India’s startup spirit: a global investor’s perspective

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The internet works, the power is on. That's all we needed to rise: Balaji

Balaji S. Srinivasan, an Indian-American entrepreneur and investor renowned for co-founding Counsyl and the former Chief Technology Officer of Coinbase, recently shared his insights regarding the investment potential in India. His perspective offers a unique blend of entrepreneurial acumen and cultural understanding, positioning India not just as an economic force but as a civilisational entity undergoing a significant transformation.

Srinivasan draws an intriguing parallel between India and a startup. He acknowledges India’s ancient civilisational roots while emphasising its rebirth following economic liberalisation in 1991. This rebirth, akin to a civilisational reincarnation, has enabled India to leapfrog traditional developmental pathways, mirroring the agility often seen in successful startups. The transition from landlines to mobiles and from cash to digital payments (UPI) exemplifies this leapfrogging, a testament to India’s adaptability and innovative spirit.

His views also touch upon the unique positioning of Indians as underdogs, a narrative divergent from the often depicted extremes of overconfidence or poverty-stricken despair. The portrayal of Indians in media, such as the film ‘Super 30’, contrasts sharply with western narratives, offering a more nuanced view of the Indian ethos and ambition. This underdog status, according to Srinivasan, is not a sign of weakness but an indicator of untapped potential and a drive to excel on a global stage.

The strength of India’s diaspora forms another cornerstone of Srinivasan’s argument. He suggests that while China may dominate the ‘home game’, India is uniquely positioned to excel in the ‘away game’, leveraging its extensive and decentralised diaspora. This diasporic influence, combined with a rising national profile, is reshaping India’s global image, enhancing its soft power and creating a new narrative for Indian emigration and influence.

The concept of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) is pivotal in Srinivasan’s investment thesis. He cites the success of Indians in various global economic hubs and suggests that similar transformations within India, like those seen in GIFT City, can elevate the nation’s business environment. He argues that by emulating the economic freedoms and facilities seen in places like Dubai and Singapore, India could significantly enhance its appeal to international investors.

Srinivasan’s approach to investment in India is pragmatic and forward-thinking. He sees India not just as a market to invest in but as a dynamic environment with evolving capabilities. This approach involves identifying and nurturing potential, much like a tech investor would with promising startups. His focus extends beyond mere financial investment to fostering an ecosystem conducive to innovation and growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response to Srinivasan’s tweet underscores the alignment of these views with India’s national vision. Modi’s emphasis on India as a land of trendsetters and trailblazers in innovation resonates with the country’s aspirations to be a global leader in technology and entrepreneurship. This sentiment, coupled with an open invitation to the world to invest in India, reflects a confidence in the nation’s trajectory and its role on the world stage.

Srinivasan’s views on India encapsulate a multi-dimensional understanding of the country’s potential. It’s a perspective that sees India not just as an emerging market or a tech hub, but as a unique blend of ancient civilisation and modern entrepreneurial dynamism. This blend, according to him, positions India uniquely in the global economy, not just as a market to invest in but as a partner in shaping the future of technology and innovation.


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