India and its ‘startup clone' problem

I just got back to India this past week. What amazed me was the crazy amount of startup activity that is happening in the country. It got me curious enough to do a little digging and see if there is something that truly got me excited.

The more I dug (admitted, it’s been less than a month), the more I’m feeling disenchanted.

I’ll just cut to the chase — to my eyes, a majority of the supposedly ‘hot’ Indian startups are plain ripoffs of successful American startups. Why is that?

Let’s list a few major ones:

  • Flipkart/Snapdeal — Amazon
  • Housing.com/Commonfloor — Redfin/Zillow
  • Grofers — Instacart (which happens to be Webvan redux)
  • OlaCabs — Uber
  • Zomato — Yelp
  • Paytm/PayUMoney/PayZapp — Square Cash (or Paypal)
  • BookMyShow — Fandango
  • Makemytrip/Yatra— Expedia
  • Zoho — Salesforce
  • Mr.Homecare /Zepper— Handy
  • Saavn/Gaana — Pandora/Spotify
  • Haptik /Instano— Magic
  • iChef/HolaChef — BlueApron
  • RazorPay — Stripe
  • HealthifyMe — MyFitnessPal
  • LensKart — Warby Parker
  • Swiggy — Postmates/Doordash

I’ll keep adding to this list as I hear of more. Feel free to comment and let me know if I missed any or if I’m mistaken. I would truly love to be proven wrong and learn more about the startup scene here.

Make no mistake — There is nothing inherently wrong about identifying a startup in the west and replicating its business model here. It is disappointing though, that it appears to be at the cost of truly out of the box thinking and creation of solutions that solve the hard and crushing problems specific to India. How about replicating SolarCity, Nest or Khan Academy instead?

There’s money to be made AND social good to be done!

To that effect — I’d love to create a separate list of truly innovative companies solving problems specific to India. Off the top of my head, the problems I can think of that need to be addressed—

  • Water quality & conservation
  • Energy scarcity
  • Traffic management
  • Air quality improvement
  • Healthcare delivery, EMR/EHR
  • Banking
  • & agriculture

I’m sure such startups are out there but just don’t get the traction, media attention & more importantly — VC dollars as some of the startups whose business models have been (maybe) validated in the US.


About Me:

Just moved back to India from the US. Been part of multiple early-stage startups. I’m looking forward to my time in India and learning more about the startup landscape here. Connect with me here and here.