While every trip to India seems to be eventful, the last one was especially enlightening and entertaining. Once again, the challenges and opportunities hit me across the face with a 4x4 vehicle.
As a typical Indian, I like deals and don’t mind shopping around for bargains. So instead of flying to Bangalore from San Francisco, I took an Air China flight to Delhi via Beijing since the price was significantly less. The journey had its share of entertainment—a gate-change at the last minute, a scuffle between a passenger and airport staff—and took considerably longer.
Upon landing, the reality of India greeted me with a white board and a handwritten note: “Taxi and bus strike in Delhi. Regret any inconvenience caused.”
Anyway, I cleared customs and boarded a flight for Bangalore. The entertainment didn’t end here.
Upon landing in Bangalore, I was told there would be a strike in the so-called Silicon Valley of India the next day that would keep trucks and taxis off the roads. I somehow managed to attend my business meeting, thanks to an enterprising taxi driver who tailed a police car all the way to the hotel where I had to go.
There was more to come as I headed to Mumbai next. The unpredictability of India and the pleasure of meeting some remarkable companies kept the excitement level high, despite the lack of sleep.
In Mumbai, what I had forgotten was the power of the monsoon. The second day in Mumbai put me right in the middle of a deluge, and perhaps one of the most interesting taxi driver conversations I have ever had. I was going from a hotel to meet a company. Normally, I could have made the trip in 10 minutes. On that day, it took almost 45 minutes because of the rain.
I had called an Uber, and it took almost 30 minutes for the driver to get there. The driver, Mukesh, gave me a glimpse into how things are changing in India. Mukesh had been an Uber driver for six months. Previously, he had an auto furnishings business making car seat covers and then pivoted into doing warranty repairs for suitcase manufacturers. When the business didn’t work, he switched to Uber. He preferred Uber over Ola, he told me, because “Uber is owned by north Indians and Ola is from the south”.
As we made our way through flooded streets to my destination, I was blown away by his adaptive ability, resilience of the people I saw managing through the flooding (some of them smiling and actually enjoying the deluge), and as proxy, the resilience of the nation. Despite what man or nature may throw at India, the country keeps going and growing.
A fantastic complement to broad-based resilience is the escalation in creativity and entrepreneurial innovation that I observed across the country. While investment activity in India has seen a bit of a pullback over the past year or so, the quality of entrepreneurs and ideas continues to improve.
On this trip, I visited perhaps the most intellectually appealing set of entrepreneurs ever, from makers of electric vehicles and lunar explorers to those working on robotics, ground-breaking biotechnology and artificial intelligence-driven industrial automation. The aeronautical engineer inside me was, quite frankly, jumping with joy. This wave of innovation will, over time, turn into a tsunami that the rest of world will, no doubt, feel. And as I often say, if one can make a technology idea succeed in India despite its shortcomings and challenges, one can make it thrive in other parts of the world.
There continue to be issues that are uniquely Indian (with the combination of man and nature made obstacles). But, over the course of one week, across three cities and random set of interactions, many of which were unpredictable, I once again came back not with a feeling of pessimism but sheer optimism driven by the grit of the people, the quality of world-class startups now emerging and scaling, and next decade of massive growth fueled by technology and policy that is going to make India the envy of the world.
(Mohanjit Jolly is partner at technology-focused venture capital fund Iron Pillar. Views are personal.)
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