Rethinking the Indian Software Scene: PNGrowth

An ambitious program is being put together by the Indian Software Products think-tank iSPIRT called PNGrowth. The goal of this program is to create “category” winners software products. To learn more about this program, I sat through the three Hangouts that have been posted on YouTube. The impressive program is designed by academics from Stanford and Yale Universities and lists some of the top Indian entrepreneurs as mentors.

The assumption is that Indian entrepreneurs are so caught up in execution that they do not have time to think of strategy, and that is one of the reasons they are not able to win big in global markets

Indian entrepreneurs, who are “winners”, have built successful companies in help-desk and telephony apps, flash chart plugins for websites, virtual environments for cross platform testing, workflow automation for Google Apps, tools for testing alternative web page layouts. Apparently this is not good enough. The big question of course is, when will India create huge successes like Google and Facebook.

While this is a great goal to have, I think the approach is naive. The real reason why India is not producing the Googles is access to markets. Indian entrepreneurs are smart, mature and battle-ready, and the products they are creating are in response to the markets they have access to. Indian entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley have been successful in creating category winners. Even the current set of “winners” have all reset their company addresses to Someplace, California.

“Access to markets” means access to networks, influencers, distribution and capital. There seems to be a lot of capital around, but where is it being invested? Indian VCs have invested $150 million in food delivery apps, but nothing in tough categories like ERP. I don’t think there is a single investor who has the depth and judgement to look at a team and say, you have a runway of 5 years, build the best technology you can without worrying about revenues (which is what I think Google and Facebook were told in their early days).

To assume that these entrepreneurs are somewhat like the proverbial “frog in the well” and somehow need to be re-tooled, is doing a huge disservice to them. What Indian entrepreneurs lack are “external factors” and not purely “internal”.

While the idea of taking out three days and hanging out with motivated founders seems inviting (heck, I may even apply, but my track record says that I will not be selected), I am not totally kicked about what this is about.

Indian product companies do need to get together to fight these external factors. Some part of me says that Indian product companies will not have the kind of access that is available to companies in the valley in the short term. At least not those that still naively declare that they are based in India or do not have a founder from an IIX.

If we have to win, we need to change the rules of the game. We need to build a culture of excellence and create our own networks and influencers and have believers that entrepreneurs can “change the world”, not only make money. Then we will have the next Google. I am sure PNGrowth will be successful, but like education, not completely with its stated objective.

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