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From living in a startup culture created by others, India’s top technology executives head towards the exit door to create one for their own and experience the roller coaster ride first hand backed with more energy and experience.
The Publishing Juggernaut
Most of my roles in previous companies have been entrepreneurial. You can be an entrepreneur within an organisation and a good corporate environment allows you to run a part of their businesses your way, for example, Network 18’s digital news portal First Post which I set up. However, when you start your own venture, you don’t have a safety net of a large company behind you, you are on your own learning how to set up a business, share the risks and rewards involved, etc.
I have always been sensitive to changes and consumer opportunities in media, and this is the big transition for me. I would have kicked myself entire life if I haven’t ventured out. Durga Raghunath quit restaurant search portal Zomato in September this year as its Senior VP, Growth, in less than six months to launch publishing startup Juggernaut along with Chiki Sarkar, former publisher of Penguin India and editor-in-chief of Random House India, to offer both digital and physical platform to authors.
The Momentum Guy
We launched Japan-based messaging app Line’s India operations phenomenally, but we struggled to handle its growth as a company over the time. I quit Line because I couldn’t resist starting with the idea I had in content discovery on mobile.
I believe in the saying that “Discipline is Reliable, Motivation is Fleeting” which means you can’t rely solely on motivation which comes in bits and spurs to succeed, so you need to train yourself to do things without it. I was motivated to become an entrepreneur, but I couldn’t have relied on it. Doing a nine-to-five job didn’t give me the satisfaction that solving a problem and scaling a business gave.
I am a “momentum guy” who likes to build, grow and scale things. The fact that I have experience in mobile space and understand mobile ad tech has given me confidence to startup. Damandeep Singh Soni quit Line India in September this year after 19 month stint as its India’s Business Head to launch Gogo, a content (news and stories) discovery app on lock screen itself of smartphones.
A part of Canaan Partners decision to exit India was in response to my personal thought of whether I want to continue as a venture capitalist (VC) at Canaan for next 10 years or turn to entrepreneurship. So last June, I decided to exit Canaan and launch a start-up again after founding JobsAhead in 1999 which was into e- recruitment business.
I explored multiple areas but finally started working around small business lending space. My role both as a VC and entrepreneur has been difficult. As a VC, it is all about getting the best deal and leaving entrepreneurs to create value, so in some sense many challenges are not in your control but being an entrepreneur is hard because many things like taking your product out in the market and having people to accept it depend on good execution.
Alok Mittal led US-based VC firm Canaan Partners’ India operations since 2006 till June last year and recently launched a platform for SMEs to access debt financing, Indifi Technologies. Canaan Partner India exited the country by selling its entire portfolio to asset management firm JP Morgan Asset Management for around $200 million in April this year.
The Artist Entrepreneur
In 2013, while being at Flipkart, I felt of creating something impactful through entrepreneurship. However by the time I was at Ola this year, I felt ready with my idea to launch a mobile ecosystem that connects customers with professional service providers in real time.
I realised that from technology perspective there is a lot that can be done to solve real problems in this space. I believe turning entrepreneur for me was about my passion to create something just like my passion for music as I am a keyboardist for a rock band, Agam. At the end of the day, it is all about prioritising things that you love and you want to do.
Swaminathan Seetharaman worked as VP for engineering for taxi aggregator Ola’s till August this year to launch an on-demand time exchange platform Pianta in the same month.
The high-profile exits of top executives and investors from India’s leading technology businesses and VC/PE firms respectively even as they continue to poach talent from global technology giants reflect on the external as well as internal developments in the ecosystem.
Externally, first, venture money continues to flood the technology ecosystem (while there are already signs of slowdown in funding), second, tempting valuations (which have so far gone through the roof) from investors; third, a good amount of talent availability; fourth, pro-active ecosystem measures by government; and last, active mentoring and incubation support available through incubators/accelerators, summits and hackathons, are the areas these executives are leveraging with enough intrapreneurial experience and ability to sniff out opportunities to jumpstart their startup ideas.
Internally, there are perhaps two things that are triggering such exits, first, either the company itself is going through scalability issue, which happens in rarest cases such as Line India because of which executives pull themselves out of it; second, low job satisfaction, which can be for reasons like lack of individual growth and learning particularly when organisation grows big and loses its nimbleness in structure, low work life balance with increased growth pressure, lack of recognition on impactful decision making when there are multiple-layer of hierarchies, inadequate compensation particularly in regard to employee stock options vesting period, etc.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (November, 2015 Issue).