What makes startups work, or not work, in India? 5 founders share their secrets (highlights)

Lexity Labs started in Bangalore mid-2011, and we’ve been growing leaps and bounds since. It’s a core technology center for us – no outsourcing balderdash here – and we recruit top researchers and technologist from all over India.

To coincide with my visit to this office, Lexity organized two talks on entrepreneurship, in Delhi and Bangalore. The startup ecosystem in India is really taking off, and we are doing our part in helping it grow!

@ IIT Delhi – Rajul and Amit on Startups across the time/space continuum

Rajul Garg and I were roommates at IIT Delhi, and took different routes in our entrepreneurial journey. He’s now with Sunstone Business School, having started what’s now GlobalLogic right after school, in India; while I completed a masters program, and worked at a few different companies, before starting Lexity in the US.

We had a healthy audience, and covered a lot of topics. A few tidbits:

  • We discussed how there was a lot of investor interest in ecommerce startups in India last year, but there’s been more scrutiny of these businesses in the recent months.
  • What’s ‘hot’ in the startup zeitgeist really depends on, unfortunately, what the current hype cycle is. When outsourcing companies were growing leaps and bounds, a lot of startups popped up in that space. These days, the same story is being repeated in eCommerce.
  • Pivots are natural, and sometimes dramatic – one of Rajul’s companies went from a product company to a services company, while the other started as a services operation, and ended up building a product.
  • Mobile startups in India face the prospect of working with telco operators, know to be tough negotiators. You can control your destiny better with an app-oriented mobile startup, but distribution is still a tough problem.
  • Starting a company right out of school has the big advantage of a low burn rate – you can sustain yourself for much longer as you figure things out. Once you have a family, this becomes much harder to do (but not impossible).
  • Traditionally, India businesses have been averse to paying much for B2B products. As a result, B2B enterprise companies haven’t really taken off in India

@ Claytopia, Bangalore – Amiya, Anshuman and Amit on Building Startups

Founders of 3 hot startups – Zipdial (Amiya Pathak), MyGola (Anshuman Bapna) and Lexity (Amit) came together to chat in an intimate setting about what it really takes to do a startup, especially in India.

We had a very lively discussion with the audience – here are a few highlights.

  • When starting out, err on the side of sharing more, rather than less. Talking to people helps make ideas stronger, as each successive critique forces you to refine the idea further and solidify the pitch, feature, or product.
  • Valley-returned founders definitely miss the sense of urgency and excitement of Silicon Valley – simple things like overhearing other founders on Caltrain discussing their progress, and getting motivated by it.
  • Indian ‘jugaad’ is the name of the game – when faced with constant power cuts, MyGola packed up their bags and went to work out of Sri Lanka for a few weeks. Now, it’s an annual tradition!
  • All the founders acknowledged, to some surprise, that they always have a Plan B/Plan C tucked away in their back pockets. While you might be unflinchingly focussed on executing on Plan A, it’s also your responsibility to know what the various strategic options are, and keep them warm.
  • It’s natural, expected, and kinda important to take your time finding the right co-founders. You’re looking for someone with complementary skills, and make sure to ‘date’ for a reasonable period of time before committing.
  • Food – it’s important! Breaking bread together brings teams closer, and has all sorts of positive side-effects.
  • Startups often misdirect casual observers about what their most profitable products are, or downplay features that caused them to take off. In fact, often, the first products or features totally bomb.
  • Successful entrepreneurs in India don’t habitually share their stories, and every wave of startups has to learn from the same mistakes again and again. We agreed that talks like these are invaluable in spreading the knowledge and helping budding startups.

We really enjoyed sharing our experiences with entrepreneurs and students of the startup ecosystem. Stay tuned for more such talks in the future!

Amit – @akumar


Siri causes rare Apple regression in functionality, but it’s all good, people.

With Siri, Apple has moved the on-device voice recognition engine, called Voice Control,

firmly to the cloud. This means that the universal ability Apple used to have, whether you had data connectivity or not, to call friends and family by talking to the phone, is no longer there.

Is this a bad regression?

On the face of it, this is a tremendous regression – you now have to ‘pay’ to use a capability that was previously ‘free’ – either through the use of data minutes, or through a WiFi connection of sorts.

In addition, even with fast 3G connections, the latency to call someone in the addressbook is very noticeable now, with a round-trip conversation with a cloud-hosted Siri required, before a simple call can be made.

Or a masterstroke to get a free ‘Gold Set’ data?

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How eCommerce gets done in India – some anecdotes

I recently spent a few weeks in India, and this time stayed there long enough to experience first-hand how desi ecommerce gets done. Here are some anecdotes.

FlipKart – Cash-on-Delivery and Courier Networks

The largest eCommerce companies in India don’t work like Amazon, where you pay for products upfront – in many cases, the model is ‘Cash-on-Delivery’. You order a product online, the courier company deliver the product to your door – and you get to decide then if you’d like to pay for the product. You are perfectly within your rights to refuse delivery, and if you do accept, you can pay cash, instead of whipping out your credit card.

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Why is SMS so much more common in India vs the US?

Two main reasons.

First, one random decision made by the Indian telecom regulatory agencies that has really helped: mobile phone numbers are clearly distinguishable from land-line phone numbers. This makes SMS very predictable in India; you instantly know if the receiving number is ‘SMS-capable’ or not. In US, for example, there is no apriori way of knowing if a given phone number is mobile, so there is obvious hesitance in sending SMS’ that might or might not reach the recipient.

Second, SMS is very cheap in India. As is well-known, sending SMS literally costs the telecom operators nothing – the SMS data payload simply gets added to the ‘ping’ that every cellphone sends to the nearest cell tower periodically. For this reason, in India and other countries, thanks to cut-throat competition, the telcos either charge nothing, or very little, for SMS messages. In US, mostly because of implicit collusion, the telcos charge and arm and leg for this highly lucrative pure-profit center.

As a result, even if you know that the phone number you’re calling is mobile, and even if you opted for an SMS plan, you still can’t assume that the other party has an SMS plan. Of course, if you did send the SMS, it would definitely reach the other party; they’d just have to pay for that message on their end. Why bother?

(Of course, I’m talking about the normal citizenry here, most of these are non-issues for the illuminati and the glitterati)

So, an obtuse decision by a governmental agency, combined with private sector greed, has made US much less Text-capable than India.