50 Shades of Indian Startup Ecosystem. 2018 Edition


I am back with the 2018 edition of startup ecosystem*. 2018 was a great year for the ecosystem, thanks to funding and in general, a lot of exuberance in the space. In no particular order, here are my observations.

2018 is a milestone year for the startup ecosystem. Not because of comeback of the funding season, but because of the drama shows which involved #metoo as well as extortion case. This, I believe completes the circle for the ecosystem as it has moved beyond chotu motu news and has taken a bigger stage.

Lately, there is a lot of kochikooing happening between investors and founders on Twitter. I, generally read it as a bad sign for the ecosystem. Expect some course correction in 2019.

Funding of Indian EdTech companies (across the board) suggests that one should not solve the real problem (which is of fixing the education system), but instead make people jump the well (sharmaji ka ladka to first baar hi IAS nikala..aur tum idiot ! Now, take this app and study!!!) really fast.

Podcasting is the new blogging. Especially for VCs. And frankly it is boring. Not because of the content, but because of the intent.

A lot many people in the startup ecosystem are looking out for a job. The unfortunate part is most startups aren’t equipped to handle senior leadership roles. Hence most of these well experienced folks will end up joining MNCs.

Naval Ravikant is the (unclaimed) guru among the founders and geeks. Of course, he deserves it (see!), but I guess there are way too many people who will now try to copy his style.

And most of these Navalcopycats will now be seen on LinkedIn.

The one big realisation I have had in 2018 is that TikTok has shown the hidden talent among Indians. Not just for the dance and acting moves, but also for copying the ideas. Many startups emerged copying TikTok and those who failed to scale, ended up shouting ‘We will not do (soft) porn ever’.

This year saw more startup awards than angel funding.

On Cycle rentals, this is what I said last year:

Cycle rental is the ‘NextBigWhat’ for Indian VCs. They all are taking their LPs for a ride.

And this year, Ofo shutdown its India business and Zoomcar has shutdown Pedl (what’s up with Ola pedal)?

50 Shades of Indian Startups : 2017 Edition
50 Shades of Indian Startups : 2017 Edition

BHARAT: The one word given to a bunch of new Internet users whom we don’t know, won’t speak to and don’t really care about. But, we believe we can solve for them. And we show a lot of porn to them – and call it stickiness.

Some startups are trying to solve the real Bharat problem of providing education, healthcare to the needy. They won’t ever raise the capital needed to scale as this is a *hard problem* and not a fund-worthy opportunity.

I hope Bill Gates and others fund such startups who are solving the real shit.

I still stick by my dialogue from #WhatTheGoat web series, “Great startups pretend to solve, but never solve”. Solving is a minimum 20 years effort (if you are lucky and are passionate) and is a boring process.

Funding mafia is making a comeback. It’s almost like in 2015. How does the mafia work? Well, I invest in your startup – I help you raise funding. I acquire your company. My money gets tripled and you too make some money. Value creation? #Bhaksaale

Govt’s #StarutpIndia programme: govt has sent more emails regd hackathons and SoftBank challenge than actually create any value to the startup ecosystem. I have said this earlier and I say it again: Govt’s job is to enable the ecosystem and not ru(i)n it.

2018 is the year of unfolding of the biggest truth in the startup ecosystem. That is, accelerators have now become co-working spaces. This to me, is the most useful thing which happened because accelerators anyways never added any value. Most of it was real estate and pivoting to one’s core benefit is a sign of maturity.

Corporate accelerators, except for some are a great CSR activity. Founders get to eat nice lunch (at the cafeteria) and company gets to show some swag (by supporting startups). Nothing less. Nothing more.

Anybody who says ’startups are more matured these days’ is basically trying to tell you that ‘fuck you. I don’t get this new breed of AI and ML companies’.

Foodtech is done danaaadan dan. A quick forecast: One of the well known food startup is shutting down in Q1 of 2019.

There is very little tech in food tech. It is brand + operations business – i.e. usual dhandha story. Maybe it doesn’t deserve so much hype.

Healthtech: There are more Cultfits than CCD / sq meter. But that’s a good disruption. Beyond this, there is not much of tech driven disruption which has happened in health tech.

