Thoughts on India’s Prospects

Photo by yohoprashant

In the wake of recent report about China and its innovation ecosystem to be outpacing the US, where does the 6th biggest economy, India, stands?

What’s going for India -

1. Insane young population (50% of our population <= 25yo) which could be engaged in economically productive work.

2. A huge domestic market.
We have to cater to the needs of 1.3 billion people (1/6th of the humanity), albeit with low purchasing power.

3. One of the cheapest, politically stable, places to live in the world.
Keeping costs low is one of the main tenets of entrepreneurship and we should be thankful it is inherently available to us. Yes, we have inefficient bureaucracy, corruption in govt etc. But IMO we still should be grateful that in independent modern India we haven’t had a coup or civil war considering how diverse (class, caste, region, religion) we actually are. There are very few places cheaper than India but none without political turmoil. Importance of stability? Imagine doing a startup in Syria.

4. Huge growth opportunity
There is simply a lot to be done here, there are some really challenging problems. What that means is there is scope for more enterprises and job creation.

What’s not working for us -

1. The conundrum of ‘not enough jobs’ vs ‘not enough employable people’
On one hand, looking at macroeconomy level, we say there are not enough jobs but at microeconomy level we find that there are not enough people with right skills. What that does is, it converts that insane young population (50% <= 25yo) that could have been a great asset into a live time bomb. We are failing at how we invest in our human capital. Period.

2. Some of our cultural issues
As a society, we have been risk averse, very rudimentary, not very creative. We get offended easily. Not focused on quality/chalta hai. If there was a world cup of marshmallow test, where do you think India would stand?

3. Govt and bureaucracy
We are a complex society, a society where incentives are very skewed. As much as I like our political stability so far, I detest the pace and quality of our progress. We could progress much faster if we had fewer corrupt politicians, an efficient bureaucracy and creative governance. Wish govt had focused on building better public infrastructure and conducive environment. But hey we can rant about it all day, should that hold us though? Thankfully we can do things as individuals/groups, at least, no one (except that aunty) will stop you from trying out and building your enterprise here.

What could we do -

Of course a lot. I will just list what matters the most to me, from an entrepreneurial point of view.

1. Build products that scale globally
Take advantage of the fact that we are at a cheaper place, if we can build quality products for the outside world, we can compete longer. We can use that as a leverage to bring in $$$ (foreign exchange). Small online products are a great start.

2. Solve real challenges in India
I am often surprised at how we don’t have meaningful startups that are solving some real problems in India e.g. education, agriculture. Nothing that goes deeper into the problems. It’s not like they are not profitable/scalable areas that becomes untouchable by the startup folks. Yes, they are boring and not as sexy as e-commerce or whatever the latest fad is, but they can be good businesses.

3. We need more enablers, enablers who are optimizing for impact and longer-term financial rewards
Govts are enablers, VCs are enablers, startup founders are enablers, influencers are enablers. They enable a certain kind of environment where a lot of good/bad happens.

What enablers optimize for becomes crucial. Govts should optimize for welfare of its people, VCs probably optimize for more money and status. In India’s case, we need more enablers who optimize for impact.

Think about it-
Making an investment in another food-delivery app, which is going to burn millions of dollars in competing against another without really providing any intrinsic value to anyone? Does a food delivery app make more impact vs nurturing an environment where a startup focuses on educating farmers and improving yield/quality of a crop using modern technology? I don’t mean to say that they should work as charities, what I am saying is that even most of the boring problems can be creatively modelled to be a profit making startup(scalable too) as long as they create intrinsic value for the society.

What if these enablers act as mentors for the young and upcoming. Help build an ecosystem where we can work on say — our employment conundrum. There is impact, value and satisfaction in working on what’s needed often more than on what’s wanted. And I think it can all be done while still building profitable businesses. We need more initiatives.

I am optimistic but there’s a lot to be done.

We are doing our bit with AltCampus. Would love to hear your thoughts.