Chief Economic Advisor is Infected Positively by the Irrational Exuberance of Indian Product Startups.

Mr. Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of INDIA, has been named as one of the world’s top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine. After stepping into the shoes of Dr. Raghuram Rajan as Chief Economic Advisor, he is also a widely cited expert on the changing Balance of Global Economic power, as it pertains to INDIA & China. He is also the author of “INDIA’s TURN: Understanding the Economic Transformation“. Mr. Arvind specially travelled to Bangalore to interact with software product industry and discuss policy with the the policy team of iSPIRT Think tank.


In the 4 hour meeting, the energy that emerging companies brought out with each presentation was amplified as the discussion progressed. In the end, I must admit that there was a euphoric feeling that this movement of creating public goods with the Social Commons model is really on-to-something BIG!

Not all elements of the session can be reproduced here, but this article is an effort to provide you the important highlights.

2015-05-28 17.36.55What was so Infectious? Its the Mirror Neurons, Stupid! 

In the first session, as it has become customary, about 8 carefully curated product startups which started in INDIA, with audacious aspirations, and which have already made significant GLOBAL impact while still retaining their Indian-ness, presented their stories. Almost every story was about Product Entrepreneur’s who dared to dream BIG, not just from themselves but for leap-frogging INDIA and the world. The Goal set out for the session was to show-case the behind-the-scenes transformation that is taking place in the software Product Industry landscape.

The Irrational choices of many Entrepreneurs were show-cased in their business avatars, as NowFloats, Uniken, Tally, Forus Health, Team Indus, FreeCharge, SnapBizz & Ezetap. While the strategy choices seemed Irrational, the success these business are having today, and the impact they can have tomorrow to reclaim India’s glory was self-evident. The outcome of the session was remarkably different from the goal the session set-out to achieve. What became apparent as the session progressed was the infectious effect it was having on each participant in the room. It was as if the Mirror Neurons from these passionate Entrepreneurs was affecting not just the minds, but it was affecting our Inner Spirit. The Infectious nature of the session’s outcome in many ways mirrored the outcome of these businesses.

2015-05-28 17.37.06What is the Cure? More Infection. Make India Go Cashless.

In a thoughtful next session the discussion moved toward more earthy and material realization of how Technology & Infectious energy of the startups can be leveraged to leapfrog INDIA. This discussion was about how to make India Go Cashless in 4 years. The benefits of going cashless are many. It can expand micro-credit to small businesses in a big way, for even street-hawkers (Thelewalas) to be able to digitally get credit and also seamlessly receive money from customers. Sanjay Jain (iSPIRT Open API Expert Team member, former Chief Product Officer of Aadhaar) and Abhishek (iSPIRT Colunteer, CEO Eko) presented a comprehensive approach and suggested a new Program, Jan Samridhi, for the Government. This builds on the Open API work that iSPIRT has already done (in eSign, UPI and GTSN) and proposed specific and inter-related policy and regulatory changes. The only real way of achieving this is to have more agencies in the Government, the Regulatory institutions and people to participate. So in effect, the cure really is to infect more people with the Spirit of Social Commons. The discussion clearly bridged some the intellectual distance between Delhi and Bangalore.

Advice from the Chief Economic Advisor

Mr Arvind, in his own-words was blown-away with the enthusiastic zeal and business performance of the Product Startup Ecosystem. He however was also clearly in his elements as he carefully constructed the broader picture by taking the various elements from the Individual presentations. Some of his suggestions and advice to the Startup community were as follows.

  • How soon can we marry the Private Entrepreneurial zeal & Public Goods created by such movements?
  • Can we use and leverage the existing products automating, say, Govt Fair Price shops?
  • While mildly chiding Product Entrepreneurs to dream even bigger by including Government, he asked if we can help realize other broader over-reaching goals like Government Technology Platforms for Expenditure tracking?

He even offered to visit Bangalore and participate 2-3 times a month in various such initiatives to enable routine conversations with Policy Makers and Entrepreneurs.

