Being an entrepreneur in India is finally becoming cool, say the founders and investors in the burgeoning startup tech scene in Delhi. That new caché is in contrast to decades of the mindset that young business people should strive to work for large branded conglomerates and avoid taking risks creating new ventures or joining early stage tech firms.
The sentiment was repeated throughout the weekend at a startup business competition called Startup Weekend Delhi, which featured 15 teams that spend 54 hours hashing out web and mobile startup ideas, culminating in back to back 5 -minute pitches before judges on Sunday night. Some of the winners of the pitch-fest included a cell phone incentive program around sanitation company Poop Rewards, a new type of gesture-based kiosk from Kinesis, and a mobile app to test glasses on a photo of faces called Spexy.
Long time venture investors in India at the event noted that up until recently budding young unmarried entrepreneurs in India sometimes found it hard to get married because founding a startup was seen as risky by their potential wife or husband’s parents. Big tech conglomerate brands have long been preferred a status symbol and expected from upwardly-mobile young techies.
But finally that mindset is starting to change — albeit slowly and in a small way — and shift to accept, and even admire, the potential path of the founder, entrepreneur and early startup employee. Part of that evolution has to do with the worldwide attention that tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — which even had his story told via a Hollywood movie written by Aaron Sorkin — have gotten in recent years.
However, another reason is that there are starting to be success stories from India’s e-commerce and mobile sectors. On Monday (India time) we’ll be meeting with some of India’s tech “cool kids” that entrepreneurs are being inspired by, including Kunal Bahl, the CEO and co-founder of Snapdeal, a Groupon-style deals site in India, and Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder of Naukri, a jobs site in India like Monsters.com.
And yes, the Indian tech entrepreneurial ecosystem is still very nascent compared to Silicon Valley and still has “considerable friction” as one investor put it to me. Some investors lament the slow growth of the ecosystem, which they have been waiting to mature for years. Others say there is still a “lack of talent” in the sector because they say the mindset of developers has long been focused on outsourced tasks for U.S. firms and hasn’t been dealing with thinking critically and creatively to solve problems.
But despite the wait and the hurdles, many are expecting that the opportunities in the web and mobile markets in India to take off dramatically several years down the road. The Indian startups and services will at first resemble those in the U.S. — many Indian startups are currently U.S. web clones — and later on they’ll morph into a breed all of their own.