FEATURES/My Learnings | Dec 19, 2012 | 21016 views

Can Silicon Valley's Work Culture be Replicated in India?

Can Silicon Valley's culture of innovation and experimentation be replicated in a risk-averse country like India?
Can Silicon Valley's Work Culture be Replicated in India?
Image: Vikas Khot
Forbes India roundtable with Garth Saloner (centre), Alok Kejriwal (far right) and Rajiv Kaul (left) on how to inculcate Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation in a country like India


t is well understood that entrepreneurship is the bedrock of the economy. Perhaps the most copied entrepreneurship ecosystem is that of Silicon Valley in the US. No institution is as integral to and as embedded within Silicon Valley as Stanford University. Over the last 50 years, Stanford faculty, staff and graduates have launched nearly 1,200 companies. More than 50 percent of Silicon Valley’s products come from companies started by Stanford alumni —and that excludes Hewlett-Packard, one of the Valley’s largest firms.

So when Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Dean Garth Saloner met with Forbes India in Mumbai, we found it a good idea to engage him in a discussion with some sharp Indian entrepreneurs to understand why Silicon Valley works. What does India need to do to come up with it's own Silicon Valley?

We teamed up Saloner with Contest2Win founder Alok Kejriwal, who is a passionate entrepreneur, and Rajiv Kaul, who combines insights from the world of private equity [Blackstone] and entrepreneurship [CMS Infosystems].

Forbes India: Is the Silicon Valley model relevant for an economy like India? Is it based on a large amount of available capital?
Garth Saloner:
I don’t think either of those two things is the essence of Silicon Valley. Of course, the Valley is synonymous with tech in many people’s minds but there’s a lot of non-tech development that comes out of it as well. If there’s a trend in capital, it is towards less capital and not more of it; today there are opportunities for startups to get going because of mobile devices, which need much less capital and help them get to market quickly.

The essential feature of the Valley is the ability to incubate an idea; to take an idea that is in somebody’s head and turn it into a business in a day or six months. There’s employment and growth, and that’s an ecosystem of human capital, legal infrastructure, ideas from universities like Stanford and, most importantly, a culture that embraces startups and innovation at any scale.

Alok Kejriwal: Let me give you an example of something very strange that someone from Seattle told me. He said he was working on a game and coding it late into the night. At 4 am, he heard the thud of a newspaper at his door. He went outside and the newspaper guy was still around. He offered him to come inside and have a coffee. He asked him whether he could help him integrate the .wav file with the game code. And the guy said “Let me try.” The point I’m making is that was Seattle way back in the ’90s, not the Valley of today. The real thing to have is a set of people with a common mind who don’t find it bizarre that you’re working on a game that has to do with farming sheep, and you have 300 people sitting and thinking about whether the sheep should be white or black. Compare that to someone in Mumbai who, if you tell them “I’m farming sheep,” are going to say “My God, I don’t know why I’m dealing with you here.” [And] This is a town where we have Bollywood; nothing on earth is as bizarre as Bollywood!

Rajiv Kaul: I completely agree. There’s been an old standing culture, which has worked far more in the Valley than in other parts of the world or the US. Was it money? Was it fame? When I was in the US, I found that among my friends there was far more appetite for taking quick, measured risks, which one doesn’t get to see anywhere else. What drives that?

GS: I think if you live in the Valley or if you’re a student at Stanford, you look around and at the last few years. You see people who created something out of nothing. You say, “Why not? Why not me? What’s the next big thing? I want to be associated with that.” And it is not a narrow commercial mindset; it’s a land of exploration that goes back decades to the days of Fairchild and Intel. These things spawned brilliant young people who would say, “This company is too big for me; it’s not doing the next big thing. I want to be the Fairchild; I want to be the Hewlett or Packard. I want to be part of the next big story.”

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 21 December, 2012
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Comments (3)
H Sankaradhas Dec 30, 2012
Very interesting conversation. Our Country is growing faster than expected despite all odds. It will keep developing. But it may not compete with Silicon Valley for some more years. Time will come and India will shine by the grace of God. Definitely the mind set of people needs a change. Sharing ideas will enhance knowledge of the person and collective positive thinking will lead to prosperity. Imposing alien culture of any form, whether social or work, will lead to confusion. What is required is education and slow changes understandable by the working class. Many enterprenures are coming up and many more will come up over a period of time. Imposing changes without adequate training will be fruitless.
Raj Shankar Dec 20, 2012
Very interesting conversation. Lots of useful ideas and thoughts that could trigger some useful actions in the Indian environment. While Stanford is a brilliant ecosystem enabler to learn from, i think we also need to understand the cultural and social fabric of India. Somewhere below the surface these factors are at play. Though things are changing fast and the socio-cultural impact is also becoming more open - some things are not going to change too soon. In the interim period, we need indigenous approaches to create vibrant ecosystems that can breed entrepreneurs in large numbers. Another factor is that even within India, regional influence might play a role in identifying the catalysts. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the discussion. Thanks for sharing!

Raj Shankar
Ayesha Vemuri Dec 20, 2012
Some interesting thoughts in this conversation. However, one of the things I would ask is whether we're really asking the right question. Silicon Valley may have a certain culture that has worked successfully there, in that econo-cultural landscape, but India is entirely different, and you can't impose a work culture here from the outside, as it were. Shouldn't we instead be a little more innovative and imagine an entirely different kind of culture and space for entrepreneurship that emanates from here and isn't another borrowed artifact that will be doomed to fail?
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