You have heard much about Jyoti Basu’s Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Kolkata, and various other dysfunctional views of the erstwhile capital of British India. Today, I am going to introduce you to Abhishek Rungta’s Kolkata, Pallav Nadhani’s Kolkata, Bimal Patwari’s Bengal, Srish Agarwal’s Bengal, and Arijit Bhattacharyya’s Bengal.
Kolkata in particular and Bengal as a whole have missed most of the Indian IT outsourcing boom of the past 20 years. Large companies like IBM, Infosys, and Wipro all have operations in Kolkata, but employment creation on the scale that Bangalore, for example, has seen has remained out of Bengal’s reach. Reasons span from political strikes to the work culture. You could easily conclude that the picture is dismal.
Not so. There is an interesting group of entrepreneurs – both IT product and services – working in Bengal today, building core competencies and sizable companies that can provide the blueprint for the state’s development.
Abhishek Rungta has built IndusNet into a $5 million a year web and mobile development company that caters to digital agencies in the UK and elsewhere from Kolkata. Pallav Nadhani has built FusionCharts to a $7 million a year software company that sells charting products to customers all over the world, also from Kolkata. Bimal Patwari’s PinnacleCAD is at $6 million a year, offering outsourced CAD services to architectural and construction firms around the world from Durgapur, West Bengal, a small town in the heartland of the state. Srish Agarwal has built A1 Future into a $1.5 million company that caters to the world’s logo design needs by leveraging Bengal’s artistic bent. Finally, Arijit Bhattacharyya has also leveraged Bengal’s artistic talent and built Virtualinfocom into a $4.8 million graphics, animation, and gaming company.
These are entrepreneurs. Yes, small entrepreneurs who have not accepted political strikes and work culture issues as limitations. They have not waited for venture capital. Instead, they have taken destiny in their hands and gone ahead to build successful, profitable companies.
The bottom line for Bengal is that we need more entrepreneurs like the ones mentioned above. In short order, we need another 100 of them who can expand the pipeline by a few orders of magnitude.
There are certain advantages that Bengal has, the biggest being that the talent war and attrition nightmare that other regions face – especially the large metro areas – doesn’t rage as violently. Salaries and cost of living are also commensurately lower. Small towns like Durgapur, where Bimal Patwari has set up PinnacleCAD, can be greenfield opportunities for entrepreneurs to operate practically in zero-attrition environments. Srish Agarwal and Arijit Bhattacharyya can look forward to places like Shantiniketan to expand for arts talent. Siliguri, Burdwan, Howrah, and many other smaller towns all over Bengal can provide similar opportunities for expansion.
What’s more, Kolkata itself isn’t yet saturated. Although there has been an exodus of talent out of the city in the past two decades, these talented people may be interested in returning home. Some of them, perhaps, may also be interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
There is much talk of Infosys setting up a campus for 10,000 additional employees in Kolkata. Frankly, the same level can be achieved by 20 entrepreneurs building 500-person operations. In fact, I would like to see both happen at scale: Infosys, Wipro, and others setting up large operations, and in parallel, the entrepreneurs succeeding in building both product and services companies based in Bengal. Then, by 2020, the picture can change.
This blueprint of development needs to spread to other parts of India as well. To the large numbers of talented IT professionals who moved to Bangalore over the past 20 years, now may be a good time to consider returning to where you came from to ride this wave of distributed, democratic entrepreneurship. Build a 500- to 1,000-person outsourcing company in Indore, Cochin, or Guwahati, and larger outsourcers may offer to buy it. Build a product company in Coimbatore, Jaipur, or Bhubaneswar using local talent.
At a pan-India level, if 5,000 IT entrepreneurs spawn in various parts of the country, building products and services companies that become profitable and grow to more than $1 million each over the next three to four years, we will see a massive surge in India’s growth rate. Today, countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, and so on are competing with Indian outsourcers. By moving out to India’s vast hinterland, and out of the five major metros, Indian companies can once again compete in the low end. In the high end, India has developed more expertise and training infrastructure than the U.S. or Europe. That should offer a good competitive edge. When I wrote the Death of Indian Outsourcing, I immediately recommended this spreading out into the heartland. It is happening today, and the trend needs to accelerate. I have also supported the concept arbitrage of SaaS businesses that have been successful in the U.S.. That too is happening today on a larger scale.
The trends are all there. We just need mechanics for acceleration. I believe, 1M/1M is one of the acceleration strategies. We’re training lots of entrepreneurs today. But of course, we’re not yet training 5,000 entrepreneurs in India.
We’d like to.
Related Reading: Building India’s Entrepreneurship Pipeline