2015-05-28 18.27.33Conclusion

The entire program was highly Interactive, Infectious & Confidence building. It gave a sense that may-be within 4 years we can Make India go cashless. It also re-affirmed the new Paradigm of creating Public Goods with a Social Commons approach (Open source approach). It is important to co-create a digital INDIA, not just with the Entrepreneurial zeal, but by getting Government and Institutional bodies involved as well. These Infectious power-packed dialogs that iSPIRT is fostering will help us rewrite the script of our Nation, and will help us reclaim its lost Glory. We will become a Product Nation soon, it seems inevitable. Be a part of it now. Go ahead, spread the INFECTION, not just the word.

Finance Secretary – interacts with Product Industry in Bangalore.

Mr. Rajiv Mehrishi promises deeper Institutional Reforms

Mr. Rajiv Mehrishi, Finance Secretary, Ministry of Finance for Government of INDIA, is a pro-reforms, vocal advocate of institutional transformation of the Financial System in INDIA. Additionally, he is also  the Secretary, Department of Economic affairs. Mr. Mehrishi and his team – Mr. Manoj Joshi (Jt. Secretary), Mr. Ajay Shah (Head, Macro/Finance Group, NIPFP), Ms. Ila Patnaik (Principal Economic Advisor) and Mr. CKG Nair (Advisor, Capital Markets) – specially traveled to Bangalore to understand the software product industry landscape and discuss ways to make India go cashless.

The 4 hour interaction was at ITC Windsor Manor. It was chaired by iSPIRT Mentor Mohandas Pai.  iSPIRT Governing Council members Bharat Goenka (Tally), Vishnu Dusad (Nucleus) and Sharad Sharma (BrandSigma) were also there along with Fellows Avinash Raghava, Nakul Saxena and Sudhir Singh. Shekhar Kirani who had planned the industry landscape showcase had to skip the meeting to be at his daughter’s music recital.

Showcasing behind the scenes transformation of India

The first session focused on bringing the software product industry landscape to life through a carefully curated showcase of 10 product startups. Each startup is a story of dreaming big about transforming India and the world. The goal of this session was to showcase India’s under appreciated prowess to shape industries and tackle deep rooted problems through its tech startups. The companies that participated in this carefully curated showcase were Ezetap, Instamojo, Capillary, PeelWorks, InMobi, Foradian, Team Indus, Forus Health, OlaCabs and Practo. The session went well and was an eye-opener to the policy makers. It helped them understand the breadth and depth of the emerging software product industry in India. One of them remarked that this was “one of the most awesome afternoons of his life”. They found the session to be “revealing and energizing”.  Everybody felt more optimistic about India’s future after this session.

Making India go Cashless

The next session was a thoughtful discussion on how to make India go cashless in 4 years. It was led by Bharat Goenka and Sanjay Jain (iSPIRT Open API Expert Team member, former Chief Product Officer of Aadhaar). They presented a comprehensive approach and suggested a new Program, Jan Samridhi, for the Government. This builds on the Open API work that iSPIRT has already done (in eSign, UPI and GTSN) and proposes specific and inter-related policy and regulatory changes. This benefits of going cashless are many. It’ll curb black money but will also expands micro-credit to small businesses in a big way.

Tax Friction for Product Startups

The final session was about tax friction for software product companies. Most of these are arise from poor definition of software products within the Finance Ministry. Mr. Mehrishi promised a quick resolution of these issues.

Conclusion

It was a very collaborative and interactive session. It showcased how India has emerged as the 2nd largest software product startup ecosystem in the world. It also brought attention to this new paradigm of creating Public Goods with a Social Commons model (open source model) and how this approach would be instrumental in India going cashless in a short period of time. Mr. Mehrishi and team suggested that deeper institutional mechanisms are required to bridge the intellectual distance between Delhi and Bangalore.

