Startup is a living verb, not a has-been adjective.
I always like to describe my company as a 3 decades plus young startup. To my mind, the current ongoing restructuring process of the global economy — which started in the pre Covid-19 era due to de-globalization, Internet induced changes and automation — has torrentially changed the landscape of work. It is forcing every organization, city and even countries to start over and reinvent themselves. Hence, ‘Startup’ is an action oriented agenda, one step at a time, one day at a time. Applied to individuals, organizations and countries. It is a daily living and breathing verb.
I found it interesting that Balaji S Srinivasan in his latest article “Miami Tech Week — The Start Of Startup Cities” (referred to as ‘Miami article’ in the rest of this post) uses the backdrop of the Indian flag along with images of a healthy tree, the Bitcoin logo and a flying bird perhaps signifying democracy, nature, decentralization & freedom in that order.
Even though today, India is in a terrible shape with a daily 3000+ Covid-19 deaths and ten times more new cases and a reported 230 million slipping back into poverty, we need to look beyond the depths of the pits of the immediate crisis. I have no doubt that with our resilience & corrective action, we shall grow out of it as we owe it to the largest segment of our 1.3 billion plus population with the biggest stake in our future : our youth.
They need to see a promise of hope in India beyond the current stories of despair. Especially beyond next year in 2022, when India completes 75 years of our independence. Hence, I thought it appropriate to share my perspective on the Miami article as well as my personal entrepreneurial learnings from the rise of Indian startups. Not any city in particular but an overall outlook for India.
CEO of the Country / State / City : Francis Tuarez, Miami’s mayor is a driver of dynamism in his geography. The CEO designation does not matter. She or he can be the Prime Minister of a country or a Chief Minister of a state. What only matters is the dynamism & the resiliency to bounce back & move ahead. India has had several such examples :
4 years ago, at 10 pm on the first Saturday night of a new financial year in 2017, India’s Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi was addressing smart young minds hacking away at some of our country’s problems.
India also had a very dynamic Chief Minister Mr Chandrababu Naidu from the state of Andhra Pradesh who had successfully wooed both Mr Bill Gates & ISB (one of India’s Top Global MBA School) to set base there.
The Communist leader Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya from the state of West Bengal played a pivotal role in setting up Nano — the world’s cheapest car project and was called India’s best Chief Minister by the WIPRO’s Founder Chairman Mr Azim Premji.
The current Delhi Chief Minister Mr Arvind Kejriwal has been credited for creating India’s first political startup unicorn in a decade.
Handling people’s rising aspirations is not easy. Sure, there will be failures as in the case of Mr Chandrababu Naidu or others above. Leaders may try to grow their base too fast. Sometimes successful. Sometimes not. But, that is the roller coaster ride of all startups, isn’t it ? Like Miami’s mayor earlier, they can bounce back.
Positive Miami learnings :The Miami Tech Week article has some positive messages which I try to co-relate in the Indian context below :
“A new path to power for ambitious young politicians” — Similar to Francis Suarez’s famous 5th December 2020 “How can I help” tweet sent within 2 minutes, it was the Hon’ble Prime Minister (then Gujarat state Chief Minister) Mr Narendra Modi’s one rupee SMS message response within 5 minutes to Mr Ratan Tata that did a similar trick 12 years ago when the Nano car project had to be forcibly moved out of West Bengal due to a political agitation.
“Using social media….to grow the pie” — Political leaders from different parties in India have used social media successfully both during elections and for governance. Whatsapp and Twitter are the mainstream tools for the same.
“All you need is a founding influencer and a bare piece of land. Identify a unique feature (like being vegan or car-free), design the city online, recruit a critical mass of people, then move there and build it de novo.” — Closely mirroring this, India has a unique success story where farmers in Pune setup a modern township around 3 decades ago.
“The tech diaspora is now fully mobile and can use the internet to coordinate a real-world migration”. — The Pune farmers mentioned above were able to get started in spite of no internet. So, determination is the only key. The internet and the cloud can be just an easy enabler of the same.
Today’s India : Having seen the above examples of positive correlations to Miami from the Indian context, let us dig deeper into some of the characteristics of India today.
