We will, on August 15th 2020, be celebrating our 73rd Independence anniversary. Like every year, pious statements of intent will be made on eradicating poverty, emotional recallings of the lives and sacrifices of the many who brought us to the present and inspirational speeches will be made on our (continued) potential to become a world power this century. The tragedy is that this has largely become a ritual. The fact that rhetoric without the concomitant instruments of hard work, will, commitment, investments, confidence, innovation, teamwork, research, capital, appropriate policies, laws and regulations, remains just rhetoric. While we have no doubt travelled afar from 1947, we remained constrained for long with a satisficing approach rather than maximising our potential. We shouldn’t be, indeed cannot afford to be, satisfied anymore with this satisficing approach; Dil maange more!
Today in 2020, with the benefit of hindsight and, hopefully, the foresight, we need to re-craft a 21st-century vision for India. One that is based on our talented entrepreneurs, rapidly changing digital infrastructure, our growing domestic market, global market opportunities, fast-growing capital availability and confidence and conviction. Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking are the bedrock of transformative change. Wealth creation and societal impact is a result of a consistent, comprehensive, widespread application of entrepreneurial thinking. From Amul to Aadhaar, there are very many examples of how leaders with vision, curated innovative solutions keeping the end beneficiary in mind.
It is important for our entrepreneurs to demonstrate the building of organizations as opposed to just building a business. Why is this important? Entrepreneurial companies are the manifestations of the beliefs and convictions of the founding team. Entrepreneurs challenge the status quo, seize opportunities, and attempt to create value for themselves and others. Building a business is done by very many, from the small paan-shop owner to the largest companies. Building an organization however, is different. An organization transcends the people, the time and place. An organization has a culture, a way of doing things, a way of thinking about things, a way of treating stakeholders, a way of executing projects. A culture that successfully and honestly triumphs over multiple “moments of truth” with every stakeholder, every single day is a culture worthy of emulation. This culture is rooted in ethics, a well thought through the doctrine of “right” and “wrong” behaviour, that is contextual, constrained by the law and appropriate for the situation.
As more and more Indian companies deliver solutions to customers and businesses around the world, it is important for them, and for the larger ecosystem from which they emerge, for them to be role models. Why? It is important for the simple reason that it is good for business. A company that is a role model generates sound financial performance, generates goodwill, satisfied customers, motivated employees, eager partners and smiling investors. But doing this consistently, over protracted periods of time, as the company scales and grows in scope, is a function of its culture. In other words, the “company” becomes an “organization” thanks to its culture.
Today, as technology and digital platforms cause enormous socio-economic disruptions around the world, and as Indian SaaS and other companies start making their mark on the world stage and attracting the attention of investors, it is important for entrepreneurs to think about the organizations they wish to create from the companies they founded. The creation of wealth, the creation of jobs, the creation of a new India are the larger downstream effects of creating successful organizations. It also brings responsibility and accountability. The ethics that hold these organizations together impact society through the transmission of values such as trust, integrity, of fairness, quality and respect.
The responsibilities are therefore profound. The onus of creating organizations is a challenge for entrepreneurs. For India to be a Global Saas hub it isn’t just sufficient to develop software, it is important that the culture of global business practices, including and especially ethics, become a part of this cultural DNA. Leadership needs to think deeply beyond the immediate and think of the legacy of their company as they transform into organizations. Leaders need to worry about becoming the best leaders they can be while dealing with the uncertainty all around. Individuals need to deal with learning, coping with uncertainty, while becoming the best they can be. This transformation is not easy or even obvious. Evolving into a global class leader requires introspection, engagement with the external world, confronting troubling questions, managing oneself and others, across function, geographies, roles; demonstrate clarity of thought, all rooted too deep convictions about not just a mission that needs to be accomplished but about the way in which it would be accomplished. The world is changing, there is rising awareness about the role and impact of digital technology. Silicon Valley that had for long arrogantly eschewed any contact with Washington DC politics is now deeply engaged. The Congressional hearings of the so-called Big Tech leaders is a case in point. Indian entrepreneurs need to realise that as they become organizations, they need to walk a path that is crowded with issues beyond just software. This path isn’t clear, there isn’t a playbook on the precise steps that need to be taken to achieve the goals. However, what is known is the mission and, hopefully, and however tacitly, the values that bind the mission.
On January 26th, 1930, a call for “Purna Swaraj” or complete self-rule for India as a republic, independent of the British Empire, was given in Lahore. No one knew how this would be actually accomplished, or what exact form this would take, or even the precise steps that needed to be taken to accomplish the Purna Swaraj. There was a sense of mission, an imagined possible end state, a set of possibilities, and the values that would buttress this goal, namely non-violence and Satyagraha movements. The goals of this Purna Swaraj were finally achieved only 17 years later! There were multiple paths and steps taken along the way but always, in general, hemmed by values.
Today, Indian SaaS and other entrepreneurs have to similarly think of a mission. A galvanizing mission, an inspired commitment, a profound commitment to values to make India a SaaSBOOMi; to create wealth and jobs, while solving business, consumer and societal problems. There are many serious problems and challenges to solve in India, across sectors and across functions. From Agritech to EdTech to Fintech, from MSME credit to managing logistics, from security to analytics, there are enough and more challenges that offer valuable opportunities for the committed, deep thinking entrepreneur. As the Indian economy becomes formal, organized and integrated with the world, it is imperative for entrepreneurs to seize the moment to create global launchpads for themselves from their Indian hubs. And build organizations, not products, not businesses, not companies. That will be the real test.
For this, a 21st-century entrepreneurial version of the “tryst with destiny” is necessary. The question then is, are we ready to take the pledge this August 15th 2020?