These powerful dialogs that iSPIRT is fostering with key policy makers (e.g. SEBI’s UK Sinha, RBIs Raghuram Rajan) are making a difference. They are helping us rewrite the script of the nation. And they are taking us closer to making India a Product Nation! So go ahead, spread the word.

RBI Governor Dr. Raghuram Rajan meets Product Startups.

He is a maverick, a reformer, a decision maker and above all the Governor of Reserve Bank of India. The country’s foremost authority in Economics met with Product startups in Bangalore to understand their challenges and also provide useful advise by participating in interactive sessions for close to 3 hours.

2015-02-27 10.23.43
Yesterday, at ITC Windsor Manor, Dr Raghuram Rajan, honorable governor of RBI, along with Industry stalwarts Mohan Das Pai, Sudhir Sethi, MD of IDG Ventures, Shekar Kirani, Accel Partners, Sharad Sharma (iSPIRT), Bharat Goenka (Tally) and many other industry leaders heard the stories of about 10 Indian startups. The idea was to understand the following challenges of the startup Ecosystem

  1. Startups from India Competing with Global Giants with Capital Markets Challenges (like raising capital from Domestic FIIs, listing for IPOs, and other book building challenges)
  2. Startups from India building Software and Technology Products and solving local and domestic problems with the new & developing landscape of Consumer Market Challenges (like changing landscape of payments, pre-payments, recurring payments, etc)
  3. Product Companies like Tally and others from India, empowering small and medium businesses in INDIA to become Digital SMEs for leap-frogging the Indian Economy.

Dr. Rajan, was very forthcoming with his following admissions and suggestions.

  • Some of some of the difficulties in moving money in and Out of the Country (FEMA regulations for example), requires a more coherent set of rules, regulations and systems.
  • He also suggested that all Institutions, need to keep pace with the technological advances, and the need was really to have an Inclusive approach to carry everyone forward.
  • He assured full commitment to the Payments Systems Revolution, highlighting that
    • Payment Banks and Small Banks will be in full steam in about 12-18 months
    • Innovative ideas of White-labeling of BCs (Business Correspondents) via Individuals, Corporations or Registered Companies was actively being discussed.
  • His willingness to open up a dialog with Innovative Companies, where Banks are a purchaser of Technology was also evident in his offer to have more follow-on meeting.

Close to 180 minutes of conversation and showcasing of New Product Startups and Business Houses like Tally from Bangalore. Around 8 companies got the opportunity to showcase and highlight their challenges and directly interface with the Dr Rajan himself. Not all elements of the session can be reproduced here, but below are some of the key highlights and learnings.

2015-02-27 10.24.32Home grown Startups share their Stories with RBI

About 10 Indian Startups which started in INDIA, and which have global operations today, presented their stories not just from a valuation and growth standpoint, but from an emotional and proud-to-be an Indian startup viewpoint. To sum it up, almost every story was about Entrepreneur’s who dared to dream something not only for them, but for INDIA, and today want the Indian Systems (Regulators, Government and Institutions) to reciprocate to their needs. They highlighted their list of issues, the below checklist includes, but is not limited, to the following.

  • InMobi’s Naveen Tiwari, believed that INDIA can be the HUB for solving Global problems and with 39 other startups which have spun-off from INMOBI, it was clear that there is a 10x growth that is possible in the Indian startup eco-system.
  • Uniken a Security startup company with solutions for the Hyper-connected world, spoke about how their solutions have been deployed by Global and Indian Banks, including Bynet Communications. They stressed the need for all Indian Banks to adopt the latest solutions from India Solution Providers themselves which are on par or better than many cutting-edge solutions from outside of INDIA.
  • Fintellix highlighted their Software for GRC Intelligence (Governance, Regulation and Compliance), which are today used by both Indian and Global Private Banks, but they cannot get through even the RFP process of many Public Sector Banks, due to archiac processes.
  • Freshdesk presented a crowd sourced Customer Support Platform for Businesses, Tally Spoke about large scale adoption of their Accounting Software by SMEs (in millions), FORUS presented their home-grown medical devices (3nethra) which could be adopted by Indian Hospitals for 1/3 the cost, and how 80% of issues leading to Blindness can be prevented, while SnapBizz showed how even Kirana Store business owners today could gain improved visibility using the SnapBizz cloud platform.
  • Team INDUS and Deck.in showed, how Indian startups are turning world-beaters with their big ambitions in Aerospace and Enterpsie Software solutions.
  • Bharat Goenka and Pramod highlighted the need for Separation of Concerns between Transaction Enablers (Banks) and Technology Providers. Goenka stressed that Velocity of Growth, is dependent directly on the velocity of transactions.

