Dear Sachin Bansal: Letting go of Flipkart must hurt, but here's your big chance to build a great Indian tech giant

I was catching up last week on the web series, TVF Pitchers , about four young men wanting to get funding for a startup. I particularly enjoyed a scene where they are desperately seeking to divert the attention of competitors in trying to meet potential investors. One of them says, Dekho, Sachin! No one moves. Sachin Tendulkar nahi, Sachin Bansal, he says. And they all rush out, leaving the field open to them.

That's how inspiring you have been to a whole lot of Indian techies and sundry young women and men wanting to live the Silicon Valley dream in India. So it was a tad sad to see you sell your stakes in Flipkart to global retail giant Walmart in the $16 billion for 77 percent stake that India and Wall Street are talking about. However, it was sadder to see your name missing from the press release that announced the deal, despite you being the founding CEO of the online marketplace that came to be known as the "Amazon of India" before it became, er, the Walmart of India.

It must hurt you, I think, to see your name missing from the public recognition, though others are looking at you -- as I did -- as India's youngest self-made US dollar billionaire on the Forbes list of the super rich.

Congratulations, Sachin! I remember landing in Bangalore a few years ago to meet and interview Jeff Bezos, the man whose Amazon gave you a break after your Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) days before you broke off to start on your own. I was duly impressed by the welcome boards you had hung out for Bezos. You showed a spunky, adventurous streak often missing in Indian entrepreneurs. We could not make out if it was a rival's challenge or a seller's welcome but it sounded good.

But you know, after that, Flipkart turned somewhat inward-looking and nationalistic, and it appeared you were understandably concerned about uneven competition from Amazon. You were moaning about 'selective globalisation' and 'capital dumping' -- a fashionable term for deep-pocketed multinationals trying to steamroller local startups.

Sachin Bansal, co-founder, Flipkart. File photo. Reuters

Sachin Bansal, co-founder, Flipkart. File photo. Reuters

In real life, Asterix sells out to the Roman Empire, as your deal this week shows. Discretion, after all, is the better part of entrepreneurial valour.

What next? Everybody knows now you are rich, but let me quote you again: "We are making a mistake by not thinking of Internet and technology a strategic sector and depending too much on China and the US to build that for us... We have the capability, we have the know-how to do this in India ourselves for our markets."

Sachin, here's your chance to 'build' something all over again, this time for keeps and without too much fear of being overrun because, as the late Nasscom president Dewang Mehta once said of India's IT industry, "the sun, the moon and the stars have lined up." This time, they have lined up for you. Here's why.

--You have a billion dollars in your pocket and that should be a lot for risk appetite. You can run your own personal venture fund or do even more. More important, the billion dollars is clean cash because you no longer have responsibilities in Flipkart

--Many entrepreneurs have become investors and mentors but few have gone on to build big companies because age and energy levels are a factor. You will turn 36 later this year, and have youth on your side, with a combination of experience. That's a great place to be

--You have a computer science degree from IIT, and that gives you the intellectual muscle to create, supervise and nurture technologies, but at the same time, you come from a small trader family and have already built a huge business. There are geeky startup founders and there are institution builders, but it is rare in India to find someone with both qualities

--You said the Internet is a strategic sector, but forgot to mention that it is still very young as a technology paradigm. Artificial intelligence, in which you have a keen interest, is just about taking off. So are robotics, the Internet of Things, data science in various shapes and sizes and even genomics. Nothing can be more exciting than a combination of youth, experience, capital and several new fields waiting to be conquered. There is not much now to stop you now from building a new age technology company.

--While on that, it is time for you to shed that 'for us' thing in your nationalistic fervour. Just as you don't like "selective globalisation" there cannot be a geographically selective entrepreneurial zeal. Why build only for India? Your friend Bhavish Aggarwal of Ola Cabs has taken his company to Australia to battle Uber and it is nice to read about it in the Sydney Morning Herald.
All these reasons are good enough for you to take a big leap forward. There is no room to complain. Go for it.

While at it, remember that globalisation is as much an opportunity as a threat, and intellectual property is where the action is. Your father knew about profit margins. You know about algorithms. You know, that's the way to go. Why fret about capital dumping when you can be a capital dumper and patent rockstar rolled into one?

(The author is a senior journalist. He tweets as @madversity)


Updated Date: May 10, 2018 11:13 AM

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