2017 started with news of Indian economy surpassing UK’s [in terms of GDP] for the first time in 150 years — a signal that the nation’s economic flywheel is in motion.
What followed that late December onward was a year of many landmark events in India, including the introduction of GST, the first major tax reform in 70 years since independence, and the women-centric Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) towards the end, which was hosted for the first time in India.
2017 was momentous for Indian startups as well. As optimism returned to our ecosystem, we now stand on the brink of evolution, defined by a new breed of entrepreneurs and startups that are solving unique India problems and with a sharp focus on unit economics and profitability, paving way for a virtuous cycle of capital.
What is also remarkable is that today there is resounding support for free-market innovation in fundamental institutions like healthcare, banking, and financial services. With increasing support and impetus for technological innovations and ubiquitous access to basic building blocks of digital products, startups in India will invariably lead the next wave of radical economic reform.
Needless to say, 2017 was not without its highs and hopeful moments. Here are five that defined the year for me and learnings from each.
1. India’s momentous structural reforms
With the Union Budget push for the development of infrastructure architecture, the introduction of GST, and public bank recapitalization, acceleration of structural reforms has provided a steady growth impetus this past year. Our economy today is robust and market volatility is lower than it has ever been.
As a result, today, there is a buoyed interest in doing business within and with India. Presently, we rank 39 on World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, up 16 places since 2015!
On the face of it, India’s growth story looks resilient. And I have hope that additional policy reforms will help boost productivity and reduce spatial disparities furthermore.
As India stands on the cusp of realizing its economic potential, I find new meaning in the adage “a moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
2. The ‘silence breakers’ and women’s movement
2017 was a watershed year for conversations on issues related to gender diversity and women empowerment. Much of GES 2017 was dedicated to addressing how modern workplaces can build better, safer and more conducive work environments for people of all genders.
Even at the Together for Change event, which we hosted in the mid-2017, we found ourselves dwelling on how the startup ecosystem can set the right precedent for diversity, inclusion, and fairness.
Amidst these, there have also been some conversations around starting a dedicated fund for women entrepreneurs, although, personally, I have mixed views on the efficacy of this.
As we head into 2018, manadates and policies that help prevent workplace discrimination will become crucial to the growth of a corporate brand. And the way forward on gender parity will become clearer as startups and corporate entities learn to recognize the unconscious biases in their organization’s culture and commit to safer, more inclusive workplace environment right away.
Change is not easy. And it does not happen overnight. It starts with a desire and intent. A desire to create a society that safeguards women and empowers them to succeed.
3. Explosion of interest in frontier technologies
This is an exciting moment in time to be working on innovative digital products. Acronyms like AI, ML, NLP, VR, AR, and IOT dominate the tech space and conversations therein. As a new wave of startups build on these frontier technologies to solve real world problems, there will be a surge in demand for developers skilled in bot scripting, content acquisition, data science and algorithm testing in the years to come.
AI and smart machines are still in the initial stages of innovation and commercialization. But as more and more organizations adopt ‘cognitive ergonomics’ and design intelligent systems, I anticipate evolutionary changes in the way businesses and institutions serve their people. This will further call on the startup community to develop creative products that enable business process transformations and serve long-term sustainability goals.
4. Exits and moving forward
When discussing success, ‘stakeholder value’ is rarely discussed as an important standard for performance in Indian private companies.
Yet, creating stakeholder value has been a crucial personal mission. And aligning long-term interests of the management with those of the stakeholders — shareholders, co-investors, and others — and building meaningful relationships and managing expectations are key aspects of it. It is this relentless insistence on ‘stakeholder value creation’ that has resulted in strategic choices as well as some difficult trade-offs in the face of expectation gaps over the years.
Now, while there is enough math on paper on value creation, the seemingly objective and pragmatic process of safeguarding interests of everyone, especially in the face of adversity, is often a decision that tugs on more personal and emotional threads than practical ones.
Our exits in 2017 have once again highlighted the importance of aligning goals and long-term interests of key stakeholders — founders and investors — while also underscoring the importance of having the right people and influencers around.
Admittedly, when I met with a long-time inspiration of mine, Mr. John Chambers, earlier this year at GES, I was reminded of the impact a positive force has on you and how essential it is to have around people and role models who set the benchmark high. These are the people who help you see your real potential and light the way forward.
Good teams and strong leadership comprise of people with a shared vision and a drive to grow it, better it, and, preserve it.
5. New changes and reaffirmed values
Despite the highs and hopes and the ups and downs we witnessed this past year, I remain optimistic — about the Indian startup ecosystem as well as the potential for us investors. I believe that the next decade will be definitive for Indian startups, and we will see the emergence of disruptive ideas that scale and are of immense value.
I believe that the India story is still strong and that we are only just entering the golden age of innovation and creative disruption. Today, India stands at the intersection of technology and socio-economic opportunity, and this is where the path to a vastly advanced future lies. The nation is being powered by a billion aspirations, technological advancements, and institutional reforms, and with that we stand on the cusp of a new reality; a reality which the startup ecosystem will help realize as I imagine tomorrow.
On that note, I wish you a prosperous 2018, a year of new beginnings, and new milestones.
Disclaimer: Views represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the writer and do not represent the views of of Kstart or Kalaari.