Insights and Learnings from RBI and Dr. Rajan.

There were many learnings for all participating Startup & Business Entrepreneurs. Some of the key ones are

  • Dr. Rajan believes that for Capital availability & Funding Process for Innovators there needs to be a different RISK Framework that needs to adopted. The existing RISK framework was meant to keep the bad-elements away from the System. The new RISK framework should look at being a support system for Good Innovators.
  • Dr. Rajan also was open to look at enabling PUT-OPTIONs which will provide down-side risk protection for atleast the Investment-value like in WESTERN Contracts.
  • Dr. Rajan however, said we must all be cautious of Back-door debt masquerading as Equity and causing Systemic Harm.
  • Dr Rajan, participated enthusiastically on the following topics
    • Payment Banks / Small Banks and their utility for the Indian Business growth
    • NPCI framework and Payment Systems Revolution
    • Working with FEMA (Mr. Padmanabhan) to resolve difficulties in Money Movements.
  • Other most important advise for Startups were also discussed. To note a few,
    • RBI Governor said India has a decent Capital Chest which provides some Immunity to the Global shocks, however we cannot act in Haste.
    • Today, the need for Inclusive growth were the Unsophisticated Audience can also be carried forward, should be an objective for all innovative solutions.
    • Indian Public Sector institutions should welcome tech-savvy and young entrepreneurs as part of some of their committees.
    • Most importantly RBI can play a convening role for adoption of Innovative Products by Indian Banks.

2015-02-27 10.24.03Conclusion

Overall it is apparent that the INDIAN technology/internet product markets, are in a Golden Moment where Aspirational issues are leading to better RISK appetite among INDIAN Entrepreneurs. It is a new Paradigm where not just startups, but all Institutionals bodies with-in INDIA, need to now collaborate and commit, for supporting each other’s RISKs and Needs. RBI on its part has definitely shown keen interest, and to quote from a fine statement made by Girish, Dr. Rajan, believes that RBI interventions may arrive late, but they will definitely be latest. The Entrepreneur hence must be patient and not act in HASTE.

Indian Regulator SEBI meets Software Product Startups.

How often has this happened? An entire team from Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) with its Chairman Mr. U.K. Sinha meeting with Software Product startups in Bangalore to understand their challenges and also provide useful advice by participating in interactive sessions for more than 5 hours.

On 19th December, Mr. U.K. Sinha, Chairman of SEBI and his management team, heard the stories of 8 Indian software product startups. The idea was to understand both the Capital Markets Challenges (like raising capital from FIIs, listing for IPOs, and other book building challenges) as well new developing landscape of Consumer Market Challenges (like changing landscape of payments, pre-payments, recurring payments, etc.)

Mr. U.K. Sinha, was very forthcoming with his admission that new age companies require a completely new paradigm of evaluation and approvals. The new paradigm is needed not just for listing purposes, but also for market regulation and growth purposes. He assured full commitment from SEBI’s end to the budding entrepreneurs that SEBI is very keen, and will do everything within its capacity to help develop the markets keeping in mind INDIA’s growth needs.

More than 90 minutes of conversation and showcasing of New Software Product Startups from Bangalore took place. Mohandas Pai chaired the sessions on iSPIRT’s side. Not all elements of the sessions can be reproduced here; below are some of the key highlights.

