Entrepreneur First, Employee Later: App Startups May Reverse Rules

By N Madhavan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi.

Time was when employees with years of experience founded startups and got rich selling stakes in IPOs or buyouts. Now, the design may just get overturned in the world of new age startups thriving on ubiquitous mobile applications (apps).

The new mantra could be: start with a startup, and get hired by bigger companies later at hefty salaries — because a rocking software developer is hot property.

“We have to have 10X the quality, revenue and number of developers,” Google India’s managing director Rajan Anandan declared on Wednesday as he blessed a new 5-year programme by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) to multiply 10-fold the number of developers in India.

“A bunch of them will go and work for other developers,” he said. “Imagine 500,000 really good developers. That is the true ‘Make in India’ story.”

It gets tricky to understand how people will start as entrepreneurs or early hires in a shaky startup but the current spirit is such that talented youngsters often like to set out on their own early. Sometimes, straight out of college. Quite a few of the CEOs at IAMAI’s “Mobile 10X” programme who were holding forth on how to start and build companies were 20-something folks with a ‘been-there-done-that’ attitude — and hefty venture funding to match.

The ones listening intently were even younger — though it mattered little that one who stood up to ask Anandan about funding had only two customers. The Google India head, who doubles as an angel investor for startups explains how easy it is these days to borrow a cousin’s laptop, write some code and call yourself an entrepreneur.

Startups are famous for high failure rates, and mobile app startups may see even more, Anandan admitted. “But entry costs are down to zero.”

The boom has just begun but the ground is decidedly slippery.

Parag Shetgaonkar, 31-year-old co-founder of Bengaluru-based Android game developer Indelible Technologies, says he and his two other co-founders now earn about $150 (‘10,000) per day from three games, but the journey has been tough after they started doing it part-time during day jobs.

“It took us a year and a half of work day and night to get here,” he told HT. “If we don’t get funded in six months we might go back to regular jobs.” But the smart ones who work with entrepreneurial zeal may become great hires for large, innovative companies.

Consider that WhatsApp, which got acquired by Facebook for $19 billion (Rs 1.25 lakh crore at current rates), had only 55 employees.

Indian apps don’t earn similar bucks, but there is a global market on app stores for iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry platforms, and the big ones will strike it really rich.

“It can make your resume look good,” says Nishant Rao, India country manager for career site and IAMAI’s chairman. Rao said the main purpose of the IAMAI programme was to build capacities in India, while funding and talent in general was not a problem.

“When you create value, the money figures itself out,” he said.

“I have around 12,000 active users for one app which makes over $25 a month whereas another app with 15,000 active users makes around $400. So, eventually it depends on the app itself,” Darshan Gowda, an Android app developer, said on In monthly terms that translates to a modest Rs 27,000.

For many aspiring app developers, the startup scene is akin to Bollywood, where one among the many strugglers becomes a superstar.

However, employability of Indian graduates is dismal. This is often linked not to basic skills but industry-ready orientation.

The IAMAI programme aims to bridge such gaps.

The Mobile 10X project aims to bring peers and industry experts to hone skills for developers–such that when young geeks may fail as entrepreneurs, they might yet succeed as rockstar employees.

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