Geeks on a Plane India 2013: Big Opportunities, Optimistic Investors, and a Government that’s Finally Waking Up

Gateway of IndiaThis post originally appeared on the 500 Startups blog

Geeks on a Plane is a 10-12 day trip to various parts of the world with 20-25 “Geeks” (entrepreneurs, techies, designers, angels, VCs, mentors). The trips are planned and run by 500 Startups and have been going on for a few years now. The first Geeks on a Plan (GOAP) to India was in December 2011. That’s when I first met Dave, Paul, Christen, George, Anu, Samir, and a bunch of other really awesome geeks. Fast forward 14 months and I got a chance to be a “geek” on the February 2013 GOAP India trip.

GOAP India 2013 also had some really awesome people on the trip as well as hosts across India. Here are some of the things that I learned from these people during our visit to Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi with Geeks on a Plane.

India: A Land of Contradictions

The poor are all over India. It’s still one of the poorest countries in the world. However, the rich are obscenely rich. Driving a $200,000 car is no big deal in a city like Mumbai. On your way to a swanky hotel where you’ll pay $900 for a single malt, you may drive by open sewage, dirt piled up on the side of the road for impending construction, barking stray dogs in packs, etc. However, you will also pass by massive skyscrapers, gorgeous temples, educational institutes galore, and many people hustling to make a buck. You can feel the buzz in the air and the excitement of young people who see multiple opportunities all around them.

I didn’t witness these contradictions being any more pronounced than they have in the past. Instead, I saw young people that are hopeful and welcoming of bright future for their country, their families, and themselves. As risk averse as their parents are, more and more people are willing to take significant risks to enact change and get rich while trying. For example, at Startup Weekend Bangalore, we saw many ideas pitched, of which, two of which stood out in my mind.

  • Ghati, to enable safe and clear passage of ambulances.
  • Garbage-busters, which uses mobile phones to alert civil authorities of garbage that hasn’t been cleared.

Two years ago, very few people would have considered quitting their jobs to pursue ideas that will make life better for people while at the same time, having a real chance at making money. Instead, most of them wanted to build the “Twitter of India” or the “Facebook of India”. More and more Indians are cognizant of the problems surrounding them in their daily lives and they are taking the first steps at solving them.

Great Raw Entrepreneurial and Tech Talent

Flipkart
There’s no question that India is full of geeks with great raw entrepreneurial and tech talent. Look at the number of Indian engineers in the Valley, doctors and Wall Street quants that flourished in the US. In India, having their chidren go into the “IT” industry has been the hope of many middle class Indian parents since the 90’s. That usually meant working at Infosys, Wipro, TCS, HCL, etc. Then came along PWC, E&Y, Accenture, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Dell, Microsoft, Google, etc. Today we have Facebook and LinkedIn as well as hundreds of other great US tech product companies. Most tech entrepreneurs in India prior to 2005 built their fabulous businesses selling services to companies big and small around the world. These successful tech entrepreneurs built businesses to be envied and made India the outsourcing capital of the world.

What they didn’t do was build an ecosystem that fostered entrepreneurship or creative thinking.

ZipDial

All that started changing sometime in 2010. Some amazing companies have been built in the last few years by incredible people (some of the companies go back to 2006/2007) – Druvaa, Slideshare, FusionCharts, InterviewStreet, ZipDial, Flipkart, SnapDeal, InMobi, Innoz, ZoHo, Freshdesk, Wigify and Komli Media.

Some of these companies have exited. Some are incredibly cash rich. Some are growing like a weed and continue to raise larger amounts of growth capital.

Beyond some of the marquee names above, quite a few amazing founders are building great companies. A few are InVenture, WebEngage, UberLabs (gazeMetrix), Ketto, InstaMojo, ChargeBee, and Practo.

Founders’ Communication & Confidence Need to Improve

Rajat, Kavin, Aloke at 91 Springboard
Most first time founders in India still lack confidence and it shows in their pitch and their communication style. Paul has mentioned this before in his Observations on India and he also talks about gaining confidence. I continue to see this being a problem and a tremendous opportunity for founders. The founders that can communicate the most effectively, will have a much better chance at selling to their customers, their investors, and prospective co-founders, employees, mentors/advisors and importantly, in India, to their families. The good news is that in the last 7 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen pitches and communication styles get better. Although the ecosystem is still nascent, it’s maturing and giving young entrepreneurs the shot in the arm they need.

Investors are Optimistic

The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE)
Investors across India that I met during GOAP continue to remain bullish on the long-term opportunity. Ecommerce, education, travel, personal finance, Universal ID (UID), family tech, rural tech and, of course, tech built in India for a global market are some of the broader themes that investors expressed significant interest in. Sorry folks, “social media” just wasn’t at the top of anyone’s list.

