Startup incubators have been one of the best learning and most accessible growth platform for Startups across the globe. So when I thought of helping the BizDharma community with some insights about the same, the obvious choice was Annkur Agarwal who has been gracious enough to share his learning here. A super thanks to Annkur for the following Guest Post.
Annkur over to you…
Having lived over 25 years of my life in Mumbai (with parents), I only realized how comforting it has been when I moved to California for 4 months when my startup PriceBaba was incubated at 500 Startups. PriceBaba has grown 30x since then and I think I have grown lot more. We made several voyages and met people In India for PriceBaba, a year into the business, we went to Silicon Valley and came back with learnings for a lifetime.
There Are Equally Talented People In India, Density Is The Problem
The obvious assumption everyone makes about being in Silicon Valley is the number of talented entrepreneurs you will meet there. While that’s true, it isn’t like Shri Ram came down from heaven to give us gyaan. We have found equally smart people in India. People who understand business, tech, internet and the constraints a startup has. However the number of awesome people who mentored us in Silicon Valley (and their varied backgrounds) was fascinating.
If you are connected enough, you sure have all the knowledge about Internet, Mobile and Tech Startups you want in India. But if you want to feel a city with several generations of such entrepreneurs talking to you, Silicon Valley is the place.
When You Are Solving An India Problem, You Are Solving A Unique Problem!
There are obvious difference between the US and Indian market. It is hard to take learnings from US and apply them as it is here. A company similar to PriceBaba.com – Milo.com (acquired by eBay) had a very different solution for the same problem. They did technical integrations with organised retailers and brought the data online. For us it is a lot of manual work, because organised retail hasn’t reached its peak in India and we are probably jumping straight to ecommerce boom.
When talking to a lot of people in the valley we had to explain them the market situation. In the limited time they had with us, many of them couldn’t push our thinking about the market by much. However we learned about how Google influenced the price comparison industry and the risks that carries. For all we know, India may be very different. An average Indian internet consumer spends far less online (or for that matter offline too) and deals / discounts are biggest reason to shop online.
Specifically for the mobile phone industry in US there are contract phones, in India people pay for their phones upfront and EMI is a big deal. The challenges and opportunities are different.
It Is Okay To Say ‘I don’t Know’
We had specific queries that needed answers. Be it URL schema for mobile shops In Mumbai or chasing down a new revenue model. Many people whom we spoke to asked us logical questions to understand the problem, occasionally shared what worked for them, almost always acknowledged that we have ourselves spent more time with the problem and hence we are likely to be right with our approach and there was no shame in them to just say ‘I don’t know, perhaps ask xyz’. Instead of trying to forcefully advice us or give a vague answer, it is so much more respectful to just say ‘I don’t know’. We love that, we copy / paste the same approach now when talking to others!
We Are Good Enough! The Confidence Is Real
For a startup that struggled to even raise $20,000 from a local incubator, getting through 500 Startups was big. We made our first step into the global arena and what better than Silicon Valley. They dream of a tech entrepreneur. And then the doubts come in. Is this real? Are we really here? Do we deserve to be here?
After spending few months with 100+ global entrepreneurs – all of whom are selected from 1000s of applications, we know that we are no less than what the global standard demands. That little confidence boost which says that we are capable of creating a world class company is immense. It shows in our interaction with the outside world, more importantly it shows when we are brainstorming things internally. We are good enough and given enough hard work, we will crack the toughest of challenges that comes our way!
Startup Isn’t Sexy, Success Isn’t An Accident
Silicon Valley is not magic. People don’t magically get funded and life isn’t easy. Many talented founders work endlessly to survive there and in a way we are lucky to be in India where the competition isn’t as fierce in areas of Social / Mobile & Cloud. Going to US from India for certain kind of products is good, because the customer base is there. But you won’t magically get investors, employees and traction by just moving to the valley. You better know how to hustle your way up.
Failure Is Respected!
People proudly write ‘500 Startups Alumni’ in their visiting cards, LinkedIN and Twitter bios. Even if they have moved on from their startups (perhaps failed / acquired), I was surprised to see how warm they were and excited to mention they were at 500 Startups too! One of the biggest burden I carry is a failed startup and the shaming that would bring in public forums. Imaging being on the front page of Economic Times, covered by literally 100s of Startup blogs and referred to as a part of startup mafia back home and then failing? We may well fail at PriceBaba but I am already proud of the work we have done, journey we have made so far. That fear of failure isn’t slowing us down anymore.
Humbleness & Politeness, A Great Culture
We had numerous mentors at 500 Startups who suggested a different direction for us to work towards. We have had the same back home too. In India most of the times it begins with ‘you should do ….’, while in the valley it would begin with a story of ‘how xyz company started by targeting the geeks and that made them so lovable that …’. There is a huge difference in dictating your view (which at times may be needed) versus humbly explaining why you believe in something and filling the knowledge gap patiently. We are huge fans of anyone who takes the approach of educating us, even though at times we may be a bit adamant about our approach. We hope to be equally humble when talking to folks back home, hard, but we are learning!
Pay It Forward!
This is perhaps the most overstated funda of Silicon Valley. But it is real. You do good to others without asking anything in return and hope that when you need help someone would come by and do the same. This happened. I can’t imagine how I can every pay back the kind people of Silicon Valley who treated me with great food, spent countless hours mentoring me and questioning my reasons for doing a startup (in a good way). Some of these people we may never meet again in our lifetime, others we happily host in India. The culture of Pay It Forward is great amongst Indian Startup community too and as people of PriceBaba we do our bit everyday.
… Annkur is someone who I adore for the fact that he understands the importance of culture and is someone who implies the right basics in every decision. I hope you did learn a few things from his experience at 500, highlighted above. Wish you all the best for your journey ahead!