Every other day, we have news of an Indian startup scam being unsurfaced. Some were misreporting sales (Mojocare), some like Gomechanic went to an extent to manufacture numbers which didn’t even exist.
And ofcourse, there is BYJUs, India’s most successful unicorn startup(?) where the board and auditors have resigned due to irregularities.
What’s really happening?
Well, the after-effect of covid-gasm.
The FED printed lot of money during covid.
The money, instead of reaching the hungry or the poor reached oilgarchs across the world (surprise surprise!!) and some of them were startup founders (via VCs ofcourse).
And then, the nude party started.
The money, however came with some strings: blazing growth being the most important one.
Almost none of the startup founders can match those expectations so when the money tap was closed, almost all of them looked like failures.
To expect the founders to not accept free money is fallacy.
To expect VCs to not invest in these assets when there is an overflow of money is also incorrect.
But..the bitch called market
Unfortunately, the market doesn’t care.
Your customers do not care whether you are well funded or a bootstrapped one. They just want their problems to be solved.
The market is what it is.
The market is right. Always.
Market has no patience for one’s cool shit.
And the truth is that the Indian market is quite small – especially for consumer products.
At max, the market size for (digital) consumer products (i.e. people who will buy your shiny new cool and sexy product) stands somewhere between 15-20 crores ONLY.
Which means, 99% of Indian consumer startups who are portraying the 100 crores + worth of TAM (Total Addressable Market) are..either dreaming or lying, depending is your choice of words.
Question: When the actual market is really small and you know that you can’t generate the revenue promised during your massive fundraise, what do you do (in the short term)?
YOU DON’T BUILD A PRODUCT (too time consuming, won’t go with the fundraising pitch)
YOU BUILD A BRAND VIA ADVERTISING (TO SHOW HOW SUCCESSFUL YOU ARE)
YOU MANUFACTURE NUMBERS.
YOU DO CREATIVE ACCOUNTING.
YOU SELL SECONDARIE$$$$
WHEN CAUGHT, YOU SAY SORRY
(i mean the all-caps).
This is exactly what has happened with the Indian startup ecosystem – we decided not to build products, but just went big on fundraising PR and everyone celebrated (including the media which feasted on their advertising budget).
Now, the truth is out and we all are looking for a bakra. Just like Adipurush team has put the dialogue writer, Manoj Muntashir to fend all the memes.
PS: The startup ecosystem has yet to find that bakra, but there is always WhatTheGoat
And Yet, It’s TIME TO BUILD!
There will always be two types of founders: one that starts because there is an opportunity (oh, everyone is doing CBC/edtech, then web3…wait..it’s now AI), and there is another lot – the one who believes in the mission and uses an opportunity to fuel that mission, get closer to solving the customer problems.
Depending on your ethos and ethics, choose what you do (nobody is going to question you on your choices anyways).
The market is widely open for new products, new experiences and thanks to AI, you can now accelerate a lot of customer problem solving in a much smarter way.
It’s time to build, grow and repeat. With a lot of honesty.
As always, I am doing that.