rather many of these are led by youngsters who haven’t even graduated. How ‘California-ish’ is that?

In 2007, when I started my first enterprise, my business partner (who sold his company to Serco in a multi-million dollar deal), taught me an important lesson: “The only reality in business is cash”. If I were to say this at any forum today, I would surely be asked to leave. Things are continuously changing. What was a rule earlier is no more a success mantra anymore. Today, ‘solving a problem’ is more important than ‘generating cash’.

I almost feel out of place when I go to a technology incubation setup, where the future disrupters are working on secret technologies, innovative designs and solutions. For them, the online marketplace and buyers purchasing clothes, phones, food, etc. are passé. They are talking about the next generation solutions like a robotic toothbrush, or online marketplace for collection for banks, or getting my office a suit stitched-to-order by the finest designer and delivered at home. So what’s required today? What’s the VC (venture capital) pitch? What’s the business case like? What’s the path to follow? Some of what we see around are:
  • Find a problem that genuinely bothers you and you wish to solve. Preferably something for which you have the background,  or relevant expertise. 
  • It’s good to have partners. It decreases stress and helps in decision-making. Odd multiples help (as odd means a decision and even means a dispute). So go find one first, not necessarily your best friend but someone who works hard and doesn’t have a worrisome attitude.
  • A decent amount of money is needed to market a new-age concept, but be sure of raising your funds in various modes.
  • Be nimble and ready to change fast, when someone disrupts what you were doing or planned to do. If someone is doing something good, copy it shamelessly — though I hate to say it. Have complete clarity on your goals. Build a sustainable business.
Other entrepreneur-entry strategies doing the rounds are:
  • Join an existing startup, where you think you can add value. Get good equity and start.
  • Join a company offering stock options. Learn how to work in a big and small company, and learn the traits — good to learn at the cost of others.
  • Advise a few startups actively and learn the nuances. If you feel comfortable, join one.
So what’s the next generation entrepreneur like? Having been lucky enough to meet quite a few, I find them sharp, focused, looking at complete technology solutions. They play music in their offices, dress casual and are less hierarchical. They have a more open culture, most employees in their 20s, with a focus on the end goal and not on day-to-day people or business issues. They shun age-old HR strategies and high dependency on ‘others’ in business areas where they have limited knowledge.

But yes, they are disrupting India and the solutions introduced by them are solving issues. Hope to catch you at Starbucks, with you planning your next, because India is the new Palo Alto. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 29-06-2015)