WeWork Labs' Roee Adler on why Indian startups are ready to solve global problems


Roee Adler, Senior Vice President and Global Head of WeWork Labs, advised Indian entrepreneurs to start with a global challenge that manifests in India in a very unique way.

Indian startups are world-ready, and how. Roee Adler, who joined WeWork in 2013 as Chief Product Officer and now superheads WeWork Labs as the Senior Vice President and Global Head, told us how at TechSparks 2018. On the first day of the ninth edition of TechSparks, he spoke about how Indian startups were ready to take on the world.

Roee has been a part of five startups; of these, two failed while three were acquired successfully. His association with umpteen startups led Roee to develop an interesting perspective on the journeys of entrepreneurs.

Roee's India journey began when he moved from Tel Aviv to New York with his wife. They had a tiny apartment and Roee needed office space for his startup. A friend introduced him to Adam Neumann, Co-founder of WeWork. Until then, Roee had never heard of him or WeWork, which was then a team of 50 employees. But not so long after, Roee joined the company and went on to make more

He began by speaking about the history of innovation, as he saw it.

The story of crypto-Jews

Towards the end of the 14th century , Roee said the King of Spain had ordered that he did not want Jewish people in his kingdom. He gave Jewish people a choice - to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. The majority of Spanish Jews converted, but followed the Jewish religion secretly. They were, at that time, known as “crypto-Jews”.

When the Spanish king and queen found out about these crypto-Jews, they decided to act. They set up a police force-like organisation called The Spanish Inquisition, who would find Jewish people pretending to be Catholics and execute them.

For decades, the Jewish people had to develop sophisticated ways to hide their religion. Giving context to the story, Roee says, “This nation and its people had to develop great skills in hiding themselves. It should come as no surprise, that some of the biggest innovations in cryptography and cybesecurity come from these very people.”

Similarly, the British did a lot of things in Israel, including the trade embargo. This meant that medicines could not be imported into the country. The Israelis opted for reverse engineering and developed new medicines from existing ones to help the population.

Roee put this story into context, saying that when generic medicines came up, Israeli companies became the biggest producers.

 “I personally believe that the history, culture, and legacy of a nation and its people are the roots that lead to unique innovation,” Roee said.

Innovation in India

As a global citizen, Roee said one can always relate to India, due to its vastness. The explosion of commerce decades ago forced India to re-invent as there was no other choice. “I have personally known entrepreneurs who are trying to develop innovative ideas to service people who have limited opportunity,” he said.

The vastness of India and the combination of several cities and thousands of villages called for innovation in cheap transportation. “But how does one scale this idea?” Roee asked.

According to Roee, looking at global challenges was the solution. “Indian entrepreneurs must focus on solving world problems,” he added. 

Many global challenges exist in India, and a few Indian entrepreneurs are working on them. If Indian entrepreneurs think about one percent of the unique problems of this country that are common with the biggest multinational corporations and look at solutions, that would help them scale, Roee said.

“The issue of education quality is very unique in India. That said, the solution to this can ideally be leveraged in many other countries around the world,” Roee said.

Indian startups working on solving the country's problems are often criticised for not solving global problems. On the other hand, startups that think globally are castigated for not solving the country's problems first.

Roee advised Indian entrepreneurs to “start with a global challenge that manifests in India in a very unique way”. “Execute locally but keep thinking globally,” he said.

Any Indian challenge that is a global challenge positions the present and future generations of Indian innovators to “change the world”, Roee said.

YourStory's annual extravaganza TechSparks brings together the best and the brightest from the startup ecosystem, corporate world, policy makers, and of course, the investor community. Over the years, it has grown to become India's most loved tech and startup platform for knowledge sharing and networking. The ninth edition of TechSparks also marks YourStory's 10th anniversary. A big thank you for all your support over the years and keep reading and watching YourStory.