By Sandhya Ramachandran
We caught up with Nivin Joseph and Aashish Ramamurthy to exchange stories about the Bangalore startup ecosystem and to draw the right picture on entrepreneurship.
Nivin Joseph (CEO at TutuOwl and Community Manager at Tribe Theory-Bangalore) and Aashish Ramamurthy (Business Development Manager at Campmonk) are full of stories about Bangalore’s startup ecosystem. Nivin fondly recollects the impact of the TIE community in Bangalore and the Construkt festival. Aashish talks about how the Nasscom Initiative and the Under-25 summit inspiring him to join a startup. But both of them agree that the Bangalore startup ecosystem was not always booming like this. We caught up with them over a chat to dive deep into understanding the Silicon Valley of India.
“In 2012 or 2013, most people were very skeptical about joining startups. You couldn’t tell your own parents that you were joining a startup. They’d freak out and ask you for a good reason why despite being qualified, you are joining a startup instead of a Bosch, Philips or Microsoft,” explains Nivin.
But, today things have changed. Bangalore has grown from being just a corporate hub to a startup hub. Aashish believes that this was because of the startup trend of giving over taking. “It happened because of the ecosystem that was built around conferences and networking events. People were ready to help. Even if you’re young and new, you could reach out to mentors and incubators to grow. So, that simple thought of joining a startup became a virus in everybody’s mind. And today, it has become so easy to start building networks and gaining momentum like never before.”
Aashish believes that the abundant freelance talent and ease of availability of mentorship in Bangalore makes the city’s biggest attraction. And Nivin agrees– “How many people come from all around India to start something in Mumbai? Not many. But people come to Bangalore all the time to try to validate and execute their ideas. There are a lot of communities, ecosystems, coworking spaces, etc., built here. It is very easy to network and the resources are easy to find. Flipkart, Paytm, all these startups started out in Bangalore. Now they are all like the kings of Silicon Valley in India.”
Bangalore’s startup economy has grown in stages. It began with the e-commerce boom. It slowly paved way to food tech, fitness and outdoor sports. And today, the shared model is ruling the roost. “We have amazing traction for coliving, coworking and cloud kitchens,” Nivin shares.
“It is the time for consumer convenience startups,” explains Aashish. “Earlier, we used to go to a nearby restaurant and order. Today, the food comes to us because we have the convenience of sitting and ordering from wherever we are. All the brands have made convenience a product. A one-button-click-and-I-can-get-things-done model. People are paying for time and productivity and Bangalore has become a hub for these products. We even have a service to drop people from the metro station to within two kilometres’ distance.”
College entrepreneurship is yet another thriving feature in the Bangalore startup scene. The top engineering colleges boast of entrepreneurship cells fostering a lot of innovation in the college and connecting students to the startup ecosystem. Apart from conferences and meetups on the leadership level, Bangalore has opened up the ecosystem to have different levels of communities today. Some of these are extremely niche, catering only to growth hackers, program and product managers. Aashish feels that the Meetup platform has facilitated the building of these micro-communities in the last one year or so.
Nivin thinks startup events are invaluable to learn about pitching ideas, finding mentorship and building a network. However, he finds it laborious that one needs to attend multiple events discovered through a variety of platforms like BookMyShow, Events high, WhatsApp groups and Facebook Groups to even build a network. He laments the lack of a centralized startup ecosystem. “Unless you have the bargaining and negotiating power, like a WeWork, it is very hard to establish a central startup ecosystem. Hopefully this changes in the coming years,” he adds.
There is a strong need for structured entrepreneurial training in the country. “The legalities, building a viable product, validating one’s idea, understanding customer acquisition cost– these are the few things you need to know as an entrepreneur. This “improv” part of entrepreneurship is what we need more training on,” Nivin shares. He has the highest praise for Startup India x Upgrad’s online course on Entrepreneurship. But his personal mantra, he jokes, is “try, do, fail.”
But the Bangalore Government has been taking some initiatives. It works closely with the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a trade association of Indian Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing industry known for their program to impact ‘10000 Startups’ in India by 2023. Through this initiative, the Bangalore Government is aiding thousands of local startups, ensuring money flow into entrepreneurship via incubators and grants. These government-funded grants have great brand partners that further foster startups.
Nivin feels there is plenty of scope for improvement. As a CEO and startup founder himself, he feels the Government does not provide inclusive GST waivers, has an unfair Angel tax (the Government takes a portion of the seed money received as tax) and does not offer enough infrastructural support. “If these things continue, what would happen is that people would move to Estonia if it gives better benefits or Singapore if it does not charge a tax. And the country loses amazing talents. It is, after all, a small retaining cost for the Government to pay.”
Be it Bangalore or elsewhere, building a startup is tough and like Aashish shares “only 20 per cent of the whole entrepreneur ecosystem have some sort of financial backing. The other 80 per cent are trying out their ideas to see if they can build a brand for themselves.” This shot in the dark makes it risky to tread the entrepreneurial path. Nivin feels that a balanced perspective is the need of the hour. “The biggest problem nowadays is that publications are portraying only the success stories about who got acquired and funded. Someone needs to talk about what you are signing up when you become an entrepreneur. For that, you need to share the flip side of entrepreneurship. Ask the successful entrepreneurs to talk about their failed ideas,” he suggests.
Having said that, both Nivin and Aashish strongly support working in the startup industry. Just that they want to draw the right picture that one learns and grows every day, but the finances maybe unsteady. “If you are able to sacrifice your earnings for a better future then differently go for it. The financial issues are only temporary,” Aashish advises, once again rating Bangalore as the right place to launch.
“Learning and networking have been the whole core of how Bangalore has given back to the ecosystem. It has provided a great platform for people to help each other. That belief that if you grow somebody, you also grow is what drives the city,” he adds as a concluding note.