“Aren’t we in need of better support structures for startups?”
In 1987, I was asked to open a branch for Mudra Communications, a growing agency of that time. My boss, an outstanding Manager, asked me a question – “What do entrepreneurs do when they start up?” Having been an employee all my life, I waited for him to guide me.
“They are so keen to succeed in business; they will even pawn their wife’s jewels if the need presents itself. I want you to have that attitude even if you are only a Branch Manager.” I took his advice seriously and threw myself into the venture. I ran around looking for office space, getting a telephone connection, finding clients, finding people…. The biggest challenge was getting a telephone connection and I had to move heaven and earth and do stuff that I am ashamed of today. Finally, the telephone connection came, months later, and I had a celebration with my only employee, the peon! If I had not had the same determination, I would have given up. Today, things may be a lot easier to start up especially if you are a large enterprise or an MNC. The vacillating government policy is hurting the Walmarts and the Vodafones of the world. So, one important segment, which is large industry with huge investments, still needs approvals and sanctions, and faces red tape which seems a dark, blood red. One can only hope that there will be a change in government and thinking soon.
Are you in technology?
The next big category seems to be technology-based startups that are making a beeline for Bangalore, which is one of the top destinations in the world. Thankfully, they don’t need the government. They go to the large telecom companies for connectivity, generate their own power, and pretty much lead a Utopian life. Here too, when they need large tracts of land for large development centres, they realise that they are in India. Infosys had to move to different geographies to derisk and look for welcoming government hands. Yet, while there is a market, talented people, and great ideas, one must concede too that the support structures by way of mentoring funding, etc are still in its development stage. Of course, there are shining examples like Flipkart and Myntra which are pushing more people down the entrepreneurial route but there are too few CIIs, TIEs, and NSR cells in the country. I am aware too that many of us are still reluctant to join startups and are looking for fat salary cheques in big brands. I am sure this too will change soon.
Here comes the son
The third big area for startups is youngsters with ideas of starting pubs, restaurants, online services… you name it. Today’s youngsters don’t want to follow the tried and tested route that their parents followed. They belong to more affluent households and can take risks. I can cite the example of my son and his two friends who have full-time jobs. So, what do they do? In the weekend, they cater special biryani to their friends for parties and events and are quite well-recognised online. The opportunities seem enormous for today’s new avatar of the mom and pop.
Yes, the increasing affluence, the acceptance of technology, both internet and mobile-based, and a growing population of people below 35 infuse one with hope that what is currently a good start will gather momentum and move to a completely different level. Are the people who are running the country listening?
Ramanujam Sridhar is the Founder CEO of brand-comm, a communications consulting company, and a visiting faculty at various management institutes
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