India has the R&D for globally successful sustainable startups but it lacks the innovation, business ethics, unique business models, sustainable marketing and growth strategies to make it big.
Startups have become so common in colleges that every young person dreams of being the CEO early in their life. Startup systems and support providers promise funding, mentoring, and other facilities to motivate the youth. Big businesses and organisations or a big businessman with plenty of financial resources support startups as investors. However, year after year, more and more young people start their journey of becoming a CEO having no clarity of their life or the intention and vision behind the startup. It's like being the CEO of a startup is the shortcut to success and fame, sometimes quick money.
Even worse is the fact that Indian startups copy the business models of the successful western companies, they emulate the common phrases, hashtags and branding with the hope to make it big. Some succeed, the majority don't. For a young person, it could be life lessons from the failure or struggle of a startup but as a country, it's an immense loss of financial resources considering how the fever has spread to all parts of India.
Startup founders are mostly youth and most of the time youth in the early years operate with a lack mindset. Dreams, passion and young energy can't do justice to a business. Discipline, skills, market research on the real ground are more effective than relying solely on online papers, funding and mentoring by Startup support providers. Most startup system facilitators and providers are ideas-driven rather than a business model or problems/solutions driven.
Putting pictures of western kids, adding names of reputed organisations, companies and institutions as founder or alumni isn't enough to solve genuine problems or to win the long-term trust of the customers. Also, seeking attention from the media or through marketing on social media can't help for a sustainable business. Most startups prefer the attention of new customers rather than retention of old ones owing to poor ethics or quality of their products or services.
As a result, startups lose out on quality talent in the company that would not be aligned with superficial aspects of it. Paying average employees well and putting them under pressure to get the work done to drive a company for their performance because of proper investment cannot prove the problem-solving ability of a startup or their credibility. In fact, if in the short term it bears fruits and shows results, provides employment and generates revenue, then upon its failure, there could be huge unemployment in a short period because of poor ethics and lack of quality.
India is a diverse nation and therefore any business can thrive if they do well the market research on the ground. Most startups prefer a one size fits all model with no clarity of their perfect customer and who isn't their perfect customer. Also, one entity cannot serve all or is rather scared to serve all differently because of the fear of being questioned for their credibility and feedback on differential pricing of the models for different target audiences. However, if the R&D is done properly, then differentiated, they can easily justify pricing and explanation, quality maintained and impact and business sustainable.
India is a saturated market, most startups cater to urban India, while a large population of rural India stays untouched. Rural India can be a huge asset not only in terms of R&D, business ideas and models, but also employment. Rural India is mostly exploited to make the rich richer, not realising that every part of India can thrive if we put our hearts and minds to businesses and not just minds and money. The ability to think with the heart and feel with the brains needs to be developed in the youth to build businesses that last and that benefit the country in the true sense. Only then will India have more original and sustainable globally successful startups that will inspire the world to create their own original ones.
(Madiha Ahmed is a Mentor at USA based McFerrin Center For Entrepreneurship, Mentor at Canada-based Skills for Change, Career Mentor at UK based University of Westminster, at India-based Jobs For Her.)