Cities : As per the 2011 census, India has 46 cities with a million plus population. There are also plans for 100 smart cities. India has 5 of it’s cities in the world’s top dynamic cities as per JLL City Momentum Index 2019. These are Bengaluru (#1), Hyderabad (#2), Delhi (#4), Pune (#5) and Chennai (#7). Each of these cities along with many others have their USP’s (Unique Selling Points) on which detailed blog posts have been written.
Villages : 70% of India’s population lives in her villages. India also plans for smart villages. Zoho, India’s well known bootstrapped startup with more than half a billion USD in revenue operates it’s world headquarters out of a village in South India and proposes a similar rural & semi-urban expansion of their Indian & global operations.
Startup Triggers : With a projected 13.7 14 billion USD of funding this year, Indian startups can create a huge number of new jobs. The key for our leaders at all geographies — the country, state & city level is to further accelerate research and incentives for startups to get back to pre-Covid-19 growth.
Digital Infrastructure : India has over 750 million smartphone users who enjoy the world’s lowest mobile usage charges for both voice and data. The government via it’s usage of Aadhar — our Unique Digital Identity system as well as Indiastack is facilitating the easy migration (an important action word in the Miami article) of it’s residents anywhere within India via a slew of prominent digital initiatives as shown below :
- Single Nation, One Market, One Goods & Services Tax (GST) for over 120 million businesses subsuming 15 separate central and state tax laws.
- Income Tax Faceless Assessment Scheme for 140 million tax payers.
- One Nation One Ration Card benefiting over 790 million population.
- World’s largest Health Assurance Scheme with a coverage for 500 million people from the bottom 40% of India’s population.
- Single Government e Marketplace for procurement of goods and services from around 1.8 million sellers.
- The IndiaStack architecture based on Aadhar as per the following layers Digilocker (for Electronic Document Storage), UPI (Unified Payment Infrastructure for digital transactions, eSign (Electronic Signatures) and eKYC (Electronic Know Your Customer verfication ) services amongst others as shown below :
IndiaStack Metrics : These are a billion plus Aadhar digital identities issued, almost 3 billion Authentication transactions, 150 Million e-KYC transactions and 2.64 billion UPI transactions in April 2021. India also has a Financial Inclusion Program for Indian citizens which helped create over 330 million bank accounts linked to the Aadhar.
Physical Infrastructure Projects : In addition to the above digital infrastructure enhancements, India is also fast building and expanding it’s physical infrastructure in the following areas :
- First International Financial Services City (IFSC) in the state of Gujarat.
- First Bullet Train & Railway trains, airport and ports privatization.
- 23 new expressways and highways across India with planned smart cities.
- Clean India, Electricity for All and National Water Mission (under National Action Plan for Climate Change).
Attracting new investments by cutting bureaucracy : Since the last many years, the government has tried to attract new business investments and remove redundant & obsolete legislation. Some initiatives in this direction are shown below :
- Ongoing ease of doing business initiatives and repealing over 1200 redundant acts.
- Ongoing Consolidation & Codification of National level Labour Laws subsuming 25 earlier laws.
- Tax incentives for doing business in India.
- A strong message to bureaucrats to allow entrepreneurs to create wealth.
Cryptocurrencies in India : The government of India is considering legislation to regulate crypto currencies in the near future. On 28th February 2021, I had hosted a Zoom session (Youtube Link) where the above topic was discussed. I share below 3 key slides from the above session :
A suggested Crypto Action Plan : Mr Balaji Srinivasan has written a fine article on why India should embrace cryptocurrencies on top of IndiaStack along with a companion piece by the Indiastack team. I have also created a 140 second video on the same.
Looking ahead : India epitomizes a spirit of resilience. It is this that has enabled our startups to flourish in spite of Internet giants like Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter & Whatsapp present here locally. Very unlike China. It will also help our startup cities thrive in spite of tough competition from Dubai and Singapore close by. Hence, in the 3 startup city definitions in the Miami article, I think a key word : ‘Resiliency’ should be added.
Just as India’s financial capital Mumbai bounced back immediately after the 1993, 2003 bomb blasts and the 2008 terror attacks, I am convinced that the India Startup is poised for rapid recovery from the Covid-19 crisis to help us bounce back to higher growth levels towards our USD 5 trillion GDP goal.