2014-12-19 17.20.42

Home grown Startups share their Stories with SEBI

About 8 Indian Startups which started in INDIA, and which have global operations today, presented their stories not just from a valuation and growth standpoint, but from an emotional and proud-to-be an Indian startup viewpoint. To sum it up, almost every story was about Entrepreneurs who dared to dream something not only for them, but for INDIA, and today want the Indian System (Regulators, Government and Institutions) to reciprocate to their needs. They highlighted their list of issues which include the following:

  • 8 companies from various sectors (InMobi’s Manish Dugar, Ezetap’s Byas, Exotel’s Shiv Ku, HotelLogix’s Aditya, iViz’s Bikash, Paytm’s Pratyush, QuickHeal’s Rajesh and Deck.in‘s Sumanth) all presenting the journey of their startups.
  • A common hardship that resonated from most of them, was the unwarranted need of setting up subsidiaries or parent companies abroad, just to attract the right Investors and raise capital for growth.
  • Exemplary companies like InMobi, which raised initial money from Angel Investors today has a reach of about 1 billion people. Ezetap which raised initial money from AngelPrime, today has global operations, however it has its manufacturing, done entirely from Electronic city in Bangalore. Both urged that it should be made easy for Indian companies to raise money from Global Investors.
  • The existing regulations and guidelines make it very difficult for companies to get the right people (investors and advisors) on their Board.
  • Exotel, Hotelogix, Paytm and iViz, all stressed the need for modifying the SEBI/RBI guidelines on ESCROW, where Indian shareholders should have similar opportunities like Global Investors.
  • QuickHeal’s Rajesh highlighted how Kailash Katkar, a college drop-out had built one the most successful product companies out of INDIA over the past 25 years. Today QuickHeal is thinking of its IPO and needs to decide where to list.
  • Requirement for the Regulator to understand all stake-holders and their motivations, and provide for fast and timely intervention for Exits (IPO listings, etc.).
  • Need for new models to evaluate the new paradigm of Tech/Internet Product startups in INDIA.

At the end of this open session, Shekhar Kirani (iSPIRT Fellow; Accel) highlighted the fact that the Indian software product markets were entering an era of hyper growth. It is a new paradigm where not just startups, but all Institutional bodies within India, need to now collaborate and commit, for supporting each other’s need. In this context, he appreciated the interest shown by SEBI.

Policy Expert Team Interacts with SEBI

Following this open session, the visiting SEBI team met with iSPIRT’s “List in India” Policy Expert Team for an intense three hour closed door conversation about specific issues and their resolution. This iSPIRT Policy Expert Team is led by Sudhir Sethi of IDG and has Rajiv Khaitan (Khaitan & Co.), Sanjay Khan (Khaitan & Co.), R Natarajan (Helion), Rajesh Ghonasgi (Quick Heal CFO), Manish Dugar (InMobi CFO) and Harish HV (Grant Thornton) as its members. While specific details of this meeting are not available, Mohandas Pai told me that the session had been very productive.

Insights from SEBI

Mr. U.K Sinha, Chairman of SEBI, has an unbeatable track-record. In his past life, he was the chairman of UTI, and was instrumental in transforming UTI from a 1.2k crore institution to 12k crore institution. Many insights were shared by Mr. Sinha with all the participating Startup Entrepreneurs. Some of the key ones are:

  • Mr. Sinha and his team gracefully acknowledged that they were not just a Controller or Monitor of Capital issues, but they were equally keen to Develop Markets for businesses to thrive.
  • Further, Mr. Sinha highlighted the introduction of SME-ITP platform to facilitate capital raising by SMEs including start-ups which are in their early stages of growth and to provide for easier exit options for informed investors like angel investors, VCFs and PEs etc.
  • He also indicated that SEBI is exploring putting in place a framework for crowd-funding which will provide a much needed new mode of financing for start-ups and SME sector and increase flow of credit to SMEs and other users in the real economy. In this mode, SMEs and start-ups will be able to raise funds at a lower cost of capital without going through rigorous procedures.
  • It was indicated that SEBI is keen to facilitate capital raising by such companies to help them achieve their full potential.

