Starting a Business: Do Indian Entrepreneurs lack the killer instinct?


India has moved from being an agricultural economy to a knowledge economy in past decade and a half. The Indian doctors, scientists and engineers have created their mark across the globe and India. This is one of the main reasons why India is at the forefront of IT Outsourcing and off-shoring revolution too. This shows that Indians are not bad when it comes to knowledge, talent and skills. But why is that only very few Indians are looked upon as entrepreneurs ? Why is it that we hear about only selected few people who have made it big ?

I am telling you this because I was looking at huge disparity among the number of Indian Entrepreneurs versus Americans. India has less than 1/10th of them as compared to US Counterparts.
America has approx 12% of population, who have either started their own Business or are self employed. Comparatively, India has less than 1% of population who start their own business.

Why is it so?

At external macro level there are number of reasons, like unfriendly government policies, less stress on entrepreneurship in schooling and colleges, Indian culture, financial security, corruption etc…

However, there is one thing that Indian’s as individuals lack (Now I may put off a lot of readers by making that statement), which I give tremendous importance to –

It is the lack of Killer Instinct!

Indians are generally quite concerned about society and we do give a lot of importance to what people will say about us. That itself gives us an intense fear of failure. Most of us do not even think in that direction for the simple reasons “What will they say if I fail”. Some of them who do take the step, the lack of “killer instinct” does not let them go beyond certain point. Most of them surrender at first glimpse of pressure. They are unable to wade through the stormy waters of entrepreneurship.

A fine example, although not from business perspective is our cricketers. Look at them, they are highly knowledgeable, talented and skilled, but they never stay on top. They do have occasional moments of greatness but they just lack the consistency.

The reason again is lack of Killer Instinct!

I would love to hear what readers have to say…Do Indians lack killer instinct ?

However, the scenario is fast changing in India. A lot of Indians who traveled west in last 3 decades are coming back in big numbers. And these new breed are not only financially strong, but they come back with the killer instinct that is required to succeed.

I am not aware of the current numbers, but from what I see, it is amply clear that entrepreneurship is growing at a fast pace India!

Suggested Reading (pdf file): A Brave New World Beckons Indian Innovators and Entrepreneurs

  1. Nachiket says

    I dont think that india is lacking any kind of killer instinct, not only in enterpreneurship but in every field and aspect india is growing and leading ,however that growth may be slower but comparing condition of culture,tradition,middle class thinking etc… with usa and other is not just happening..if indians are behind and is not leading in this aspect then its only because of the irregularity and unsupportive administration which is faced by every individual in this country.Enthusiastic and people with killer instinct have always faced these pressure when they want to apply any type of creativeness.

    Let us take an example of a boy ,at the age of 14 years in 1996 he wanted to set up his own company in india but his application was rejected considering that he is not matured enough to handle responsibility.if that boy wouldnt have killer instinct then he would not have establish his own company in us rather than india and now he is owner 16 such companies in india and other countries and he became the first person to break the record of bill gates of setting up an company at 17(age).The boy we are taking about is subhas gopinathan from banglore..form this example we can very easily conclude that indian education system and administration does not want leading emergent bussiness individuals but they just want us to become bloody employers… so it is our education system which lacks killer instinct of creating efficient individuals leading in every field.

    1. Arun Prabhudesai says


      I agree with you the education system obviously needs to change… Here is an article that you may find very interesting – 5 things about the Indian education system that we hope changes –

