The Billion Dollar Indian Dilemma

Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.
~ Steve Jobs

Of late, a lot of people have been discussing about how long would it be before Indian startups hit the billion dollar club more often. More importantly, can India actually deliver billion dollar companies? I am glad that Indian startups have atleast become worthy enough for suits to discuss topics like these. Mainstream media writes about startups often now, startup events look more like mela these days, accelerators continue to show up at an accelerating pace – all these are great signs.

But you know what is more exciting? Seeing the Flipkart delivery boy everyday in my building, without fail.

Innovation creates BIG opportunities, not cash flows
Of course, we want billion dollar companies. And, I want mine to be one of them. Let’s face it though – do we have it in us to create such businesses? Billion dollar businesses are not created by companies that keep themselves busy with cash flows and targets based on a 5 year revenue projection plan. Instead, these are companies that innovate – every day, every minute. These are companies that thrive for perfection in what they do. That takes balls of steel, and a lot of time in a country like ours.

Image credit:

Image credit:

Who sets the tone for billion dollar companies? Founders, and then, Investors
For internet businesses, it take 10+ years in this country to go public. Leave it to the founders, and they will continue to create value – we have seen that in the past and we continue too see it in the current breed too. But, who creates disproportionate valuations? Investors. A typical valley based startup will “graduate” into the billion dollar club within 4-5 years. Can Indian VC’s spot and take early winners into that club? I don’t think so. We are waiting for some “success stories”. Who will create them in the first place? It takes us a Tiger (Flipkart) and Softbank (InMobi) to propel companies in that league. Indian VC’s were busy worrying about cash-flows, profitability and a bunch of other “sane concerns” when these companies were approaching them. When was the last time somebody sane innovated something? For now, let’s keep cutting tiny cheques at meager valuations and wait for companies to innovate. I wish it were simple to understand that starvation doesn’t lead to innovation. Well, valuation doesn’t lead to that either – but it creates room for it, for teams that are really worth it.

Founders, consumers and everyone else around us need to make this work
Before I put the blame on anybody else – I’ll put myself in the dock. Along with gazillion other cynics, I had the same viewpoint on Flipkart, as most others. Where are the profits? They kept saying look at my warehouses. But, we kept asking the same thing – where are the profits? Does it matter? No. They know how to win. That’s what matters. They were just a bit ahead of time, while they were doing (in)sane things that we could not understand. I am glad that some of us have matured. But, mind you friend, we are still a minority. And, unless that shift happens – good luck! Post Burrp, I lost faith in Indian consumer internet stories. Silly me, every single founder (working on a consumer product) who approached me for advice, got only one – run for cover and find a b2b angle in your idea. I pledge not to do that anymore. Also, thanks Sequoia for taking that leap of faith in Zomato.

Is it end of the road? Hell, NO! We WILL create billion dollar companies
More importantly, we will create stories – far more impactful than our global counterparts. Why? Because our heart is where it should be – in the right place. It takes time to build large companies. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to disrupt existing businesses. Atleast the new breed has that resolve. Time will tell how many of us will get there, but we are surely not giving up. We will push ourselves to the limit. Some have already started to shine –

I can see a change already. A lot more needs to happen though. I have chosen not to wait for it. How about you? I say, let’s build valuable companies – together.

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Latest Comments

  1. Harisankar P S says:

    I would say market is the more important thing, if Indian Internet based startups concentrate on US or Europian markets there is a much more chance to touch the Billion $ mark.

    • Rohit Kabra says:

      There isn’t a single Chinese startup that made their fortune by going after other markets. And it seems like they (from alibaba to weibo) have done pretty well by keeping the majority of their business at home. and why shouldn’t they considering the size of their market.

      india is pretty big too… why go outside? because the people aren’t ready here yet? infrastructure? as an american entrepreneur in Delhi I’m betting pretty big against that.

  2. KRD Pravin says:

    Avlesh a very well written article. I have worked as innovation consultant and what you say about TIME does apply to mid/big companies as well. They would want instant results. The cliche (and appropriate one) fits perfectly here – question of short term Vs the long term.

    What you talk about (balls of steel) is something right as the returns are not guaranteed in expensive R&D (whether medical science, IT or Manufacturing). To add fuel to the fire is regular patent trolling just search infringement and you would fine multi million dollar suits. But should it stop any company to say ok lets concentrate on Today (cashflow) and forget tomorrow (new offerings e.g. innovation)?

    There needs to be a balance in thinking of tomorrow and delivering today too. That requires, really, balls of steel!

  3. Ravi says:

    Screw the VC’s. Look at Zoho

  4. Akshat says:

    We can go on and on about the lack of a billion dollar company and look for reasons for it. We can blame founders. We can blame VCs. But all those don’t mean anything.

    What is important is where are the companies with traction. Where are the companies doing truly innovative things. If you can find those companies, then I am sure they will grow to billion dollar companies. Until then we can keep writing such articles.

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