Most start-ups in India are copycats: Kris

Thomas K Thomas Mumbai | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on August 26, 2016

S. ‘KRIS’ GOPALAKRISHNAN, Co-founder of Infosys

‘To help emerging entrepreneurs get new ideas, need to promote academic research’

If there is one sector which has been the epitome of India’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, it is the informational technology services. The sector has gone through its own ups and downs, dealing with controversial events like the Satyam scandal on one hand and celebrating the emergence of new age entrepreneurs on the other.

One such stalwart of the industry, S. ‘Kris’ Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys and Chairman of Axilor Ventures, has launched a unique initiative to capture the history of Indian IT industry through a series of video commentary by 44 prominent people who have been associated with the sector in one way or the other. Called itihaasa, it is a first-of-its-kind digital museum mobile application that recounts the history of Indian IT since the 1950s. BusinessLine caught up with Kris to know more about this project. Edited excerpts:

Why have you undertaken project itihaasa?

The idea was to relate the incredible story of Indian IT to many people across the world. itihaasa unearthed hidden nuggets and insights that make for a most compelling digital museum.

How and when did you get this idea?

It was in 2008-09 when a casual comment by one of our clients about the friendship and respect within the industry, despite being fierce competitors, stuck in my mind. So when I stepped down from Infosys, I thought I must tell the story of this industry. So, we starts thinking about how should we do this history project. I wanted to play with a new of delivering content. Fortunately for me, everyone who I talked to agreed that it is an interesting project and they supported it. So, we have 44 stalwarts who have shared their thoughts, anecdotes and have documented the history through their own words, their own perspectives.

Why not a book instead of an app?

I don’t write very well plus I wanted to do it differently. Through this platform, we can use this to document history projects going forward. This also allows us to keep updating with new videos and content regularly. We have created an advisory board who will help guide this and sustain the project. It will also do research on impact of technology and impact of policy on industry.

Can you share some interesting anecdotes from the videos?

There are many stories and anecdotes. For example, there is this story about using bullock cart to transport computing equipment. In 1963, IIT-Kanpur’s first computer, an IBM 1620, was brought to the institute in a bullock cart rather than a truck, for fear that the latter would produce more vibrations that could disturb the electronic parts.

How did you approach the story?

It is an insider view. It is based on looking at same topic from different perspectives by different people.

How objective is the narrative? Some say that you have skipped all the so-called bad things in the sector?

Yes, it’s about the success of the IT industry. It’s about the good memories. There are stories on the challenges that people talk about in the videos but they also talk about how they overcome it. Satyam, for example, would have been bad for the industry but it was managed like never before and never after. So many companies in India are not doing well but no one has done anything like what was done in the case of Satyam.

While you have rightly highlighted the success of IT services, what about the hardware manufacturing side?

Market was not in India. Market was there for PCs — a commodity product. Commodity products do very well in India but it was difficult for us to become big in that area due to lack of capital. Our market has been a follower than a leader in this area. To a great extent the e-commerce sector now is like that. Huge amount of investment is needed before you see success. Hopefully this time around, we will not be short of capital or else we will lose out again. If you don’t invest someone else will take away the opportunity.

The other criticism about the IT services sector is that everybody went for low hanging fruit. Did we get left out when Googles and Facebooks took away the market?

We are the leaders in IT services. So, let’s talk about that success. Today, we have some top products. In banking, for example, all top products are of Indian origin. There is only one Google or Facebook and they are from the US, not from other parts of the world. We have been able to do well in one aspect — IT aspect. Indian developers are sought-after globally. We leveraged our strengths — engineering. What is wrong with that.

Nothing wrong but some would say we could done more in terms of creating IPR...

The story is not over. What we need to look at is that we have this base of 4 million professionals who we should leverage. In a way we are leveraging that in the start-ups space. We have become the third best destination for start-ups. Lot of start-ups are looking at new technology, new models. Next Google or Facebook could emerge from here. There are already such examples emerging.

But Indian start-up get acquired by MNCs after a while...

We need to get smart there. Why are Indian investors not acquiring global brands. We did it in auto, steel and telecom. So, we should also be doing it in IT.

Is there an issue with the way we educate and train engineers? The same engineers do extremely well once they land up in silicon valley.

It’s the ecosystem. The circumstances under which we operated in India, earlier.. it was a small market so was not that easy.

One are we have to catch up is academic research which needs huge investments. Start-ups have taken of but most them are copycats.

They are not getting ideas from academic research. So, we need to promote academic research so that start-ups can get new ideas.

Published on August 26, 2016
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