  2. Iswar says

    The lack of enterprise has many reasons. Some of them are:
    1. Our long cultural, social and political history that brought self doubt and a resigned attitude.
    2. The post independent era that brought a mixed economy and hence discouraged entrepreneurs.What we see today is the result of the economic liberalisation by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr.P V Narasimha Rao. Otherwise, we would not have reached where we are today. In the years prior to 1992, it was the established business houses who were expanding and doing their bit. A Dhirubhai Amabani was an exception to that.
    3. The corruption in the country that required a higher funding levels and the poor administration that lead to delays and inefficiency.
    4. Harassment by govt. officials especially from Excise and sales tax that was nightmare for many. The little profit that could be generated was gobbled up by govt officials. This led to tax evasions and lowered tax collections.
    5. The hegemony of large companies who exploit the smaller ones in a bid to make more profit. The big companies know that the smaller guy can go nowhere for getting justice. Hence, in course of time the spirit of entrepreneurship is destroyed. There are cases where the employees of purchase and accounts depts were paid incentives to delay payments to vendors.
    6. The poor implimentation of acts like the SSI act and later the MSMED Act. I can state an example of SIDBI which told one person wanting a working capital (WC) loan that they will not fund any WC requirements but only asset building and any WC funding is only for servicing the asset. They specified that the minimum funding will be Rs. 40 -50 lacs and they are in the process of raising the bar to Rs. 1 crore. SIDBI is the nodal agency for implementing the MSMED Act. The Act specifies that any entrepreneur should be given capital to the tune of Rs. 25 lacs without collaterals. All the public sector banks and SIDBI have been asked by the RBI and the Finance Ministry to formulate their own schemes to implement the act.Till date there is no bank that has geared up for this and they demand a collateral for given any kind of loan.
    This itself speaks volumes about the state of the nation when it comes to this. No enterprising person can do anything about this. All this looks good to present to the World Bank, ADB, IMF etc.that the govt is seriously taking a legislative path to developing the MSME sector that contribute to 40 % of GDP and 30% of exports. But the govt has plenty of money for social and agriculture schemes that do not reach the person who needs it most.
    I wonder how many entrepreneurs are willing to make use of the provisions of the MSMED Act to further their business interests.
    How can a corrupt govt setup ,that is willing to be purchased by the rich and mighty , protect the new businessman from being exploited by the bigger industry? The track record of govt agencies is so poor that one does not dare to avail of the facilities provided by the ACT.
    Therefore, it is not just lack of education (both formal and entrepreneurial )or a bold citizen. It is generally, a poor administration and indifferent officials who have created in fear of entrepreneurship. When a businessman enters a govt office , he is not looked upon as person who is contributing to the GDP but as milch cow who can be exploited based on the intensity of the problem. The private sector is as corrupt as the govt or public sector.
    The quality of the people who are serving the govt or the public or private sectors has fallen many degrees. How can good decisions or actions be taken? The business atmosphere today is largely centered on money and business values and ethics have no meaning.
    We are heading the way the US companies have worked and reached the stage of bankruptcy.
    If we have to grow, there is an urgent for more entrepreneurs and a good and quality administration. We need to learn from the US , what we should not do in business.
    Entrepreneurship is a more challenging task in India and demands a greater degree of skills to tackle the atmosphere. This is an absolute waste of time and skills. A lot of energy and time may be spent to devise a strategy to deal with a govt agency.
    Volumes can be written on this but who there to listen and bring about an atmosphere where an entrepreneur can spent valuable time in tackling business matters rather than appeasing an inept and corrupt administration.

  3. Aditya says

    I think the alternatives of failure in west are much better than in India. In US, for example, if you fail and you don’t have basic education, you can still survive flipping burgers at Macdonald. In event of failure, your basic facilities include decent car, AC house/apartment, health insurance, meals at right time etc. In India if you don’t have family backing and you fail, then risks are very high. Also backing of banks and financial institutions etc to start up a new business in west are much easier than in India.
    Author wants to keep the external factors away from killer instinct (drive to succeed). I think killer instinct is a natural behavior of human being and is not just related on particular field of business. As it can be proved by the preparation Indian students show to get into top schools, killer instinct is not something Indian lack in their behavior. Its the external factors that are responsible for it.

  4. winston says

    You end up stereotyping the people in a country when you say that they collectively lack the killer instinct to be entrepreneurs………..the kind of corruption that exists in the system itself is one of the major reasons for the unfair pressures that are created for entrepreneurs.
    Inspite of all these pressures the reason that you see the number of successful entreprenures in India is commendable and itself stands witness to the ‘KILLER INSTINCT’ of our entrepreneures.
    I doubt it that under the same set of circumstances any America would be able to match his Indian counterparts….

