Many of us on the internet might know Professor Anil Gupta from his Ted Talk. The work he does has far-reaching impact on grassroots innovation. Dr Gupta, a renowned scholar of grassroots innovations, founded Honeybee Networks many years ago with a simple mission: knowledge must benefit the people it comes from.
His grouse with academics, who would often get insights from “knowledge rich and economically poor” people but fail to acknowledge or design solutions that would circle back to the poor, became the bedrock on which Honeybee Networks was founded.
I first heard of Dr Gupta some ten years ago. I’ve been wanting to meet with him and talk about innovation for a long time now. Finally, it happened earlier this month.
In this podcast, recorded in Ahmedabad in peak Navratri season (sorry about the noise in the background), we talked about how grassroots innovators make do with less by reusing parts, designing products that are multifunctional and how some things don’t need to be scaled to be successful.
There’s something fascinating about the entrepreneurs who stay away from the VC funding frenzy and quietly build their startups one baby step at a time.
Doing a startup overall is a crazy, bold thing to do, in the first place. The odds are stacked against you. On top of that, if the entrepreneur decides to bootstrap his or her startup, there is only one word for the journey: brutal. Aggressive, highly funded and ruthless rivals breathe down the neck. They poach your most treasured talent nurtured over long years.
In this episode of Outliers, I sat down with Paras to learn more about the Wingify journey so far. This is the third such conversation with India’s most successful bootstrapped entrepreneurs. You will recollect we interviewed Sridhar Vembu of Zoho and FusionCharts’ Pallav Nadhani — both of whom who also chose the bootstrapped path.
Depending on who you ask in the Indian startup ecosystem, Ashish Sinha, an IIT, IIM graduate and a former Yahoo product manager, could have built an AngelList to a TechCrunch equivalent from this part of the world. For his part, he did try attempting doing these. And he failed. Not for any lack of network or the know-how, but because he did not agree with the rules of the game.
Since Sinha quit his Yahoo job in May 2009, Shradha Sharma has built and scaled startup news site www.YourStory.com to be India’s biggest media platform for entrepreneurs, and AngelList has launched its offices in the country.
Over the years, I have had several disagreements with Ashish, especially with the way he paints all media with the same brush and for pooh-poohing reporters who say they are at times constrained by media ethics.
He’s an Outlier nonetheless. And an admirable one at that. That’s because very few in India have the ability and the required boldness to critique a software or an Internet product, early enough, so course corrections can be made.
In this episode of Outliers, I met a new Ashish with his bearded looks. We discussed the underbelly of India’s tech and startup ecosystem and more.
Do listen in.
“It’s a game of belief,” Manasij Ganguli tells me about getting customers, investors and employees around you. We are sitting in his living room at Noida home, east of capital New Delhi, with his wife Mausmi Ambastha.
This becomes “a game of thrones” if the startup idea you’re pitching doesn’t have a global equivalent.
For Ganguli and Ambastha who co-founded ThreadSol in 2012, building a network of believers meant facing over 100 rejections, both from investors and customers, in their first year.
From getting early adopters of the product, to getting investors see it as a business worth backing, and even convincing early employees — everything boils down to building a network of believers, the husband-wife duo tell me.
“We could not point to any proven model in China or the U.S. We weren’t an Uber of anything.”
Five years since it was founded, ThreadSol now says its software touches nearly 1 billion pieces of garments produced annually, helping the brands and manufacturers save costs by identifying and plugging wastage.
Who wants to be a Unicorn?
It’s almost every entrepreneur’s dream to build a company that crosses the $1 billion dollar valuation mark. For investors too, the starting question is whether a pitching startup can become the next Unicorn.
For Ashish Hemrajani, the co-founder of BookMyShow, who started his company in 1999, the journey is all about survival.
“First of all, it’s (Unicorn) a mythical animal and an ugly one at that with a horn,” he tells me in this episode of Outliers.
“I’m a cockroach; we survive. You put us in the middle of a nuclear holocaust or inside a microwave oven, we survive.”
“We come to the trenches every day, rolling our sleeves, we survive,” he says.
Hemrajani reminds me of what Mindtree co-founder Subroto Bagchi told me in an interview five years ago — “Entrepreneurs are like mongrels.”