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Digital – Enabling Choice Entrepreneurship in India

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Pradeep Chopra

It was September 2000 and I was waiting for my U.S. work permit to join one of the big five consulting firms. Obviously, I was excited and had already started dreaming the American Dream.

Interrupting the day dream was a call from one of my Indian Institute of Technology batch-mates – “We are opening a new company tomorrow. Would you like to join us?” asked Kapil Nakra.

I was shocked and I asked him to give me a few days to respond. A few minutes passed and I received a second call from another batch-mate, Purvesh Sharma, and he demanded, “Are you joining us or not?” I’m still unsure of what went through my mind, but I suddenly found three letters coming out of my mouth Y. E. S.

It’s now been 10 years and I have not recovered from the shock of that visceral decision. I am still riding the entrepreneurial wave I jumped on, a decade ago.

While I was studying at IIT, if you had asked me about my future plans – ‘starting a company’ would not have featured in my most distant dreams. Given that most of us came from typical Indian middle-class backgrounds, the same leap would have faced Kapil and Purvesh. But what ultimately made us leap?

In my experience, the Dotcom (which can also be replaced with Internet and now with Digital) opportunity is one of the key drivers of ‘Choice Entrepreneurship’ in India. In the absence of this new medium, India would have continued to produce second generation entrepreneurs, who inherited wealth and wisdom. While, Venture Capital has been another key enabler of Choice Entrepreneurship in India, it was the dotcom era, which gave birth to the now prevalent VC Culture in India.

Let us look at look few examples. Vishal Gondal, the founder of Indiagames is one of the many successful, new generation, Indian entrepreneurs. At the age of 16, Vishal started his first company – FACT. In 1999, he founded Indiagames, which today has over 300 people across Mumbai, Beijing, London and Los Angeles.

If one did a casual count of the number of startups launched from college campuses (especially the Indian Institutes of Technology and Management) the graph would show a continuous upward trend since 2000. First generation entrepreneurs, would also represent the majority of such startups.

Take the example of Harsh Narang, the founder of PhokatCopy, a pro-student initiative providing free photocopies to students subsidized by advertisements on the back pages. He has just graduated from IIT Delhi and launched PhokatCopy, an idea that was successfully piloted while he was a student on campus. Subsequently, he declined to interview for IIM Ahmedabad’s PGDM programme in favor of his venture. Similarly, close to 10 students opted-out of placements this year at IIM Ahmedabad, choosing instead to be entrepreneurs. (Source: Economic Times Bangalore, Jan 11, 2010).

Interestingly, this pattern is not just limited to urban areas, and bears examples across socio-economic segments. To give you an example, roughly two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak with Samson, an auto driver based out of Chennai who has studied only up to the fifth grade. Having created his hotmail account back in 1997, he is known as Asia’s first auto driver to market himself through a website. He positions his service as an expert and safe auto ride through his website He receives around 20 international customers every month and earns up to 50,000 rupees ($1100) per month through his website.

Prosperity, has also contributed significantly to the growth of first generation entrepreneurs. When I look back, it’s clear to see that my parents’ generation spent most of their life trying to survive or to save enough money for retirement. However, if I look at my batch-mates (true for a lot of youngsters in the current generation), most of them believe that they can make enough in their lifetime to do all that they want today and be comfortable later as well.

Further, entrepreneurship, which earlier had a stigma associated with failure is widely accepted and respected today, as valuable experience. The current scenario in India is quite similar to the America of the early 20th century or China in the 1990s, where innovation and courage stood side-by-side to shape the future.

If you‘ve struggled to make the choice between entrepreneurship and working for a company, there’s no better time than today to give that dream a shot!

This article was originally published at WSJ’s India Chief Mentor.

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