On a good week, I meet four to five startup founders, for an hour or two each. These are the best five to ten hours I have every week.
I learn at least one new thing in each meeting. These encounters energize me, they make me optimistic and happy (two words that my friends do not usually associate with me). And, they make me hopeful. Usually, I emerge from these coffee shop rendezvous’ grinning from ear to ear, and that is not because of the caffeine.
Yesterday, I met this guy. He was smart, super confident, highly articulate. He knew more about the online and mobile ad industry than many veterans I had met ( in fact, I claim to be one of those veterans). He was on his second startup, and had pivoted his current one thrice already. He studied software engineering in Coimbatore, and would bus down every weekend to Bangalore, since ‘that is where the action is’. He had attended perhaps 100 startup events, he said. He had met and interacted with the Top 50 guys in advertising. He had been to the Valley, more than once I think. He had just finished building a remarkable global ad product for the mobile (in-app and browse) and the browser, which ‘contextually leverages the 5 trillion plus images online’. He had three great cofounders – from the IISc and the IIMs, who were more experienced than him, and he was the CEO. His one abiding regret was that he should have done what he did 2-3 years earlier.
He was 21 years old.
He had just graduated last year, and he was deeply envious of the guys who had started out in their second year itself. He had lost out…!
And he is not alone.
There is Kalli, who started his first company in his second year of electronics engineering. He made a safety app – Tuktukmeter – which gained lots of PR and very less money. He then pivoted and did Sentinel in his fourth year; and enterprise security product. He used the IP from these, and has now created Rico: an amazingly cute dog, which sniffs out intruders, gas leaks, and few other things and lets your mobile phone know. He has slummed it out in the Valley, learnt a whole lot, and raised $120,0000 from Kickstarter. He works out of Kochi, and has found a guy in a commune nearby who built and started a hardware company for close to a billion dollars, to mentor him. A commune nearby! He knows that doing a hardware startup in India is tough, bloody tough. He is unfazed.
He is 23.
There is Ankit. Funnily, there are three Ankits I know doing startups. This particular Ankit is at Hyderabad. He and his team have figured out how to algorithmically create videos for micro-businesses, like say a saree shop, in about 120 seconds, stitched together from website images, for $10 a pop! Youtube, he says, is the world’s second largest search engine, and you need to be discoverable on it. So, there.
He is 21, I think. He looks 17.
These are just three of the many young people I have met. I am at least twice as old as all of them, and they have seen and done more. They have taken risks, I would not dream of, at that age. They are super articulate, very passionate. Their confidence shatters glass. They are building their fortunes, their future, their companies. And, as they do that, they are building India.
That is why, every time I meet one of them, a grin starts stretching from one of ear of mine, to the other. Every time.