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Silicon Valley is a State of Mind

Twenty years ago, creating a technology company required millions of dollars to fund research and development, rent office space, build manufacturing facilities and hire great employees. So many of these startups were born in Silicon Valley because it was one of the few places in the world that had the critical mass of venture capital, technology and experienced people.

But in today’s world, with startup capital requirements being orders of less magnitude and access to global talent being virtually unlimited, success is driven less by capital, more by an entrepreneur’s imagination and ambition. Silicon Valley is no longer a geographical location – it is rather a state of mind.

My own journey in Silicon Valley started in India. I was born in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, moved to Trichy for my early years, and then to Chennai where I did my schooling and college education at the Madras Institute of Technology of Anna University. In 1990, I moved to the US on a job assignment, and eventually settled in Silicon Valley where I became one of those entrepreneurs. Having had my share of success (Exodus and now Jamcracker) – and a few setbacks along the way – I’ve spent the past 20+ years in that “state of mind.”

The magic of Silicon Valley was not simply access to venture capital, but more importantly it was a geographic concentration of like-minded risk-takers who could share ideas, mentor each other, create networks and vibrant ecosystems, embrace diversity, and who were willing to share their risks and gains with their employees with stock options.

Typically you would see two classes of entrepreneurs – those who dream big and build global enterprises or those who start with a niche in mind to be acquired and starting all over again. We’re all familiar with the first class of entrepreneurs, because they founded Apple, Intel, Google, Oracle, eBay, and dozens of other global franchises. But there are thousands of other successful entrepreneurs who founded all of the other companies that make up 90 per cent of Silicon Valley’s success. And while there have been many successes, they were all built on the shoulders of many more failures.

Today, any smart and driven person, from anywhere in the world, can build value by leveraging open-source “building blocks”, scale their infrastructure using cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), access a global talent pool, and reach new markets via social networks and by distributing through application marketplaces. And on the demand side, “consumerisation” of IT is breaking down distribution barriers that in the past inhibited innovative startups from building market adoption.

Today there are many startups coming out of India, many of which are in a very early stage but very promising. I now see a lot of young talent coming from leading institutions in India who are vying to be entrepreneurs, rather than taking a “safe job” with an established company. And many of these startups are now product vs services focused, with a lot of innovation happening in e-commerce, social, mobile and cloud – many of which are consumer focused. The move away from service-oriented startups has been happening rapidly over the past 3-5 years. There are some great success stories – Bharat Matrimony, Makemytrip, Redbus, Flipkart, – which are starting to build the early foundations of an ecosystem similar to what initially happened in Silicon Valley. And while that ecosystem itself is first generation, with strong links to Silicon Valley it is developing quickly. Only recently vibrant angel ecosystems like TIE Chennai Angels and numerous other angel forums and incubators, run by seasoned entrepreneurs, have emerg­ed to lead and foster a rapid multiplication of startups, by providing mentorship and support

While we have a huge untapped local market for applications, internet and high-speed mobile infrastructure and payments infrastructure are still developing, which sometimes hinders entrepreneurs from fully exploiting the market potential. But given the huge local market, entrepreneurs should focus on building a local presence rather than immediately chasing global market.

But the biggest inhibitor for most Indian entrepreneurs and investors alike is a tendency to be conservative and being more concerned about not losing than winning. The Silicon Valley “state of mind” is all about being passionate about the “big idea” and meeting like-minded people who share that passion. This creates a foundation where there is a willingness to experiment and test innovative new business models. And similar to how Silicon Valley evolved, it is this critical mass of innovation and risk-takers that will attract more people who are not afraid of taking risks, and are passionate about what they were doing.

Cloud computing and open source, combined with global accessibility to talent and markets, will spawn new waves of innovation that are limited only by the extent to which we can imagine and execute. I fervently believe that India is uniquely positioned across all aspects of the global entrepreneurial supply and demand chain – and I can think of no better place, time or scenario for to be a “Silicon Valley” entrepreneur.

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