I have been in India for 7yrs, 3 of which has been in the Indian startup ecosystem. AMA


#1

I initially came to India for studies, I did Computer Applications and finished 3 years ago. Since then, or even before I actually finished, in my last semester, I have been in their startup scene. I have started two startups, the first one which I started in my last semester grew very big but later failed. The second one had some traction and got me really exposed to big players in the game from founders to Investors, but it still failed according to me, but to according to a friend, I haven’t failed, I’m just trying to pivot. I still have plans of starting it again but with a different approach based on my experiences, I guess that’s why he said that.

I have been a mentor in two startup weekends, I have also been a mentor in two co-working spaces and i’ve also organised my own tech event that brought together over 500 people.

You might be wondering what concerns Indian startups with Nigerian startups? I can tell you with confidence that they are almost the same thing, only difference is that the India one is atleast 10 years older and experienced than the Nigerian one. No wonder @Jason_Igwe_Njoku gets most of his inspirations from India and applies them to his companies in Spark and iRokoTV.

P.S. I’m not an Indian startup guru, I’m just a guy that has watched from afar a lot of Indian startups grow into something really big and also seen how they operate.


A $5 Billion CEO in stealth mode with Jeff Bezos
#2

Interesting, our first user-initiated AMA. Will move post accordingly. Good luck!


#3

What are the challenges you faced as a black entrepreneur in India?


#4

A little more info on your startups would have been good.


#5

I’m curious to find out, which emerging sector of startups in india is showing growth, in terms of traction, revenue or sheer public attention…?


#6

I was expecting this question actually. So far, the only challenge I faced was having people to trust me. But as soon as they could trust me, everything thing else went my way. I was most times hailed as a very smart guy or someone with a lot of experience mostly because I was the only black guy doing such and maybe among a few foreigners in general. I met a white guy once tho at an event organized in AWS office. I think he was working with an Indian guy on a hotel startup, something like instead of paying for a whole day, you can just pay for the hours you spent at the hotel. I think the name of the startup was Stay Uncle.

In the first event I organised, one of the speakers told me something very strange some months later, when I wanted him to be a part of the second event I was planning that would have brought atleast 3500 people. He said when I first called him and he heard my voice, he never trusted me considering he knew I was Nigerian. He said, he just followed up my emails to see where it would lead. He didn’t trust me even after I had sent him pictures of billboards I made that were already standing on the street. He believed it was real when I sent him his flight ticket a week to the event and he checked the flight details online and saw his name.

Again, the second event was cancelled a month to the date because I couldn’t be trusted. I was expecting sponsorship from some companies. Two companies had sent some money already, but one of them that promised me a huge amount backed out later. The guy started asking me for a lot of documents and applications and some other stuff I can’t even remember right now. This was a guy that was ready from our email conversation and we even met at another city later in a hotel at an event organised by a new VC in town. I didn’t know he would be there, I just went cos it was a startup event. Still, he couldn’t trust me. I cancelled that event and returned ticket sales of about 300 people 3 weeks to the event. I broke down the day I cancelled the events. Thinking about it now, it still hurts!!


#7

The first startup was an E-commerce site. I started this from the end of 2012. My last semester was 2013. The site grew too fast and big because of the items I was offering. I was selling western wears I was importing from China. It’s hard to see such items in India, if you find them, it will be very expensive and mostly in malls. I was selling it at half the price you would find in malls, hence the growth. I wasn’t ready for such growth and I was doing it alone coupled with battling with my final project which I was working on, building a banking application. It was not too easy to cope with both. I got interest from two investors, 150k and 50k seed fund. None of them continued discussions when they found out I was Nigerian. Again, getting Indians to trust me was my challenge here. Thinking about it now, this startup failed because of my lack of experience to handle such scale and not because I didn’t get funding.

The second startup was like Techcabal meets The web summit meets CChub. I was trying to build an all in one startup hub. This was my big break. Through the techcabal side, I met a lot of founders, through the events side, i met a lot of big founders and investors. I was very active in the startup scene attending a lot of events and being invited to speak or mentor at other events. This one failed because I was burning cash from my pocket and nothing was coming in at the time. I also got interest from investors too, again me being a foreigner was the road block.


#8

The places showing serious growth is E-commerce. They are getting bigger everyday and more are springing up with their own USP. But the big players like Flipkart and Snapdeal are building big market places like Alibaba. Personally, i think they will wake up one day and Paytm has taken a big portion of their market share. My reason is because they are also in the marketplace race, backed by Alibaba and with a Mobile wallet. They actually started from a simple app to recharge mobile phones and DTH boxes, but they quickly grew into a force mostly because of their reach in wallet users. Right now they have some licenses that could allow them even operate as a full fledged bank. You can use the app to pay almost anywhere now even in gas stations and you can also use it to send and receive money. It’s a lot of things, I love the company so much, I follow them religiously. Hopefully, I would build something like that in Nigeria or join a company in the space.

