I arrived in Bangalore, India at about 5 a.m. Thursday morning after taking two consecutive red eye connections from Miami. At the airport I bumped into my first Geeks On A Plane (GOAP) geek, Connor Hood, founder of Wahooly, Inc from Austin, Texas. Wahooly crowdsources brand evangelists for companies in exchange for capital.
Being in India was a surreal experience. The country is the second largest country in the world with a population of 1.2 billion people. Experiencing things in real life is never quite the same as reading a book or watching a documentary. Until I was able to actually see it with my own eyes, I didn’t realize how big a part socio-economics played in India’s potential market opportunity. I knew about the caste system in India, its history and geography but all the marketing benchmarks I lived by didn’t apply. I realized that in order to truly understand the potential opportunities within this country, there was no better way to learn about the cultural differences than with like-minded geeks from GOAP, which was founded by Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups.
When I arrived at the hotel, I sent a group text through Group.me and within minutes Connor and I were joined by Sean Percival, CEO of Wittlebee, and Dave McClure who had also caught early morning flights. Sean’s company sells kids clothing on a monthly subscription model which has traditionally been known for things like Wine or Cheese of the month clubs. The concept was interesting to me because I had recently been introduced to some of the folks at ShoeDazzle! and found the business model extremely interesting considering the huge changes that the retail industry has seen in the United States. I asked Sean his thoughts on how this model could potentially be applied to other categories in the space since he had grown his customer base to over 5k orders a month recurring in a year’s time. He said that the products you’re selling have to be “must haves, and not a nice to have.” I thought that made a lot of sense.
After breakfast and quick orientation, we started our venture off to FusionCharts. As I got into the Geek Bus, it was still hard to believe that I was India. With so much to learn in so little time, I decided I needed to make a plan. I decided I wanted to focus on learning about emerging start-ups and innovation in India and how I could apply that knowledge to help foster growth in the city I live in, Miami, Florida.
We had a Q&A with Pallav Nadhani at his Bangalore office. Pallav is the CEO of FusionCharts which is one of India’s fastest growing start-ups with over 20k customers in 118 countries. Pallav had a lot of interesting insight on India’s global market opportunities as well as the current social economic challenges that exist within the country. I briefly spoke with him about how I was trying to grow the Miami start-up community and we compared notes. He said that he felt that one of the most common connections was that cities and countries alike need to realize that entrepreneurs have enough challenges as it is and anything that a municipality or government can do to fast-track certain bureaucracies would be essential to fostering growth. A lot of governments focus on things like tax credits which is great but being able to accomplish things quickly from an entrepreneurs stand-point is key since they are generally working against the clock and have a limited runway.
Pallav said that one of the biggest challenges that start-ups faced in India was what he referred to as a “Series A Crunch” which meant that start-ups were finding it easier to get seed capital but were hitting road blocks when it came to raising a Series A round of financing. I chimed in and told Pallav that I thought that was also a problem that existed in other countries as well as the United States. I asked Dave his thoughts on the matter and he said that the “crunch” can be viewed as a good thing or bad. It’s good because investors and entrepreneurs make smaller mistakes, whereas an angel investor might only commit $50k versus $5 million which was typical investment a few years ago.
Pallav continued to talk about some of the other challenges and said that people don’t quite understand the overall global problem in India: adoption is slow and sales cycles are very long. He said it’s essential to have a blueprint and know where you’re headed, what problem you’re going to solve and create a solution. Some of the other GOAP geeks asked questions regarding the work culture in India as it related to the tech community and how it compared to the U.S.
Pallav said that the culture is very different in India. Your typical entry-level developer out of college makes approximately $6k/year. There are plenty of human resources in India but finding true brand evangelists is difficult and there aren’t too many. Some of the GOAP members suggested that you build brand ambassadors from within and referred to U.S. companies that have done just that.
On my way over to RedBus, I had an opportunity to speak with Dave McClure and ask him a few questions regarding his background and how he got started with 500 Startups. Dave spoke about entrepreneurship in an open and humbling way. He said that when he got paid from the PayPal exit, he took about $300k and invested it into startups since he wasn’t too sure about the stock market at the time. He bet right and although the name was derived from his previous company, he’s about to reach 500 startups very soon.
When we arrived at RedBus, India’s largest bus ticket company with the highest bus operator partners and largest distribution, I was amazed to find how systematically designed RedBus was and how they had disrupted the bus ticketing system. It reminded me of Uber meets Stubhub. The founders are currently working on ways of incorporating their technology with the public transit system. This would provide insight into things such as frequency and schedules for public transit in real-time.
YourStory.in Technology Conference
YourStory.in is India’s leading and most comprehensive online platform for startups and entreprenuers, dedicated to promote the startup ecosystem. They held a welcome event to host GOAP in Bangalore.
At the fireside chat, Shradha asked Dave what he felt was the most important investment criteria. Dave’s answer was simple but brilliant. You need a hacker (developer), designer (product designer) and hustler (business developer/marketer). India has both hackers and can source designers she said but there was still a great need for hustlers. Dave added that venture capital in the traditional stage has changed quite a bit, the whole perceived notion of investors being on Wall Street has changed and it doesn’t matter whether you’re in shorts or not. You have to get out and surround yourself with the right people to find the right deals.
I got a quick minute to speak with Shradha about India’s growing economy and told her that I was from Miami. We discussed several things and how in some ways India was at a global scale what Miami was to the United States. She said that it was important to bring the hackers, designers and hustlers like Dave said together to collaborate in Miami to create the ecosystem that is required for innovation to succeed.
BOALT ‘Geeks On A Plane’ India 2013 Blog Series:
- Geeks On A Plane: Overview
- Geeks On A Plane: India 2013 KickOff
- Geeks On A Plane: Bangalore
- Geeks On A Plane: StartupWeekend
- Geeks On A Plane: Mumbai
- Geeks On A Plane: India 2013 WrapUp