By Ajay Yadav, CEO and founder of Roomi.
It’s been a good year for startups in India. This summer, Y Combinator accepted a record three Indian companies to its most recent batch. In August, UC Berkeley launched its own accelerator dedicated to Indian startups. And in September, Mark Zuckerberg funneled $50M to Banaglore-based education app Byju.
How, you may wonder, in spite of the lack of capital — and the fact that startups have only recently begun to become prominent in the country — is India starting to see such buzzing startup activity?
Here are three takeaways from the subcontinent that I, as an Indian expat, have applied to my own business halfway around the world:
Focus on Cash Flow, Not Just Traction
My father always defined business simply: It’s something that makes money. Sure, traction is nice — but when we were living in a studio apartment in Delhi just barely scraping by, the only thing that mattered was revenue.
In Silicon Valley, by contrast, startups often forget they can’t run indefinitely without it. They’re swaddled in venture capital and hell-bent on growth. Is it any wonder that running out of money is one of the most common reasons they fail?
That’s why, even though I started my business in an established market, I ran it like I would in India. For six months after we raised funding, my team and I didn’t even thinkabout the money — and when we did start spending, we looked carefully at the bottlenecks in our workflows to determine whether we really needed to hire or not.
For young startups, this kind of thoughtful spending can make all the difference between entering your next growth phase and switching the lights off too soon.
Look for Global Solutions to Local Problems
In 2016, India sent 360,000 students overseas, outpacing China in its growth rate of nationals studying abroad. A few years from now, these students will come home, and ask themselves, “How can I make my local market better?”
The answer lies in the elevator pitch for some of the most heavily-funded startups in South Asia: Flipkart is India’s Amazon. Ola is India’s Uber. Snapdeal is some combination of Amazon and Groupon. With a keen understanding of local needs, many of these startups are actually surpassing their American counterparts: Amazon India, for instance, is still second to Flipkart in market share. Transplant businesses like these ultimately remind us to look outward: The best solution for the problem you want to solve might be on the other side of the world.
Treat Your Team Members Like Family
In India, family businesses are quite commonplace, making up nearly 73 percent of the top 500 companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange. That’s no coincidence: Working alongside family teaches us how to compromise, how to put people first, and, by default, how to build stronger businesses.
Even if your team consists of an old college buddy and a coder you found on AngelList, treat them like family, too. Remember that keeping your relationships is more important than being right all the time. Conflict will happen — that’s a given — but as a founder, I strive to hear every opinion in the room, and to understand first before insisting on being understood.
When the whole team feels heard, we all get back to work sooner and often with better, more creative solutions in hand. Though it seems we’ve only just started talking about startup culture in India, entrepreneurship runs deep in the subcontinent. There are self-made men and women everywhere you look: They’re stocking the mom-and-pop kirana next door. They’re steeping chai at the tea stall on the corner.
Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his now-famous “Start up India, Stand up India” rallying cry, they were listening. The country will have a number of challenges to face before it can catch up to Silicon Valley–but it is only just beginning. And luckily, it’s a nation that’s always been entrepreneurial at heart.
Ajay Yadav, CEO and founder of Roomi, sees every day as a new opportunity to “crush it” and to make positive co-living experiences easier to find.