My Observations on India [Paul Singh from 500 Startups]

I’ve spent a decent amount of time in India over the past few months. Most recently, I spent a little over two weeks of August meeting with founders and investors in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Goa. A couple of observations in no particular order:

  • Indian founders don’t have clear role models… at least not within the Indian startup ecosystem. That being said, that will likely change over the next 3-5 years as the founders of companies such as SnapDeal, FlipKart, Naukri, MakeMyTrip, Inmobi, Directi (along with many other fantastic companies) continue to grow.
  • The communication style of Indian founders is quite different than other places. It seems like a cultural thing: founders (and perhaps most people) seem to think that they are establishing authority by giving longer answers to specific questions. I’d like to see founders improve their communication styles: be direct, be crisp and be passionate. By doing that, they’ll be able to better communicate with cofounders, potential team hires, press and investors (both foreign and domestic). More tips here: Your Solution Is Not My Problem. (On a side note: There’s huge opportunity for a speaking coach to make a metric shit-ton of money in India.)
  • Pound for pound, the Indian technical founder has far more raw horsepower than I’ve seen anywhere else. I suppose that’s why nearly every pitch I’ve heard from Indian founders has been heavy on the technology powering the solution. Unless you’re building a startup that *is* technology, your pitchshouldn’t contain any mention of the technology you’re using.
  • I’d like to see more Indian founders try to solve problems for the Indian market. Until now, it seems that most focused on building online products that could be sold to the West and that made sense: the Western internet user was way more likely to buy online. Internet penetration is rapidly increasing in India, that’s no surprise — Indian founders should start to focus on the Indian internet user because more of them are coming online daily, their comfort with purchasing on the web is growing and, frankly, because outsiders are less likely to understand the cultural nuances of the Indian customer.
  • No surprise: most of the Indian investor community isn’t founder friendly. They can be very slow, deal terms can be onerous and the overall experience for founders is rough. For investors, there’s a lot of opportunity in this — just be more founder friendly and I suspect your dealflow will rise considerably.
  • Investors seem to inherently distrust founders. Investors should only take referrals from trusted sources and initial check sizes should be smaller while the relationship is still new. Founders should take it upon themselves to present themselves in the most truthful way. Regardless, I think you’ll begin to see investors prosecuting founders publicly in an effort to make a statement to the market.
  • As a first generation Indian-American, I find it interesting that many founders and investors born and raised in India seem to be more pessimistic about India’s prospects than I (and, by extension, other outsiders) am. As Sasha Mirchandani has said in the past, my hope for India is that it changes from a pessimistic society to an optimistic one.

I’m certainly not the first one to say this but, even with all the challenges that exist, India has nowhere to go but up — the question isn’t *if* but *when* it will happen. We’ve made a handful of investments in Indian startups over the past year and we’re planning to aggressively ramp that up immediately. Watch out India, the 500 train’s coming!

About Paul Singh:
Paul is a partner at 500 startups and blogs at ResultJunkies. You can follow him on twitter @PaulSingh