Is startup ecosystem bad?

A Facebook friend forwarded me this post. He probably wanted my comment since some of the topics in the post are the ones I have touched a lot in the newsletter. While that’s true, I don’t think I am pessimistic about the ecosystem in general as the author seems to be. Also, it’s easy for me to comment on an event or development and state why something is bad or good for parties involved. I find it hard to speculate anything for the entire ecosystem.

I will try to address the similarities found in the post and my writing in the past and clarify my point of view. I might still be wrong and you can always write back if you think so. Just to reiterate I don’t think the entire ecosystem is bad for the country. I think it’s wonderful. I am slightly bullish on it despite the fact that my writing often depicts otherwise.

With that said let’s jump in.

Bureaucracy running the places

The author meant Umar Saif here, I believe. While I don’t agree on everything Umar Saif says or does but I definitely can’t criticize his efforts that resulted in Plan9. It’s hard for me to believe that he wanted to have a bureaucratic job while he was thinking about having a startup incubator in the country. You can say that I am a beneficiary of things kickstarted by Plan9 and that’s definitely true.

No experience at the top

The author claims that people heading the incubators have no experience of running a startup of their own. And that’s bad. I do believe that people who have run a company before are the best to advise you on the topic. Among my favorite books on startups are “Hard thing about hard things” and “Zero to One”. Two books, written by people who had run a company. But I also learned a lot from the work of people like Daniel Kahneman, Kevin Kelly, Clayton Christensen and Ben Thomson etc. None of them have run a company in their lives.

The thing is you can still be a great mentor even if you have never founded or run a company. But it’s not a given. Rather it’s a choice that you make based on your life experiences. Maybe you are good at finance, marketing, business development etc and that’s valuable. My issue has always been the spotlight that incubators and mentors start to take. They forget that their role is to help someone else succeed and not necessarily make themselves famous.

Specifically, I criticized a Telenor executive who was interviewing Nash from Convo and he took 10 mins to introduce himself and his company. And then there was a startup weekend where judges started to hack the event to tell stories of their own success which somehow no one knew before. And how their kid is smarter than all the bunch that came here with an idea to pitch. What they should have been doing was to sit down and figure what questions to ask and when.

But then again I know people who are genuinely interested in helping others succeed. So I won’t go ahead and generalize. Maybe we will have to wait and see. Success in business is hard and that’s a good filter.

Corporate involvement

The third point that the author raised was the involvement of universities and corporate sector. It’s debatable if a university should open a startup incubator. But then again it’s rare that our universities do anything right. They always pick a thing and make it a fad. At some point in time, it was computer science then MBA and now entrepreneurship. None of these things are bad in themselves. Till our universities start thrusting them without understanding what they should be doing. It’s sad but it has nothing to do with startup ecosystem. You can’t just tell anyone to shut up and not talk about startups because you are in a university.

I don’t know of any other corporates involved except for Telenor. Netsole has an incubator but I am not sure if they consider themselves a corporate. I don’t think any of these companies will produce a startup success story. I have specifically picked Telenor before and tried to lay down the reasons for my skepticism. On a broad level, the very idea of a startup goes against an established company. It’s hard for both parties to get their business incentives aligned. It’s often a futile activity, to begin with.

But I can’t stop them from trying. Neither I want to be pessimistic about any of the startups involved. Maybe they are seeing something that I can not. It’s easy to write about a case in point then to speculate about a company. You stretch yourself too thin and that’s something I tend to avoid.