However, as bullish as investors are, most of them still aren’t very founder friendly. Some of the deal terms being offered are still quite onerous. Doing an investment in tranches is another favorite past time of Indian investors. Most founders still complain of angels behaving like series A VCs and VCs behaving more like private equity shops.

The bright side is that a few founders I met with and spoke with during GOAP, mentioned two VCs by name who work more like startup founders than VCs. They make decisions quickly. They present terms that are fair. They tell founders when and how much they should raise to minimize dilution. They make themselves available by not hanging out in their ivory towers. You might say that two VC firms in a country of 1.2+ billion people is statistically insignificant. However, if you said that, you would be wrong. It’s quite significant. VCs running their funds like real startup founders is a massive mindshift and their success will only inspire more to do the same (or lose deal flow).

Investors are also Cautious

Geeks on a Plane at the BSE
During some of the investor events at GOAP, I spoke to investors about things that concerned them. Investors are a little bearish about the short-term. Macro-economic conditions, the lack of exits, corruption in the government, the bureaucracy, rising costs all play an important part in dampening the spirits of investors. However, these also present considerable opportunities for daring entrepreneurs. Investors realize this and continue to hunt for deal where they can deploy funds in India.

The Indian Government is Finally Waking Up

During our trip, the Indian Government announced its budget. Though, not a big deal in most western countries, in India, the budget makes or breaks economic sentiment for the year. No one was terribly excited or distraught over this year’s budget. However, there were a few things added that raised the hopes of startups and early stage investors.

  • Preferential tax treatment for angels when investing together or “pooling” their capital and registering with the government.
  • Corporations are required to spend 2% of their income on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) investments or donations. Incubators at government or recognized universities qualify for claiming the 2% spend.
  • Startups can potentially find some liquidity by listing on the SME exchange. The BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange) runs one and had 11 companies listed as of December 2012.

A much more detailed analysis of the budget and some opinions can be found on VCCircle.

For more information on Geeks on a Plane and when they are heading to your region, check out the website and also some of the videos from GOAP South America Summer 2011, GOAP Asia 2011 and GOAP India 2011.


Geeks on a Plane India 2013

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Startup Weekend India – The First Six Months

The first round of Startup Weekend events in India came to a close in March. Startup Weekend Delhi was held at the American Center from March 4th till March 6th 2011 and Startup Weekend Bangalore was held from March 11th till March 13th 2011 at Microsoft’s Signature building.

September 2nd 2011 marked the beginning of the next round of Startup Weekend events across India. Startup Weekend Hyderabad was held at ISB from the 2nd – 4th of September. This was the first SW held in Hyderabad and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. We had only sold 25 tickets in the first 2 months that ticket sales were open. In the last three days before the Friday night pitches, we sold over 50 additional tickets.

I’ve seen lots and lots of “me too” ideas and quite a few “ho-hum” ideas. There are some decent ideas with very little depth prior to SW. Startup events in India need to be about team formation, experience building and experimentation. Between these three events, Startup Weekend has kicked off 39 teams of entrepreneurs, techies, designers, and business people. Granted, out of these 39 teams, probably not even four will survive more than a year but that’s not the point. The point is that these 175 or so people, will be better entrepreneurs the next time around.

I believe these three events did something that no other event in India has done so far. It showed people that they CAN execute their ideas in a very short span of time. With complete strangers, in most cases, they can put together a business case and build a prototype to showcase to potential investors.

In a few cases, teams from Startup Weekend in India have had discussions with investors directly as a result of Startup Weekend. One of the biggest pain points for many entrepreneurs in India has been funding and Startup Weekend in India has helped ease this pain point in a small but important way.

Startup Weekend has also shown investors that entrepreneurs, techies, designers can do some really interesting things in a short period of time if all the ingredients are there. It’s created potential deal flow for early stage investors starved for invest-able ideas teams. Already, Startup Weekend clones are popping up across India.

The confidence and the energy that people have displayed at Startup Weekend in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad has been quite contagious. Techies were pushed to deliver minimum viable products and marketers and business people were forced to come up with viable plans in a very short time span. In just a weekend, many people were able to successfully deliver business cases and prototypes. Having done so has shown them that they CAN, in fact, put together teams of the right people and deliver. Being able to find co-founders that can execute has given people the confidence needed to take their ideas from Startup Weekend and pursue them.

Another very important factor was the presence of great mentors that spent considerable amounts of time with the business, techie and design members of each team, helping them develop various aspects of their ideas and the technology being employed. Many of the mentors present have exhibited interest in helping future teams in the same way. Even some panelists have shown interest in being mentors and working with the various teams throughout the next Startup Weekends in India. However, some mentors and panelists have also been disappointed by the lack of depth in the ideas.