2014-12-19 16.56.19
New Wind is Blowing

I saw a collaborative approach to problem solving that I haven’t seen before. iSPIRT’s policy approach is refreshing different from the traditional lobbying mindset that one sees in trade bodies. And SEBI is clearly open to listening and learning. It was amazing to see how SEBI as a regulator and iSPIRT as a think tank were both focused on the same national goal. I came away from the meeting with optimism and a spring in my step.

How We Got The IT Minister Excited About Indian Product Startups & Made Him Our Spokesperson #UnleashTheEnergy

A behind the scenes account of how a showcase of 11 disruptive startups was put together in just 100 hours!

If you’re reading this, I’m sure  you are a part of the Indian product startup community in one way or the other. And unless you were living under a rock (which is fine, if you were busy hacking away or traveling to sell your product), you wouldn’t have missed that our Hon. IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad was in Bangalore on Tuesday meeting with the product startup community. iSPIRT hosted  the “Conclave for India as Product Nation #1″, an open dialogue between the Product industry and the IT Minister.

What made it all the more special was that the he was the first IT Minister to meet with startups and also that he first met with the startups first before meeting officials from his ministry! The Minister met with the industry leaders, gave a patient hearing to the needs of the product startups and also saw presentations from 11 disruptive startups.

And here’s what the minister had to say after meeting with the startups!

So how did we pull this off? And what if I told you that it was all put together in 100 hours. We ourselves cannot quite understand how everything fell into place! But as Sharad often says, when a bunch of passionate volunteers come together towards a common cause, magic just happens. At iSPIRT, we take our volunteering quite seriously. No wonder then, that we actually have open sourced our volunteer model through a whitepaper to help other communities benefit from it!

 

A text message from Rajan on Saturday morning got me involved. Could we get on a call, he asked. There’s an iSPIRT event scheduled on Tuesday and some help was needed. We spoke and I got to know that there’s an interaction with the IT Minister scheduled on the coming Tuesday. As part of the interaction, we needed to put together a showcase of disruptive product startups to help the Minister get a sense of the kind of impactful work being done and the opportunities ahead. There was list of companies drawn from across various segments and stages, with whom we’d need to connect and get their availability for the event on Tuesday. Tapping into our network of volunteers (many of whom are themselves startup founders and industry leaders), we gathered the contact details of these companies and started reaching out to the companies. These were companies spread across the country and we checked with their founders if they’d be available to present. Based on the availability of teams and the some intense discussion and debate among the Program Managers for the showcase, a short list of the companies presenting on stage was drawn up. The thought process behind the selection of companies was to give the Minister a good view of the breadth (sectors where product startups are making an impact), the depth (companies that have achieved global market/tech leadership) and how far they can grow with sound support from the ecosystem, which includes the government as well. We were immensely privileged to have Mr. Mohandas Pai spare his valuable time for multiple meetings through the whole process and share his inputs on what kind of stories would make the maximum impact.

Product Leaders with the IT MinisterArriving at the shortlist was surely a good beginning. They say well begun is half done. But the tougher half lay ahead! We were already at Monday morning, and within the next 24 hours we had prep up the presenters. Each of the companies were to have a short, crisp presentation with the key points to be covered in under 4 minutes! Shekhar went about this with the precision of a toolmaker, thoroughness of a scientist and the strictness of a school teacher! From putting together notes on what points to cover, iterating multiple times with the presenting companies on their presentations over a sleepless night, to conducting the actual showcase in front of the minister, Shekhar was always on.

(That’s me on the left  trying to get the slides up!)

The event received some very good coverage in the media. Below are some links:

Here’s hoping that achchhe din are indeed ahead for the Indian software product industry!