Notes on the Indian startup ecosystem from the diary of an uncool entrepreneurShikhil Sharma
I write this sitting in the patio of my house in Paris while it is pouring like cats & dogs outside, much like our monsoon in India. With no humanly sounds around, all I can hear are clouds thundering and rain pouring. It is a bit difficult to not get introspective in a setting like this. My entrepreneurial journey which started in my college and brought me to Europe to expand my business flashed in-front of me. I've been a small part of this big Indian startup ecosystem and learned so much from it. I'm sure either you are also a part of it or trying to be one.
Why uncool entrepreneur? Because my company hasn't raised any money yet, neither do we have crazy valuation nor do the founders come from famous colleges. Still I believe that we have managed to leave a little impact by helping companies around the globe by protecting their businesses from millions of internet threats. When I started little did I know how businesses function, how to raise money or even make a business plan. And today I see so many founders in the same spot. I'm sure this write-up would help them get out of the early blues of starting up. So, Here I am trying to sum up a few key takeaways from my journey in Indian startup ecosystem:
1. Dare, because entrepreneurs do: Starting a startup for me was like an arrow in the dark. Web security (read hacking) was a skill that I had acquired over the years due to my curiosity in computers and how they can be broken. However, monetizing this skill was something I was completely clueless about. Being an engineering grad in third year of graduation I just couldn't imagine myself working for someone else. I hadn't worked under anyone before but somehow felt like discarding the idea of it even before giving it a shot. That's exactly what I did. So, I just bought a domain and put a one pager website up, explaining about 'our' website security testing services. It was a single person company just giving one service of finding security vulnerabilities in a website. No months of building a product, no forming a team and not even registering the company. Just a one-page website and my shop was set. I dared to start, but started with a minimum risk.
2. Investors are Not Unicorns: There is so much talk around investments and investors that I sometime see people talk about investors as if they are unicorns who are only to be found once in a blue moon. Truth be told, if founders are finding investors then investors are also finding good ventures which they can invest in. Though we did not raise money but there was a time where we did give it a shot. While we were in fund raising mode, all our encounters with investors were surprisingly pleasant and very smooth. I remember our venture getting selected for Kickstart, an event by Headstart Bangalore through which we got an opportunity to pitch to investors at Indian Angel Network. The way the organization works and investors interacted with us was just amazing. Particularly, Mr. Vijay Kumar Ivaturi (IVK) who has been helping us ever since even though we did not go ahead with IAN (as we got grant by French Government). Similarly, Mr.Anil Chhikara who was with Jaarvis Accelerator back then is one of the coolest investors we came across who still is in touch with us and is always available to share his advice. From here, a major learning was that raising initial capital and finding investors is not that difficult if you know what you are doing and have tested your market well. However, it is best to bootstrap for as long as you can. One should not run after investment just because it is a 'cool' thing to have.
3. India is a Price Sensitive Market: This is obvious by now but then can't be missed. I remember quoting pennies for a small security test to one of our initial customers and they still finding that quote 'too high'. We Indians are experts at maximizing the value and minimizing the money in which we get that value. It's just the way we have been brought up. All global brands play the volumes game in India. I've seen a simple packet of chips being sold at triple the price here in Paris when compared to India. When starting-up in India, as a B2B business it is a bit difficult to get initial set of customers. And if you are in a B2C space, you might find customers by giving offers but how many stay after the offers end is the real test. And if they stay, you should be able to monetize them. India's sensitivity towards pricing makes it important for you to be sure of your business model from day one and in today's world going global should be on the cards unless you are planning something in hyperlocal space.
4. Don't Get Lost in All the Gyan: This one is a bit of problem I have with the ecosystem. Indian startup ecosystem seems to be full of so many monotonous events and so many gurus giving gyan on all the topics possible. And once you start attending these events you realize that you are meeting the same people again and again. It is easy to get lost in so many events happening every week but end up extracting little or no real value out of them. If I were to be honest, people attending these events are 'wannabes' just like you. They are people who are figuring their own stuff and trying to find help in events like these. Events end up being more like support group meetings rather than something really beneficial. It becomes important to attend quality events that help you connect with the right people rather than more people. Similarly, not every person preaching about startups is preaching right. There are these whole set of businesses that function around startups and everyone is in it for their own benefits. You don't want to become their products. Learn to say no to events and concentrate more on building your empire.
After seeing multiple startup ecosystems around the world, I must say there is something about Indian entrepreneurs that separates them from the world. Maybe it's just the way we are brought up in India that is very entrepreneurial in itself. There is so much to learn from Indian startup space and so much that it has given me, maybe that calls for another write-up soon! Would love to hear your comments on this one.