Friday, August 8, 2008

What message Pune sends

This is what I wrote in reply to Kunal Mahajan's question on,:

I am putting my money on Pune as Indias startuphub.

When we first decided to just head to India to start work on our startup (we're London based), we were only heard of Bangalore as the next IT hub, and Hyderabad as upcoming. We didn't want to go to a megacity like Delhi or Mumbai, but more of a Tech City. Then one of my best friends from Switzerland, he's Indian, recommended we should have a look at Pune.

After some research, pune met exactly the kind of requirements that we were looking for, or at least, it fared better on a decision analysis than did Bangalore or Hyderabad: It's a college city with lots of young, educated and (as we hoped) creative people, not too large, IT focused, not too expensive (at the time). Another big factor was the fact that we perceived Bangalore and Hyderabad as HURE IT OUTSROURCING CENTERS, cities of modern factories, where modern labourers were robotting away, while Pune, as educational center, appeared to offer a different perspective. My friend also told me that the girls in Pune were very 'interesting', but that is just a side note - but as true geek this didn't play much of a role *wink*.

When we got to Pune, I think one of the first things that struck me was actually the apparent lack of creativity, lack of spirit that we are used to from university towns where students just 'do things', the lack of ambition just for the beauty of it and the seemingly only motivation to do anything - working for some big company with some name, earning bucks.

It took some time for me to understand where a) people were coming from (not everybody has parents that would happily support your little startup adventures if they went wrong) b) the cultural and in large parts traditonal context that young people had to operate from within, and c) that in fact it strongly depends on the kind of circles that we moved within to get these impressions. I was a bit disappointed, and am still, everytime I heard someone ask for what company I work for rather than for what I actually do, but my criticism was challenged by a different world that I later discovered: the startup community in Pune.

Yes, a lot of people in Pune are neither creative nor ambitious or daring. But that's ok, every place in the world has a broad layer of such people. In fact, they are vital for the ecosystem as well. But not every place has a vibrant, connected and active startup community as Pune.

Instead of 'cannot', 'big salary' or 'I don't know why', I suddenly heard 'I think I can, and I will try', 'big opportunity' and 'Because it's cool'. A 180 degree turn from a lot of the students or 'desparate' professionals I've met! What is this newly discovered startup community?

Looking at it now as I write this, I would say that Pune has what is necessary to attract 'the right kind of people', young, creative, adventurous, willing to 'do things' - the stuff that startups are about (in large parts). It certainly worked for us or fellow foreigners trying it out in Pune as well as the countless NRIs or long term expats that come back with a more open mind and lots of experience. That, then, is a positive feedback loop for the composition of the city and the community.

So it's the people of Pune, or the startup community to be more precise, which I think send out a strong message. Of course I would like to play an active part in shaping this still relatively young community, and I think so does everybody else. There is this community sense, where people communicate AND understand each other, go through SIMILAR experiences and face SIMILAR hurdles as entrepreneurs (in IT-outsroucing-India), want to help each OTHER and want to rise TOGETHER, as a community, so that one day we can all say it happened in Pune, and we were there.

So what message does Pune send out? I think it says 'we are Pune, and we have what it takes to be India's silicon valley'.

Best regards ,

Anthony - a foreigner.

Other thoughts: Maybe I am painting a bit of a biased picture, and of course there is still a lot of work to be done. But the composition of Pune is there, the community is there (and growing), and the will and shared spirit seems to be there. Now the change just needs to happen.

I would attribute a great part of this spirit or feeling to the fact that Pune is relatively small, or at least has been. People are closer, and know each other. As such, I see the creation of huge IT parks all over the place OUTSIDE the city/in satellite towns, as a potential dilution to the Pune startup community, which I hope we can somehow fend off.

Of course, one might be able to craft a similar description about other cities line Bangalore, but I would say that the unique composition of colleges and companies are a great edge. Also, at least in the past, the ratio of 'large companies' to 'small companies', I'd guess, is smaller in Pune than in other places - or at least was. If everybody around a young graduate is going to try to work for the next big company that pays stellar salaries, of course, startups would lose the war for talent. As such, the intensifying competition of large companies for good people is another threat to look out for, but one which, I think, can be addressed by a strong and visible startup community.

I don't want to get into politics and policies (at least not in an email thread!)

1 comment:

Insomnia said...

very inspiring Anthony