I have found that for entrepreneurs in India finding the right co-founders and having mentors to help guide them through the various pitfalls that they continually faced is a continuous problem. Of course, funding issues are an issue everywhere but in India, it’s far more pronounced. To me, the idea of getting the right people with similar mindsets and mentors, serial entrepreneurs with significant experience in a room with raw ideas and oodles of enthusiasm was what people in India have been missing. Bringing all these components together, mixing them up, laying down some rules and bending a whole lot of others has given people who had very little chance of execution or success an opportunity to try their ideas in a safe and risk-free environment. In essence, the Startup Weekend philosophy is helping Indians try out ideas without quitting their day jobs, find people who buy into their ideas, and have people around to immediately guide them in their execution.

Personally, Startup Weekend has given me an opportunity to return to India and give back something that I’m very passionate and excited about – entrepreneurship. The opportunity to help entrepreneurs, both young and old, realize that they can and should take a chance on themselves and their ideas is a great feeling. Instead of just telling them that they should, Startup Weekend has given me a chance to show them that they can. If my contribution to the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem can help create even one startup out of each event, I believe I’ve given back more than I could have hoped for.

India is a difficult place to understand, with all of its contradictions, it’s rapid modernization, it’s pathetic infrastructure, it’s volatile stock market, it’s real-estate market that defies all logic, it’s incredible wealth and it’s dire poverty. However, India has been a land of entrepreneurs with it’s small businesses, it’s kinara stores, it’s newly minted multi-national corporations. In the last twenty years, much of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s in India’s blood has been lost. Mostly because better opportunities to make money presented themselves with the IT, ITES, call center and other service businesses. However, I believe a new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging. India is draining entrepreneurial and engineering talent from other parts of the world. It’s not just Indians or people of Indian origin coming to India, it’s the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the British, the Americans, the French, the Germans, the Italians and everyone else in between who are contributing to a new entrepreneurial culture.

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Startup Weekend is Coming to India

Startup Weekend is a 54 hour event where developers, designers, and entrepreneurs get together and build great new Internet and mobile products. Startup Weekend is coming to India

Get your tickets to Startup Weekend Delhi or Startup Weekend Bangalore before the early-bird pricing ends.

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Car, Computers, Gadgets, Phones and Appliances for Sale in Delhi

UPDATE: All Items are sold and no longer available. Thanks for your interest.

We are moving so we’re selling the following items before we leave Delhi. All of the items will be available at the end of March or by April 5th at the latest, though a few items could be made available sooner if there’s enough interest. Most items have been priced at less than half price of what we bought them for.

Please email me at 4sale (a t) linosx (d o t) com in the next few days if you are interested in any of the items listed below. If you know of anyone that may be interested in some of the items below, please feel free to forward this post to them as well. In the email, please include what item(s) you’re interested in, what date you would like them by and possible bid you’d like to make.

Serious buyers only, please.
Update: Prices on some items have been reduced.
Thanks very much!
Pankaj

Car

SX4 2008 top of the line ZXi model.
Approx 30,000 kms driven
Fitted with Maruti seat covers and gear lock, regularly serviced
Insurance paid thru end of January 2011
Please post a message if you’re interested.


Computers

  • 24
    Like New 24″ iMac with

    2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor at 2.4GHz
    320GB Hard Drive
    Built-in speakers,
    iSight Camera
    Dual Layer DVD Burner
    RAM upgraded to 4GB.
    Warranty till end of February 2011
    1kV APC Back-UPS RS-1000 Commercial grade surge suppressor and UPS for use with iMac.
    Factory installed Mac OS X Operating System and Software
    iMac + APC UPS – Rs. 75,000

    Update: I’m accepting the best offer over Rs. 65,000 or if you prefer to pay in US Dollars, $1,200 for both the UPS and 24″ iMac


  • HP dx2280 for Sale in New Delhi
    Like New HP Desktop Model DX2280 and 19″ Flat Screen Monitors (2 1 available)

    Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.20Ghz
    2MB L2 Cache
    1 GB RAM
    Intel 945G Graphics
    Gigabit LAN Card
    160GB Hard Drive
    Sound card for sound output and sound input
    Warranty expires in January 2011
    HP w19 19inch Flatscreen LCD Monitor with DVI and VGA Connectors
    No keyboard or mouse included

    There is no CD or DVD drive so these are perfect for office computers. They come installed with Linux Fedora 12 and MS Office compatible version of OpenOffice

    Rs.20,000 Update: Accepting the best offer over Rs. 15,000 or USD 300 total for each system and 19″ monitor.


