What’s The One Thing You Would Change In The Indian Startup Scene?


Indian Startup Scene

Recently, we got in touch with a new content marketing and branding Startup, based out of Delhi and Germany. An ex-McKinsey nerd, a former Noida resident from Srinagar, Upasna is the rare breed of tech-women diving nose ahead into a Startup starting a self-styled pro-originality war. From why originality defines brand culture, to what could change in the Indian Startups scene, she shares some interesting thoughts for us to think about.

Here are our conversation notes…

Trak.in: How does a Startup work across geographies? What’s your experience working across Germany and India?

Upasna: I live outside of India for most months, with my husband. I’ve really grown up struggling to define home, being robbed of one at a young age in Srinagar. So, I travel to know what it is. I visit India with a frequency that most Indians abroad find fascinating. Either I must have tons of money or I must be crazy. In reality, it’s neither. My four month old baby Startup was set up in India. Majority of my team, my ambitious co-founder in my dad, creativity partners, and mentors happen to be there too. I need the optimism in India. I want to go in frequently to come back inspired with the spirit of what the Startups there provide- the incessant feel that they’ll succeed and find a way through (even when sometimes they have no real reasons to think so).

Before Brandanew, my Indian work experiences were the usual technology-consulting roles – McKinsey in Gurgaon, an ICT4D NGO in Noida and a couple of software engineering jobs. My German experiences were very focused on online Startups, including Rocket Internet and the Holtzbrinck group. I’ve been blogging from my first Internship days in Dishnet, in 2003. I often say, it’s my job to fight people’s digital fears. When I talk with an Indian client their fear is- will we get liked enough? When I talk with a German CMO, the fear is, should we spend more time on it to improve so that the quality is not criticized by anyone? Culturally, people have different expectations for the same products. There’s no right or wrong, consumers in each market behave differently and therefore for us it’s am immense amount of learning.

Trak.in: Now that you’re in the market yourself, how does the Startup scene make you feel?

Upasna: Like I said, I love the optimism in general. India is a young country and people in their 20s tend to be fun. I tried thinking of a Startup in my 20s too, but I feel far more comfortable with the idea only now. I guess that’s personal. It’s taken me a while to fully absorb what I like and follow my passions. In 2000, starting with my Engineering seemed to be the right thing to do. I wanted the security of an interesting field. Now, sometimes I think art or literature would have been fun too. Even in this short 15 year span since I began my bachelor degree, I see the changes in our culture. The younger set of people are far more open to creating their own opportunities. The Internet has indeed opened up floodgates, and Startups are springing up from everywhere. It’s good when we raise a generation without the fear of failure. Yet, there are aspects that surface every now and then that I have found bizarre (or wait, seriously, did you just…) sadly.

Trak.in: Can you share some experiences that you call bizarre?

Upasna: There are a few things. Indians come with the superpower of volumes. We are a large country with a huge population and apathy. We value things that come in large numbers. “There was a bomb attack”. “Oh!”. “But it’s a small one, only two people died”. And then, we extrapolate it to everything. You can’t be a good brand unless you have 10K+ followers. No matter whether these followers come from Mars or anywhere where they have nothing to do with your brand. We buy followers to look good. Weird Twitter follower increases or fake followers do not seem uncommon. And my biggest pet peeve is plagiarism and the disregard for originality. Recently, a Twitter user brought up a case. A Startup had copied an Email from another company and sent it out to its users. So disappointing to be caught stealing! We need much broader awareness around plagiarism in any case. Stealing Google images without attributions, copying Emails from other brands, copy-pasting content without attributions is just not building on anything worth remembering.

I find small companies also investing in services to generate spam links. $5 payouts for a thousand links does not sound too much for an investment to most Startups. But the results are usually less than spectacular. The other variety of Spam generators are those brands that are sending out emails BCC-ed to a thousand people, and sent out without unsubscribe links leaving the user with no option but to mark it junk every time it hits the inbox. We even have home grown SEO experts sending out mass Emailers promoting the link buying services. Unfortunately, removing poor links – due to a potential manual Google penalty is far more expensive than brands think.

Trak.in: What’s the first thing you’d want to change in the Indian Startup scene?

Upasna: Irreverence. It took me a lot of growing up years to understand the difference between being confident and being irreverent. When people are grounded, it doesn’t mean that they think less of themselves. It just means, they think of themselves less. And there’s a vast difference in those two attitudes. Opportunities occur in our market, which is a great asset to all young people. But sustainable opportunities occur, when we create a culture of work and imbibe ethics that help us create lasting legacies. I always ask my clients, why did you start? It helps me define what brand stories will empower them to create lasting and happy consumer memories. Recently a CEO resigned transparently and wrote a letter to the investors that I read over several times. I could not understand whether it was a young kid being juvenile or was it in fact a stroke of a genius. But I do know that more than the external PR that it built, it will lead to far reaching internal consequences. How do you think his employees will resign? Small things add up. What we do defines who we are as a brand culture. It’s a conscious choice. The ten thousand hours of our struggles and experiences define us. Short-cuts are not world changing. Originality and effort are not replaceable by jugaad. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to be seen, without wanting to make the efforts of being seen well. We need to ensure what we’re choosing is not just an impulse but keeping the big picture in mind. That’s just my belief. Especially in terms of content and branding, I follow the simple logic, create good quality experiences consistently, the volumes will follow. Don’t hurry up and wait.

Some interesting thought to reflect on…

About Upasna:
Upasna Kakroo (@upasnakakroo) is the co-founder of a content marketing and branding startup, brandanew.co. Her previous experiences include- Rocket Internet, the Holtzbrinck Group, McKinsey & Co. She’s devoured urban culture through trains, art, books and travel on her blogs since 2003.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock.com]

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