AN ENTREPRENEUR'S GUIDE TO INDIA
HOW TO SUCCEED IN INDIA'S STARTUP CAPITAL
PIC DINKER GULATI
When it comes to India’s app economy, the only way is up. Increasing access to affordable smartphones and the rollout of 4G have opened up a new world of connectivity for a nation of 1.3 billion and counting. Predictions estimate that by 2022, 60% of the population will have smartphones and by 2034, it's expected to leapfrog the U.S. to sit behind China, as the second-largest e-commerce market in the world. Recent government initiatives like Digital India and Start-Up India have also bolstered this boom and encouraged foreign investment.
The southern city of Bengaluru, previously known as Bangalore, is one of the hottest spots for startups and investors to ride this wave of opportunity. Top entrepreneurial and tech talent recognize Bengaluru as the place to be, and with approximately 70% of all startups in India based there, it’s gained a reputation as India’s Silicon Valley. One such entrepreneur, Siddharth Jain, Co-Founder and CEO of PlaySimple Games, a hyper-casual gaming company.
He's shared with us some of his insider knowledge on what it takes to succeed in India's startup capital, from securing talent to seeking investment.
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PLAYING FOR KEEPS
In 2014 Siddharth founded PlaySimple Games, a venture that brought together his wife and former Zynga Product Manager Preeti Reddy, Software Engineer Suraj Nalin, and former Walmart Labs engineer (and brother) Siddhanth Jain. Their vision: to create trivia, word and puzzle games that could speak to different English-speaking demographics around the world.
Headquartered in Bengaluru, the 120+ team has more than quadrupled in size since they received Series A funding of $4 million from SAIF Partners and IDG Ventures in 2016.Notable additions to the PlaySimple team in 2019 included Nitin Dhawan, VP of Data Science and Analytics, who’ll play a pivotal role in scaling the company’s growth and strengthening its partner network.
Offering 10 English-language games, some of its most popular include WordTrek, WordJam and WordTrip. The apps all work on a freemium model, so their primary source of revenue is in-app ads and in-app purchases. Its biggest audiences are in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada, clocking 50 million installs since launch.
WHAT’S BOOMING IN BENGALURU
Bengaluru is a top draw for appreneurs — and for good reason. As one of India’s largest cities, with a population of 12 million and counting, it’s an audience primed for apps that make life easier.
Ola Cabs and Swiggy are two success stories from Bengaluru in the mobility and services verticals. Valued at over $6 billion in May 2019, Ola Cabs offers ride-sharing services for a range of budgets, from auto rickshaws to luxury vehicles. Swiggy is one of India's most popular food delivery apps and fastest-growing unicorns, after raising close to $100 million of VC investment throughout 2016 and 2017, rising above the competition by focusing on streamlining logistics to build brand trust.
These are winning apps, but there’s room and opportunity for new names and new ideas, Siddharth says. “The HyLoMo [hyperlocal mobile] app genre is poised for significant growth,” he explains. A prime example is Dunzo, a hyperlocal service-based app with huge promise. With it users can “hire” people to run errands and carry out odd jobs.
Newcomer finance apps are also gaining traction, thanks to smart approaches that tap into audiences — such as the unbanked and younger generations — previously overlooked by traditional banks. SlicePay, KreditBee and EarlySalary are part of a new breed of apps that allow Indian students, graduates and startup employees to apply for instant micro loans within a few simple steps, removing requirements like credit score rating and a high income.
Other hot verticals include gaming and entertainment, where companies including Moon Frog, Fresh Tomb and MPL are gaining serious traction. "This is the next generation of gaming companies emerging," Siddharth muses, "and I think Bengaluru is going to be an exciting place to be over the coming years, as we foray into the future."
Thanks to increasing smartphone ownership and falling data costs, video is also on the rise. Home-grown apps such as MX Player and Voot have joined international players like Walt Disney-owned Hotstar and Amazon Prime to expand the reach of accessible video streaming in India.
WITH APPROXIMATELY 70% OF ALL STARTUPS IN INDIA BASED THERE, BENGALURU HAS GAINED A REPUTATION AS INDIA’S SILICON VALLEY
PIC STEVE RYBKA
SECURING THE RIGHT TALENT AND INVESTMENT
When it comes to scouting out the best and brightest, Siddharth recommends focusing on the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), which has several campuses around the country. IIT produces India's tech royalty — notable graduates include Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Infosys Co-Founder N. R. Narayana Murthy, and Flipkart Co-Founder Sachin Bansal. The list goes on.
