The Indian Startup Scene – An Interview with Arun Pattnaik

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Arun Pattnaik is the curator behind Founded In India. As well as doing some excellent work in promoting Indian startups, Arun somehow finds time to look after an impressive client list of his own which has previously included companies such as Totango which have been on my own watch list for a while. I was delighted that Arun agreed to do this interview. His passion and knowledge make him the perfect guy to educate us on what the Indian startup scene looks like at present, the inevitable barriers to success and what the future holds for this fast-paced, developing country.

AF: What do you do Arun? Tell us a bit about you.

AP: I am a freelance UX consultant. I help startups build amazing products by engineering an intuitive and immersive experience for their users. To achieve this, I work at the intersection of 3 disciplines: design, technology and art. This speaks to my personality also, as I’ve always been a curious person with a love for solving problems with technology. I grew up during the dotcom boom, and have been fortunate enough to work with wonderful startups. I’m currently helping a startup called BrowserStack in building the world’s best device testing platform.

AF: How would you describe the Indian startup scene?

AP: The Indian startup scene has skyrocketed in the last few years. They have been raising incredible amounts of investment, which is both exciting and scary at the same time. We’re seeing a rapid rise in the number of products launched every year, and there is a wonderful wave of entrepreneurship sweeping across the country. More and more grads are opting to start their own ventures instead of joining the rat race. I hear success stories of Indian founders almost every other day. It wasn’t the case a few years earlier. I like where the country is heading.

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AF: What is the toughest challenge faced by Indian founders today?

AP: Ironically, despite being the 2nd most populous country on earth, hiring good talent is still one of the biggest challenges; especially in the field of design. While the rise of engineering colleges has led to an abundance of highly skilled programmers, we have a severe lack of design talent. I know several startups who have fantastic tech teams, but still struggle to get good designers onboard. A functional product, if not designed well, has a very slim chance of being successful in the market.

Another common challenge is an aversion to taking risks. Through personal experience, most of the failed startups were because the founders were moonlighting. It’s very hard to build successful company unless you go all in. Indian kids grow up learning to stay safe and work towards a stable future. As a result they aren’t groomed to take calculated risks in future. Of late, this deep-seated mentality is changing, and it’s a good thing.

AF: India has had some great startups emerge in recent years such as Flipkart & Hike. What are the reasons behind Indian companies doing so well?

AP: One of the biggest reasons is the huge influx of money from foreign investors. Large corporations are either acquiring or investing dramatically in Indian startups. Here’s a great TechCrunch article diving deeper into the investment activity in India.

Apart from that, there has been a shift in people’s mindsets which had earlier stopped them from taking risks. Entrepreneurs have now started to learn the benefits of failing early.

AF: Which Indian startup are you most excited about and why?

AP: It’s very hard to pick one. I’ve always been interested in hardware startups. In fact I’ve backed several of them on KickStarter. I’m particularly excited about TeeWeGecko and Vishal Gondal’s – GoKii. Another Indian startup I’m very excited about is BrowserStack, which also happens to be a client of mine. It’s one of the very few Indian startups which is bootstrapped, has an elite client base, and has managed to become and stay profitable as well as being hugely successful. I also like what Housing and Zomato are doing in their respective industries. Despite the numerous challenges, startups like these continue to push boundaries through technology.

AF: What impressed you about Founded X and why did you decide to take on the role as curator of Founded In India?

AP: FoundedX is an amazing initiative. I’ve done something similar in the past, so it comes naturally to me. I was previously an ambassador for India for Startup Compass  and I like the idea of building a tightly knit network of startup enthusiasts so we learn from each other and grow together.

AF: What does the future look like for Indian startups?

AP: The future looks brighter than ever! Amazing products are being built every other day. We continue to push boundaries in every sector. I mean, we just sent a rocket to Mars for a fraction of the usual cost! As the young innovators continue to do the impossible, the next decade looks to be a roller coaster ride. I’m looking forward to some Indian startups building billion dollar businesses, and some going the IPO route in the coming years.

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AF: Although we’ve seen the likes of Flipkart and other prominent startups raise huge later stage rounds of funding, how would you describe the seed funding environment?

AP: As I said before, the Indian startups are attracting a lot of high-value investors and multinational corporations. This trend has had two immediately visible effects: it has contributed significantly to the growth of angel investors in India, as more and more people are coming forward to make their first investments. Conversely however, although seed investment is growing at a rapid clip and new startup accelerators are popping up across the country, it has taken a toll on the actual amounts of money invested. The seed amounts are getting smaller every passing year. Which means startups have less money to grow with, a short runway to survive, which, in turn, puts a lot of pressure on them to either raise more money or reach profitability in a shorter space of time.

Arun’s passion & knowledge of the Indian startup scene is apparent, and he’s never short of statistics and facts on what’s been happening there over the past few years. I’d definitely recommend reaching out to Arun via twitter if you wish to know more or reach a particular startup or person within the Indian ecosystem.

It goes without saying Arun but a big thank you from the team at FoundedX!