Starting consumer-facing businesses
Anand Rajaraman, who co-founded Junglee, a price comparison platform that was bought out by Amazon in 1998, says the key difference from the prior generation of mostly India-born entrepreneurs is that the new set of founders is more confident and connected with the mainstream culture. They are also on an average much younger compared to the Indian American entrepreneurs of the 1990s who started companies after several years of work experience.
“This is why you see more consumer-facing startups than before. There has been a steady migration of Indian entrepreneurs up the stack -starting from chips to infrastructure to enterprise software to internet to consumer facing companies. As you move up the stack, there is higher risk but also higher reward,“ says Rajaraman, who n ow r u n s a n e a rly s t a g e f u n d Cambrian Ventures.
Gagan Biyani, 28, and Neeraj Berry, 27, co-founders of Sprig, an on-demand fresh-food delivery service based in San Francisco, are both second-generation Indian Americans. Backed by venture funds like Greylock Partners, Social+Capital Partnership, among others, Sprig has raised almost $60 million since it began life in early 2013.Biyani, who earlier co-founded Udemy, an educational platform, says his risk taking appetite comes from his parents. “My parents came to America with almost no money in their pockets and no social network here. That was a bigger risk than I’ve ever been faced with,“ he says.
While most first-generation Indian immigrants to the US were professionals, Ankit Jain, 29, founder of mobile analytics venture, Quettra, saw his father build three startups, which in stilled in him an entrepreneurial streak. “The reason we moved to Silicon Valley was because my dad wanted to live the startup dream. So I grew up in a house where my mom was the stable breadwinner while my dad helped found three startups. The first and third exited successfully while the second one flamed out. Growing up in such a household played a huge role in my own entrepreneurial journey,“ he says. Jain who had a plum job at Google where he was part of the Android team decided to quit the search giant and expectedly found support from his enterprising parents.
The well-networked generation
Having attended the finest US universities, these young entrepreneurs have great academic track records and to top it, they are also well-networked in the Valley among peers and investors.
Gokul Rajaram, product engineering lead at payments startup Square, says the millennial generation of Indian Americans combines the discipline and focus instilled in them from a young age by their families. This, he says, is their big advantage. “They come with a rigorous analytical and technical education; numerous role models they can look up to; and a social circle of peers that’s equally steeped in technology and entrepreneurship from a young age,“ he says.
Rajaram, who’s dubbed the father of Google Adsense, sold his venture Chai Labs to Facebook in 2010 and joined the social networking site where he stayed for three years. The new generation of tech founders has benefitted immensely under the tutelage of the likes of Rajaram, one of the most sought-after mentors and angel investors in Silicon Valley and now also in Indian startups.
The Silicon Valley influence
Amitt Mahajan, 30, who’s sold two startups, one to Zynga and another to Google, says he is now focusing only on angel investing across US and Indian ventures. While the earlier generation started investing much later in their careers, the new bunch is turning investor, mentor and advisor all at the same time, even as they run their own startups. “I always knew I wanted to start a company. I received my first computer when I was five and started to program at nine. From when I was young, my mother was an entrepreneur, and I helped her with the accounting work and lear ned from her how to be self-suf ficient,“ Mahajan says.
Kanishk Parashar, 35, CEO & founder of Coin, touted as the universal credit card when it debuted two years ago, says this generation of Indian Americans is great at taking calculated risks. “The Valley startup scene doesn’t treat failure as taboo, it’s used as a tool to help you eventually get to a successful outcome,“ he says.
Parashar has had a rough ride with the shipment of his product -a single credit card-like device. There’s been a delay of more than a year. He says he has been trying to create a successful startup since high school, but always as a side project, rather than as his only focus. “The backg round with which I was raised actually veered me aw ay f r o m c o m m i t t i n g f u l l y t o something as risky as a startup. It was only when I was able to fully commit to Coin was there significant progress,“ says Parashar, who moved to New York with his mother when she was pursuing a post-doctorate degree back in 1989.
With a solid footing in Silicon Valley, a thriving social network and a closer connect to the local market, we’ll only see more tech companies being star ted by the second-generation of Indian Americans going forward.