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The Other Side: Being a Foreign Entrepreneur in India

Greg Moran talks about being an exception to the common pursuit
The Other Side: Being a Foreign Entrepreneur in India
Image credit: ZoomCar

Silicon Valley is buzzing with Indian Entrepreneurs, with many of them having established some of the most sought after startups. Be it at a senior executive level in a Fortune 500 company, or a promising startup founder, Indians and Indian-origin entrepreneurs have showcased some great business ideas globally over the last decade.

But what about the other way round. Have there been many foreign entrepreneurs who stepped into India, thinking they would base their business here? There have been foreign CEO’s, COO’s and even high-profile country heads of international companies, but finding a foreigner starting a company from scratch is a rarity.    

Greg Moran, who started ZoomCar, India’s first self-driving car renting company in 2013 along with his partner David Back has a rather different story to tell. The American CEO and co-founder of ZoomCar took up a challenge like no other, setting up a new business model in a foreign country.

Difficult Market but Vast Opportunity

It’s not a secret that India has been a challenging space for foreign businesses to survive, mostly owing to the corporate culture that differs from the West. Being an entrepreneur and starting a solo journey is even more difficult, given the economic space has yet to replicate a  pro-free market model, with less bureaucracy and  more deregulation. Moran says it was tough for him too, but he had absolute faith in his idea and choice of market, and despite the hardships he managed to set up one of India’s most successful startups in terms of scalability and expansion.   

“The ease of starting a business was really though earlier on, but its changed drastically now. It’s gotten to a point where it’s pretty solid, although there are some regulatory roadblocks in certain industries I feel positive about the space,” he said.

Talking about how vast the opportunity is in the country, he says “ I feel India doesn’t do the best job marketing itself abroad. A lot of Americans don’t actually know how the  space is in real, they may be intimidated. But I think it is so misunderstood.” “ The government is doing a great job with tourism and all to promote the image of the country. Plus entities like the Niti Aayog are a great symbol of how determined the government is to make these changes, “ he added.

The Adaptability Factor  

The culture and environmental adaptability can be a major problem for someone who has not been brought up in the country. A lot of executives from the West in recent times have moved back from India, including Moran’s founding partner Back, who cited personal reason for exiting the entity.  

“Some people, especially from America may even be skeptical because of other infrastructural elements and traffic, and pollution and all of that,” he said. “Communication was also a great problem in the early days and not just verbal but in terms of people invoking that trust in us They could think that we may not be here for the long run. 

“But it’s part of the deal, you have to make do with those as I believe the opportunity is huge here," he said.  

Breaking the Mould of the Typical Startup Founder in India

It’s not a coincidence that most startup founders in India, more so the big ones, are from the IIT’s. While that's a great sign for the founder's background Moran feels he didn't quite fit into that bill, yet had a solid business idea to implement.

“Most of the startup guys you see here are from an engineering background, many from the prestigious IIT’s and NIT’s, which is ok, but in myexperience I have felt few have the knowledge or expertise in terms of business. Its great for a cool product, a great innovation like an app or something, but what about the business. When it comes to monetization, taking the venture to the next scale, there needs to be a systematic approach, so you understand what you business economics would look like,” he said.

The Big International Plan

ZoomCar that initially started as Zoom with $215,000 in capital and a fleet of just seven cars, has grown by leaps and bounds. It is now present in 24 cities in the country, and has completed 9 lakh trips and hope to hit a million this quarter.

But the Bengaluru-headquarted company is just getting started as Moran has big international plans. The company which ahd earlier hinted at expanding abroad,  plans to expand in 20+ countries in 2-3 years of which the main focus will be in Asia and Africa

"It’s been on our cards for quite some time and I’m hopeful that by 2018 we will see the first of that expansion plan start operations," Moran told us. " The first move would be towards Asia and then eventually to get into Africa, which is quite an uncharted market. From the tech point of view, there is a huge opportunity in Africa as few companies have come out with unique innovation whereas the demographics are like India which again highlights a scope for a breakthrough chance," he told in a press statement.