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Is the general argument that Indian Startups are largely me-too concepts of Startups from the West true?

This has been a topic of debate ever since the coming of age of the Indian Startup industry. While Pundits and Evangelists have mixed views that range from for and against, the answer is quite clear; we are today facing a herd mentality in a frenzy to create the next Amazon or Uber from India. This has naturally taken its toll on true innovation, a quality that is ideally inspired by a genuine market need and ideally one that is hitherto uncovered and also has the potential to rapidly scale. This has in turn resulted in a situation where Startups are not chasing successful growth in their core business anymore, but rather pursing short term evaluations and funding.

It is widely acknowledged that this is a prevalent trend among Startups to simply simulate or copy other successful startups rather than to experiment with a new concept. In fact many of the large Indian Startups are probably to blame for this contagious trend.

Indian Startups that mirror International Startups

Flipkart was originally launched in 2007 as an Indian answer to US e-commerce giant Amazon. Bhavish then later launched Ola on the lines of US taxi aggregator Uber. According to Tracxn an analytics firm that maps startups, there is an estimated 50 me-too startups that take shape in India for every successfully funded startup in the US.

Riteesh Agarwal and his OYO rooms is another example that emulates the globally successful alternate stay platform Airbnb. Adding the competition Yogi of Stayzilla openly professes that his brand is designed as the Indian answer to Airbnb.

Thirukumaran Nagarajan and Sharath Loganathan’s grocery delivery app Ninjacart is said to be designed on the lines of US based Instacart. Bangalore based Zoomcar which is the brain child of America born Greg Moran is said to be fashioned around prevalent business models in the US like a Hertz, americacarrental.com or autorentals.com.

In the mobile payments space, Abhijit Bose, a Harvard alumnus who has worked with Oracle and Siebel Systems, launched Ezetap in 2011. The Bengaluru-based payment device maker’s solution appears to be along the lines of US-based mobile payment company Square. The success of Snapchat and Whatsapp in the US and Wechat in China has triggered a slew of similar concepts including Viber, Hike, Line, etc.

Lessons from Hollywood for Startups

While there is no doubt about the fact that Indian Startups have a lot of talent and potential, but is it time for our great country to emerge from the shadows of colonialism and grab our moment in the spotlight. This can only be achieved by igniting the light of true innovation and differentiation in order to lead by example. It is no doubt that India is a hotbed of opportunity considering we have a sixth of the world’s population, that we are the world’s largest democracy and the fact that India’s GDP is growing at a rate of 7%.

Where can our startups look to for inspiration?

Where else but Hollywood, the land of dreams.

Hollywood is a melting pot of creativity and innovation. You blink and you find a new story or presentation that leaves your senses reeling in awe. The way in which the cast in this complex industry comes together to make one master piece after another is a marvel in itself. What is commendable is the fact that their movies are created for global audiences. I don’t need to remind you of the struggle that marketers in India face in an effort to appeal to audiences by cutting through diverse cultures, languages and religious divides that a country like India offers. Juxtapose that with Hollywood and imagine how their movies need to counter a similar scenario, albeit on the world stage with much more complexity.

While the industry’s construct and its seamless functioning contributes to its success, let us look at the themes and genres that Hollywood offers its worldwide audiences. The universality of the themes and the storylines that relate to the masses is naturally key to its colossal appeal.

Let us look at the some of the popular movie series/ franchises and their reasons for creativity and Innovation.

  • Star Wars – This is an iconic series that delves into the realm of space and extra-terrestrial life. Its well-loved characters over many decades portray life on other planets and the conflicts that arise with other races.
  • Pirates of the Carribean – Who can forget Johny Depp and his annoyingly appealing character of the sea pirate in the series. The creativity in his colorful character, his antics on the sea, the aspect of the living dead, etc go on to make this a much loved movie franchise.
  • The Fast and the Furious – This is one of my all-time favourite’s appealing to the masses due to the machismo, the speeding cars, the colourful characters and the glitz and glam.
  • The Expendables – While this movie may not be a huge grosser in the box office, one must spare a thought for the idea in bringing in an overdose of adrenalin with the spread of superstars who are all action heroes of the past and present. While many of the scenes and the dialogue delivery may be comical at most, just the theme and the star cast makes it worthy of credit.
  • Spiderman/ Superman/ Batman – These are 3 successful super hero movie franchises. Remember that these films although completely fictitious are loved and watched by the entire family. These characters as you would recall have grown with you since childhood through books, to games, to movies.
  • Avatar – This movie for me represents a new era in CGI and creativity in 3D animation. Hats off to James Cameron for delivering such a unique science fiction masterpiece that showcases conflict between humans and foreign life on another realm. The visual treat was created during the emergence of LCD and LED TV technologies which added to its popularity.
  • Transformers – Could you ever imagine your automobiles coming to life, well that’s exactly what happens here. This franchise has been built into a large business empire spanning movies, games, books, park rides and many more.
  • X- Men – This is another all-time favourite of mine, purely from a creativity perspective. Can you imagine your friends and acquaintances who are part mutants? Well in reality it seems to be a reasonable idea if you believe in extra-terrestrial life and aliens. This action packed series which shows mutants coexist with humans is another hugely popular series today.

In Conclusion

Dear Indian Startup, the examples above are just a tip of the iceberg, and there is creativity and innovation in most blockbuster movies and series in Hollywood. I believe there are valuable lessons to be learnt from how they approach and create these masterpieces. The overarching message is that India is a land of opportunity, one that is packed with potential for growth and success. While there could be many reasons for the plunge in creativity and innovation, I for one think it is time to introspect and course correct, particularly in a time like this. With funds drying up and investors scrutinizing every concept with a magnifying glass, it is time to start creating solutions that cater to the world market. We need to develop true winners that are born from seeds of ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ and with the right potential to take on the world.

And Hollywood in my opinion, can offer you just the right dose of inspiration, to make you sit up and look at things differently.