I get this question from time to time from people who are looking to move to India from the US and other parts of the globe. These are very qualified people but the fact of the matter is. for more mature startups, most of these senior roles are already filled. As someone who moved back to India after more than a decade outside, I always try to encourage people on making this move and have blogged about things to ponder while planning a “Career Move to India”. For senior technologists and product folks who are looking to move back, I want to add a few more points here:
- Stage: Figure out what stage company you want to join. Early stage (seed/Series A funded) vs growth stage (Series C or later) as it relates to the following points
- What do you want to get out of the experience: This is something you need to be very clear about. Do you want to use this role as a transition to doing your own startup in a couple of years (might be better to go to a later stage startup or even an MNC) or do you plan to grow with the company over a longer period through their exit (early stage startup)
- Roles and responsibilities : Are you particular about a VP or CXO title – if so an early stage startup might be more appropriate. Tougher to find these in growth stage companies. As an example, a seed/early stage company probably will have a tech team of between 5-20 people and might want a VP of Engineering to lead the whole team and also wear the CTO hat to figure out tech strategy for the company over the next couple of years. A growth stage company might have a 50+ member tech team and might need a team lead for one particular product which could still be a 10 member team. What role is more suitable for you?
- Salary vs. options: How is your cash flow situation. If you have a good safety net and don’t mind lower salary and would like to take on more options, then an early stage startup is probably better for you. Alternately, if you need slightly higher income but don’t mind lower options – growth stage is for you. While doing this math, especially for people looking to move back from US, remember that if you adjust for Purchasing Power Parity, India is roughly at 1/3rd US. and so if you are making $200K in US and someone offers you $100K in India you are going to be saving a lot more in India from your salary. But, you are never going to save enough from your salary (US or here) to retire in 10 years, whereas the options will give you that upside (if the company clicks of course).
- Age: Know this can get controversial, but if you are in your mid-late 30s and if you can split the next 20 years into 4-5 year chunks, you probably have 4-5 shots at goal in your working career. In most startups, within the first 2-3 years you will realize if the company is going to do well or not and most probably your options will be vesting over 4 years and so you will be 50-75% vested in 2-3 yrs. By this math, if you have 4-5 shots at goal left in your working career, this is the right time for you to take those bold bets and go earlier stage into a startup that you think has a higher chance of success and have a big impact as a leader in that company to ensure success. You could take two such shots at goal over the next 6+ years and if either of them clicks you are good to retire and don’t have to work for money. If not, you would have learnt enough across a breadth of responsibilities to be hired in a senior role at a growth stage startup or an MNC at a cushy salary and you go back to status quo in building your retirement kitty slowly over time.
One other point to note about the Indian startup ecosystem is that, over the past year or so, I have seen a few VC backed early stage startups not doing great (shutting down or being merged into other companies), but the good news is that talented senior people from these teams (particularly technologists) are being aggressively hired by other startups. This is good for a culture that is known not to tolerate failure in the past – we are learning that the startup game is bound to have failures but not all failures can be attributed to people. And that good people, irrespective of the startups outcome, deserve and will get good jobs.
Look forward to hearing from people planning to make such moves or looking to join startups. I know many startups in our portfolio and outside that are looking for good senior technology and product folks across multiple sectors. Feel free to ping me at in.linkedin.com/in/ananddaniel/ if I can be helpful.