The shakers, fakers, the movers, and the makers of 2017


The year 2017 was a mixed bag; here’s hoping 2018 will bring more opportunities for everyone, writes Prerna Mukharya, Founder of Outline India, as she takes stock of the year that was for the Indian startup ecosystem.

I write this as a generalist, not as the data person my friends now identify me as.

2017 was a year of certain ups and certain mellows; definitely, a year that whizzed by for startups.

Leap of faith: New challenges bring new opportunities.

This was the year when the three e-commerce biggies fought it out. It was the year of demonetisation, resulting in superstar payment wallets. This was the year when some of the chaff separated from the wheat. Amid the white noise, we saw Anu Acharya’s Mapmygenome claim its rightful place.

This was also the year when co-working spaces quadrupled and when people thought it was cool to plug in words like ML, Blockchain, and IoT into every social media piece and conversation. It didn’t matter whether we were automating our biryanis, or whether we needed ML.

This was the year wherein the basic premise of a business - sustainability and making profits - became more distant. I don’t understand how one taxi company that doesn’t make money buys another food company that doesn’t make money.

I don’t understand the overlap in the skillset. Chinese whispers around who would make it another month before raising another round kept the gossipmongers going.

Year of validation

I was super happy to see Naveen’s Inmobi, which completed 10 years, hit profitability. It was a year of validation for the Practo’s who had paid their dues, tailored models to suit the Indian landscape, and made solutions that reached out to the “many”.

My year began with a debate in March after having been featured in Fortune’s 40 under 40 list. I debated on whether “Investors have been good parents to startups”. I was against the notion.

You see, I am the sole founder of a bootstrapped, profitable, sustainable, social enterprise; my need for being politically correct stands overpowered by my amusement at seeing through the “startup eco-chamber”.

I debated alongside certain bigwigs, the founder of a tea company and the founder of a cloud telephony company. Both men on my team have had incredible years in terms of raising money and expanding their companies’ abroad.

On the opposite side was a gentleman, the Founder of Citrus payments, who had recently sold off his company. He was the calmest of us all. Among us, was the founder of a content/ video making company who stood embroiled in cases of sexual assaults a week after we were felicitated and hence stepped down from his post. And of course, on the panel was a media influencer, the lady with the gift of the gab.

The gentleman judging the panel was an investor, a man I hold in high regard, but it was ironic I thought to have an investor judge whether investors have been good.

Disrupting the ecosystem

I would like to say this little situation is representative, albeit mildly of the startup ecosystem, of the eco-chambers that are triumphing over startups and businesses that are disrupting their respective spaces.

As the number of conferences, summits, talks and TEDx talks became more common in 2017, I would like to say the government emerged victorious in an effort to make startups, their founders, and their struggles feel appreciated, thereby validating their efforts to contribute to the country’s march forward.

The Niti Ayog and Amitabh Kant as its CEO made an impactful and concerted effort to interact, extend help, and loop in the opinion of startup founders.

State governments’ and their FOMO (Fear of missing out) could not keep away much longer and various state governments’ set up incubators, held hackathons, and put out funds to encourage local solutions and startups. We saw youngsters and startups burgeon in our Jaipurs, Hyderabads, Punes, and Bhopals. This was victory.

Creating opportunities

I hope that 2018 will bring with it a sense of realism and calm.

As 900 million Indians call India’s villages their home, I hope to see startups seeking opportunity in creating social value and in tapping the massive business potential at the bottom of the pyramid.

There's a massive business potential at the bottom of the pyramid. (Image Credit: Brett Cole)

I wish researchers, policymakers, and the techies will come together to create opportunities for business to ease financial transactions and make available microloans, to bring solar power, to improve on primary healthcare in our villages, and to improve learning outcomes across India’s public schools.

I believe our education startups will have been successful the day startup founders send their own children to public schools; our healthcare options the day our policymakers start using public healthcare facilities.

I hope 2018 will be about business models and startups fulfilling criteria 101, that is, make money.

I believe in humanising data and I want to believe that 2018 will be about the disruptors at the bottom of the pyramid, the seekers, the value creators for the superset, the champions, and those with an eye for detail.

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