With the change economic eco-systems, the scene in the market place seems to change too, with more people opting to be their own bosses. Yashasvini Rajeshwar talks to a few youngsters to find out the how and why of the changing equations.
As the world exists today, start-ups are the new ‘in’ thing, mushrooming in every corner of the city and country, headed by young graduates who are out to prove their mettle. They want their independence, they want their shot at making a difference and they want to stray off the trodden path. Whether it be innovative solutions, unsolved problems or more efficient alternatives to existing situations, today’s 20-somethings do it all.
What is driving this exodus to independent employment? Says Atishe Chordia, CEO of doodleblue Innovations which specialises in mobile application design and development, “Technology is opening the door to opportunity like never before, enabling quicker access to information.” Yet, apart from independent factors like technology, it seems equally important to credit the change in the fabric of mindsets itself. “Educational institutions today are encouraging students to take up entrepreneurship after college and so, the ecosystem is changing in India,” explains Vineet Neeraj, co-founder of Kobster — a start-up offering all office needs to institutions, who fell prey to the entrepreneurship bug while still in college himself.
Finally, enough stress cannot be laid upon the practicalities of it. As Surjith Singh, Chief Experimental Officer at Niqotin (an Enterprise Application service provider), explains, “start-up costs are very low today, especially for technological companies. When you can be an entrepreneur from your bedroom, why not give it a shot?”
Yet, as youngsters all around the city will vouch, interest and enthusiasm do not float companies and keep them alive. Support systems, quantitatively and qualitatively, are equally essential to keep the flame alive and lit. An understanding family, a pool of mentors and unfailing confidence seem to be the bare essentials across the board, with specifics varying from one start up to the next. “Simply put, mentorship gives perspectives,” states Keerthana George, who launched Cafeholics, a coffee shop targeting people in their 30s and 40s. “At Kobster, we started tying up with vendors and built a website for our customers in the initial stages.
This went a long way,” reminisces co-founder Murali G. Add to the mix a set of likeminded people, and your idea is one step closer to reality. “Legal experts and financial institutions are very important support systems as well,” explains Karthik R,, the third brain behind Kobster. “Before companies are ready to reach out to angel investors and venture capitalists, we need small amounts of money in the early stages and this could make all the difference.”
As the entrepreneurship arena in the country heats up and more contenders join the fray, there is more attention given to the ‘Indian’ context of the trend. Are we a risk-taking lot or do we prefer to err on the side of caution? While Atishe believes starting up is in our history (“earlier it was to set up a shop, now it is a skill-based shop!”), Pavan Thatha (Co-Founder and CEO at ArrayShield, a security product startup) believes that it is the result of shifting role models. “Youngsters today are looking up to the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter, all of which had young names behind them. Suddenly, it seems like we can too.”
As the minds at Kobster chime, “the current generation is not satisfied with nine-to-five jobs anymore”.
Finally, as the entrepreneurship bug becomes endemic amongst the Indian youth, there automatically crop up comparisons with the West. Questions of whether we are good enough, what we should aspire to be and which skills/practices are the needed import of the hour start becoming the focus of conference conversations around the country. Atishe calls for cheap capital, proactive groups in the sector and early technology adopters, while Pavan believes that entrepreneurship should be introduced in education through books like Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner's Manual.
As more and more youngsters take to the entrepreneurship way, there are platforms like The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and NEN that come out to provide the much needed mentorship support. “TiE has been a pillar of support in this whole ecosystem,” elaborates Surjith. “They conduct regular workshops and we learn ways to prune our business model and get funding.
Vineet elaborates on such support systems, speaking of the annual Pitch Fest. “Events like that give us an opportunity to validate our ideas with VCs and even attract funds in the future. Add this to platforms like HeadStart and Filter Coffee where entrepreneurs bounce off ideas with each other, and we understand whether we are on the right track or not.”
The scene as it stands today is simple. More youngsters decide to get their hands dirty and jump into the deep end, “armed with confidence in their idea, gut feeling screaming to be listened to and the willingness to take that first risk” as Keerthana says. Thus, more support systems are emerging and individuals are ready to throw their hats in as well. Which is the chicken and which is the egg in this scenario is up for debate, but it only shows to one thing – the next generation is not ready to take ‘no’ for an answer, not ready to play by others’ rules and definitely not ready to watch the fun.
If you are an entrepreneur interested in events like Pitch Fest, check out www.tiechennai.org for details and to register.
The one thing I wish I had heard early on in my career is ‘Think Big, Dream Big and You can do it’. I grew up being told how important it was to be a topper. I admired many leaders and was reverential to them, like a child in a classroom or a student to a professor. I later realised that fearlessness is important to keep challenging oneself and the only reason to be afraid is if we commit a crime or compromise on our values. I was told to take one step at a time and be careful, but later I learnt that each step I take can be a big step and several of us together can take even bigger steps. Now I know, if anyone can do it, so can I. - Lakshmi Narayan, President, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), Chennai
Why are one’s 20s the best time to start up as an entrepreneur? One of the most important requisites to venture into entrepreneurship is the ability and willingness to take risks. When you are in your 20s, most often, there are no worries about children, or a mortgage. Even marriage is unlikely. All these factors increase the financial risk and so, without these individuals are more prepared to plunge into entrepreneurship. The risk of failure exists when one starts up but for someone in their 20s, this failure is a valuable experience that s/he can take into his/her next venture or employment. Also, for all those 20-somethings who want to start up today, there is more support than ever before. - R. Subramaniam Iyer, Executive Director, SmartKapital
If I were to pinpoint the best takeaway that entrepreneurship has given me, it will have to be the ability to implement ideas. When I launched my first company in 1980, I had worked for nine years and had no management background. I could have given up after my first shot but I wanted to try again. Ten months into the launch of my second venture, I was drawing ten times the salary I would have otherwise. Entrepreneurship allows you to shape your future. It lets you take a risk, choose the best idea and act on it. All your learning happens that much faster. As an entrepreneur, you develop as a person and as a professional. It lends new meaning to teamwork. Essentially, it is a way of life; probably the best way to learn about life. - Dorai Thodla, Founder, iMorph Inc