Why are more IITians not entrepreneurs?

Because a large part of it, is an utter waste of time and energy.

Running a business in India is boring. The major challenges are not the technology and the market, but the regulators and the government. Even after the recent reforms that tried to end the License-Raj, we are still very much stuck in the mud. One major hindrance is that there is no straightforward way to even survive. As much as we like to believe that India is an untapped market ripe for the next generation of global market leaders to establish their bases at, we also have to realize that for that to happen we need the process as smooth as possible. And we have to do it in a way that doesn’t ask people to bend their  morals at every step. No only is just too much paperwork but the speed of clearances is dependently largely if not entirely on the ethical compromises that you are willing to make. Of course, many call it the Indian way of innovation – jugaad, I call it bullshit. The story is old, well known and accounted for by all of us. That is one of the prime reasons we are neither willing to jump in the gutter, not even to clean it.

One additional hurdle is that the money is still with the traditional players. There are the giant whales that dominate the market place. Such large concentrations of money usually drive innovation. Unfortunately, it is impossibly hard to convince them to experiment. Efforts are largely centered around maintaining the status quo. Breaking it, is considered unnecessary.

Doing traditional business is tricky, obviously. But modern platforms are not very better. Someone somewhere (on Hacker News actually) commented that the only easy place to do business in India, is on the internet. Let me warn you, it is not that easy as at the end of the day the business is to be done on paper as well. Additionally, people are still just starting to trust online banking. Payment gateways are strikingly ugly and fault intolerant. As much as I, as a lazy customer, want to avoid physical money – I still have this rational doubt in my mind that the transaction will fail and I will lose the money. Most people will be more orthodox than me, making even this platform less lucrative than it should be.

Believe me when I say that as IITians we have been trained to think that only two types of people are cool – people who do marvelous research and win awards that majority of Indians have not heard of (No, we will not win you Nobel Prize – we are not in that field) and people who built great companies against all odds. But, we also know that we would rather do innovative work in a decent firm and get paid for it proportionally, than do stupid grunt work and jugaad our way through nepotism and bribery.

However those who are still doing it, are doing it well. For example, Flipkart is killing the competition, in a good way. If you want more of us to be entrepreneurial, make it a more lucrative option by reducing the friction between new ideas and traditional systems that are well established in our country. Give us a way to do things legally and morally, so that we have a good night sleep after a day worth of actual innovative work. If we just change the atmosphere, I am sure we will find many people taking the leap, not just IITians.


10 Comments

  • Reply Tejasnikumbh |

    I did not read this entirely. But I can ensure you, there will be more entrepreneurs soon. Good ones. ;)

  • Reply Ankush Agarwal |

    I feel that a primary reason for this is that just getting into IITs makes us complacent. After getting into IITs we take our life for granted. Starting a startup takes a lot of effort and their complacency prevents them today from going towards entrepreneurship. 

    • Reply Mayank Singhal |

      Well, if these people are really satisfied with their efforts (not complacent, which seems too negative a term), there is nothing wrong with the current situation.

      If they are smug about their achievements, they would have been more likely to be risk taking in future because they would confident that they can pull it off.

      If they are satisfied and they have become lazy, then we have an issue. I actually agree that we are this way to some extent. But jobs are not that simple anyway, hopefully we will snap out of our sleepy state soon.

  • Reply Priyank Parikh |

    It has a lot to do with how Indians are less inclined to take risks (I know I’m stereotyping here). We are less likely to start companies even outside the country, where most of the problems you mentioned don’t apply. We’re less likely to even join startups because they may go bust.

    • Reply Mayank Singhal |

      Firstly, I want to say that entrepreneurship is more about calculated risk not just being a adrenaline junkie.

      Secondly, I think we should be comparing entrepreneurial spirit in IITs with the best you can possibly find in a community in India. We cannot obviously compare ourselves with US (or other western) universities. A lot of factors are different there.

      Or we can just analyze IITians in an absolute sense. I think we are fairly risk taking, in the sense that we do calculate before taking risks. Nearly all of us are confident that even if we skip an year from the traditional path of jobs, we will be able to land back without much of an issue. Being from a premier institute does grant us that confidence.

      For me, personally – the only major deterrent I see is the uneasiness of dealing with bureaucratic slime.  

  • Reply Shrikant Nagori |

    Other than the fact that the process is not smooth, one major fact is that we don’t have many inspirational or famous entrepreneurs to look upto who have studied beside us in the IIT’s. As a freshie, sophie you are made to believe that a 25-30 Lakh package earning individual is some one you should look up to and try to even copy the things he did (interns, POR’s etc.). I believe changing this stereotype, can really result in more entrepreneurs coming out of IIT’s

    • Reply Mayank Singhal |

      Firstly, finding inspiration is a chicken and egg problem. You need a constant stream of worthless trials before you see a success that can be inspirational to the future streams. With the current system, the chances of success become fairly low making the 25-30 LPA package extremely lucrative.
      Plus, the 25-30 LPA people are fairly common – you see a bunch of them every year. I don’t think it is their salary that inspires juniors, it has to be their own personal awesomeness.

  • Reply Manav Kataria |

    A nice read. Some very valid and bold points presented here.

    There are surely hindrances in the system. But if anybody can overcome them without compromising our moral values, it should be us! 

    You have the privilege of being from IIT. People will hear you. 

    Its not as easy as said. But nobody ever said Entrepreneurship was easy!

  • Reply Nishant Totla |

    Slightly off-topic probably, but an anecdote of how even big companies would put money (and status-quo, as you say) above the opportunity the innovate.

    I have an uncle who’s pretty well placed in Reliance power, and sits with Anil Ambani in round-table conferences. He says Ambani is more interested in building plants with cheaper materials that will last for around 5 years so that Reliance can tap all the money from the market, as long as the market for power is lucrative. No vision for long-lasting innovations.

So, what do you think ?