India should borrow Silicon Valley’s crazy talk

Image credit: the Legion

As it appeared on Techinasia

Like many others, I find myself admiring Zoho, one of the most successful SaaS companies that has come out of India.

The company started not long after the Dot-Com Bubble in the midst of competition doing the exact same things and offering the exact same product. Yet it emerged as one of the leading Made in India software exports despite harsh competition by players such as Google and Salesforce.

What is largely responsible for the success of Zoho, according to the founder, is the company’s early diversification into broader markets with multiple software products, frugality in spending, and a long-term orientation resulting in a refusal to accept multiple acquisition offers that came up.

However, one disappointing moment for me in the company’s detailed story coverage by Tech in Asia was the moment where the founder felt at ease in acknowledging the company really doesn’t have a mid-term vision. The founder said:

I still don’t know what Zoho’s path will be 10 years from now, which is part of the fun — discovering new things to do.

When a founder of one of the most successful Indian SaaS companies say this, it is worthwhile to stop for a moment and contemplate: what example is it setting for budding Indian entrepreneurs?

This attitude looks to me like a complete antithesis of Silicon Valley culture where your vision (even if it’s incredibly vague) is to disrupt something or anything and create the future.

Such an over-obsession of Silicon Valley companies with disruption, with leaving nothing untouched, no stone unturned, and no industry unaffected has gone too far for many people. There’s an appropriate term for it — crazy talk.

Crazy talk is a catch-phrase to capture all the world-conquering, visionary mambo-jambo which are nothing but marketing and PR spiel.

Why is it bad? Because it depicts the standard mentality of a newly emerging class of people: solutionists and entrepreneurs who are mostly geeks who want to use technology to solve the world’s most trivial problems — even non-existing ones.

Timothy O’Reilly, the well-known founder of O’Reilly Media Company, stands on top of this massive pile of crazy talk, at least that’s what one of his harshest opponents, Evgeny Morozov claims.

We need a dose of crazy

But there’s a flip-side.

Crazy talk or no crazy talk, these Silicon Valley guys are actually doing it.

To them, a 10-year vision which contains nothing else but the word “disruption” is good enough and they go after it with all their heart and might.

Eventually, some of them succeeded in creating the future they imagine. Perhaps Indian companies, especially those we praise, need some healthy dose of crazy talk.

Perhaps a company that has no disruption in its mind should not be the type of company future founders should aspire, idolize, and emulate despite the evident success story having the principles of organic growth in its core.

It is okay to build a company slowly and organically. I know tons of people who have deliberately chosen this path and abstained from roller coaster journeys. They’re happy with their choice.

But there’s a good reason why some startups choose to raise and burn millions of dollars of VC money. And many flameout quickly.

Because if you want to build a world-class company — and I am sure some of us do, you have to accept the challenge and catch hold of a moving train. You have to be aggressive. You have to be unprecedented and you have to aim for celestial objects.

Because that’s what makes the whole system dynamic and prone to outgrowing itself. We cannot and should not judge the potential of the entire system just by few stories of failures and recklessness.

A company which has already reached as far as Zoho has, should finally give itself the excitement of aiming for crazy, with the potential of total annihilation and possible death stemming from trying to be disruptive, rather than contemplating under the banyan tree what the future may be and what would their place be in that future.

No one lives forever.

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