  5. kamla bhatt says

    Ah, I am not so sure if you have checked out everything I do…have you seen the small business or single owner folks like Thangavel, the fruitwala or the owner of a veena store in bangalore or that sarangi player in dilli haat? Failure does not exist in their vocabulary from what i have discovered…it exits mostly in our vocabulary, we are the ones who do not want to leave the comfortzone of our middle-class existence. At least that is what I am discovering!

    Thanks Trakin urf whatever your real name is….


  6. trakin says

    Kamla, Glad to see you commenting here :)
    My thoughts:
    My yardstick on comparison was purely based on density and nothing else. According to me that is right…I will call Singapore more Entreprenerial than US too…because their density of enterpreneur stands at 18%….
    Having said that, I used this factor for lack of any other accurate gauge.

    Like I mentioned in my post, I am not talking about external factors here. Off-course, Social conditioning, education etc. do play a very important role and I am not denying that…

    At external macro level there are number of reasons, like unfriendly government policies, less stress on entrepreneurship in schooling and colleges, Indian culture, financial security, corruption etc…
    However, there is one thing that Indian’s as individuals lack (Now I may put off a lot of readers by making that statement), which I give tremendous importance to

    The subject of this post is the “Inner demons” of individuals. Killer instinct, according to me, is something that comes when you are extremely confident backed with knowledge and skill having NO FEAR OF FAILURE.
    Indians, as individuals, do not lack knowledge and skill, but that fear of failure eludes them of “Killer instinct”. The is especially true for large Indian middle class…
    This subject is highly perceptive and is formed based on one’s circle of people and experience. My writing is based on what I have seen of my friends and probably some of the demons that I am fighting myself. Kamla, you for instance are always in touch with Indian entrepreneurs and budding business people with your podcast initerviews. You circle and experience consist of mostly successful people and hence what you commented is absolutely true from your perspective…
    And by the way, the name will come out soon :)

  7. trakin says

    Winston, Thanks for your comment…
    and I agree with your thoughts on education and personal security. Those surely are the reasons as I have mentioned, but I still feel Indians in general lack Killer Instinct. I am tired of seeing highly talented Indian people innovating and working for someone else, instead they should actually be starting their own venture.
    Unfortunately, they do not have the mettle to take the risk.
    The advantage of lower class of people is they do not have fear of failure or social pressure of succeeding. Also, do they have secure job openings, due to less education…so there main alternative is to start something on their own…
    When I said killer instinct, this is actually for people who do take the risk and lot who are not able to carry it through….the main reason being they balk under pressure, they do not have the aggression, will and killer instinct to move forward..

  8. winston says

    Its not really killer instinct that is lacking, shortage of entrepreneurs is more an effect of our social conditioning. even our education system does not paint a true picture of the prevailing conditions………..we are tigers when it comes to theory but are in a way whimpering idiots when it comes to application. Consequently we do see a lot of individuals with lower levels of education showing an entrepreneural bend of mind………..the educated middle class still puts security ahead of risk.

  9. kamla bhatt says

    12 percent of 300 million and 1 percent of 1 billion…can you compare apples to organges? I am just wondering.

    Entrepreneurship is not lacking in India. I agree with Winston that it has something to do with social conditioning coupled with lack of sufficient role models and education or access to information. Remember that memorable line from Bunty aur Babli that went something like this: Tata aur Birlas asman may pedha nahi hoye….

    Killer instinct? They have plenty…just look at the entrepreneurs in the diaspora community. Silicon Valley is a good example…but of course the supportive environment plays a crucial and important role.

    Tune it to Yogen Dalal of Mayfield Fund’s interview to find out what he had to say about entrpreneurship in India. Listen to Indu, the mallishwali and her flair for entrepreneurship. What about the kirana shop owner? Of course, you need to tune in to my show :-)

    Best of luck with your research Trackin urf waiting to find out your real name.

    kamla bhatt

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