I first met Kashyap Deorah sometime late ’08 in Gloria Jeans Coffee in Bandra. We were introduced by Sudhir Sitapati, a junior of mine from IIMA, and a then-advisor to Kashyap’s Chaupaati Bazaar. I was then in the Brand Capital division of Times Group, and the conversation likely revolved around our funding model and whether it made sense for Chaupaati to access it (It didn’t).
We lost touch subsequently, though I kept hearing of him occasionally from Sudhir. Recently we connected over an article that I had written titled Why Don’t Indian VCs Write? The article seemed to have struck a chord with him, and he shared this in the brief email exchange that we had.
In the interim seven-year period between these two encounters, Kashyap successfully exited two ventures, his then-venture Chaupaati Bazar (now merged with Futurebazaar / Future Group), and subsequent Chalo (a payments app that was acquired by OpenTable / Priceline). Thanks to this, he had a ringside view of the fast-evolving Indian startup ecosystem, albeit from a Mumbai / IITBombay centric viewpoint.
Kashyap has parlayed his experiences and the insight garnered from this vantage point to write a fascinating book on India’s startup ecosystem. And the book is also timely, because the flow from the golden tap, which has powered the rise of Startup India, has been thinning of late. Unlike most such business accounts, which typically promise much, but fizzle, this book does pack a punch. This is because, Kashyap, for one says it like he sees it, and secondly, he goes behind the curtains of India’s go-go startup burlesque to tease and flesh out underlying subtexts and themes.
This is an important book for India’s nascent business books category. It is the first rough draft (with apologies to Philip Graham) of the history of India’s startup ecosystem. Thanks to his stints in the valley, his exposure to China and the long years working in India, Kashyap is able to compare and contrast the Indian ecosystem with Silicon Valley and China. While there is considerable inside info in the book (including I thought an unnecessary unveiling of a private email exchange between him and Housing’s Rahul Yadav), the book rises above mere showcasing of tattletale and gossip, to become a searching examination of personal success and failure, walking the fine line between confidence and hubris, and the larger global forces setting India’s investment agenda today.
That having said, let me now go on to share my take on the book.
On the whole
This is a reasonably short (246 pages), easily digestible book that deserves to be widely read. Two chapters in particular #4 (dealing with Tiger Global’s investment model) and the subsequent #5 dealing with kickstarting Chaupaati Bazaar constitute the real heart of the book. For these two chapters alone, the price of Rs 595/- would have been worth it, with the rest being a bonus.
The book weaves together two threads. The first is a personal journey that takes us through the beginnings of the startup scene in India, which Kashyap and his cofounders stoke with a venture called Righthalf, to his move to the U.S., his failures, his return to India, the challenges of launching Chaupaati, and then the near-instantaneous success of his third venture Chalo. The second thread chronicles the evolution of the startup and venture investing scene in India, through the Internet, Globalization and Smartphone waves that lapped Indian shores, along with his perspectives and takes. This intertwining of two distinct threads is not easy, but Kashyap does pull it off.
The last two chapters though seem a bit disjointed with the overall structure of the book though. It is as if it were written for something else and then weaved into here. Still the content is interesting and insightful, and hence it really doesn’t matter. I did think the book would have benefitted from the touch of a good copy editor. There are occasional typos, and more than the usual number of cliches. While there are many sections where the writing blends into the background, and allows the story to stay paramount, I cant necessarily say that it is true of the entire book. But well, this is minor quibble really.
The book is clearly an IITB / Mumbai-centric view of the Indian startup ecosystem, Nothing wrong in it, given that Kashyap is not setting out to write a historical treatise. He is capturing a moment in time, as well as the events surrounding it and leading to it from his prism. Clearly this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive take as well. For that to happen, someone has to look at IITDelhi and the startups such as Flipkart that have emerged out of it, as well as the bigger startup ecosystem of Bangalore.
Kashyap is extraordinarily candid about some aspects of his life, such as his firing from PurpleYogi, the evolution of the Chaupaati idea, the Chalo / OpenTable acquisition talks etc., but glosses over some aspects such as what happened at FutureBazaar for him to walk away, and the evolution of Chalo. The latter is particularly surprising because unlike the Chaupaati idea which is covered at length, and in depth, this isn’t. It is almost as if the venture was designed and launched with the idea of being sold to a food services technology firm.
There are several fascinating insights packed into the book. A startup founder would probably be able to juice this book to the max, but even someone such as me, an outsider who is curious about the VC industry, will find several interesting snippets and insights, including on
- How Tiger Global identifies opportunities through a this-of-that investing model, with ‘this’ being market spaces, and ‘that’ being countries (So Yandex is the Google / Search Engine of Russia, and Maktoob is the portal / Yahoo of the Arab world etc), and how Tiger’s Lee Fixel decides which entrepreneurs to back (“North Indian Marwari Banias with single or double digit JEE ranks”)
- Why Tiger was able to bully Indian VCs and corner the market for India startups? In fact, Tiger and its india overseer Lee Fixel emerge as one of the key characters in the book. As one of the key agents shaping the Indian startup ecosystem, I think Tiger’s story deserves to be told. Perhaps this could be Kashyap’s book #2!
- Kishore Biyani’s views on e-commerce, and why expanding market access alone is the only way in which e-commerce can survive and prosper, when the funding tap runs dry.
- The strange jingoistic undertone that pervades announcement of funding for ‘indian’ startups flipkart, ola, snapdeal etc.
I encourage you to check The Golden Tap out. While it isn’t the definitive history of the Indian startup ecosystem, and perhaps it isn’t meant to be, it is also true that there aren’t many books such as this that get written in India, by an insider who doesn’t hold back his punches. Highly recommended.