But filling roles will take more legwork than just posting an ad on Linkedin. "You’ll need to be present in the cities where the IITs are, connecting with people in person,” Siddharth explains. “Pulling talent from these universities will give you the upper hand, you'll be an insider of the engineering crowd." He also suggests advertising in university publications and attending career fairs and hackathons. Some of the best-known annual live-events in town include Sequoia Hackathon, Facebook's Developers' Circles, and Hack to the Future by Accenture, while WMN by Devfolio is India's largest women-only hackathon.
Once you've found your people, how do you keep them from churning, or chasing opportunities abroad with your industry rivals? Siddharth speaks frankly about the challenges of finding and retaining staff in a high-pressure startup environment. "Our industry can break even the most talented folks," he admits. "The key is to have a solid founding team who you can rely on...because when you're working on something challenging, trust is what makes the team stick together when you hit bumps in the road."
He recommends a two-step approach to trust building. The first is to recognize how ambitious Indian youth are today and map out a long-term trajectory that's right for them. "Millennials are smart, wary, and have high aspirations — and why shouldn't they?" he muses. "So it's vital to recognize their dreams and create a road-map to achieve their goals." His second approach is to view people through profiles such as "the hunter" — sales-focused roles with a thirst to hit targets — and “the builder” — developers who are passionate about creating a product. By identifying which profile a particular employee fits into you'll be able to better understand what drives them, and play to their strengths and passions.
If you’re looking to secure investment, Bengaluru is a promising place for turning startup dreams into a reality. TechCrunch ranked Bengaluru in the top-ten cities worldwide for supergiant ($100 million+) VC funding rounds, with around $5 billion in funding raised across 240 deals in 2018. Some of the most prominent players include Fundamentum, an Indian-born VC fund that helps accelerate Indian tech companies with Series B/C capital, and Indian branches of U.S. firms Sequoia and Inventus, who invest in Series A rounds.
PIC NOPPASIN WONGCHUM
WHERE TO EAT, STAY AND DISCOVER
On top of Bengaluru’s thriving tech and startup scene, you’re spoilt for choice of hotel and dining options — so it helps to have the inside track from Siddharth. For classic luxury, he recommends The Leela Palace, with sumptuous design, lush gardens and impeccable service to impress even the most well-traveled. His boutique hotel recommendation is the ITC Gardenia, a downtown, eco-conscious establishment with the chicest bars, boutiques and restaurants on its doorstep. A reliable budget option for longer stays is The Paul, located across the road from tech park Embassy Golf Links Business Park in the Domlur district, offering fitness facilities and even its own microbrewery.
It's a well-known fact that India is a foodie's mecca, but when in Bengaluru, enjoying southern specialties is a must. For a quick snack, Siddharth suggests a dosa, a light, crispy crepe served with a spoon-full of curry and dipping sauce. For a heartier meal, try a thali — small tastes of curries, chutneys and pickles with rice and chapati bread or papadum served on a banana leaf or tray.
PIC ASHISH VERMA
When it comes to networking, the city's renowned breweries are ideal for after-work mingling with the tech crowd — Siddharth’s top pick is Arbor Brewing Company, where you can enjoy signature brews Raging Elephant IPA, and a fruity Hefeweizen called Bangalore Bliss. Other favorites include the Toit Brewery in upmarket Indiranagar and The Big Brewsky in startup and tech hub Sarjapur.
Once you’ve put in the legwork needed to network and source talent in the city, it may be time for a getaway. Siddharth suggests visiting nearby states of Goa or Kerala on the western Malabar Coast. Once a backpacker haven, Goa has evolved into a stylish spot for the discerning traveler. Take your pick of around 30 beaches spread out over 80 miles of coastline, top spots including vibrant Palolem, upmarket Mandrem, and yoga and health hub Arambol — all a one-hour flight north-west of Bengaluru. Near the southern tip of India, Kerala is a nature-lovers' dream, with postcard-looking palm-lined beaches, sleepy backwater canals, and the lush green slopes of the Western Ghats, where coffee, tea, and spice plantations thrive. The historical harbor city of Kochi is a colorful jumble of early colonial architecture, palaces, and spice markets, while Munnar, a former hill station, is the place to escape the rat race and zen out to peaceful plantation views.
Now you have a local's tips to success under your belt; it's time to take your first step into the Indian market — jai ho!