Indian Entrepreneurialism Version 4.0

Date:   Wednesday , May 06, 2009

I first came to the U.S. in 1974 with only $50 in my pocket and a desire to get the best technical education I could. In the process, I also discovered that I had a passion to create and grow businesses, something that I have now been pursuing as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur for over 20 years. Over these years, I’ve watched a fascinating evolution among the Indian entrepreneurs of the Valley.

It is interesting to note that in 1970, 51,000 immigrants from India were recorded living in the United States. By 2006, that number had grown nearly 30-fold to 1.5 million, making Indians the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States. Many of this group have found a home in the U.S. start-up culture and thrived. Today, they have become the most dominant ethnic group in Silicon Valley, running over 700 technology companies with aggregate sales in the billions of dollars.

But beyond the statistics, what I find fascinating is how Indian entrepreneurialism has evolved from technical leadership to global business leadership in what I believe are four distinct phases – or, in the parlance of enterprise software, four major “versions.” Each version has broken new ground and provided the basis for growth in the version that followed. It’s important to note that sometimes the versions represent different generations and sometimes they represent the stages of evolution within the same individual.

Version 1.0 – The Expert

The 1970s roughly marks this first version, where larger numbers of technically skilled Indians began coming to Silicon Valley. They were well educated, having studied at highly competitive technical schools in India, such the IIT schools. They were also highly motivated and attracted to the notion of working at a large, global corporation, such as HP, where they could capitalize on their expert skills and have the chance to contribute to significant new innovations that could make a broad impact.

Version 2.0 – The Manager

The 1980s saw Indians start to transition towards larger roles running entire business functions or business units. These individuals were entrepreneurs in the sense that many of them were breaking new ground by leading early phases of expansion across a broad crop of new technology companies. Some even went so far as to establish and even bankroll a new set of companies that would later turn into stalwarts of the technology industry. A great example of this is Vinod Khosla and the contributions he made by helping to start companies like Sun Microsystems and dozens of others.

Version 3.0 – The Visionary

In “version 3.0” we saw the emergence of a large number of Indians pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams and starting new companies. This version of entrepreneur was usually characterized by a focus on the “exit,” as in a sale of the company, before the founded company became too large. I also refer to this version as the “Serial Entrepreneur,” because many of these individuals never stopped innovating and created one new company after another.

Version 4.0 – The Global Business Leader

As we entered the new millennium, version 4.0 emerged and it is this version that we are watching evolve today. In Version 4.0, the aspiration has become not just creating new value and being rewarded for it, but building a global brand and a company that withstands the test of time. This version of the Indian entrepreneur is also influenced by the dynamics of the global economy and is looking for ways to make an impact across borders and geographies, including investing back into India itself.

As I reflect on growing impact of Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, as well as my own experiences, it strikes me that three key ingredients are critical to the success of any entrepreneurial endeavor:

Anything that has been done before can be done better. Nike proved this by transforming our notion of footwear, despite shoes being a pretty well developed concept already. Truly understanding the customer, finding their needs and pain points, and creating new ways to deliver value can lead to tremendous business success even in what are perceived to be well established industries.

Surround yourself with people smarter than you
I have been doing this for years. There is no substitute for raw IQ. Don’t hire people who only agree with you, but rather seek people who dare to disagree and show you a different path. Team players are okay, but it is the quirks of “prima donnas” that can help spot the emerging trend and how to capitalize on it.

Persevere and don’t ever, ever give up
We all experience ups and downs and it is a long haul on the road to success. But ultimately, a core element of the successful entrepreneur is just the pure tenacity to turn your vision into reality. You must also stay nimble and avoid complacency, always searching for the edge to accelerate your business. Finally, don’t worry too much about the competition, as it can be a fatal distraction. Perfectly profitable companies disappeared overnight trying to beat competitors that didn’t have to be defeated. Stay focused on developing your own company’s value to your customers.

There is no magic formula involved. These are just some of my reflections from the past 20 years. As I look back, I take great pride in the collective accomplishments of Indian entrepreneurs and I, along with many others, eagerly look forward to the still-to-come, increasingly important, and truly global contributions of tomorrow’s

Vivek Ranadivé is the Chairman and CEO of TIBCO. Ranadivé founded TIBCO in 1985 with the vision of bringing real-time technology into the mainstream.