That brings me to the second part which is payments. Their fin-tech is also growing crazy too. New ones are springing up everyday and the old ones keep innovating and adding new stuff. I was at a small event last year organized by a co-working space and a payment app for restaurants was pitching. I even critiqued them concerning their UI. I was shocked to find out that small company I was firing for a bad UI (I’m a design guy too, probably why I hated their UI) has been acquired this year. I just went to their website now and it’s amazing they still retained their bad UI. it was the app I was firing at the time and not the site.

I think this is also the two parts showing more traction in Nigeria.


#9

Interesting to hear…

What peculiarities does paytm offer, allowing it to grab market share…? Is it comparable to Kenya’s m-pesa?


#10

It does more than m-pesa. Their main offering is the mobile wallet. You can send and receive payments instantly, recharge almost everything from mobile top-ups to your DSTV, a payment gateway, an E-commerce market place, a payment method (I was in a gas station just 4 days ago and saw a sticker of Paytm saying you can use it to pay for gas at all HP stations), a booking platform for movies, hotels and bus, Insurance, school fees (the school i attended just recently added Paytm as a way to pay fees)

Anything that has to do with digital and payments either offline or online, they are there. In one of the interviews i watched, the CEO said his goal is to make Paytm the number one internet company in the country.

Why I said they might take up market share was because of their wallet users. Last i heard was I think 25 million wallet users and its growing! Since they are in a lot of sectors, they can grab those users from different sectors to their marketplace.

Check out their website.


#11

Dude. Operating a business outside Nigeria is like fighting behind enemy lines. Your quote is especially touching because it often looks like there’s nothing you can do about the trust issues, which aren’t your fault to begin with.

Did you have a local Indian partner? If so, why not assign him/her to be the face of the business?

I’ll leave two quotes from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”

Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.

and…

The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you.


#12

Reading this alone makes my heart cut. Kpele.


#13

I’m in India currently and I’ve caught a glimpse of what you’re talking. I’ve heard great things about OYO (Hotels), Flipkart (General Merchandise), Foodpanda (Food), Snapdeal (Deals). India is really advanced, technology wise with a large population. It’s really a no brainer that technology would thrive here.

Keep up the good work, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.


#14

I had a partner with the second startup but he bailed out later. He was still in school and was having bad results, so he told me he needed to tackle his results issue.
I mentioned two startups here, these were the ones that actually saw the light of the day and went somewhere. I’ve worked on many other projects like the on-demand laundry app. I had no plans of bootstrapping this one from the beginning, I wanted to raise funds before operations. So this made me bring on an Indian girl (a girl because Indians are very meek with their women), but some other activities didn’t allow me get this project anywhere.
Thanks for the Sun Tzu’s!


#15

Thank you! Better days are ahead…


#16

What’s their entertainment industry like? More specifically:

  • Are there local music apps & services, or does everyone use Apple Music/Tidal/download online for free?
  • Are there any big local video game developers/ games that everyone plays, or is it just Call Of Duty and Fifa?
  • Are there any big local film/tv streaming services, or does everyone use Netflix/ download online for free?

#17
  1. Yes, there is a local music app called “Gaana” and I think this is the most popular. There are others like Saavn and Wynk owned by Airtel. Just like every other country, people still use Apple Music/Tidal/download online for free.

2)As for games, I don’t know much about this, but in one of the Co-working space I was mentoring at, some group of guys were working on some game stuff. Can’t remember more details about it now, but I think it was an e-sports league. They weren’t making this for local tho, but were targeting the international market. I once read about some local gaming companies too on their local Techcabal but I can’t remember their names right now.

3)There is Eros Now and @Jason_Igwe_Njoku has said it many times in his blog that he looks at what they do and gets inspiration from them for irokoTV. There is also Reliance’s Bigflix and Spuul. Netflix also launched in India when they launched globally, so I’m sure a lot of people are there now. I should also say Indians are big on downloading movies through torrents. Their Internet is dirt cheap compared to Nigeria.

For your reference, I use 250GB unlimited at 2mbs monthly and pay an equivalent of 11250 naira at the current 300+ naira to $1. If i use up the 250GB, the speed reduces to 512kbs. For some strange reasons, I always exhaust the 250GB!


#18

I know you must have been nicknamed “Kalu”. Indians don’t like Nigerians in person but in the Cyberspace they are friends.