How Indian Startups End Up Spending More & Don’t Do What They Should


startup success

When you run a startup, you don’t do what large companies do. There aren’t any massive office campuses or even straightforward regular offices to speak of. There are no rows – added to more rows – of employees hunched inside cubicles, and there’s certainly no cash lying around for spending willy-nilly.

Startups are tight. To run a startup, you are better off being a tightwad smart sheep. There are plenty of habits that are peculiar to startup entrepreneurs. Shane Snow of Contently lists out at least 9 in his post on Huffington Post.

The trouble is this: startup culture isn’t just about hatching ideas in the shower, putting up landing pages, validating ideas, and launching with an abandon. It’s about being smart. Since startups are a global phenomenon, it’s not just San Francisco that peeks out from the blanket. There’s India, and there’s Chile too.

Many Indian startups aren’t smart, by any measure. In so many different ways that if you actually look at the entire set of startups mushrooming today along with those that seem to succeed, you’d realize that most of those startups don’t do what they should. Plus, they always end up spending more for nothing to show for.

Here’s how they end up spending more and not do what they should be doing instead:


Office. The works

One thing Indian startup entrepreneurs never get over is the need to look “official”. Books like Jason Fried’s Rework are good weekend reads and nothing more. Most startups start looking for offices the first thing ever. Then, they do the woodwork, hire people, get necessary licenses (if needed), and when everything is in place (including the credit card debt, bank overdrafts, and loans), they go looking for customers.

  • First, get customers.
  • Next, understand that not all businesses need offices.

But then, who are you trying to explain this to? Try explaining this to business owners who just spent a good part of their startup capital on a nice, fancy office complete with beanbags.

Hiring The Traditional Way

India is a land that thrives on its culture. Now, while that culture isn’t uniform and isn’t easy to grasp, there’s a long history associated with this land and its people. Jettisoning tradition for new ways doesn’t come easy. That brings us to the hiring practices that Indian startups follow.

If an Indian startup isn’t using recruitment consultants and specialist hiring companies, you’ll see them on job boards off online publications, specialist sites such as, and a few others.

That’s commendable, but what follows from there on is like blast from the past. Freelancers are rarely employed in India. Consultants are too expensive for Indian startups. Both Indian and global startups revert back to traditional hiring processes – looking for full-time help when they would be better off looking for freelancers or talent on the cloud.

Digital Marketing? What’s that?

Here’s a pop quiz for you: What do Myntra, Jabong, Flipkart, Ola Cabs, Snapdeal, Bluestone, OLX, 99Acres, and many other startups in India have in common?

Answer: They all advertise more on Television and elsewhere instead of using the medium they thrive on: the Internet.

There’s no such thing as digital marketing. If there is, there might be random bursts of paid advertising (maybe we should thank god for at least that).

All known and popular methods of marketing on the digital medium are unheard of. Blogging is non-existent. Social media is another medium for promoting the heck out of products, and email marketing is mostly thought of as spam (and they go ahead and broadcast spam anyway). And guest blogger outreach? Good luck with that.

It’s funny that most of the startups and ecommerce sites thrive on the web but depend on traditional methods of advertising. They should learn more about digital marketing and understand the effectiveness of it instead of trying out the traditional methods. Big brands have budgets (and backed by investors) where small startups need to think about cost-effective ways.

We are like that only

Startups succeed because of the talent behind those awesome ideas. While 40% of Indian talent seems to float towards the startup scene, there’s a huge gap in how startups look for talent, the actual skillsets available among the pool of employable candidates, and the actual hiring itself.

Startups themselves work off a chaotic, disorganized, and completely vulnerable scenario. That makes talent incredibly hard to find. Now, consider this: Tim Nichols compiles what 7 successful startup entrepreneurs do for attracting top talent.

We’ll now see how Indian startups check off against that list:

  1. Sell your business (Idea): There’s usually no selling. Just one or two bloated egos on the other side of the table “informing” what the startup does.
  2. Sell your vision: Sorry? We didn’t bother because we are so sold on it ourselves that we thought you’d get the picture.
  3. Offer a motivational environment: You mean, all those other recruits off business schools busy to show everyone else what Product-Market fit is?
  4. Offer more than the salary: Salary is all you get (this is called as a Cost to company which includes yearly bonuses, cost of the chair you sit in, and the endless cups of coffee you down). OK, we’ll be fair enough: you just might get stock options or partnership stakes.
  5. Culture is king: We have plenty in this country. Each state has a different one, in fact. At work, however, the only thing that matters is work.
  6. Flexibility: You won’t do any other work (paid or honorary) while you work with us. You will come here and work on location, everyday. Sure, you get 1 or 2 work-from-home days.

Yes, we are like that only.

We are not saying all startups are like this. It’s a big country and we could be easily stereotyping. But most Indian startups are like this. Just like the startup phenomenon mushroomed, we are hoping that startups also espouse the best way to run and manage themselves.

About The Author

Pratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, and Entrepreneurship. Pratik has spoken at the 80th Annual Conference of the Florida Public Relations Association, Accounting and Finance Show, Singapore, NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee, and other major events. As a passionate SEO and content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory, and Inc42, to name a few.

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