Please go and pee. Will you?

Many consumer spaces are taken. 2019 will see a lot of snacky consumer brands. Will you have an appetite for it? Let’s see.

Founders have run out of ideas.

And Chinese know it.

Expect Chinese platform-driven startups to totally own the consumer attention space (just like TikTok/Newsdog) by the end of 2019. How will this impact the Elections? I don’t know.

Every startup in India is AI and ML startup now. In 2019 they will also add VR to it.

There are two kinds of people in the business ecosystem now: Those who have built a solid profitable business and those who haven’t done much. The two do not meet or talk to each other.

LinkedIn is the new Twitter when it comes to startup babas.

There are no startup heroes/heroines in this country. Everyone is tainted. No heroes. No religion. No riots.

Consumer loyalty? Shifting from Paytm to Phonepe to every damn fin app. Nobody owns the customer. They all own a transaction. GMV STILL IS

Building a global SAAS business? Don’t raise funding from Indian VCs. Except for few, most still won’t appreciate you.

Now, please take a deep breath and drink some Russian Vodka.

The caste system in startup ecosystem has grown as profusely as the caste related discussion at the national level. Idea/product doesn’t matter as long as you belong to the ‘upper case’ (i.e. IITs/IIMs/Harvard etc)

2019 will be the year of global companies launching in India and forcing Indian companies to think beyond PR.

#PRshit : The more media coverage, the more PR shit (it’s a loop). In 2018, PR won over (mediocre) product. But thankfully, customers don’t care much and the result is that most of the startups are going to be in a deep shit state in 2019 (thanks to point #34).

Trusting startups has become tough – as a customer, as a candidate and even as a partner.

The biggest disservice well-funded founders have done to the employees is of fancy title (I am not even saying fancy salary is a disservice). Most Indian startups have hired elephants to do a goat’s job. Fancy titles gives a wrong notion to the (boring and less impactful) job you are doing.
Once you are out in the market, you will realise that this fancy title is actually going to hurt you to get a meaningful job. It’s almost like treating employees as kids, giving them lollypops (i.e. un-deservingly high salary) and calling them ‘world’s best kiddo’. It’s only a matter of time that these kiddos realise how ugly/normal they are and importantly, existence of the outside world.

Great talented 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.

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.

You still around? Thank you for reading till this. You must be seriously bored in life! ? Thanks for the company, though!

Startup Heroes have fallen. Very badly. There are very few role models to look upto.

Startup events: Indian ecosystem has more startup events than the number of serious startups.

(Startup) media continued with its lick, suck and fuck policy. No questions are being raised. Everybody is praised. Fuck companies, when they don’t have anymore $$ to offer.

Hackathons are dead. Serious hackers don’t even go there to pee.

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. And by the way, we had close to $9BN funding raised this year by startups.

Mirzapur and Sacred Games are a display of desi story telling. It takes Netflix to enable this (please feel free to read between the lines).

Startup failure is still a big taboo. Most of the M&A deals in India were of failed startups, but as a society/ecosystem, we don’t respect failure. We fake failure as a success to look good. And then, we talk about failure and why we should respect and accept failure.
Some #metashit.

Indian unicorn (and unicorn – -) founders continue to be surrounded with PR teams. They refuse to come out and talk / admit mistakes. This is #shitsad.

The next breed of great companies will not start from Bangalore or other metros. Hungry dogs are elsewhere.

There is life beyond startups. Many founders are realising this. Most don’t. They don’t see a value in interacting with SBI waale sharmaji or folks from non-tech space.

As they say: You are not your job. I say: You are not your startup. Do not take yourself so seriously. Go meet a lot of people / have fun/ learn to laugh at yourself (and your startup). Give it your best shot and keep learning.

Have a great 2019!

If you are still around, you can subscribe to the NextBigWhat newsletter and feel something great coming out of this rant.

*: Please see: These are my observations written over a bad mix of Vodka and Rum – i.e. a mix of reality and sarcasm, so read it and apply your own lens. You can read my 2016 and 2017 editions if you are totally vela.

Leave a Reply