50 Shades of Indian Startup Ecosystem In 2016.

2016 has been a mindblowing year for Indian startups. Layoffs, Lack of funding, Falling unicorns were the key highlights.

In no particular order, sharing my perspective /takeaways / rants around all that happened with Indian startups in 2016.

  1. #PRshit : The more media coverage, the more PR shit (it’s a loop). In 2016, PR won over (mediocre) product. But thankfully, customers don’t care much and the result is that most of the startups are in a deep shit state right now.
  2. Unicorns have now realised that they were just a paper-corn. Most of them are challenged by their global counterparts.
  3. Govt. : I have said this earlier and I will say it again : The govt should stay away. But in this case, it won’t. Expect scams and favouritism in the coming days.
  4. Welcome the new mafia groups. Every “body” is rallying around the government in a race to acquire the rights of all things related to startups / policies. This is dangerous – but it’s the reality. Everyone wants to ‘own’ and ‘influence’ the policy without giving a fuck to startups / their interest.
    PS : Startup ecosystem is the new IPL and the govt. will own the rights.
  5. Digital India : So now, we have 2 India. Digital and Analog India (one that deals in cash). And the two shall only meet in the …loo?
  6. Funding is down by almost 50%. Unicorns are struggling – but that’s a good sign. There was too much of easy money.
  7. Bootstrapping is still underrated. I don’t know why! (we are 100% bootstrapped).
  8. Investors : there are 2 faces investors have these days. One on twitter (where they talk a lot of sense) and another one is the real face where they are still investing in *karts and *apps. Which one to believe?
  9. Tiger and Softbank’s exit from India has sent the wrong signals to the world. A lot depends on 2017 exit stories (we need to see some high value exits for the world to keep investing in Indian tech startups).
  10. Balance of Power has shifted to investors. It was with startups till 2015, but now investors are calling it a shot. #SadButTrue.
  11. Indian born startups Vs. Phoren companies. Expect the battle to get uglier and this will also see the rise in mashup of political agenda and tech (think election budget and traditional business houses).
  12. Edutech is hot thanks to Byju’s. For others, it’s business as usual.
  13. Foodtech is over. Suddenly, investors realised that there was actually no tech in foodtech and all the 2014-15 money just went down the shithole.
  14. Healthtech is as hot as 2010.
  15. Fintech = payment wallet or lending. Heck ! It has to be a lot more than this.
  16. Policy / Tech / Startups : they are all mixed up now. Wherever there is money, expect this to happen (read point number 4). #GoldRush
  17. Startups went back on promises made to freshers. These are all good hearted founders, but made all the expensive mistakes (with TVCs/costly ads), and the bakras are freshers or poor vendors or employees who have been laid off for no fault of theirs.
  18. Trusting startups has become tough – as a customer, as a candidate and even as a partner.

  19. Startup journalism is the new swag. Except that we have more journos than founders.
  20. Startup journalism is pretty much over. It’s either about sucking up (all good stories) OR bringing startups down (just fuck them). No perspective building. No questions are being asked.
  21. There is a rush among startup and tech journos to explore future (of <insert the new jargon>) or explore the past (numbers/predictions/heck-i-told-you moment), but nobody wants to look at the present and ask (tough) questions.
  22. Hiring is down. Thank god – Flipkart, Inmobi and the likes are under funding pressure. This has made it (comparatively) easy for not so well funded startups to hire good talent.
  23. Great employees are bored. Totally!!!
    Nothing exciting is happening at unicorns and similar companies. Unless your job is to get creative wall painting done by the team (i.e. HR) or to buy media inventory, you seem to be totally bored !! The biggest beneficiary? Well funded phoren companies who are poaching these fellas.
  24. There are vey very few new sexy business ideas right now in the ecosystem.
  25. Many spaces are taken. Investors are totally clueless. Founders too are struggling for great ideas.
  26. We have more startup co-working spaces than the number of (serious) startups.
  27. The incubators and accelerators have turned into accelerators and incubators respectively. What’er that means! TLDR : Nobody knows why they exist.
  28. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes for 10 seconds. Go for a pee.
  29. As an ecosystem, we have taken ourselves too seriously. Everybody is too serious – there is very little fun left.
  30. As an ecosystem, we have stopped talking products. We have stopped creating ‘hacks-for-the-fun-of-it’. And I feel very sad about this.
  31. Very few startups are solving hard problems. Even trying to.
  32. Very few investors are even interested in startups that are solving hard problems. If you ever invested in a foodtech company, count yourself out of this list.
  33. Many investors now claim to be looking for startups that are solving hard problems or focused on revenues. Sure – just that it looks like having Nirupa Roy playing Sunny Leone’s mother. Logically right, but fundamentally a #mismatch.
  34. Traction metrics have gotten tough now. Earlier it used to be downloads, pageviews etc. Everything was bought – and now, there isn’t a lot of money left to spend on product/tech.  #WhatTheGoat ! Life is a bitch, you see.
  35. Startup Heroes have fallen. Very badly. There are very few role models to look upto.
  36. Rahul Yadav has gotten a new (advisory) job. Media houses forgot to report Deepak Ravindran’s marriage anniversary. Oh man! Sad that media isn’t so active these days (refer to point #20).
  37. Startup events: Indian ecosystem has more startup events than the number of serious startups.
  38. Data : 2016 had more startup awards than startups exits.
  39. Most startups exits were acquihires. Quikr made the most of this time.
  40. Investors are selling off their portfolio companies to each other. It’s almost like a ‘year end sale’. No – don’t blame them. Most of the founders deserved it.
  41. Hackathons are dead. They are hireathons now.
  42. Local language is super hot. Just that we don’t have enough founders taking a shot at it.

