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So, Where Is India’s Silicon Valley?

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There is never going to be one city in India. Its tough luck. But in a way its also the strength. So here’s my perspective:

Bangalore has great weather, but as someone mentioned on Quora, the culture has really gone mercenery. Unless you are VC funded, its going to become harder and harder to build a company out of there. It might make better sense just to move to the valley. In a few years, i doubt it will sustain. that said, there is weather, probably the highest density of capital and every coffee place talking about starting up.

Pune – of all the places, its the city that i really love. The community there is amazing, though honestly speaking, a fair bit less vibrant than i remember a few years ago – with Santosh Dawara restructuring Pune OCC (Edited after comment), with Navin Kabra focusing in a startup, it looks like its a bit out of shape. One thing i also noticed is that folks there have very good specialization (Finding folks in Hadoop, or Game development or highly specialized skills in Security/Virtualization software is easier), but there is a bit out of balance business sense. Since it has been a city that has always had backend product development (but never the strategy or the marketing bits), it seems a bit lacking. But i can see how certain businesses, and niche (with strong tech focus) can thrive here very well. Very little distractions and good weather. Close proximity to Mumbai.

Mumbai, is a lost cause to me. Ive spoken to quite a few VCs there, who agree to that – except for one guy who thinks its the last golden goose that everyone is ignoring. Sure TCS might have its biggest workforce there, but an IT company with the mantra of the cheapest bid possible, is probably not where you hire startup talent from. And trust me, you have a great company VCs will fly down to fund you. They have to put the money to work, let them work. Dont let them tell you otherwise. In most of the meets in Mumbai, no matter what we try, the conversation inevitably turns towards retail and finance. Nothing against it, but thats the strength of the place.

Chennai – super conservative, horrible autoguys, and bad weather, but it has old money, business sense and some success stories – like Zoho going for it. It has a bit of diversity with a thriving movie industry (they actually churn out more movies than bollywood – dont ask me about the quality though), and people who come back to Chennai, the US returns are quite open to taking a pay cut. But the numbers are small and you will have to look. But it has a thriving tech community, and with the effort of guys like Siddharta GovindarajDorai Thodla,Senthil Nayagam, there is a ground up community there. Successes such as Freshdesk, Orangescape also add to it.

Hyderabad – majorly influenced by Deloitte, and Google (the non-tech part). The saving grace there is Microsoft, even though the last product they developed there was Windows Me. The last time i had a meetup there, people were still very gung-ho about wanting to build a consulting/services business.

Edit; The MS thing was partly a joke, in reality the India Centre does a lot of tools for the MSDN platform and for developers. But you get the idea.

Delhi: from the report published by Yourstory on Mint, it seems they are the vibrant community. Why? Because the delhi hustle will get your revenue clock running – unlike Bangalore startups which are still after cool technology. But the problem with Delhi is that, while its haven for “deal sites” like Snapdeal, Jabong etc, tech startups will struggle there.

(A few of us keep joking that the “perfect” startup is one that has the delhi hustle and the tech of Bangalore/Pune)

And then we have the actual success stories of India, coming out of Shimla (Instablogs – by Ankit Maheshwari) that i wonder what this whole excercise is about.

Listen, this whole one Hub concept is from an old world, a world were people had to be face to face to learn and share things – a world before Skype, Google Hangouts, Quora and the zillion other ways we can learn, share and approach markets. Even the Newer hubs in the US are not Silicon Valley Centric, the world is shifting towards a distributed cluster model where there is a play for Seattle, New York, Chicago, Boston heck even for Boulder. (Europe seems to be following a very similar model as well, with hotspots opening up in London, Hensinski, Frankfurt/Hamburg, Estonia etc etc)

The Indian model will also follow a similar trend. Depending on whether you are building an enterprise business, a deals-business, a tech startup, or one that needs careful cashflow (platform businesses), or one driven by ads and media influence, the city where you need to plant your feet in will vary. There is no one city.

But, dont move to any city in the first year or so. You will burn yourself in the overheads. Till you figure out your product, focus and market-fit, stay in a place that gives you maximum mileage for your buck – people and networks you know that you can hire from, food that doesnt cost you an arm and a leg, fewer distractions, anything at all that will keep your costs low – and my bet is that, it most probably is wherever it is that you are at right now, and are planted. Even having to think about who is the electrician in a new city will consume bandwidth that you don’t have.

Make the most of it. Move when needed to give your startup that push. Eventually all startups facing the US/Global market will move to be based out of the US or Singapore, so don’t get sentimental about it – We live in a Globalized world and lets take advantage of that. Be wherever you need to be, where you can get the maximum runway for your startup. My guess: Its probably the city you least expect.

Once the commitment to start is done, what is expected of you is to keep your head down, have absolute focus and just day-after-day build what you are building. Ecosystems are a tad bit over-rated and hyped. Think about it – for decades people have been building businesses out of thin air in India. What’s your excuse?

Remember that whole trick we did with skipping landlines and going straight to mobile, we might be doing that with ecosystems as well.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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