A Panel Discussion on Evolution of Tech Entrepreneurship in India

What a week it has been! After a very successful execution of #FutureUnleashed, I spent the weekend in Udaipur, participating in Solaris, a Management Fest organized by IIM Udaipur

IIM Udaipur is a relatively new IIM - just about four years old. Director Mr. Janat Shah puts his mission out loud and clear. He wants IIM Udaipur to carve out a niche for itself in the entrepreneur space and prepare its students for entrepreneurial endeavors. In this journey, the students, the professors and Director Shah leave no stone unturned. The institute has even included the option of trading their Summer Internship for an entrepreneurial Internship, where students can opt to give their ideas some shape and form before exiting from the institute - a first of its kind and very different from the placement oriented culture witnessed at most B-Schools.

Saksham - IIMU's entrepreneurship cell had organized a IT Entrepreneurship Summit on and I had the privilege of sharing some of my experiences as part of a panel discussion. It was indeed a very enthusing discussion. We discussed internal changes that have happened in the IT industry over the past few years in the context of evolution of IT from an add on to a necessity. We discussed some of the factors that have led to this tremendous growth that we see in this space today. We discussed changes in the ecosystem as a whole - from socio-economic factors, govt. regulations, ease of getting investors etc. with a view of what should be expected in the future for entrepreneurs in India. An interesting part of the discussion was whether we expect top IT cities to become the Start-up valley like the silicon valley and what the panel thought about global expansion by some Indian Unicorns.

Here's a quick summary of my thoughts discussed at by the panel. Am keeping away from using examples discussed during the conversation in this write-up.

On things to consider while starting out on your own venture : Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

  1. Feasibility of your ideas given the constraints that arise from socio-economic factors are important to evaluate. Many ideas much ahead of its time just die and therefore it is important to ensure that the ecosystem is ready for your idea. Considerations should include mature and pervasive technology, consumer mind-set that is has played around with ideas similar in nature etc.
  2. Alternatively, your idea needs to be so disruptive that it creates an ecosystem by itself. Apples iPad or Microsofts Hololens or Tesla Power Wall is a great example of disruptive ideas creating an ecosystem.
  3. Build a compelling USP for your venture. Carve out a Niche that your venture will be known for. This comes with deep understanding of ones own expertise and equally good understanding of your competition

On is this the right time : If you have assessed your risks and benefits well, the opportunity in todays "growth hungry enterprises" as well as the "real India" is massive

  1. India is in high growth mode. All economic parameters are looking good. GDP is high, Fiscal deficit is low, FDI is high, interest rates are low, revenues are up, Inflation is down and the Rupee is stable. In such an economy, one is capable of taking very high risks with little risk of failure.
  2. Technological Innovation is breaking all boundaries. Internet of things, BigData, Analytics, Sensors are opening up new opportunities for people to build tech enabled solutions that can help drive better business decisions and therefore very high growth. Large Industries and Businesses are going through a self-transformation to align their IT functions (CTO, CIO) better to the changing tech landscape to derive as many benefits as they can. The Government has exposed critical Data for people to build solutions with for social good.
  3. Initiatives like Digital India and Smart Cities are helping technology and knowledge to permeate to the "Parallel India", which is very different in characteristics from the metro cities that we live in. This "Parallel India" is the "Real India" which is large and populous is looking to solve its problems with a technology enabled solutions. The Indian government also wants to make citizen services available electronically and helping boost these initiatives. The next set of disruptive solutions and ideas are going to come from all parts of this "Real India”. Impact of this change is much beyond Metro Cities and IT Hubs. 

On changing times from the dotcom era : Slow and Steady, Consumer focused approach. Profits are not a near-term goal. Ecosystem support & Global footprint.

  1. Re-defining consumer behavior : The start-up ecosystem across the globe is redefining usage of technology, and interaction of their end customers with their products and service. As an example, today most eCommerce ventures are bleeding as they redefine buying experiences, re-organize and optimize supply chain (distribution, warehouses, last mile delivery etc.) and onboard sellers. Such a transformation costs monies and takes times. But Angel Investors and VC's are not in a hurry to make profits and are able to pump-in enough funds to give start-ups a longer lease of life to help this transformation.
  2. Massive support and Inclusive ecosystem : This era is where the support ecosystem for new ventures as come of age. From Angel Investors, VCs - Indians and outside, Accelerators, Incubators, Mentors to Govt. subsidy, large corporates offering benefit program such as BizSpark to render technical help, institutes - both technical and management - nurturing entrepreneurship cells are building a fully inclusive ecosystem to support start-ups. Entrepreneurs are not afraid of sharing their ideas and seeking validation from peers. In fact, Start-ups leverage each other and build on the other's strengths to grow bigger. Fresh graduates from premier institutes prefer to undertake volatile jobs in a start-up instead of a stable job with large corporation. Acceptance from family to run or be a part of the start-ups is a huge driving factor in todays times. Stability is no longer "cool". There is a "Growth Mindset" being energized across the country
  3. Conquering Global footprint : Following the footsteps of large Indian enterprises and tech giants, Indian start-ups are building massive operations outside of India via organic growth or via Mergers and Acquisitions. This has never happened before, but India is truly starting to show its "true potential".

On challenges that may hinder growth : Fail fast, Succeed faster!

  1. Start-ups follow herd mentality : Dr. Mohandas Pai says only 10% start-ups would be successful, which I believe is true, if budding entrepreneurs don’t think out of the box. There are too many "Me Too" start-ups – emulating successful ones in India or abroad. This behavior is also driven by "certain" Angel Investors and VCs that prefer to take safer bets than look for disruptive ideas and take risks and may become a great hindrance to the expected boom.
  2. It is important to try out the market sentiment before you go out to build your entire product. Starting with a minimum viable product and building your customer base. Your first 1000 customers should be your demi-Gods as they will help define your offer. Build a Network, learn, research, pivot if needed, Be Agile and Nimble.
  3. “Startup” is a situation which requires a certain set of management skills. 70% of start-ups are below 35 yrs! It is important to have a person from the Industry who has served their time in the corporate world and believes in your idea to be your mentor, guide or even the CEO. Let this person help build your customer acquisition strategy, financial model, marketing strategy, growth plan etc. Let this person help you become a lean start-up optimizing on all resources available out there.

The good part is today with the massive ecosystem to support entrepreneurs and the advances that technology has made, the potential is limitless.

I do hope this discussion was fruitful for the attendees and helps the institute in their mission to put entrepreneurship at the fore.

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