Snehashish Bhattacharjee is a decorated veteran of India’s tech scene. He began working at Wipro (which was the Software arm of Wipro – now part of Wipro Limited) before moving to Microsoft India in 1997, becoming the tech giant’s 35th employee in the country. Now Bhattacharjee is global CEO of Denave, a global sales enablement platform that he and two other former Microsoft employees founded in 1999. It was one of this year’s Red Herring Top 100 winners. Bhattacharjee shared his thoughts on India, scale and going global.
When did you decide to break from Microsoft and found Denave?
At that time India was going through a major VC funding boom, and all around us were people leaving their jobs and getting funded just on concept. Second, I think we’d been working for a certain number of years, and the corporate world had given us a lot of education.
From that time to now the company has changed colors—from wanting to be a company that can be the de facto standard of channel management, to helping companies achieve their sales goals.
How has the Indian tech ecosystem changed from then to now?
The generation before us found it very tough to think about entrepreneurship in India because there was no ecosystem. Our time was a first-off push because of the VC funding coming in with a lot of money. Incidentally we didn’t get funded, because by the time we started our business in ’99, we came to the LOI stage by 2000 with a large investor firm, but that is when the market crashed. However, we believed in our ambition and decided to stick to the goal we had set for ourselves.
But today’s entrepreneurs, their opportunity and their advantages are many more. At our time technology was not an advantage. Technology was still a last part of the puzzle you might look at. Today technology is a huge advantage. And the ecosystem supporting startups now, and the present government, they have a good strategy to incubate startups as an opportunity for India.
What are India’s biggest entrepreneurial advantages in 2016?
We have 60% of our population by 2020 becoming employable. So getting talent is not a challenge. The younger generation is much more adventurous than us, because they see many more opportunities in front of them. And they are also much more advanced in terms of their ability to think outside the box, because they have much greater exposure. Every third family will have one person thinking of setting up their own business.
When we started, our ability to get good direction, in terms of mentors or advisory on the board, was not simple. Today you have voluntary bodies which actually focus on incubating startups: people who’ve made their money who have now become angels themselves. Indian Angel Network, for example.
Take the Top 100 event. Around 60-70% of entrepreneurs are from India. That is a reflection of what is happening today. I was speaking to a guy the other day, a first-time entrepreneur, who got into it straight from college. That’s happening much more because of the ecosystem.
Do you think India’s massive size hampers its tech startups?
Indian entrepreneurship is about solving a mass-scale problem. Which is where it will succeed, because the country is all about mass and scale. Why do we not have great quality product entrepreneurs coming out of India yet? In India the basic population is more focused on Getting Things Done. The orientation of people is to find a solution that works at a comfortable price and not really focus on creating the best quality solution since that comes at a premium.
Indian entrepreneurs now mostly talk about addressing the India challenge. Because that in itself is a big challenge. Anyone who’s thinking of global will need their own exposure.
The environment in India teaches an entrepreneur to solve a problem of scale and diversity. Lessons from India can be replicated in other emerging markets. For global expansion, entrepreneurs will have to step out and get exposed to the world outside India. I think 80% of entrepreneurs in India are still solving India. Very few are equipped to go out and build that global solution.
How has that informed Denave’s own movements outside India?
At Denave we are going to the UK market, Malaysia, and now the US market. What we have learnt in India is not necessarily applicable in the UK, or Malaysia. What we have learnt in India that can be leveraged are the systems and processes that make my service work. How it gets implemented through the local population is a different question.
One very clear need we understanding is the need to expand the management bandwidth. My management bandwidth in India might be the best, but perhaps not the best option when I am starting in the UK. We are toying with three or four different ideas.
In Singapore and Malaysia we’ve created 100% substream, run by local country directors. And we have some very clear running guidelines that are maintained across every country. In the UK we toyed with a JV. My next expansion plan, which is for the US and Australia, we will probably not look at a joint venture. We will probably look at a 100% acquisition, or we will create a 100% substream from scratch. We are also thinking about eastern European operations, and are thinking about Poland, which is the standard place people are looking at.