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Old 31st May 2015, 00:36   #1
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Default Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

The question is really that simple. Why doesn't India have an Elon musk ? Business opportunities exist where there are problems and there is a need for innovation which brings a Delta, or in other words, a product that brings a significant change to the end user. With all the so called engineers we have, we seriously can't produce one Elon Musk ? There are tonnes of problems here that Elon Musk can probably concoct two solutions for each problem.

So far I can think of the Flipkart and Snapdeal guys but what they're doing is just run of the mill dot com stuff. Nothing too wow about that.

Maybe there are unsung entrepreneur-heroes in India trying to change things, I'm not sure. But it's a very open ended thread.

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Old 31st May 2015, 01:27   #2
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

While it's easy to blame the supposedly rote education system or the government, a simple fact is that a lot of currently well-off families were poor a generation or two ago. Hence they tend to hold on dearly to stable incomes and jobs. Children of well-off families are more likely to opt for 'risky' ventures. (Think Maslow's hierarchy of needs)

Plus an argument could be made about the mindset. Indians generally are very traditional, a bit serious and less likely to be reckless in everything. Being such a crazy (in a good way) and driven person takes exactly the opposite.

US has it easy primarily because it consists of immigrants (in no way am I trying to demean anyone's achievements). Its population has already been selected for people who are more willing to leave the safety net of family and society, i.e. are a bit less risk-averse. Put such a bunch of people together and magic is more likely to happen.

Also, 'wow' rarely lies in the idea, but in the execution. Companies like Flipkart, Snapdeal etc are solving logistical problems that are compounded by the lack of development in India. They would likely be making huge amounts of investment in infrastructure, supply chains, last-mile problems etc. Their size is forcing the government to pay attention to their existence. They are paving the way for crazier future startups.

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Old 31st May 2015, 01:48   #3
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

Oh, this is very easy answer. As an entrepreneur operating in India over a decade, I think I am qualified to answer this.

We may have quite a few who have the potential to become like Elon Musk, but our system doesn't allow it.

Outdated Customs policy
We live in a global economy where any product consists of components from multiple countries. But our customs department still labours under the assumption that any imports are bad. Why is this important? Any new research is not done from scratch, but it is built upon existing technology. If you want to create new technology, you need best of equipment, and best of components. If you are in business friendly country like US or Singapore, you can source equipment from various countries within days and go about your job. This is not possible in India. My company is part of a venture where we are trying to build a cutting edge equipment, which needs parts from China and Europe. We provide the computational support and an unit in West Bengal does the core R&D. Most of the time, the R&D team is fighting with the customs over shipping manifest, what is the worth of each item, etc. Often the parts spend many months in the customs warehouse. Meanwhile, the researchers have to be paid salaries to twiddle their collective thumbs. I thought KA was bad enough, but every dealing with the government in WB takes 8-9 months to complete. Elon Musk would slit his wrist under such circumstances.

Statues & Regulations to protect the old guard
There are laws that doesn't allow new technologies to replace old technologies. Example, VOIP law. These days the talk of net neutrality is making rounds. But there is another very old anti-net neutrality law that has been around, only to protect big telephony companies. In India you can't have a single phone call span PSTN infrastructure and Internet. In the absence of this law, every STD/ISD/local call would cost the same. And numerous interesting applications of VOIP could be utilized. But no, this technology remains banned. If an Elon Musk comes up with an technology that threatens the revenues of large infrastructure companies, like Elon Musk does in USA, it will be banned in India to protect existing industry.

Business/Taxation Laws from hell
Angel investment is taxed at 30% even before it can be utilized.
Can't close a company easily if an venture fails.
Very hard for foreign investors to take money back.
This is a list without end....

And I have not even touched upon the corruption and harassment from other government departments or the employability of engineers from our colleges. We have the perfect recipe for stopping any Elon Musk from being produced. Instead, our system is engineered such that only wheelers and dealers who know how to grease the government wheels would see any success. Meanwhile innovators and researchers are either filling customs forms or moving to countries where they can operate freely.
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Old 31st May 2015, 02:33   #4
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

Wow, only two posts into the thread and there's a lot of insight.

@anku

thanks for the insight into the flipkart and snapdeal logistical facade . My first post sounds ignorant now. Did not mean to belittle them in anyway.


@samurai
that is a ton of first hand experience there. thanks for sharing. So is that it ? Do we write India off ? Will people with such aspirations and dreams have to move to USA to achieve anything similar ?
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Old 31st May 2015, 10:08   #5
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

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Originally Posted by D33-PAC View Post
thanks for the insight into the flipkart and snapdeal logistical facade . My first post sounds ignorant now. Did not mean to belittle them in anyway.
No, you are not totally wrong about flipkart/snapdeal. They are not doing anything for the first time. Internet commerce is around since 1996. When you say Elon Musk, you are talking technology revolution, a paradigm shift, he is trying to change the world. Even Apple can't claim they have done that.

