Startup Life In India’s Organized Chaos

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by “entrepreneur around the world” Nir Eyal. In this post, Eyal explores some of the challenges of managing a start-up in a country where disorder is an integral part of the way the country runs.

“India is a woman”, so told us a young Indian a while ago in Goa. We were sitting in one of the countless restaurants scattered along the Goan beach and heard for the first time a phrasing of India in one sentence that actually explained something about it that we always had a hard time with. “You must understand, in India the female energy is the dominant one”.

At first, considering the level to which Indian women have to cover themselves in public and the prevalent focus on wedding and children, it sounded a bit peculiar to us. But the young woman went on to explain: “What I mean by feminine energy is… as in the west, in countries like Germany, everything works on masculine energy – order, reason, precision.

In India everything operates on feminine energy – feeling, flow. Everything is emotional not logical.” Putting aside the specific characterisation of what is feminine and what is masculine, that statement as it relates to India, just clicks right in. It is something that is very important to know, especially when you try to do something as logical as working, managing a business, from inside India.

Disorganized Order

At times is seems like nothing here works efficiently or even in a conceivable manner. If one boat takes you across the river, it will not take you back. A different boat takes you in the opposite direction. Public transportation will not arrive on time. Electricity will work when it feels like it. If it says that a road leads to one place, it does not contradict the fact that if you take it you will get to a completely different place. If a store is decorated with electronics equipment signs it doesn’t mean it is not a deli. And if they say that there is WiFi, it usually means that there isn’t WiFi just now, but maybe tomorrow. That’s why keeping a relatively continuous Internet connection in India becomes a journey in and of itself. In a business in which Internet access is the access to the business itself, it is a serious issue.

Sometimes I imagine that all the communication in India is done by scribbled-on paper notes sent in shabby auto-rickshaws across the Indian roads. Just every once in a while, for my sanity’s sake. It is hard to understand it otherwise. That is also why most answers from tourists, to any question you might ask here, will be: “It’s India”.

This giant sub-continent, comprised of many small states, is having difficulties with issues such as consistent cellular policy. Along the way we meet many people with small colourful collections of Sim cards from all possible cell-companies stashed in their wallets – six, eight, ten and up. Many people need so many Sim cards, because each Sim gets reception in a different and unexpected part of India.

Also because the operating of a Sim is a cumbersome and awkward feat that includes filling out all your personal details on a piece of paper that has to physically reach the company offices in god-knows-where. Often the paper is lost on the way or the company simply decides that your personal life info is not sufficient to allow you a cellular service and block it. It is not surprising that Colnect already has many Sim card collectors registered under the phone cards category. That is what happens when you combine feminine energy with good old fashioned British bureaucracy.

Welcome to Goa

We arrived at the beach laden Goa, to the quiet Ashvem Beach. We bought two new Sim cards, In addition to our previous one that was blocked, getting only Hinglish (Hindi+English) automated messages. Trying to operate the old Sim repeatedly led to the same pre-recorded customer service lady, that always answers in the bemused tone of a middle aged woman sitting at home with a glass of red wine.

She is very pleased to tell you – that the card no longer works. India is a long path, full of curves and turns. Sometimes a turn could be there purely for the humor of it, because it doesn’t lead anywhere. Like their infinite adorned gods, their endless elaborate myths, the incredibly detailed temple walls, everything is there for the beauty of it. And that is a point one must understand. Maybe there is a lesson there too – to do things for their own sake. But if there is a place you need to get to, you will encounter trouble.

Now we are sitting on the rooftop of the apartment in Ashvem. Goa in general and the area of Arambol beach in particular have been transforming into little Moscow for a while now. Russian tourists flock here in great numbers on every bathing season, every business on the nearby coast line is decorated with Cyrillic letters and the beach itself is mainly decorated with minimally  dressed Russian women in pseudo-hippie attire.

In Goa we chose to reside through Couchsurfing. To those who are unfamiliar with the concept, it is a website where travelers host in each others’ homes all over the world. This time it was with a group of young Russians that rented an apartment near the beach. A cheery but Russian-speaking-only bunch, which was joined by a few more guests: two French girls, a German guy and an (US of A) American guy.

The rooftop has WiFi. There might not be a cable connection in Goa but there is a wireless one. Work is flowing onwards. Bugs on Colnect are getting fixed while real life beetles and all kinds of other insects are lazily buzzing about. Below the building we can hear a roaming group of wild hogs calling out their mating calls while Frognector stares back at them. Between sunsets on the beach, which is very much like an extended coconut-palm filled version of the beach in Tel Aviv, is seems surreal to wonder about how things at home are, and what a community spread all over the globe of stamps and coins collectors will be needing right now. Nothing beats work in motion.

Image: Zubin Shroff

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