By Saurabh Gandhi:
Disclaimer: This is not an analytical article.
$19 billion. This is undeniably the figure of the week. With Facebook acquiring the 50-odd employees strong Whatsapp, the question in my mind is not why Facebook paid so much for a messaging app when it has its own social networking website. The question that is in my mind is this, “Will there ever be a time when a small Indian company with a great idea can hope to be regarded to be worth so much?” Forget an instant messaging application, even with our huge army of world renowned software professionals, why haven’t we been able to develop even a single Operating System that is used worldwide. Let us take a look at some of the reasons why India doesn’t have its own ‘WhatsApp’.
“Acha, business karega tu? Kitna kama lega?” (So you’ll start a business. How much will you earn?)— This is the first question that every wannabe entrepreneur has to answer in India. The strangely interesting thing to note here is that it is not only your immediate family which can ask you this question. That unknown uncle who lives in ‘you don’t know which floor of your building’ can ask the same question and that too with more authority than your own father. Yeah, agreed that you should not really care about the un-inspiring but what this does is that in the back of your mind, you will start worrying about how your business will get you revenues and your unique idea/product will die a silent death. If the WhatsApp founders had concentrated on revenue generation and not followed the ‘No Games, No Ads, No Gimmicks’ policy, I am pretty sure the product would not have been the same. Varun Agarwal, the founder of Alma Mater, in his novel, ‘How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company’, describes how he overcame this problem by not talking about his idea to any of his family members or relatives.
A lot of business ideas are nipped in the bud in the above stage only. For those who overcome the above barrier, the way ahead is filled with red-tape in dealing with various governmental rules and regulations. It’s not that there are no rules and regulations or red tape in the United States of America. But the difference lies in one crucial aspect. There, the government realizes the importance of these great ideas. Why do you think most start-ups are concentrated around the Silicon Valley region? It is because Silicon Valley offers the entrepreneurs a supportive environment full of technologists and scientists and most importantly, people who will finance your idea. Not everyone who has a great idea can code or program. Not everyone with a great product can finance his own venture. What is necessary is collaboration between people, for which there must be someone in between who can bring them together.
Lastly, apart from the societal and procedural barriers, there is a fundamental reason why India doesn’t have its own ‘WhatsApp’. Let me explain my argument with the help of a related example. Just take the case of WhatsApp. What is it? I am sure if this question was asked by Prof. Viru Sahastrabuddhe (aka Virus — 3 Idiots fame) then he would be expecting an answer like “It is an application that runs in a smart phone that utilizes the internet to send and deliver messages between users who have the application installed.” But the more important answer is a simple one — “WhatsApp is an idea. An idea of connecting people and helping them communicate without having to pay for SMS.”
It is here that we are missing the bus (not by a few minutes or hours but unfortunately by many years). There is no dearth of people in India who can build applications (be it android, iOS or Windows Phone). There are numerous colleges and courses which teach us how to build apps. The problem is that we are not made aware about the problem-solving capabilities of these apps. India will have her own ‘WhatsApp’ when school and college students are not only taught ‘how to do things’ but also given an insight into ‘how to solve the problems of the world’ using the knowledge of ‘how to do things’.
The article is also published here.