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So is that it ? Do we write India off ? Will people with such aspirations and dreams have to move to USA to achieve anything similar ?
In the current climate, that is the situation. Our laws are framed in the mindset of the colonials. If something is not expressly allowed by law, it tends to be not legal or will be made illegal. When VOIP came around in the beginning of 21st century, many entrepreneurs tried to provide cheap ISD calls by establishing IP PBX in India to receive IP calls from USA. That was the technology behind cheap calling cards sold in US. Government swooped in, made it illegal, and went on arresting all the people who dared used the new technology.

Checkout this news from 2004, where the 'hero' government catches the 'bad guys' for using the latest technology.

http://www.business-standard.com/art...0301095_1.html
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Old 31st May 2015, 10:12   #6
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

Chetan Maini from Reva calls himself the Elon Musk of India.

Ofcourse this is left to debate.
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Old 31st May 2015, 10:13   #7
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Duh.... There are many.... But they end up in the USA (just like Elon did) where the opportunity and risk capital is.

So many examples starting from Dr. Hargobind Khurana who decoded the DNA and Vinod Dham of Intel.


And continuing forward.

India has a set of problems different than that of the US. We will have different types of Heroes.


Look up Dr. Devi Shetty's success with making cardiac surgery low cost and Shankar Netralaya for matching UK NHS level quality at a few percent of the cost.

And ISRO feat of sending a Mars mission at lesser cost than the budget of the movie Gravity.

Lots of examples.

But cutting edge scientific work will be done in the developed world for now. They have the strategic vision and resources and that is a place where an Elon Musk can make things happen.

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Old 31st May 2015, 10:43   #8
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

Superb answers in this thread already!

Let's first break down what you mean by "Elon Musk" in this current context.

The way i see it, this is the formula:

Elon Musk = Money + Brilliance + Execution + Publicity


Now i can bet that there are tons of people as brilliant in India, and solving problems with ingenious solutions on a grass-roots level.

The difference is that they don't have the money, therefore can't really manage the same execution, and they don't have the same publicity that goes with it. Therefore they aren't 'Elon'.

Sure, Elon built up his fortunes himself, though:
a) He still had a better starting point than the average Indian (in terms of finance)
b) Back when he was building his fortunes, nobody wanted to be an "Elon Musk". Barely anybody knew about him. It's the current formula (don't underestimate the publicity part) that make people know about him + wish we had more of him.


I'd say lets also include links & examples to people who could very well be India's Elon (sans the same financial backing & publicity), rather than only listing out reasons why India does NOT have an Elon Musk.

Some possible Elons here? : Quora - What are some inspiring Indian entrepreneurial stories?

EDIT: And more - The "Grassroots innovators" are point 16 onwards

Last edited by Rehaan : 31st May 2015 at 11:02.
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Old 31st May 2015, 11:13   #9
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

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a) He still had a better starting point than the average Indian (in terms of finance)


Good point. I think something that needs to be highlighted here is the risk capital as someone has mentioned before.

Elon Musk had adVenture capitalists backing him. I think he said even his own investors didn't know what the internet was when he pitched his dot com. Holy hell with investors like these backing you it's almost like having access to some divine intervention that cements your road to success.

I doubt there's a single investor in India who would want to invest in an Indian "Elon Musk" with the risk of losing money. People here would want to see proven models and proven money spinners. Any investor in India will talk about financial statements, margins, so on, and the story ends right there.

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Old 31st May 2015, 12:05   #10
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

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Originally Posted by drsingh View Post
Duh.... There are many....
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rehaan View Post
I'd say lets also include links & examples to people who could very well be India's Elon (sans the same financial backing & publicity), rather than only listing out reasons why India does NOT have an Elon Musk.
I think we are having different views on what Elon Musk concept is... at this rate someone will say Arindam Chaudhuri is an Elon Musk, for making us think beyond IIMs.

Elon Musk brought highly experimental concepts to practical use. We have been hearing about electric cars for many decades, but he made the first practical electric car that everybody wants to own. And it didn't come from the car industry. Similarly, everything Elon Musk does, he is the first in the world to make it commercial success. He is a pioneer in the world stage in pretty much every field he has ventured into. If you start comparing him to just successful people in India, then we are totally diluting the concept.

Those of you who are old enough, think about what we thought about 21st century in the 60s,70s and even 80s. The last scene in "Back to the Future" (1985) didn't surprise us, for flying cars with fusion reactors fueled by garbage would obviously exist in 2015. I was planning on buying one this very year... so where is it?

Unfortunately, Governments and large businesses focused on maximising profits and ignored basic R&D. Instead of scientific innovation, we got innovation in accounting and financial engineering which practically wrecked the world economy.

