Som Mittal, President, National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), discusses entrepreneurship in IT with Taslima Khan. Edited excerpts:
What has changed for entrepreneurs today?
When I passed out of IIT Kanpur in 1973, we only knew how to find a job. There were no other options. I can't remember anyone who even thought of being an entrepreneur straight out of college. It just won't come to you naturally. You always thought what failure would mean. What is dad going to say? Now the big change is that failures are accepted. Now there are so many who think, if a Google can happen, why can't I try?
Do start-ups have more networking opportunities today than before?
Yes, networking is happening. Earlier networking used to mean getting an opportunity to present a sales pitch. Now it is not just about exchanging cards. It is about really connecting with people, meeting with peers.
At our events, we are getting more practitioners to talk about very direct and important things. Like, for start-ups, it is more important to invest in keeping the best talent rather than investing in office infrastructure.
Why are events important? What are you doing at NASSCOM?
Events play a big role because people need to meet. NASSCOM Product Enclave is our oldest one. The 10th edition is happening at Bangalore in October this year. The theme is different every year. Last year it was 'What are the major business priorities for startups'. Last year, the event had 1,400 people.
We also have NASSCOM Emerge in three cities - Chennai, Pune and Delhi. This is for companies that have been around for three to four years.
Are formats changing?
Yes. Formats are changing. The venues have changed. You don't have to do an event at a big hotel. People are offering their own spaces to host events. We want to do these events at smaller towns where more people are excited about volunteering to organise them. Take them to places where they are needed.
The needs of today's entrepreneurs are different. Earlier only experienced professionals thought of venturing out. Now even college students are driven by the entrepreneurial spirit.
We are realising that merely talking about things and not telling people how to do them won't help. We want to move these events towards being a 'community of doers'. Telling people how a Redbus did it.
Is that enough?
What we are doing is just not enough, though we are very encouraged by what's happening. People are showing up. Six years back, we spent a lot of time curating speakers, arranging for sponsors. But we used to worry. We had a great speaker, but would he speak to an empty hall? We also knew beforehand who would turn up. Now we don't have to worry about delegates. That's the beauty of it. We are seeing a very different excitement. In two months since 10,000 Startups was launched, we have 13,000 people registered. That's amazing.
But there isn't as much connectivity as in places like Canada or the Silicon Valley which have national level initiatives to connect all parts of the ecosystem. Here deals generating in Delhi are not able to reach investor networks in Chennai.
What's your plan to change this?
We want to do hundreds of small events now. Since we launched the 10,000 Startups Programme two months back in March, we have done 40 such meet. These are on themes like startup-investor connect. For instance, Startup Roots which had over 600 people in Bangalore, four start-ups presented to seven angel investors, and the investors has to decide then and there whether they want to invest in the start-up or not. All four of them walked away with cheques.