Can Silicon Valley's Work Culture be Replicated in India?
Image: Vikas Khot
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.”
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