Indian Startup Ecosystem: Givers and Takers

A good startup ecosystem needs a healthy mass of givers. Does the Indian system have that?

 · 3 min read

Warning: Rant

I was reading this article by Scott Adams on Pivoting, which was trending on HackerNews earlier today and came across this paragraph

"Another fascinating phenomenon in the valley is that every entrepreneur and investor seems genuinely interested in helping strangers succeed. I would go so far as to call it the defining feature of the start-up culture. Some of it has to do with the nature of entrepreneurs as serial problem-solvers. If you tell me what problem your start-up is experiencing, my reflex is to offer a suggestion or to connect you to someone who can help. And creating social capital makes a lot of sense when teams are fluid and who-you-know always matters. But beyond the practical and selfish benefits of being helpful, the dominant worldview in Silicon Valley is that if you aren't trying to make the world better, you're in the wrong line of work. The net effect is that the start-up culture is shockingly generous. If you need something for your start-up, folks will happily help you find it. I would have predicted the opposite."

Earlier this month, I also read Adam Grant's fascinating study on givers, takers and matchers (people who believe in fairness), called Give and Take, which goes on to show that givers can be exceptionally good performers too. By givers, Adam refers to givers as people who are interested in a one-way relationship (giving), and are motivated by helping others. Most people in this world are matchers, who always believe in returning a favour and will not go out to help some one without expecting something in return. And the rest are takers, who have no problem in taking favours, without feeling the need to give back.

What immediately struck me about this article (and the book) is that, in the Indian startup ecosystem there is a serious dearth of givers. Every time I have interacted with other founders, journalists, investors, they have always asked for something - more often than not, without any help the other way round. And very often, when I have asked for help, I have been ignored or given help that is not very useful.

Here are some examples:

  1. Investors ask for presentations without even giving a cursory feedback. This is so annoying because you spend hours working a presentation and you don't even get a feedback about why they think you are not "fundable", or any general tips about the market.
  2. Founders ask for help but rarely pass on anything in return. Some founders have good networks in the media or investors, but rarely want to share it with a fellow founder, even when they are explicitly asked for an introduction.
  3. Media outlets, routinely cover startups similar to you, but if you are not a funded startup, you may not get any coverage.
  4. Industry Federations which often claim to help startup and small businesses, will not help you unless you actively network among them. Even if you try to go to events, new entrepreneurs, unless they are hustlers are easily left out, making it very difficult for introverts to get any kind of help.

I understand our experiences may be exceptional, but it is still very real. But a rant would be useless without an effort to change things. We would love to change this by helping out other founders / startups which we routinely do by giving feedback, doing introductions, via our blog, writing guest posts etc. So if you are a founder looking for help, please feel free to get in touch!


Rushabh Mehta

Rushabh is a software developer and founder of ERPNext. He usually writes about the startup experience, open source and the technologies he is working on.

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