Is the Indian startup ecosystem a hypocritical one?

By Guest Author|23rd Jun 2013
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Around this time, 6 years back I boarded a flight from an international metro to Mumbai (yes I was a NRI back then) to pursue Chartered Accountancy. My parents did not want to send me to Mumbai, but I was adamant, though not sure why. Eventually they gave up, thinking I will be back once I complete the course.

6 years hence, I refuse to head back. I know it’s weird and have no clue on what to tell people when they ask me, ‘How can you leave that city and stay here in Mumbai’?

Fortunately I have an answer to that today, I am a CA by qualification and an entrepreneur by profession.


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Somewhere, while pursuing CA, I knew that this is not what I want to make my career out of. But since I started it, I thought I better complete it, it may add value to me. Around a year back I met my co-founder and started working around Theek Kar Do (www.theekkardo.com). For us, it was business as usual, meeting service providers and customers, trying to get things in place, studying the market, learning the requirements etc. During the course of the initial six months we came across certain other ‘start-ups’ in different domains. Then gradually we learnt about various start-up web-portals, media coverage, angel investors, VC’s, PE funds, start-up events and challenges, accelerators and incubators and what not. It’s been a year working around it and I am sure I may have skipped a few things which exist in the start-up ecosystem (and I still do not understand a lot of these).When I decided to start my own business I never knew that I was going to be made an overnight hero. When I quit my cushy corporate job, most of my colleagues congratulated me on doing ‘something’ different and ‘challenging’ and were sort of proud of me doing so. My friends also thought on similar lines. It flattered me, but left me amused as well.

A year down the line, this journey of starting up has thrown up a few questions (and yes, I am still hunting for the answers).

What is the big brouhaha around being an entrepreneur or starting up? Why is it considered a major milestone in somebody’s life?

Every corporate was a startup at some point in time and over years it has grown on to become a multinational, to become what it is today, where many of our peers have decided to build their careers.

Unconventional? How come starting a business has all of a sudden became the talk of the town. In India, till recent times, 7 in 10 persons ran their own business, be it the kirana store, be it a trader or service provider or even manufacturing for that matter. Then, why all the noise around starting up today? What is that we do today that wasn’t being done earlier. Even earlier people tried something innovative around what they did. Indian markets opened up to secured job culture only in the post-liberalization era.

And for how long is a new business rightly termed as a ‘start-up’?

Please don’t tell me that now there is media and awareness around it. The point is what is the big deal? Now, some of the clichéd answers would be access to more resources, networking opportunities, availability of easy funding options, mentors, accelerators, etc

(For convenience I shall continue to use the term ‘start-up’)

Let’s now look at some of these more closely.

Networking opportunities : Where do most of the start-ups meet? At various start-up challenges and competitions. Here do start-ups even actually interact and share knowledge and domain expertise? Not really. What these events actually end up doing is pitching each startup against the other. What happens is everyone is trying to outdo the other. The only savior is nobody fortunately indulges in unfair activities. But the point is why can we not just meet over dinner discuss business as usual and go back to regular work. At all this networking sessions, every entrepreneur wants to show that their start-up is better than the rest.

How genuine is that smile when you greet each other?

The point is not that these challenges and events should not be held. But the format needs to be tweaked such that it becomes a networking session so that one can benefit from others mode of operations and not consider each other as competition to win that coveted title.

[P.S: It’s not a general thing, but more often than not this does happen. I have personally made some amazing friends from various other start-ups and we intend to work closely with each other in the days to come, so please do not feel offended ;)]

Access to resources: What start-ups generally look for is funding and mentoring either directly or through accelerator/ incubation programs. The question is how many of the angel investors or VC’s are interested in you or your business. Not most of them for sure. There only concern is ‘show me the money’. True, it is not pure donation, but in a way we as entrepreneurs would prefer something more on those lines than just equity infusion and involvement to increase the valuation. Creating value for the business product or service comes secondary. Yes, money and profit making is eventually the aim but there can be alternate ways to get there. In the rat race, the business and the people behind the business lose their sheen.

By doing this, we are building a Tumblr to be acquired by Yahoo! or an Instagram to be acquired by Facebook. When will we create a Twitter, Google or Apple?

What I would suggest is that if a budding entrepreneur visits or speaks to a mentor or VC, sit with them for a session or two, understand their product or service line and see if you can add value to them. We are okay if you do not intend to invest at that point in time, but a morale booster and a transparent conversation is all what we are asking for.

I recently shot an email to a mentor (on being strongly recommended by a friend) to just have a look at our web-portal and service line. A mail was shot back which read as below:

“You have to sign up for mentoring for me to do that. It is a six month engagement and we will get you market ready. And we charge a one time upfront fee of Rs XYZ. Please let me know if this works. We can then either call or meet. Cheers”

If we had all those funds, why would we need a mentor?

[P.S: I haven’t spoken to a mentor post that to look into our model. My co-founders and I believe in our concept and have agreed to the fact that no-one understands our business better than us and our customers. And just to clarify, we haven’t applied for any incubation or accelerator programs so not sure how they exactly function but I do not expect a miracle from them either]

If we actually want to develop a decent Indian ‘start-up’ ecosystem, what we need is an open door policy, where we should be able to interact with anyone in the fraternity without hesitation may it be a co-worker, mentor, angel investor, VC, etc. It goes without saying that even entrepreneurs should respect the time, space, expertise and seniority of the other person and not exploit such an environment.

On the other hand, if we ‘start-ups’ can work closely together and share our resources, we may not need a lot of these self-proclaimed start-up events, gurus and investors.

I love the attention Theek Kar Do or I get from people around me, but is this a bubble about to burst. We talk of Silicon Valley and Bangalore as the start-up capital of India. Frankly, I have no clue how it is the world over, but why so much of buzz on starting up.

About the author


Hardik Shah - Photo

Hardik is the co-founder of Theek Kar Do and on the Editorial Board of Mentor Mantra. He is a Chartered Accountant by qualification and previously worked with Ernst & Young. You could connect with him at hardik.shah@theekkardo.com or follow him @simply_hardik or read some of his posts at www.simplysoch.wordpress.com.

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