It was perfectly worthwhile to wake up at 3:30 a.m. and head to Cisco’s telepresence room in Santa Clara this morning at the crack of dawn. What followed was an animated discussion with friends – old and new – in the Indian media. For me, above and beyond everything else, it was great fun brainstorming with a group of people who care about entrepreneurship, who each have their circles of influence, and have been thinking about the entrepreneurship development issue from various perspectives.
My Forbes column, India’s Next Celebrities, came out just a few hours before the session, in which I issued a call to action to the Indian media to focus on entrepreneurship. The discussions stemmed from the points I made in the article.
Since I asked for celebrities to be created out of entrepreneurs, we discussed the role model issue at length. Shradha Sharma, founder of Yourstory.in, has a very interesting effort under way where she and her team are capturing and telling the stories of entrepreneurs across India. Her site has profiled a thousand entrepreneurs – early stage entrepreneurs – and she is finding people not only in the big cities, but also in seemingly backwater states such as Bihar. In some cases, the mainstream media is picking up their stories and offering them additional coverage.
Girish Joshi from Microsoft India made the vital point that India needs a handful of really solid success stories, and he and his colleagues at Microsoft are looking for companies which they can support, give access to their channels, and help become these highly visible success stories. [Entrepreneurs, those of you who fall in the category of folks who can benefit from such channel access should make it a point to get yourselves on Girish and team's radar screen.]
But the question of who are the entrepreneurs who can become icons for the Indian entrepreneurship movement still remains open. Readers, if you have ideas or suggestions, please use the comments section to discuss. In my opinion, these icons need to have started from scratch, and have built or are building sizable companies (not outsourcing, because that story is old).
While on this subject, a reader, Banibrata Dutta, writes on Forbes: “Barring a few magazines catering to the niche segment (most of them not older than 2-3 years at the most), mainstream media in India, gives coverage to a startup, as per this small rule:
* (Founder(s) is(are) IIM grad OR
* Founder(s) is(are) IIT grade ) AND (doing something unorthodox, e.g. selling vegetables).
If you analyse that rule, you’d see that the news gets airtime only because of it’s “sensation” value. After-all, typical Indian image of an IIT/IIM grad is that of a high flying, true-blue corporate honcho, and not someone selling ‘tarkari, bhaji’.
So indeed, our media does need to mature, and see a bit beyond pure sensationalism, and provide coverage to the true heroes. After-all ‘heroism’ isn’t absolute, only relative.”
Interesting point. As you know, I have offered two Indian entrepreneurs as my suggestions for celebrity status: Sridhar Vembu of Zoho and Harish Hande of SELCO (both profiled in EJ1).
Moumita Chakrabarty (I think it was she . . . I didn’t take notes, so I may be misattributing on occasions) asked a fundamental question: “Why is it important to move the Indian entrepreneurship movement forward now?”
Pradeep Gupta, CEO of Cybermedia and President of TiE Delhi, had a very good summary answer to this. Pradeep chronicled the history of entrepreneurship in India, and explained that 25 years ago, if you asked a group of students at an IIM or an IIT: “How many of you want to be entrepreneurs?” – the answer would be one, may be two. This changed somewhat in the nineties, especially with the outsourcing industry finding its stride, which generated a lot of entrepreneurs. And now, we have reached critical mass where there is a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial energy, especially in the colleges and universities. And, an ecosystem of angel investors, mentors, VCs, etc. has started coming together so that those who are plunging in, can find a pool to swim in with others. So now, if the media can play its role in giving significantly greater coverage to entrepreneurship, the movement is really well-positioned to spread like wild fire throughout the country.
Many of the attendees – Yatish from Nasscom, Shubhasree from Indian Express, and others highlighted the importance of bringing along the second and third tier cities as the movement develops. I couldn’t agree more.
Economist and blogger Atanu Dey posed the question, “Who is an entrepreneur? Is it someone doing something new, or does the definition also include small kirana store owners?” And here, we agreed on a distinction between entrepreneur and innovator. The former is a superset that includes the innovators, but at large, yes, the small retailers certainly fall under the entrepreneur category.
We also spent quite some time discussing the role of mentorship. Pradeep had a good analogy to explain how important the role of a good mentor can be. In the Mahabharat, Arjun chose an unarmed Krishna over his army, the Narayani sena, a testimony to how much he valued the latter’s mentorship. And of course, he received the Bhagavat Gita lecture in the middle of the Kurukshetra battlefield as a result!
Well, TiE has made the most major contribution so far in the domain of mentorship, by trying to bring together successful entrepreneurs and connecting them with aspiring ones. The effort needs to be scaled. Again, the mainstream media can play a very significant role in doing so. I expect that I will have a chance to work with some of them in due course to work on this issue, as will TiE and Nasscom. I plan to scale the online mentoring roundtables, and in them, I do have built-in scalability in terms of format such that people from all corners of India (and the world) can attend and pitch. To the extent TiE and the Indian media can help me reach these corners, it would be immensely helpful. And also, other people interested in delivering mentoring could use the technology framework I have been using and we can scale that way as well.
We also discussed the demographics of where the entrepreneurship movement is the most vibrant. The under 30 population is very active. The more experienced population, if it can be mobilized through the efforts of the media, as several people noted, has the saved up capital to be able to bootstrap businesses with their own money, and that, I am sure, will be an enormous leap forward. This, I think, is a segment that is very much worth focusing on. So, if publications like Smart Manager can get the experienced middle and senior manager segment to plunge into the entrepreneurship movement, it would be a tremendous achievement.
Finally, I discussed bootstrapping at length, explaining why we need to de-emphasize the focus on venture capital. You can see my slide presentation here.
Of course, the effort does not end here. If it were to become a movement, and reach outside the small niches of IITs, IIMs, Nasscom and TiE, and sweep through India, you would all need to do your part. Through your journals, magazines, newspapers, columns, blogs, Twitter accounts, and spheres of influence, you will need to make your own contribution. I will let you figure out how you will add to the initiative, and by all means, use this forum for discussions.
p.s. Those who participated, please chime in with your own thoughts and observations. I am sure I missed some points worth mentioning.
To the extent I can add value to your efforts, I will try to.
And many thanks to our sponsors, Cisco Telepresence and Tata Communications. It’s an amazing experience to be able to laugh into someone’s eyes halfway across the world!