Book review: An inside view of Indian startups

  • Sujoy Gupta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 07, 2016 13:55 IST
The selfie generation: They don’t know it but revellers like these celebrating Gudi Padwa in Mumbai have inspired smartphone entrepreneurs to constantly innovate (Getty Images)

This reviewer has used a golden tap at the home of a Dubai based tycoon (who is, alas, dead and shall not be named) so he knows firsthand the exotic object isn’t fiction but fact. Curiously, it is present not just in cloakrooms of the global hyper-rich but also in the secretive world of international hyper-finance.

Young Kashyap Deorah graduated from IIT Bombay as recently as 2000 and moved to Silicon Valley. Inspired by Russian capitalist Yuri Milner whose fund DST Global created history by investing US$ 10 billion in Facebook, he dared to dream big. DST got involved deeper in Silicon Valley history when Facebook bought Whatsapp for $ 19 billion, the world’s largest tech acquisition yet.

Dazzled Deorah’s ambitions were stoked. He began tracking the birth, growth, success and failure stories of “unicorns”. In hyper-fund jargon a unicorn is a privately-held billion dollar company. These are not location centric; business is where money is. According to him, there were 182 unicorns in September 2015. Two-thirds were in USA, nearly one-third in China and, good to know, half a dozen in India. Owners funded a fraction, venture capitalists earned riches bravely financing the rest. Deorah started his first company while at IIT and has gone on to begin and sell three companies and mentor many more.

The Golden Tap: The Inside Story of Hyper-Funded Indian Start-Ups
By Kashyap Deorah
Roli Books (Pp 248; Price Rs 595)

Now an accomplished player in his chosen profession, Deorah is still cloaked in anonymity in keeping with the ways of the hyper-funding business. Doubtless emboldened by success, he has authored his maiden book based on experience, participation and ringside observation. Unfortunately, his effort is plagued by the fact that he is not a neutral observer aloof from surrounding excitement like an umpire at a cricket match.

This reviewer will restrict himself to two shortcomings. First, the book bristles with first person pronouns such as “I”, “me” or “my”. Second, too many real life companies are named, many among which are doing business in India and are commonly known. The latter feature provides large scale publicity – deservedly or not is a matter of opinion – to these companies. This is tantamount to promoting them. A more mature author would have surely depicted the broader picture impersonally in a detached fashion leaving individual companies (which might include the author’s clients, who knows?) quite alone.

The giveaway flaw is the three-word phrase – “The Inside Story” – present in the subtitle. This phrase is redolent of new authors’ let’s-titillate-the-audience ambitions. Perhaps the author’s urge to tell “the inside story” has contributed to the book’s weaknesses.

Regrettable though that may be, it does not take away entirely from the book’s value. After all, it describes and analyses an introverted business service which neither the vendor nor the end-user wishes to allow into the public domain. However, Deorah has not made the “fatal flaw” – every author’s nightmare! – of writing a tell-all book. His informed study of the history, albeit short since this business sector is barely 25 years old, interestingly describes the creation of internet entrepreneurs, the globalization wave and the phenomenon of smartphone entrepreneurs, among other subjects. Deorah describes himself as a player at each stage and his firsthand knowledge, replete though it might be with “I’, “my” etc, has the virtue of being wholly reliable.

Some of his pithy remarks are worth remembering: “It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.” Another pertinent view: “I consider the global tech landscape deeply connected with India due to flow of technology and funds.” The next one touches the fringe of current world politics: “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

This is a book that stands out in its esoteric genre.

Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer.

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