by Harrish Sairaman
When Bhavish Aggarwal, the CEO of Ola cabs, told his parents of his plan of developing a cab aggregator app, they were taken by surprise. “When I started, my parents thought I was going to become a travel agent. It was very hard to convince them that I was not”, he said about his journey.
Aggarwal is not the only one to have faced this hurdle from his family. I had seen a post by someone on LinkedIn that said, parents are willing to fund a child’s higher studies in an International University, but are unwilling to support their startup, which could cost a fraction of the money spent on fees. The post resonated with many people and I realised that despite the government trying to provide support to the startup ecosystem, and Venture Capitalists becoming accessible on networking platforms such as LinkedIn, entrepreneurship is still a less desirable choice in India.
Six major reasons why entrepreneurship is still unpopular in the country
- India has a diverse culture, and somehow that has seeped into the professions chosen by the communities too. For instance, we assume Gujaratis and Marwaris to be born entrepreneurs. So, if we see a Marwari working in the IT department, it comes as a shock to most people, not now maybe but was before! Similarly, we assume that South Indians are cautious by nature. The prevailing notion is that they neither take many risks nor do they like to invest money in anything unconventional. They are more likely to spend their lives conservatively and hence, stick to the 9-5 jobs where there is financial security and stability. The lines are quickly blurring though. So, while we have a Ritesh Agarwal of Oyo Rooms, we also have a Vivek Kooparthi from Chennai who made it to the Forbes’ list of super achievers with his revolutionary NeoLight, which can treat jaundice at home. However, culture still plays a significant role in influencing the career choices of people, and it will take a long time for the trend to change.
- Entrepreneurship, especially start ups is like walking on a thin rope. Even if this may not be the truth, it perceptually seems like that for many. You may fail or succeed in your venture. There is no financial security. This makes it an unconventional choice for many people, including the youth who are otherwise known for their risk taking abilities.
- Indians (including the business people) by nature are cautious and like to play safe. This is definitely a generic statement and does not apply to all. That is because our older generation has taught us to be prudent and play safely in life. Their life revolved around earning enough to look after the kids and family and saving for an after retirement life. We have grown up on the lessons of survival. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is all about taking risks. Inspiring stories of an Elon Musk, Steve Jobs or Dhirubhai Ambani has taught us that you only grow when you take major risks in business. As there is a considerable risk involved in business – right from investing a lot of money in your plan, to getting the right customers to sustain the business; people are dissuaded from becoming an entrepreneur.
- Marriage is an important part of the Indian society. There has been a hierarchy of sorts followed while selecting a groom for a girl. Boys in government jobs and banks are the most sought after as those jobs are considered the safest, followed by boys working in private companies. Boys who are entrepreneurs are the last choice, because there is a lot of uncertainty involved in the future. Girls, on the other hand, are completely discouraged from becoming an entrepreneur – one of the many reasons, why you find very few women entrepreneurs in India.
- I remember seeing a meme where an old man asks a young man what he does for a living. The young man replies that he is an entrepreneur. Pat comes the reply from the old man, ‘Why? Didn’t you find a job?’. The meme perfectly encapsulated the thinking of the society. As a society, we are wired to appreciate success and criticise failure and let us be honest, not every business is going to be a success. If there is a huge turnover suddenly, then the business is very well appreciated. However, if there are some initial setbacks, it is not at all taken respectfully by the society. This discouragement from the society stops some of the brightest minds in the country from trying their hand at entrepreneurship.
- Another most important reason for the dearth of entrepreneurs is the lack of financial banking. Some people may have brilliant ideas, but they do not have the funding to implement The financial institutions and Venture Capitalists also have a lot of bias and lay down unreasonable terms and conditions that discourage the young entrepreneurs from pitching their ideas. Crowdfunding, which is a popular way of receiving funds, is still an unexplored segment in India. And unfortunately, there is no Erlich Bachman or Russ Hanneman of the Silicon Valley fame either, who have faith in the young minds of our country.
Nurturing the culture of entrepreneurship in India
It is going to be a long-term effort, but thankfully it is doable as everyone from government to management institutes and even organisations have realised the importance of promoting entrepreneurship in India. Few of these initiatives include:
- The government of India and even the state governments are already encouraging startup ideas with initiatives such as Startup India and the major Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) that was held last year in Hyderabad. Of course, there are certain hiccups in the execution. However, it is undoubtedly a sign of positive development. Entrepreneurs should look for updates from the government and identify avenues that can help them realise their ideas and execute it.
- Leading management institutes such as SP Jain Institute of Management, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, and many more have realised the need for a structured format of learning entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs can enrol in these courses to understand how it works. No time to attend classroom lectures? Well, there are several online lectures such as Udemy’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation course or EdX by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to learn the latest lessons on entrepreneurship.
- There are many networking conferences conducted in major Indian cities. Entrepreneurs can look for the ones that interest them and attend it to get an idea of how startups work. They also get access to mentors who can guide them in areas such as business development, raising capital etc. These events are apt for budding entrepreneurs to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship.
- Organisations can also play a significant role in nurturing entrepreneurship. Many organisations have an initiative called Intrapreneurship that allows employees with innovative ideas to pitch and receive funding for it. This gives people the opportunity to test the water before plunging into it.
NASSCOM had last year reported that India has the third largest startup base in the world. This is a good sign considering that the culture of entrepreneurship is still at the nascent stage. All that is needed now is correct mentoring and support from the family, friends, and government to nurture entrepreneurs in our country. Remember, if you cannot see an opportunity, create one!
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