The difference between visible and invisible elements of a startup ecosystem

I was on the plane with Dr. Anurava Goswami of Indian Statistical Institute the other day. He is a very well accomplished scientist with a deep background in bio-mathematics and has multiple degrees from Harvard, and other institutions. He mentioned a very interesting remark on the state of “infrastructure” in Indian research organizations and their lack of “invisible” infrastructure.

His point was he could pay money to have big buildings, large labs and a great campus in India – these according to him were “visible” infrastructure. What was still missing was “invisible” infrastructure. The particular example he gave was the Fedex person who delivered at Harvard, samples of live cultures and he would be at the office at 6 am sharp with his package, knowing fully well how important that time was to the scientists. The Fedex delivery person was part of what he called “invisible” infrastructure.

I wanted to draw some parallels to the startup ecosystem.

The startup community and ecosystem in Silicon Valley is extremely well revered. Its speed of innovation, the consistent “hits” and the unparalleled dynamism of ideas is worth applauding. The visible elements of the startup ecosystem – dynamic entrepreneurs, indulgent venture capital and seasoned mentors are what I call “visible infrastructure”. I would definitely include things that make the US extremely easy to do business in such as setting up your company, bank account, labor laws etc. Those are the table stakes and the easy parts that every startup friendly ecosystem in the world is trying to emulate.

Imagine entrepreneurship is a cult and Silicon valley the “Mecca” or the “Holy land”. Something amazing happens to the converted when they visit the holy land. Yes, they are still religious and follow the “rituals” of entrepreneurship elsewhere, but when they meet other converted in the hallowed ground, they get an almost “born again” fervor.

I was at University Cafe a few months ago, waiting for a friend, when I was sitting next to a table of 2 young entrepreneurs talking rather loudly to another individual (you could say I was eavesdropping, but they were so loud I could hear them at the Apple store, a few blocks away, if I was sitting there instead). They were trying to convince the other individual to join them and it was a full on “change the world, ding in the universe, pitch”. Their excitement and enthusiasm for what I gathered was a “mobile application to tag users by keywords instead of social networks” was nothing short of hubris, but to them that was the only thing in the world and they gave it their best shot. I call it  “invisible attitude”.

At Ramona’s a few days later, there was an open “60 second demo” of developers to a group of their peers. I happened to listen to one developer who had a pretty awful time with the mic, then his app crashed two times and the projector resolution sucked so much we couldn’t really see his app at all. But post his “pitch”, he said “please download the app and give me feedback”, with a kinda sad look in his face. Within 10 minutes, during which time most folks were grabbing their beers, his app was apparently downloaded “30 times” and 5 people took time to review drop him a comment on his blog about what features they would like to see on his app. I call this  “invisible encouragement“.

Here’s my point. I know India does not have many great mentors willing to give time, and I am acutely aware of the lack of many early adopters and also the dismal seed capital availability. At the end of the day though, only the converted help other converts.

It is up to us entrepreneurs to help other entrepreneurs.

Forget about the government, venture capitalists, larger companies and experienced mentors.

Forget for a moment that you are competing with multiple other startups and entrepreneurs for your time under the sun.

Go out of your way to help other entrepreneurs.

If its helping figure out scaling php on the cloud OR if you have figured out how to setup your company in the US, with a subsidiary in India OR if you have figured out the best source of organic traffic for your B2B SaaS company OR if its taking 15 min to buy online something you would offline even it costs 5 bucks more, OR if its downloading a new beta app and providing feedback.

Help other entrepreneurs, with no intention of getting anything back. 

I assure you, it will surprise you back with its generosity.

6 thoughts on “The difference between visible and invisible elements of a startup ecosystem”

  1. I do not think you could be more accurate. Along with the visible infrastructure, we need those invisible infrastructure as well.

    We do need entrepreneurs helping each other. What one might think trivial help, often ends up being a big reason for one’s success. It is also the case vice-versa …. If help is rejected or denied, it can end up being a big reason for it’s failure. So it becomes all the more important to help each other.

  2. Can’t agree with you more. I think there are few more things that can be counted in invisible infrastructure. For instance, most angels/VC’s/entrepreneurs don’t blog or share their views on a medium which is easily accessible to others in the ecosystem. So the knowledge is really restricted to few and doesn’t spread. There’s aren’t enough videos or resources of successful entrepreneurs in India talking about their experiences.

    General lack of professionalism makes it hard too – its normal for people to turn up late on their meetings or make late payments. Cold calling is probably not an effective way to sales anywhere but the response rates in India are probably even lower. Perhaps we should be paying some film makers to glamorize entrepreneurship in our culture 🙂

    1. Hey Simran, blogging for most parts is a serious time commitment and you have to enjoy it. I dont think there are too many people who enjoy writing.

      Rashmi, agree. Helping (like Charity) starts at home – help another entrepreneur today and you’ll be thrilled you did it.

  3. Very aptly said, Mukund !

    It’s so true of networking in general that the more you try to extract out of your network, it goes away from you..The best way to build your network stronger is to contribute to your network without any expectations of return..

    1. Gurpal what do you find weird? The fact that entrepreneurs should help other entrepreneurs?

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