When I moved to Pune in early December last year, I had covered startups in Bangalore for almost two years. Bangalore was so exciting that I could hardly keep up with the pace of the city’s startup ecosystem. The thought of moving to Pune was like going back to school after an action-packed summer vacation. How insipid the thought was!
Of course, I had read articles (like this one on YourStory) about how Pune had a thriving startup ecosystem and might become the next hub for startups, but I didn’t want to believe it. I wondered how anything could be better than Bangalore.
Over the next two months, I met plenty of people who belonged to Pune’s startup ecosystem, including established founders, growth stage entrepreneurs, wanna-be startuppers, and hopeful well-wishers. And I realised that I had been wrong about the city.
They were all there by choice, not by force or circumstances.
Nandini Meka, an Australian entrepreneur of Indian origin, chose Pune over Bangalore. She says,
I had done my research, and I knew Pune was the place to go. As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, three things about this city enticed me. I knew I could get value for money; there was a strong tech community that the colleges here bred; and its proximity to Mumbai was very tempting.
Nandini is working on a legal startup that will be launched in Pune and Mumbai soon. Within three weeks of her stay in Pune, she found seven team members, an affordable co-working space in the city centre, and a community that is willing to help her settle in and understand the ways of the city.
Nandini’s love for the city is new, but old-timers echo her professional sentiments. “Pune still has the small-town charm. Hiring is easy and cheap because there is no dearth of dedicated engineering students who will work at lower incomes when compared to big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore,” says Sarang Lakare, CEO, Volare Technologies, a Pune-based company that built a phone contacts management system called IntouchApp.
The city has reputed tech colleges, namely College Of Engineering Pune, Pune Institute of Computer Technology, Maharashtra Institute of Technology, and Vishwakarma Institute of Technology. These universities are producing ample eager graduates every year who are ready to join the startup race.
The fresh graduates either start companies or take up jobs in existing software companies with average salary packages varying from Rs 2.5 lakh per annum to Rs 4.5 lakh per annum (Also read here about startups hiring at tier 1 and tier 2 colleges).
“Pune kids are extremely driven and they love technology. They are hardcore geeks,” says Sarang. He adds that there were a number of Pune startups that were unable to scale because they only had the technology expertise, but the complementing marketing or sales skill sets were wanting.
A chat with Akshay Deo, CTO, RainingClouds Technologies, confirmed the same. He started the company almost immediately after graduating from the Pune Institute of Computer Technology in 2010, but still has not reached the scale he would have liked to. He says,
All of us founders are geeks. We’ve built on multiple product ideas, just in case anything fails, but we don’t have a strong marketing team. I think that’s what Pune is about, we just love creating and innovating, but we don’t really market it very well.
This is probably the reason why Pune, though perfectly conducive for startups, was never considered hip ‘n’ happening when compared to other startup cities in the world. Distinct personality traits of Punekars may have also attributed to this misconception. They are not the overtly chatty types, who distribute their email ids or business cards to everybody at startup conferences.
Aditya Bhelande, CEO of YuktaMedia, decided to pack his bags and come to Pune from San Jose, USA, to start his mobile ads platform. “I could have gone anywhere but I felt Pune made sense because the quality of life is much better here. I neither have to be stuck in traffic all evening nor do I have to pay hefty rents for small office spaces. I could see that the large startup wave was coming to Pune, plus it is more exciting to be in a developing place than a developed and saturated one,” says he.
Rents in Pune are affordable when compared to other cities in India. Startups can rent a 1500-2500 square feet office space for between Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000 in the better areas of Pune.
Aditya says that another reason why Pune had what it took to be the upcoming hub was because there was not much competition from large technology startups doing the same stuff that Pune startups were doing.
The Pune startup community is quite strong too, each helping one another when needed. “Can you believe there was a mailing list with almost 15,000 registered startup enthusiasts for the Pune Open Coffee Club? It is still the best place to find great local talent,” says Sarang. He adds that the coffee meets had become less frequent over the last few years because of the number of people migrating to the West.
There are other initiatives led by individuals and think-tanks that nurture the ecosystem in this city: Roundtables by iSpirt and Product Nation, TiECon Pune organized by TiE Pune, and an array of other events and workshops by Pune Tech. “All it needs is someone to initiate a meet, and everybody just floods in,” says Amit Singh, who runs a website development startup called WPoets Technology.
Recently, Rohan Dinge, CEO, ViralMint, a Pune-based viral marketing platform, took the lead. He organized a small startup get-together at his office in Aundh (one of the youth hubs of the city), and the response was overwhelming. In a matter of a few days, Rohan amassed almost 50 startup founders and aspirants through twitter to RSVP for the event.
Sachin Bharadwaj, Founder of TastyKhana, a Pune-based food delivery portal that was acquired by Foodpanda in November 2014, was present at the informal event, and shared his journey with the young group.
Though Pune has not been in the limelight too often, it does have its share of success stories. Startups like TastyKhana, Accompli, Zimbra, and Dhingana – all Pune-based startups -- have seen successful exits in the past.
According to Vishwesh Jirgale, independent investor and head of Accompli India (now acquired by Microsoft), Pune, has it all – unlimited talent and energy, a strong giving community, and the history of success stories to motivate. “Plus, Pune has the biggest asset, opportunity. Everything else can be worked on,” he adds.
Well, if you are a startup, why not head to Pune if you want to save a buck or two. Also, the city’s weather is just like Bangalore’s. So, my final conclusion is that I don’t regret moving here, and I can assure that nobody else will.