  43. Bots : Nobody knows what it is. But everyone wants to build/invest in one. It’s the new mobeel-only phenomena.
  44. Clearly, product management is not a thing among Indian startups. Growth hacking = SEO / ASO etc, but not product thinking. Name the top 5 *made-in-India* products launched this year.
  45. Indian founders learnt all the wrong things from China and Silicon Valley. Hustling from China and fund raising smarts from Silicon Valley. Frankly, China is about deeper consumer behaviour understanding and SV is a lot about growth hacking/scale thinking.
  46. Top industries facing the impact of slowdown in startup space are : PR firms, Interior designers and Hiring consultants and print/TV media.
  47. In 2015, inspired by Rocket Internet model, several funds and mafia houses came up with a formula to run a startup (and make some serious quick money). Thankfully, the markets don’t care and all these stories are over now (almost!).
  48. In 2016, there is a lot of dirt cleanup that has happened in the Indian startup space. But then, govt’s intervention and new policies / influencers will result in a much bigger mess. Brace yourself.
  49. Closing Thoughts : Real founders are still executing silently. Execute silently. The execution quality will speak for itself.
  50. In the end, all I can say is that we all get the startup ecosystem we deserve.
    You want people to help you – then help others. You want a feedback on your product – share your honest feedback with others.

#PayItForward.

Here is wishing you all a Happy 2017 ! #ShineOn

#KeepWalking.

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6 comments
  1. Lot of excellent observations. I find it a bit casual to take it seriously. But yeah the message is clear. I am hoping 2016 taught a lot of important lessons to the startup world and more sanity will come in 2017. However, its the craziness that keeps it amazing. No?

  2. Well written. However, I do see quite a few bootstrapped startups around, specially in Bangalore – Maybe they are not in the news that often so people dont know about them yet.

  3. Product is THE KEY.
    Check http://www.c-zentrix.com. We compete with Avaya Genesys and Cisco neck to neck. Its a Made-In-India (not make in India) product and we are mentioned in Gartner 2016.
    Best part is we are profitable and we have still not taken any investment yet.

  4. The next big bubble burst is in Indian Startup Ecosystem! And God save industries aligning most on these like: PR, MEDIA, Incubators/Accelerators, Mushroom Mentor Firms etc. etc.. Every one is becoming mentor/Incubator, Accelerator & everyone is starting up!

    At the end one thing which makes anything win or loose is business & revenue!
    Biggies like FK, SD & PAYTM is actually screwing up the minds of youths of the country, who are taking the bet to start something in expectation of funding & valuations!

    Businesses like Bookmyshow, MMT, ClearTrip etc. who were doing fine are being killed with the companies giving cash backs and killing them. Its actually will result in no revenue at the end & high business/revenues losses!

    A famous saying, dedicated to Paytm: Hum toh dubenge hi sanam, Tumhe bhi le dubenge!

    Young Entrepreneurs should avoid going Me Too! And this Me Too is not going to help guys in any way, anytime! Build businesses which will result in revenue!

  5. Running a co-working space myself, would like to add to 26 that there are even more co-working space aggregators than co-working spaces themselves 🙂

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