A startup ecosystem needs a lot of things to be able to thrive and flourish. We've all heard about opinions about what a startup ecosystem needs to succeed. Talent, investors, risk-taking, government policies etc, etc..., but I wanted to take a step back today and talk about some meta-level issues that drive the success of a startup ecosystem as a whole. While it is undoubtedly true that money, risk-taking, talent etc... are required for an ecosystem to succeed, there are some higher-level ideas that I think are critical to ensure that success is even possible.
I was recently at a startup event on the Stanford campus, where I had the opportunity to hear Navin Jain give a keynote. It was amazing to hear him talk! Usually, a keynote speech is about gyaan - Where accomplished entrepreneurs and investors tell the audience what they should be doing. Instead, Navin was talking about the big opportunities for everyone to exploit. He talked about several emerging trillion-dollar ideas, and encouraged everyone to think really really big. He was encouraging entrepreneurs to think about startups in space-travel (one of his trillion-dollar markets), and he said it is not unrealistic for a startup to think about building a spacecraft that can land on the moon!
It was very impressive to listen to the scale of his dreams! In India, we sometimes have a tendency to think small - "Be the xyz of India" - is a common pitch you hear of startups. In stark contrast, here was an entrepreneur that was saying he wants to build something to go to the moon.
I now firmly believe that what makes a startup hub great is its collective ambition. Its entrepreneurs should be stupidly optimistic, willing to take on any problem, no matter how large. Silicon Valley has ruled supreme because its entrepreneurs dream very big. From building spacecraft that can dock with the International Spacestation, to building electric cars from scratch, no dream is too big.
This is a mindset, I think we in India should adopt. India has very large problems, and startups should start thinking of solving these massive problems and building multi-billion dollar companies.
The network effects of a city where startups concentrate are enormous. When entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and corporates work in close proximity, chances of innovation increase substantially. While we have a very vibrant ecosystem in India, one thing that's seriously lacking is collaboration between entrepreneurs.
I've been to many startup events (in fact, YourStory itself hosts several events a year), and the behavior of entrepreneurs at these events is highly predictable - They sit in the audience and listen to the panelists and keynote speakers on stage, and afterward go and try to network with the VCs and Angels. The key problem is that entrepreneurs are not talking to each other!
I find this very troubling. The opportunities for collaboration between startups are tremendous, and often a great source of innovative ideas. But we seem to ignore this huge component of networking, instead focusing on talking to only the VCs and Investors. There is another troubling tendency for entrepreneurs to not discuss their ideas openly, for fear that someone might "copy the idea". If someone can copy your startup after 5 minutes of listening to your idea, then that idea is not worth pursuing anyway!
This lack of collaboration is holding back the growth of the Indian startup ecosystem in my opinion. We need startups to freely and openly exchange ideas, techniques, technologies and out-of-the-box strategies, so everyone can benefit. There will be no significant jumps in our ecosystems growth, if its entrepreneurs hold back on sharing ideas!
We need to openly embrace and celebrate those startups that succeed. Many times, I've seen entrepreneurs put down successful startups by claiming that they "got lucky" or "shmoozed somebody" when they hear about their successes. This comes from a scarcity-mentality, where people believe that if someone else succeeds, it reduces the chances of their own success, because there is only so much success to be had.
Nothing could be further from the truth. A startup, by definition, is a wealth creator. Startups create wealth and growth, and any amount of success of one startup - it could be anything from raising money, to getting acquired or hitting a Billion-dollar mark - only increases the chance of success of others, since the whole ecosystem is now favorably looked upon by everyone.
We need to not only celebrate success, but also to do everything we can to help other startups succeed. And when you help other startups succeed, they'll eventually help you back once they are themselves successful, helping everyone climb up the ladder.
So there you have it. I think we are some ways away from having these internalized in how we behave and interact, but we're definitely making progress. Things were very different just a few years ago, and if we all consciously make the effort to share, help each other dream big and share in our success, there's no reason why we can't achieve greatness!