  • White Apple Macbook for Sale in New Delhi Rs. 20,000
    White Apple Macbook for Sale in New Delhi Rs. 20,000
    MacBook for Sale in New Delhi
    MacBook for Sale in New Delhi


    White Macbook

    2.0GHz Intel Core Duo
    60GB Hard Drive
    RAM upgraded to max of 2GB
    Built-in speakers and Mic
    iSight Camera
    DVD Burner

    New original MacBook Keyboard, Apple Battery and new original Apple 85W charger (charger alone is Rs. 4,500 and new battery is over Rs. 7,000) Will come with factory installed Mac OS X Operating System and Software. A Mickey Mouse sticker was stuck to the top of the MacBook which we removed (partially, as visible in the picture above)
    Rs. 20,000

    Update: The MacBook is sold!


Computer equipment

  • Netgear wireless-g routers Rs. 1,000
  • Lightly used HP OfficeJet 5600 series Photocopier, Fax, and Scanner – Rs. 6,000 or USD $125
  • Laptop PCMCIA WiFi cards (3 available) – Rs. 1,000 for all 3


Mobile phones

  • Sony Ericsson T610 – Rs. 2,000
  • Nokia E61 – Rs. 8,000 Rs. 6,000 or USD $125


Appliances and Furniture

  • Osterizer Blender – Rs. 1,500
  • Morphy Richards Toaster for Sale in New Delhi
    Morphy Richards Toaster for Sale in New Delhi Rs. 2,000
  • AquaGuard Integra7 RO Water Filter for Sale in New Delhi
    AquaGuard Integra7 RO Water Filter for Sale in New Delhi - Rs. 10,000
  • Hydraulic multi-adjustment Office Chair  - Rs. 5,000
    Hydraulic multi-adjustment Office Chair - Rs. 5,000

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Startup Saturday Delhi November Roundup

Startup Saturday Delhi held on November 14th, was a Food and Beverage theme this month. This was the first time we held a Startup Saturday Delhi with absolutely no connection to technology. We hope those of you in the audience found it to be a refreshing change.

Preet Saini of Mrs. Kaur's
Preet Saini of Mrs. Kaur's
Our first speaker was Preet Saini, founder of Mrs. Kaur’s. Mrs. Kaur’s makes premium American style cookies, brownies, and other confectionary items. Mrs. Kaur’s has also started a restaurant in Khan Market, New Delhi. Preet is a serial entrepreneur and has done many different types of businesses. He discussed his learnings from each and every business he started and how he was able to learn from each one to launch Mrs. Kaur’s and grow it rapidly in 3 years with no marketing budget at all. One example he cited was that even before they were ready to go, he had t-shirts, baseball hats, and delivery scooters covered in the Mrs. Kaur’s logo. As soon as they started putting up stalls at various local fairs, people immediately got the impression that Mrs. Kaur’s was a much larger company than it was.

Akhilesh Bali of Mithai Mate
Akhilesh Bali of Mithai Mate
Our next speaker was Akhilesh Bali, founder of Mithai Mate. Mithai Mate allows people to buy Indian sweets online from various distributors across India. You can buy the sweets for yourself or send them as a gift to others. Mithai Mate is run out of the bedrooms of the 3 founders. They launched the service approximately 7 months ago and are averaging 5-6 orders per day right now. Mithai Mate has developed partnerships with various confectioners across India from Jammu and Kashmir to Delhi to Jabalpur and beyond. One of the biggest challenges they faced in the beginning was the inability to get preferred pricing from their partners and logistical issues with delivery in India. As the orders have come in, some of Mithai Mate’s partners have recognized their growth and began entertaining a different pricing model, which would allow Mithai Mate to be able to make a profit on each delivery.

Nitin Agarwal of Chakhle India
Nitin Agarwal of Chakhle India
Our final speaker was Nitin from Chakhle India which has 15 locations serviced by push carts selling clean, tasty, authentic Indian food. Nitin faced different issues than some of the other entrepreneurs we’ve had come and speak at Startup Saturday. His challenges were goons and certain other people in and around Gurgaon trying to hit his vendors up for money. He also faced the problem of existing street vendors fighting with him for turf. Again, Chakhle India, began presenting an image the portrayed it as a much larger company that it was. As the corrupt and degenerate began believing that Chakhle was backed by a much larger and potentially powerful group, the extortion problem died down. Today, Chakhle has carved out a niche by servicing a large number of people (from all economic classes) around Gurgaon who enjoy street food but are afraid of getting sick because of a lack of hygiene.

Our thanks to Preet, Akhilesh and Nitin for sharing their entrepreneurial journeys at Startup Saturday.

The next Startup Saturday Delhi will be held on December 12th, 2009 from 2pm till 6pm at the American Center on KG Marg. We look forward to seeing you there.

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