Are Indian entrepreneurs “thin skinned” or misunderstood?

There are so many great tech entrepreneurs of Indian origin in the valley who have been successful over the last 2 decades. A last count indicated over 40% of all startups in Silicon valley were either started by or had an Indian cofounder.

This has led to several of them (entrepreneurs from the valley) and a few “industry observers” commenting and comparing the startup ecosystem in India to that in the valley. Most are not encouraging. From the outside looking in it is relatively easy to say “There are too many clueless people running incubators” – actual quote from a self-proclaimed Silicon Valley expert, or “Focus on local opportunities, not on global ones” – actual quote from a Tech Crunch article.

In both cases, many entrepreneurs in some closed Facebook groups that I am a part of, were all up in arms about these broad generalizations. The articles themselves were focused on many aspects of entrepreneurship as well in India, and the quote alone, taken out of context would be construed as a “passing mention”. Nonetheless many entrepreneurs took umbrage and the conversations denigrated into an abyss.

Back to my question about Indian entrepreneurs. Are we just thin skinned or misunderstood?

First, our startup ecosystem is fairly nascent. Comparing it to the valley is not doing either location any good. Both investors and entrepreneurs complain about each other constantly in both locations, though. Many investors claim entrepreneurs lack the depth, knowledge of the markets and understanding of what it takes to build a great business. Many entrepreneurs claim investors are risk-averse, predatory and bean counters without the expertise to build a business.

They are both are right, but both are wrong as well.

Market dynamics and conditions in India force both of them to play hands they are dealt with and I think so far we have done well. Comparing a teenager (Indian startup ecosystem) to a mature adult (Silicon Valley) does not make any sense though.

Second, I do believe that we can be more appreciative of each others positions and show a lot more empathy for our investors and founders. I am not suggesting a group therapy session, but knowledge and understanding of the constrained markets India has and the small exits that we generate does not help investors is important. Neither does expectation of Silicon valley type exits or “traction” help entrepreneurs.

Can we all get a little more thick skinned as well? – possibly. For most parts if you read a “self-professed expert”, such as myself or others, claiming to understand the nuances of the ecosystem, which you believe are incorrect, be direct and point it out, with a cogent argument explaining your point of view, instead of vitriolic comment spewing or worse – name calling without context.

9 thoughts on “Are Indian entrepreneurs “thin skinned” or misunderstood?”

  1. You are making the right noise here. We are talking about entrepreneurs who don’t have any history in business nor any classical exit story, success or IPO to learn from (perhaps redbus is the beginning). Benchmarks with US startups doesn’t make sense as raising $50K is different in US as in India.

    Doing business in India is lot more difficult in India than in US (atleast thats what my friends who have clients in both countries say to me).

    Unfortunately, investment in India (atleast early stage) is still about money and mentorship and not about access to customers. This I don’t think is the case in later rounds.

    Investors can be risk averse, but once they made the decision, they need to go that extra mile to make sure that their portfolio companies succeed. (Again I am talking about angels and accelerators in India).

  2. Well said Sir. All the Buzz is because they feel threatened that India might soon match the Silicon Valley status. Majority of the users of the “Silicon Valley Made Products” are from Asia or more specifically India. What if tomorrow we Indian’s Come up with a better google, facebook, Amazon, twitter or LinkedIn? Will then they be able to say the same about Indian Entrepreneurial Eco-system. China has already done that with Baidu, Alibaba, of china), of China) and many more. Now its time we Indian Entrepreneurs start taking the similar routes and reduce the influence of Silicon Valley in India. Indian Eco system is on the right track with states like Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and others with the support of the encouraging and supportive Entrepreneurs and Mentors taking initiative to promote young Entrepreneurs and create the Silicon Valley Success in India. So lets rejoice all the negative Buzz. This proves that we are on the right track 🙂

    1. To be honest we dont want a google, facebook, amazon, twitter or linkedin we want our very own products. Frrole is a good example. We dont need to create copycats. There are enough of them in the service sector.

      1. No offence Uma. What I meant was improving the ecosystem not creating copy cats but better something. Those were examples. Hope you read fully. Also something for you to think over. Take your time on this don’t rush this time. Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn – how do they make money? They make billions of dollars because they have users right? From where do they get these users? Mostly Indians right!. And where does all these billions of dollars go? Not in India for sure. I hope you got my point now. It was meant to create better services and use the vast user base of India to reduce the foreign exploits. Also just to add to it like an after thought. What if Indian Government blocks all access to Facebook in India??? Don’t say use proxy ok! Have a gr8 time. Cheers 🙂

  3. Good Take Mukund sir. 🙂

    This is a reflection of Indian society. If you’re insecure – you’ll bruise easy. If you know what you do – they can’t shake it off you.

    The reason why Investors and Founders keep cribbing is because no one can be trusted. Unless you are sure the stranger won’t cheat – you won’t show him the mess in your home.

    Without seeing the mess, a stranger won’t buy – cause he knows you’re hiding the mess.

    The courage to walk around in a phata kacha has a lot to do with ‘log kya kahenge’ – and that’s not going away soon.

  4. Some observations on the Indian scene, perhaps all understandable, YMMV:
    1. Too much romanticizing about being an entrepreneur, too little talk about products, customers and “cheat sheets” to beat the challenges of the Indian system.
    2. Many mentors, advisors, angels etc. lack credibility– not because they have failed, but because they are corporate guys, rich kids, who haven’t Been there, done that.
    3. Larry Page/Elon Musk wannabes are seen as precisely that – wannabees, by their peers. To channel my inner Darth Vader “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
    4.Every second startup seems to be looking out for a CTO Co-founder…

  5. IRCTC is the best performing e-commerce company from India. Look at the way they grew and scaled their business in such a short time even as most others were following the jobs / Marriage & Dating / air ticket portals because they had western equivalents if not parenthood. They took just one hard look at the market and figured in India more people use Railways than any other mode of transport. And BOOM…they clicked… ! No point in grieving about what we don’t have. Enterprise is all about making the most out of what you have. Look around. You’ll find enough and more to work with.

  6. The Forbes article you link to was in 2000. And I don’t see the figure you use in that article. I could have missed it, though. Can you reiterate where you get the number?

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