Talk by Viswanathan Mahalingam to PSG Tech students in July 2020. Talk intended to Information Technology/Computer Science engineering college grads @ India
My father is a mechanical engineer and works in a sugar factory as General Manager in Karnataka. For a long time (pre- IT boom), marine engineering jobs were one of the highest paid jobs in India. My father actually wanted to become a marine engineer, but my farmer grandfather overruled him stating that seafaring as a risky job. So, my father made my elder brother a marine engineer. Oh, why else will you have kids, if not for your dreams! My brother is a marine engineer, who works for Bernhard Schulte Ship management company. BSM is one of the largest ship management company in the world. Ship owners lease their ships to BSM. Brother works in contract mode, where he sails for 6-8 months a year, transporting iron ore and other natural resources from all parts of the world (Australia, Brazil, etc) to China.
Sugar, shipping, oil, banking industries are what I call ‘old world Industries’. How much ever my father or brother worked hard in their lifetime, they will be only paid salaries and bonuses, but not stocks or equities. Forget about buying your own ship or building a sugar factory. Also, these industries are heavily regulated by government and entry barrier to start a business is very high. You need license, land, lots of money, etc. I simply call businesses / companies where the owners / founders are willing to share their wealth in terms of equity to their employees, as ‘New world industries’.
I suggest to read Paul Graham’s essay on startups, mainly to highlight that every year thousands of cafes and barber shops are opened across the world, but not all entrepreneurship can considered startups. Once I was tricked by a frenemy to meet an IIT educated ‘entrepreneur’ in sweltering Chennai heat, who turned out to be a multi-marketing amway agent.
Also, I want to put a disclaimer that in contrast to popular opinion, you will be financially better off (most of the time) to work in a well established company (FAANG, Salesforce, Paypal, etc) than to work in a startup. You will have a relatively stable, less stressful job. The common reasons on working in a startup are faster learning and career growth, even if your startup is not successful, your resume and future career prospects will be better. But the most important reason I think to work in a startup is it gives you space to try out your ideas. A friend of mine working in Google, Mountain View complained that his bosses are not listening to his ideas. He exactly knew why Google+ is failing compared to Facebook and how they can make Google+ win. I was telling him, well, Google became Google without your ideas in first place and they hired you not for ‘your ideas’, but to execute ‘their ideas’. If you really want to try your ideas, then quit Google, go find your own company or join a early stage startup, where you add value. He moved to Bangalore from Mountain View few years later and indeed quit Google to start https://crio.do with another friend, who worked in FlipKart.
Working and starting a startup, brings back the concept of ‘Ecosystem’. Vasco Dagama, first European to find a sea route to India, didn’t wake up one day from sleep and sail to India straight away. It took multiple generations of Kings and Sea Farers, it is an ONE HUNDRED YEAR dream project to collectively find the sea route to India. Starting from Prince the Henry the Navigator time, Sailor Alvaro Fernandes reached Siearra Leone in 1446, Diago Cam reached Congo in 1482, Bartolomeu Dias circled the cape of good hope – 1488 and finally Vasco da Gama – reached India in 1498 and future seafarers sailed further east finding routes to South East Asia and Far East(Spice islands then). The successes and failures of each sailor, helped the next one to take a step forward. The present era venture capitalists are similar to those Kings and the entrepreneurs are akin to the sea-farers, with the architects, product managers, et.all to the sailing crew. FlipKart’s successful exit has created the startup ecosystem in Bangalore. Coimbatore has a good manufacturing and entrepreneurial base. Let’s hope that Coimbatore gets its own FlipKart sometime in the future.