However, Elon Musk has brought excitement back about the future. Now we can again think about solar powered cities, practical electric cars, space travel, etc. Governments and large businesses are happy with maximising profits via taxation and spreading to new markets, respectively.

I think original poster was referring to the above concept, cutting edge innovation as a business model. As Neil Degrasse Tyson says, people get inspired by such innovation driven economy. Doing something cheaper or repeating what is already in many developed countries is not innovation, it is just adaptation.
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Old 31st May 2015, 12:14   #11
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Default re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

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I think original poster was referring to the above concept, cutting edge innovation as a business model. As Neil Degrasse Tyson says, people get inspired by such innovation driven economy. Doing something cheaper or repeating what is already in many developed countries is not innovation, it is just adaptation.


Precisely what I meant. I did not mean monetary or entrepreneurial success. I'm talking about men who try taking humanity to the next level. Elon can be placed in the same league as Henry Ford, Karl Diesel, Howard Hughes (The Aviator), the Wright Brothers, so on so forth.

Rich men come and go. India has lots of men wealthier than Elon. But when is the last time any of them came up with something like the Hyperloop ?
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Old 31st May 2015, 18:57   #12
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Default Re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

Glad, this thread about Elon Musk has been brought up, I'm a huge admirer of his ability to innovate.

Some valid points from Samurai on how our bureaucracies don't support radical innovation.

My point would be - our society has a lot of conditioning on us right from our birth. Our relatives, friends have a lot of say in whatever we do in every stage of life. Due to that, the scope to try anything different is very limited and the chance given is only once or at the max twice, as else a person has to face the tag of being labelled Eccentric.

If you look at Elon Musk or James Cameroon or anyone abroad who has brought in radical shift in their fields, majority of them would have tried multiple/different things at multiple/different stages in their life, their personal life would be of many wives, many breakups and litigation, etc.

In India, most of us are raised and educated to finally secure stable jobs under corporates. Our sense of radical pursuit is at the max an MBA or MS from reputed universities in India or abroad, or getting in the field of cinema. Even the brightest among us will succumb to societal pressure, either intentionally or subconsciously, to fit in to the societal norms.

Humans achieved the maximum when their free spirit was left to wander. Developed countries let people do that, what with a kid getting to see cars, houses and sex at very young age. In India majority struggle to make a daily living, so they voluntarily get into the cage to not make their situation worse than what it already is. Our children's aspiration in life are getting a own house, own car and good money. Most western kids are born with all these.

From my experience abroad, I realized that Indians are no less capable intellectually to any other race in the world.

I'm sure as India progresses and becomes a developed nation, we will see a lot of Elon Musks.
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Old 31st May 2015, 19:59   #13
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Default Re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

After seeing this topic only, I googled Elon Musk and came to know about him. Kudos to Team-BHP for bringing out such varied topics for discussion! I also concur with Samurai that it is the environment which prevents and Elon musk to be produced in India.
Just Imagine! An Elon Musk in India at the peak of his intellectual powers being stymied by our own red tape who know nothing other than strangling any kind of fresh thoughts! Even to think of Elon Musk standing / sitting opposite the desk of such a babu sounds reprehensible / reviles one's imagination! Ugh!
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Old 31st May 2015, 20:09   #14
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Default Re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

Fortunately, we are not lacking in entrepreneurs. Just don't expect to see them in the same numbers as salaried people. If you look around among your friends, you will know a few, and that's enough. And entrepreneurs can hire engineers to do the innovation, get investors to supply the money, etc. We have communities where entrepreneurship is preferred over jobs.

Some of you might not have appreciated why I focused so much on statues & regulations. It is really a big deal. Any entrepreneur is continuously looking for opportunities and concocting business plans in his/her mind all the time. It is the nature of such a person. I have gone through this process of business plan brainstorming for both India and USA markets, countless times. In those countless business plans, there is always a section that addresses the statutory/regulatory environment that the business has to face. In case of US, that section is really thin, like don't conduct business with axis of evil countries. But in the case of India, that section keeps growing as your dig deeper. Eventually, the business plan may get shelved because of that section. It happens at least the half time, and more so if material export/import is involved.

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Old 31st May 2015, 21:23   #15
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Default Re: Why doesn't India have an Elon Musk?

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But in the case of India, that section keeps growing as your dig deeper. Eventually, the business plan may get shelved because of that section. It happens at least the half time, and more so if material export/import is involved.
Wasn't liberalization supposed to fix all of this ? And lots of state governments are trying to set up single desk windows where one department takes care of the so called red tape. Do you think this will help or it's all policy vanity.

Also I think your views are shared by the biggest of businessmen too. I remember reading in some interview, Azim Premji was asked about Wipro's success and he said it's because they have absolutely 0 involvement with the Indian government during Wipro's operations. That says much.

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