Starting a startup in Nepal? You’ll fail — and here’s why.

It has become way too easy to start up your own company and hire yourself as the CEO. But there is a lot that goes into making a company successful than just starting it. Here’s why —

Photo by elizabeth lies on Unsplash

1. Very slim chances of (local) investment.

The general reason why someone starts a startup is hoping that eventually someone will buy you out, or give you more money to grow. However, that is a thing of the West — more precisely how startups and venture capitalists in the Silicon Valley work. Unfortunately, Nepal is a tiny market and I’ve not really seen this happening a lot around here.

You can literally count the number of venture investors who invest in startups on the fingers of your right hand (or I’m even not entirely sure if these accelerators, incubators qualify as investors). Well, a lot of people who are knowns to invest in firms are already at the bigger playgrounds or lobbying with larger corporations for investment opportunities. There is a very thin and slim chances for them to lay their trust on a three-man startup compared to an established corporation doing business for at least a decade or so. The channels for you to be discovered by these investors, and even if you do, the challenges of convincing them and getting funded is very very rare. I’m not saying it’s impossible — but it’s very rare.

Also, we don’t really have a culture of investing in someone else’s business. Also, there isn’t really enough grounds for investors to trust twenty-something guys with business ideas. It just doesn’t seem to work that way.

We live in a society if someone sees something cool; they’ll go and start their own rather than exploring possibilities of working together for greater good. 1 plus 1 is never 11 in Nepal; it’s almost always two isolated 1’s that don’t regard highly of the other 1. It’s kinda sad, but it’s true.

2. Too big ideas, too few resources.

Today in the existing market, if you go headhunting for a CTO, a developer or a marketing guy — they’re like the girls in college: the prettiest ones are already taken. No, seriously no matter how many engineers we churn out every year, there still is a deficit. The best ones are already working for a better company with a better salary or are in the USA. So this brings about the biggest problem validating an idea — inadequate minds to materialize it.

Human imagination is infinite; in terms of getting new ideas or just thinking out something for the sake of thinking. However, the real test begins at the execution table; and these limitations aren’t just technology based or people-based. For example, no matter how many new online services you think — the biggest limitation is payment gateway. You can’t control that, and your idea will never see the true light of day because there is no simpler way for you to accept payments from customers, except for the COD (that’s Cash on Delivery, FYI). Shit happens, and mostly it’s beyond your control.

There are more than half a dozen taxi hailing services in Nepal, and I don’t even understand how each one of these operate; without proper infrastructure or money movement options — these I believe are just half-thought wannabe ideas that will eventually fail.

I fucking hate these taxi hailing apps. I counted almost a dozen of them and I wonder if any one of them actually works at all, though I’ve never tried their app — but their website was visibly broken. (Hire a designer!)

3. Attitude problem.

This one is a serious problem. I’ve met a lot of startup guys — most of them just out of college in their early twenties. But I see this huge huge arrogance they carry. One year as CEO of your own company and you want Jeff Bezos treatment — sorry boys, I can’t give you that treatment because you don’t deserve it, yet! It takes a lot of humility and compassion to thrive as a top executive. Today, the founders of the most successful companies like Microsoft and Facebook are who they are because of the compassion they have, and the positivity they radiate that drives the company forward.

It has become so easy to start a company. Just walk up to your dad and ask for few million rupees. This bypasses all the struggles, the pain that goes into forming a company, and these CEO’s never experience the hard work required to climb your way to the top. Name-calling, underestimating the competition, and the luxurious lifestyle they build upon their dad’s money, I see a serious problem in the culture that’s being built around the startup scene in Nepal. This is sad and must change.

4. Not enough money.

Nepal is a very small economy. Kathmandu city, in particular is an even smaller market. Kathmandu covers almost 85% of the total consumer base. Now think how much investment is good investment to tackle the demands of few million people. Unless you’re superbly funded by an international giant like Daraz Kaymu, you will never have enough money to mobilize your people and resources. Daraz does it well because they have enough cash to burn; unfortunately you don’t!

How did Flipkart and Snapdeal become just giants in India? How can a simple online clothing brand afford Shah Rukh Khan to do their commercials? How did Amazon become the biggest player in India in less than a year’s time?

Scale. Scale. Scale.

There is no scale in Nepal. The market is so small that any big venture isn’t quite worth it. Trust me there is no need of Uber right now in Nepal. There is a cap and should you go beyond the investment cap; that’s some dangerous terrain you’re exploring!

5. Fad.

Remember few years ago how EDV (USA Electronic Diversity Visa) was the hottest thing in Kathmandu? Everyone with a computer and internet connection in every corner of the street had an EDV booth and everyone was hoping to sail in an ocean of money? That quickly came crumbling down when most customers realized it could be done at home and for free! Today, hardly anyone is even bothered to run that kind of business (also thank to Mr. Trump this year that I hardly see anyone interested!) Well that’s how quickly fads fade away.

Electronic mosquito killer that looks like a tennis racket? Gone. Food delivery services? Taxi hailing service? Online fashion modeling? All gone. Remember how everyone, almost everyone went to Mustang in the fall of 2016? Not anymore!

That’s how quickly fads go away — and I think most of the startups today are fads which in matter of months if not years will die out. Don’t do something because everyone else is doing it. It is very easy to mushroom anything in Nepal. Give it few weeks, you’ll easily be all over the social media, make few journalist friends and you will be on all broadcast media — but what matters here is the momentum. Consistency is the key, if you’re not sure if your product is something that can surpass the fad barrier, definitely pursue it. Otherwise, be prepared to become one of the redundant EDV filling cyber cafes!

6. Way too ahead (or behind) time

When my pal Bimal launched 11Beep in 2014, it was an irrelevant product that failed to smell the sweet smell of success. It was a social network where posts disappeared after certain period of time. Does that ring some bells for you? Well, two years later in 2016, this exact same thing became such a big phenomenon worldwide that giants like Snapchat, Instagram, Whatsapp: everyone were doing it.

So what went wrong with Bimal’s 11Beep? It was way ahead of its time. The idea of posts disappearing after some time wasn’t a thing back then. Therefore, Bimal quickly realized he must not be working on it and moved forward with his life. But time wasn’t the only issue with 11Beep. It also failed because it was based in the…

7. …Wrong part of the world

If you do it in Butwal, only Butwal knows about it. If you do it in Kathmandu, only Nepal knows about it. If you do in Singapore, only Asia knows about it. But if you do it in Silicon Valley — the world knows about it. I think besides having a kickass product and a superhero team, what also matters is where you launch your product from. It is very very hard to build and market something from Nepal hoping to reach the world market.

Only few startups, namely PicoVico a name I can remember who can stay in Nepal and serve a worldwide user base. That’s because they employed a wonderful trick of creating an international product and making the fact that they originated in Nepal irrelevant and unimportant. Why Khali Sisi will never ever go international? Because the First World does not have a fucking Khali Sisi problem.


So what do we do now? Where do we go?

Get a job.

Seriously that is the best advice I can give you at the moment to go and find a job. And this is kinda life saving. Essential is not Andy Rubin’s first startup. Dara Khosrowshahi spent a long time at Expedia before signing in as the CEO of Uber — you see what I’m trying to tell you here? Your startup does not need to be a launchpad of your career. Your great idea can wait, until you mature as an entrepreneur and know what you’re going to do with your great idea!

Work at a big company; get some experience. Understand the dynamics, all this learning is going to be crucial for you to later go and found your own startup. A startup is much more than just the product. It’s a combined synergy of product, marketing, technology, customers, team and sales. You will need experience and understanding of each of these domains.

Good luck!

Further reading

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