The Ecosystem is Broke(n)

During the course of a conversation-over-chai after a meeting with fellow entrepreneurs, we eventually got to the usual analysis of whats happening in the startup and entrepreneurial space around here.

Surely enough, the echo-chamber that resonates its own thoughts, and has little connection with those outside, soon came up.

So what's paining/failing early startups/small companies/first time entrepreneurs ? What does a business need to make it ? You've got the idea, you might get to the product, or some version of it, but then you sometimes kinda get stuck. For lack of decent, honest, precise advice, information, knowhow, or even plain awareness.

Distribution, the right pricing, what should your outbound communication be ? Are the buyers interested ? Why not ? Is it technology, or support, or something else ? Do we even know what's really happening in the spaces we're trying to connect to ? Is there any form of market intelligence at all ? (I do not include a critical analysis of launches, PR statements and quarterly results in this - that often does not help a startup too much). What's the government's take on issues ? What are the infrastructural changes in the offing and their likely impact ? How do you engage in a dialogue with these (you're already drowning in work) ?

An early entrepreneur would surely love an ecosystem into which inputs that cover the above aspects are drawn in. An ecosystem, again, is not the creation or sole preserve of this forum or that, or some or the other online publication. Its the coming together of all of these, with dialogue flowing between the various stakeholders.

That ecosystem is quite inadequate in India, as of now.

As I see it now - be it major startup events (both structured and otherwise), or online coverage of entrepreneurial activity - there are two major problems:

There's no EcoSystem (but only a part of it)

Sure there's a bunch of enthusiastic VCs who participate. There's a few industry people who even mentor folks. There's a lot of aspirants who want to get going, and then there's a bunch of people who've seen and done a little, and pass off a lot as knowledge.

There's a lot of hype, jargon and very little honest learn-as-we-participate happening inside this echo-chmaber.

More importantly, where are the people who're connected to the real world ?

Are there any top sales folks from FMCGs, Financial Services, Retail, etc, who're telling it how it is ? Do we get real info on what directions business development is taking in healthcare, telecom, energy, real estate, etc ? Yes, you sure pick up bits and pieces of info as you run into these industries, but you're on your own, and its a very incomplete ecosystem without these inputs.

Things are being built, reviewed, validated in isolation from these realities, and only a rude jolt much much later in the process forces a rethink. By such time, some have lost too much money, or people, or enthu, or time. People seem to go through entire entrepreneurship lifecycles with little connection to their real markets - and with a very fuzzy understanding of its behavioural traits. User personas are tough, but even worse, they're probably non-existent in our startups!

A few honest tips from people who've sold stuff "out there", figured out causes and relationships on the ground, would go a long way. Having access to thoughts from a senior bureaucrat who might be able to analyze government policy and directions better than techie-turned-analyst/VC/blogger would give the ecosystem a serious leg up. And so on - for media and communication, for figuring out pricing, and a whole lot more.

We need "more-360". Its a very very small world right now with few connects into reality. Gotta change.

There's no co-operation

This is true for both the players that help create the current ecosystem, as well as for co-operation amongst startups. Everyone is trying to do everything, be everyone, and seems a little fearful of opening up to inviting folks with other competencies. The expansion of the ecosystem needs an honest appraisal of whats available today, and whats missing. There needs to be a concerted effort to expand it, collectively. Each resource, each forum is so small and ineffective at this point that talking about competition is plain short-sighted.

Some gaps that I think exist:
  • Experts for many aspects of entrepreneurship are missing from the discussions/fora.
  • The entire focus is on "how to start" and "how to get funded". Even the words mention otherwise, the actions focus on these two. What about the startup which has been around for a while ? What about those who need a redo, or are about to pack up ?
  • Exploration of new models. Right now - pretty much everything is a lift-and-fit from the Valley, and there's a tonne of traditional business knowhow thats ignored. The Nano was not created by adopting and stripping down an existing design. Need models for small ticket M&As, newer funding models that may not work like the current fund-of-risks model we see today (and that may have different investors from the essentially financial players one sees now), newer kinds of VCs, different models for hiring/organizational structure.
  • Way more co-operation between startups. Trying to focus on what one does best, and keeping burn rates ridiculously low, will help get better success. There's often failure induced by a lack of understanding of competencies that could easily be co-operated on, but that essentially smart folks fail at trying to understand and learn quickly enough. If you can get products out fast, marry someone who buys in and sells well. If you can network, help create and manage partnerships for others. More distributed ownership, higher stakes and commitment, lower "salary" costs.
Someone's gotta to take the lead on some of this. A few success stories (to whatever extent - its not just $100 million exist that count) and we'll see more entrepreneurial activity that's built on newer models, for our own markets, at our price points, and stuff that sustains.


Akshat said...

Hi Sameer,

I think this entire "ecosystem" thing is one of those big "buzzwords".

yeah is is cool to have great angels, and vcs, and fellow entrepreneurs who can give you cash/motivation/advice and in that particular order of importance. it definitely cool to have companies who you can leverage and partner with.

but is it really that important...
i think an entrepreneur will get by fine even without them...

to me when it comes to internet and stuff...we really do not need a local ecosystem.....


sameer said...

In its current form, sure.
But then, whether you put a buzzword around it or not, you do need advice, mentorship, hiring networks, hosting knowhow, sales contacts, etc.
And its, after all, way more than just "internet and stuff". In fact one of the issues is that its not gone beyond that.