I had a very good discussion with 2 folks over the last week about the current state of technology entrepreneurship in India. The rough estimates from multiple sources indicate a varied number from 250 (low estimate) to 1000 (high estimate) technology product startups each year in India. Compared to that, the US produces tens of thousands and even Israel beats India by having 3-4 times that number.
There are a few folks in the ecosystem that suggest that we should focus on fewer but better quality startups in the technology space. They have some strong points in their argument which include a) the total amount of funding available in the system will only support 50-100 companies annually b) if more companies were to be started, more will fail, which will deter more folks from becoming entrepreneurs and c) there are not too many experienced entrepreneurs & seasoned executives who can tackle issues of scale yet.
I fall on the other camp and my focus is to get more people to buy into the religion. I agree with the premise that most startups fail and that’s the nature of the beast. That has not changed much (or at all) with the number of accelerators or incubators in the last few years. Startups die for multiple reasons and many of them are not easy to fix.
The main reason I think we should focus on quantity first is so we can increase the pool of risk-takers in India. Entrepreneurs take the most amount of risk in the ecosystem. We need more of them, in fact more than the system can really handle. So how do we address the arguments from the “Quality first” side?
1. Most product entrepreneurs I meet in India (I meet a new batch of 5 EVERY week) dont really want to build a company to exit. They would prefer to build strong profitable companies and run time for a long time. They do need some funding initially when they are ready to test a few of their hypothesis. Many build products that take a few pivots to get right and most operate in markets that take long to mature. So what if the ecosystem can only support 50-100 currently? We should be able to find ways to get the not so successful ones to pick up, dust-off and get on the horse again. The other point I make that we really have a lot of money sitting on the sidelines in India, with a fairly immature angel investment ecosystem. Each week I meet one new person interested in investing in technology companies, usually a technology executive at a large software company like Microsoft, SAP or VMware. They are enough to get our entrepreneurs started and build good companies.
2. If the percentage of startups that succeed is fairly constant, then the argument for more startups is even stronger. If we increase the pool of startups and the failure rate is still a constant, we should get more successful startups. The failure rate has not dramatically increased or decreased over the last 5 years, so if we have 2000 startups and a 99% failure rate we will still have 20 successes vs. 250 startups and 95% failure rate.
3. The best way to have “serial” entrepreneurs is to have more people go through the experience once. Regardless of whether they failed at their first startup, the success rate of a repeat entrepreneur is dramatically higher. They are more experienced, seasoned and more willing to understand the importance of persistence.
I believe that we need more, not less technology startups overall to help our ecosystem grow dramatically.