I wrote this letter at the behest of the Economic Times as a post budget reaction from an entrepreneur's perspective.
I hope you enjoy it and share your views and comments!!
I looked you up on Facebook but found a cold 'page'. I checked on Twitter, but came across some fake ids. I searched on Linkedin but you don't seem to be there. I gathered that I can't hang out with you on these internet-mobile places I hang out in, because you probably don't visit them!
Let me come to the point. I read your budget speech with interest (all 14,234 words of it). Amidst your Pacific Ocean of words, I found:
The word 'Startup' mentioned 0 times.
The word 'Internet' mentioned 0 times.
The word 'Mobile' mentioned 2 times.
The word 'Entrepreneur' mentioned 3 times.
Now, the word 'Farm' is mentioned 16 times and the word 'Agriculture' is mentioned 18 times. Sir, let me share with you some interesting trivia. In another country, a couple of years ago, an entrepreneur created a new agricultural community that invited farmers from all over the world.
The address of the farm was the Internet. The place was 'Farmville'. Believe it or not, this Farmville 'thingy' generated `300 crore of revenue in the first year. About 5 crore farmer 'players' signed up! When the Haiti earthquake struck, this community actually garnered money and sent it to Haiti. To cap it all, the company, Zynga (that started this virtual agricultural business), is actually listed on the stock exchanges and is currently worth Rs 5,000+ crore!
Sir, just pause and think if Zynga was created in India. You, sir, would have earned juicy service taxes, revenues from corporate taxes, even would have a nice new age listed company on our otherwise boring bourse. The point I am making, is that new age businesses of the internet and new age entrepreneurs like myself, deserve a bit more attention from you. Because we attract venture capital, we employ people, we generate revenue, we pay our taxes and sometimes, even sell our companies and bring the money home!
Sir, I don't like wearing suits and ties; or coming to meet you in Delhi. But I can request you to help us in a few critical issues, on behalf of the Internet, entrepreneurial community.
Consider These Two Examples
A month ago, a team of four young entrepreneurs came to meet me. In a couple of minutes, I figured two things about them:
i) They came from families that a decade ago, would have never dreamt that their children would be graduates, speak fluent English and earn more money than their fathers ever did, all at a young age.
ii) This quartet was smart. I mean really smart. Smarter than anyone I had ever met!
This was a goosebumpy moment for me. It signalled that the 'Indian Dream' was working. Despite all our odds, we were producing local 'chaap' Einsteins! These four friends told me that they were quitting their jobs and becoming Internet entrepreneurs. And they presented an idea to me that blew my mind. They wanted me to mentor them, and I readily accepted. I felt it was a 'Googlesque' moment (what may have transpired when Google started up).
A week later, I got an SOS from one of them. They wanted to acquire a web domain (a site name) that was available on a foreign auction site since it was critical to their business. They requested I help them. I readily agreed. What transpired is something I want to bring to your attention.
To buy the domain, I needed to transfer about $1,000 to a German company. They accept only 'PayPal' payments, but PayPal is not available in India. When I wrote to the Germans they were flabbergasted! They said, "PayPal 'is' the global payment platform for small transactions".
But I had to tell them the Indian government had severe restrictions in letting them operate here. I begged them to allow me to wire the money to them. They agreed. When I started the transfer, I realised that it was 'impossible' for a startup to manage the process using the Indian banking processes! I had to sign some 8 forms, get my CFO and his team to 'solve some major paperwork crosswords' and also pay for certification charges.
Finally, I did get the domain, but trust me, on their own, this hot start up would never have made it. The over-regulated and complicated banking laws of India would have killed this 'google' in-the-making even before they started up.
After many years, I was able to woo a senior gaming expert in the US to join me. All he wanted was independence and esops. I gave him independence on day one, but the procedures to carve out esops for a foreign national to be employed by an Indian company became a mystery that would make even Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code look like an amateur essay! It took a good four months to solve the riddle, and I went through hell to keep Mr Gaming Rockstar motivated. He liked me and hung on, but now he is really nervous about India and its laws.
Sir, the number of do's, don'ts, regulations, forms, certifications, validations, permissions, etc that small, startup internet companies require to comply with, kill our energy, excitement and enthusiasm to grow. We need special treatment.
Let me say, that we are like delicate flowers. We need special farming rules to grow. Give us those, and I promise you, when we bloom, your treasury will be full. Not just with revenues but also the scent of a new and fresh Indian Industry!
Alok blogs at http://therodinhoods.com/