By Bipin Preet Singh
My formative and early professional education happened in an India where entrepreneurship - or the more popular “own business” - was near-anathema in urban middle-class. The country’s economy started to open up to global products, ideas and firms, in addition to our own private sector, through liberalisation initiatives in the early 90s. However, I believe that as a nation, we’d only taken baby steps up until the 2008-09 financial crisis-led downturn in setting free our entrepreneurial spirits.
Till 2009, I had a satisfying stint as a hardware engineer at companies such as Intel, NVIDIA, and Freescale Semiconductor. But it left me wanting for more, and I craved for my next challenge. I did contemplate pursuing an expensive management degree akin to my peers, but decided to invest in my passion - could I create something new and meaningful from scratch? The idea of getting India to transact digitally and converting cash into digital money excited me immensely, as no one else in the country had done it before. This is how MobiKwik started in 2009.
Around this time, Flipkart and Zomato had started making ripples, but investor interest was nowhere close to what it has been in the last couple of years. For the first six months, I did everything - from product development and customer support, to business development and marketing before Upasana Taku, my co-founder joined MobiKwik. Together we put together a gritty and driven team that has grown in size to more than 210.
Today, MobiKwik with more than 25 million users and a retail network of over 50,000, powers around 60 million mobile payment transactions in a month. We are well on course to enroll in the next 2-3 years, 150 million digitally paying users, connecting them to 500,000 retailers. We intend to be the key driver towards cashless payments in all sectors of the Indian economy. A cashless economy will result in increased transparency, financial inclusion, and reduced overheads.
In the last five years, the startup ecosystem in India has witnessed a near-revolution. The mindset amongst the youth has pivoted from job-seeking to job-making and job-creation through startups, which is crucial as more youngsters come forward to take a stab at identifying and proposing solutions to business problems. VCs and investors are constantly scouting the India market to invest in promising ideas and impressive execution. The Indian government has also recognised the game-changing potential of India as a global start-up hub. It is a definitive indicator of an extremely alive and kicking
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Start-up India Standup India” initiative seeks to provide further impetus to this already thriving ecosystem by acknowledging that entrepreneurship needs specialised focus to afford increased chances of success, and discovering solutions to real-life business problems. India recently crossed the 1 billion mark in cellphone connections. Imagine, if even 1/50th of them could harness the power of internet and digital connectivity, they could become entrepreneurs in their own right and generate significant positive impact for society. This was unthinkable of in 2009.
The positives aside, the “Start-up India Standup India” initiative has to start with addressing regulatory hurdles in business incorporation. Startups should be focussing on improving/developing their idea into workable offerings, rather than having to navigate a maze of approvals just to get their business off the ground. In the same vein, the government should facilitate a policy environment that makes winding down businesses simpler. A true innovation-fostering ecosystem encourages the mantra “fail fast, fail cheap”, so that resources - financing, talent and expertise - are always available to implementable and sustainable solutions.
Another key step could be to simplify the tax regime in order to make it start-up/entrepreneurship friendly. An integrated approach to devising a tax regime that is supportive of the entire startup ecosystem is immensely required. This includes several elements such as tax liability from TDS, startups having to pay TDS even before they get sizable and sustainable revenues, service tax, VAT, MAT, tax on ESOPs, the new corporate law and tax on angel investments.
Globally, India is being looked at as the country from where the next big digital or technology innovation will emerge, one that can be replicated to solve the problems of developing markets. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to provide the required encouragement and policy support to the startups in India. We are being recognised as a start-up nation - where IT and innovation hobnobs together. This branding exercise needs to take place at a global level to woo larger global investors into the ambit.
India’s start-up journey has created other Silicon Valleys beyond Bengaluru - in Mumbai, Delhi/NCR and Pune - largely through private initiative. The government needs to encourage a more broad-based ecosystem including in rural India, by empowering local entrepreneurs through micro loans, vocational skills and access to incubators. Physical infrastructure continues to be the key ingredient underpinning a well-connected ecosystem.
We live in interesting times, as the Chinese proverb goes. Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem is poised to revolutionise the coming years - more power to it!
(The writer is the founder CEO, MobiKwik)