India's Enterprise Software Startups - InformationWeek
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2/12/2008
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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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India's Enterprise Software Startups

I'll be at the India IT industry's Nasscom conference in Mumbai this week, and one thing I'll be looking to learn is how fertile people feel the ground is for Indian startups making business software products. One key ingredient is certainly for more Indian professionals to do what Manav Garg has: Leave a BigCo salary job for the uncertainty of startups. Garg and others say the startup culture that fuels that is just starting to take root in India.

I'll be at the India IT industry's Nasscom conference in Mumbai this week, and one thing I'll be looking to learn is how fertile people feel the ground is for Indian startups making business software products. One key ingredient is certainly for more Indian professionals to do what Manav Garg has: Leave a BigCo salary job for the uncertainty of startups. Garg and others say the startup culture that fuels that is just starting to take root in India.In 2001, Manav Garg left a job buying coffee for G Premjee Group, pursuing his idea to create a software product to better manage the procurement process for commodities. The result is EKA, which is now an 80-employee company, doing most of its business in Europe that just opened a U.S. sales office.

Garg outsourced the original coding of the software, and one of the biggest struggles he faced getting started was attracting employees. "The startup culture, of working at a company with 10 people, wasn't there," Garg says.

EKA now maintains the software in-house, and says it's still difficult to get early employees. Alok Mittal agrees it can be a problem for startups. Mittal -- who heads Indian operations for the venture capital firm Canaan Partners and writes at the excellent VentureWoods.org blog -- says there just haven't been the kind of get-rich stories yet that prompt people to take the leap. "It's a question of having role models," he says. "There aren't a lot of examples of people making big money through stock options. Today, that opportunity exists on paper." But Mittal says it's becoming more common to see professionals make the startup move.

Those are the kind of people who understand the inner workings of a business process, and therefore have the knowledge to build business software to make it easier to do. If a powerhouse enterprise software product market is to emerge in India, those people will be among the leaders.

Garg predicts more people who've been making good money and saving it will start feeling they have a cushion to try something new. And for the tech-smart professionals who've made the startup jump, they don't feel they're taking that big a gamble. "They're absolutely secure in their jobs," Garg says. "If something goes wrong, they know they can always go back and get a job at a big company."

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