What can make you a truly Indian startup?

What can make you a truly Indian startup?

Monday August 15, 2016,

4 min Read

A little over a month ago, app-based taxi booking service OLA accused Uber, its US-based rival, of being foreign and having no regard for local law. Uber hit back, asking what made it foreign.

It was a question worth asking, and ever since then I have found myself wondering about its flip side: what makes any startup Indian?


Image : shutterstock

We are living in a very interesting time. On the one hand, there are cases like the above where companies with Indian founders are accusing their global rivals of not being Indian. An MD of a VC firm even accused that an acceptance of 100 percent FDI in marketplaces is derogatory for the likes of Flipkart and Snapdeal — the so-called Indian firms — as they now have to compete with the likes of Amazon.

What is extremely interesting here is that OLA has raised more than a billion dollars in funding, most of it from foreign firms like Sequoia, Tiger Global, and SoftBank. Flipkart is actually registered in Singapore, and Alibaba and Didi Chuxing are majors investor in Snapdeal.

So basically, it is very hard to put your finger on a set of criteria that define an Indian company. Just to make a point, if the definition of an Indian company is ‘one started by Indians’, can Sun Microsystems or AOL be considered Indian? If an Indian company is one that is registered in India, does that make Flipkart Indian? This argument will go on for a while as there are exceptions to every criterion.

On the other hand, the global outcry for Brexit amongst intellectuals and the business world and corporates’ joint efforts to lobby against Trump in the US indicate that extreme nationalism is not ‘cool’ either, especially when you are trying to raise foreign money and have global ambitions.

After thinking for a long while I realised that there is no point defining whether you are really a national startup or a global one. However, on the occasion of India’s Independence Day, I certainly feel there are good enough ways to be a ‘patriotic’ startup. Here are three simple points on how.

Wear it on your sleeve.

If you have any Indian inheritance, name, origin, story, product, or service, do not try to unnecessarily (in a word of my own creation) ‘globalify’ it. Paperboat ads are a good example of this. Instead of going with the global glitz and glamour of cola drinks, the brand went on to rekindle the fond memories of the quintessential Indian childhood. There have been many times when we at RentSher have been asked about our choice of the ‘sher’, or the tiger as our mascot. “Shouldn’t you use a global name or animal?” was a typical comment from well-wishers. We started RentSher to limit consumerism by creating opportunities for renting instead of buying and therefore limiting the impact of excess manufacturing on the environment. The tiger is not only the national animal of India but also aptly represents the negative impact of humans on the environment and conservation efforts. We won’t have it any other way!

Live it

Live the national events. A quick self-check here: how many of you in startups had Christmas/Halloween celebrations, and how many of you are hoisting the flag or at least wearing a tri-colour pin on August 15? This is not an attempt at cultural policing, but just an effort to point out that as startup founders we can provide ample opportunities at work to show our pride for the nation we were born in.

So why not rent a projector in office to watch the Indian contingent at the Olympics? After all, many of us did it for the Euro cup.

Give back

This might sound difficult. In a cash-strapped startup, where everyone is working 18 hours a day, who has the time or resources to give back to the society? Well, if you look around, you will find many inspirations. There are startups which open their offices on weekends or evenings for schools and classes for the underprivileged. There are employees and founders who spend a few hours every week teaching programming to the disabled. There are many more examples of this everywhere.

Reflecting on 69 years of independence, the progress and upbringing of the nation is inarguably attributed to patriotic entrepreneurial souls in every sector. As India is building its identity as a nation of entrepreneurs, it falls upon us to ensure that the spirit of patriotism that led to independence is kept alive.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)