“Whenever you are building a company, always ask yourself if youwant to do it for the next 10 years,” says Gautam Gandhi of GoogleIndia
Gautam Gandhi, now part of new business development emerging markets at Google , had started two companies in the US before his India landing in 2008 took him to Google. He worked in a bank, graduated from Carnegie Mellon, started two companies, did research as a Fulbright scholar before joining Google. Aside from Google, Gautam also involves himself with startups as a mentor and advisor. He feels India gives huge opportunity to build brands in the next 10 years. In a chat with YourStory.in, Gautam talks about his role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.As a Fullbright scholar, you have taught entrepreneurship at several colleges in India. Did you ever try measuring the impact of that?
There are a lot of people I meet now, who tell me, “I met you at that college/conference and I now started a company.” Rajat of MadRat Games met me at college and he believes that I helped him get started, and now I am also on their board. I met Rajat and his co-founders at Carnegie Mellon. They were in one of the classes where I was teaching.
What is your role as an advisor on their board?
I suggest them on what to do and what not to do, sometimes they listen to me and sometimes they don’t. We get on a scheduled phone call once every two weeks. It is very important for startups to have advisors, someone who challenges their thinking. You don’t have to listen to the advisors, but it is very important to have someone who challenges your way of thinking. What happens when you are working all the time, is that you get in a certain mode, so when somebody tells you about a revolutionary idea, you are forced to think in that direction, you don’t have to listen to everything I say, but at least I challenge you. I am very serious about these things. I only help companies where I can commit my time to them.
How many companies have you invested in so far?
I advise a few companies, some are public and some are not. I am a part of India Internet Fund as an advisor. And, I work with 3 startups. I believe every founder should have the chief of staff running teams. You can’t do everything yourself as a founder. I believe it is extremely hard, not only in India but everywhere, to start a company without a founding team. There is always one person who is the face of the company, but without the founding team you can never build a company.
Are there are any big opportunity areas that Indian entrepreneurs can tap into?
One thing I would always say is look for problems around you, and those are the big opportunity areas.
Do you have any plans of investing full-time?
Maybe. You have to be open to things in life. You don’t know what life has in store for you.
120 million internet users online in India. What opportunity lies there?
See the point is, numbers are irrelevant. We are already in the top four countries in terms of internet usage. What Indian entrepreneurs should do is go look at what has happened in China in the last three years, and the same thing will happen in India.
Do you think there is scope for a search engine coming out of India?
I don’t think so, because Indians are very aspirational and mesmerized by the West. I think they would use a foreign product over an Indian product. In India, today, there are enough number of businesses that you can launch where there is no outside competition yet. In products that don’t require any localization, it is very difficult for Indian companies to beat the global products. So, Google is here, why would you take Google head to head?
On Entrepreneurship in India
I wrote a piece for Wall Street Journal in 2009 called “Indian Entrepreneurs Need a Hug”. In life you do so many things, and what drives you is building something or creating something. And, that is very driving for an entrepreneur—that you want to show something to the world. So, in that article I wrote about if you are not from a wealthy family how difficult it is to be an entrepreneur in India, because the environment is not conducive, and socially it is not acceptable. Things are however changing. Now it is much more in fashion.
The biggest advantage today in India is being young. Because when you are young, everything is possible. People who are 40 years or above have these conceptions like this is not possible and that is not possible, but when you are young everything is possible.
I believe in the next 10 years, entrepreneurs in India have the opportunity to build brands in anything. If I want to start a soap company today, it is very difficult, as there are a lot of brands already in India. But, there are many categories in India today which I would say are very fragmented. Today, you can start a low-end energy drink company in India, but you can’t start a taxi service company with Meru and other brands taking over; but 4 years ago you could have started a taxi service company. So, we have this window of 10 years left where we can start brands in India. In America, now it is different, you have to have a truly unique product to start something there. But in India, today, you don’t have to be unique to build a brand.
Advice to Entrepreneurs
“Two things I would say. The whole VC thing has now become fashionable. My advice is solve a problem. Make sure you are solving it for a large amount of people, and hopefully a problem you faced yourself. Whenever you are building a company, always ask yourself if you want to do it for the next 10 years, and you have to answer from the heart, you don’t have to answer out loud, but answer to yourself.
It took Deep Kalra 10 years to build Makemytrip. There are no short-cuts in life,” Gautam Gandhi signs off.
Say hello to Gautam on Twitter @gkgandhi