I want to be VP of Engineering of Flipkart, can you help me?

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.

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Career Move to India

You probably read the Economic Times article titled “50% of US green card holders plan to return home”. It might not be 50%, but based on the number of inquiries I get from friends wanting to move back, it does feel like a good number who want to move back and be part of the vibrant Indian economic growth story. I was reading Shyam Kamadolli’s blog about “India as a career move” and having gone through this process and also helping out a handful of friends move back to India, wanted to share some thoughts. The comments pertain to people who want to move back and find a job in either an MNC, startup or VC (three areas I’m familiar with). Most people focus on the move alone and miss out on focusing to find the best opportunity possible while moving. The following points (in no particular order) are to help you focus on finding the best opportunity possible while living out your dream of moving back to India:

  • Shortlist cities – Once you decide on the move shortlist the list of cities that you want to live/work in. If you have family, please talk to the rest of the family (particularly spouse) and get consensus on the top 2-3 cities you want to live/work in. It’s important you zoom in on these cities to help focus on finding great opportunities in those cities (sounds obvious but most people who move back are initially open to anywhere in India and this makes it tougher to find good opportunities)
  • Make a few trips to India – Once you are sure you want to move, budget at least a year to find the right opportunity and make the move. Start out that year with a trip to India to visit your target cities and meet potential employers. In the middle of that year, you could make another trip with family and hopefully close on the right opportunity. And by the end of the year, you could make the move. People with kids would have to plan this around academic years. But note that December holidays in the US coincides with holidays in India as well and so, this is probably not the best time to try and close job offers.
  • Target industry and create list of potential employers – Many people, especially on the business side, are agnostic to industry while making the move. But, employers want people with relevant background in their industry. And so, look at your resume and figure out which industries fit you the best (background and interest). Also, if you are looking for VC or startup opportunities (which is what I get pinged most about), it is important to identify the top 10 to 15 firms that you want to talk to. (e.g. if you are interested in e-commerce startups, figure out which are the top 10 to 15 e-commerce startups in India that you want to work for. You could use blogs – many listed under EntrepreneurToolBox – as well as talk to experts in that target sector to shortlist the companies you want to talk to)
  • Tap your social network – Once you shortlist the cities and firms you want to work for, look at your Facebook (try BranchOut app) and LinkedIn contacts closely to find out ways to network into relevant people in the companies you want to work for. 
  • Informational interviews – Once you find relevant first/second level contacts in your target firms, instead of straight away asking for a job in your first conversation, have a more open-ended informational interview with them over the phone. Share with them your intent to move and that you are talking to a short list of firms to learn more and see if it would be a mutual fit. Once you develop comfort that this is the right firm for you and develop rapport with the person, you could take the conversation to the next level and mention about your upcoming trip to India and to see if the person can help set up meetings/interviews for you.

Now for a few items to watch out for:

  • Family not in sync – one of the best pieces of advice I got when I initially thought about moving back to India was from the legendary Indian entrepreneur, Desh Deshpande. He asked me where my wife wanted to live and raise children and advised me to figure this out beyond any doubt before planning my next step. It turned out to be very sound advice which I would like to “pass it on”
  • Industry and Role switch – as mentioned earlier, top companies are very picky on who they hire. They want you to be an expert in the industry and/or role before hiring you. And so, if you are planning to make a move to India (new geography, especially if you haven’t worked here recently), try making only one of industry or role switch. For e.g. if you work as an engineering manager in a semiconductor company and want to move to India and want to become a marketing manager in an internet startup, it will be very tough (both to find a job and to do well in it). In this case, the person has to decide what’s more important, the role or the industry switch and take one step at a time. Goes without saying that if you are already an expert in industry and role and only making the move to India, you stand the best chance to find and do well in that job.

Those are some of the quick points that I could think off. Would love to hear from others who have made similar moves on what worked or didn’t for them.

 

 

Homeward Bound

January 2011 marks a year since my return to India as an early-stage venture capitalist after spending 13 years in the US. Despite my earlier apprehensions, things have been quite amazing. I would like to share some of my observations in the hope of inspiring others to move back and ride the crest of the amazing Indian economy and contribute to its continued surge.

WHY DID I MOVE BACK?

Answer is simple: I believe this is the perfect time to be part of the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem. The economy is booming, but there are many basic problems in areas like the Internet, mobile communications, enterprise IT, healthcare, energy, education and financial services that require solutions – this is a dream scenario for any entrepreneur. In cities like Bangalore, there are already many development centers addressing these needs. The work here entails not only low-skilled jobs. I have friends in companies like Yahoo, GE (Healthcare and Energy), Google, Intel, Biocon and Amazon, who are involved in cutting-edge product development. This I see as a treasure trove of entrepreneurs in the making. Our firm has funded entrepreneurs from many of the companies mentioned.

SWITCHING GEARS

What could be better? I ask this of the many entrepreneurs, including returnees, whom I have the pleasure of meeting on a daily basis and try to corroborate their responses with my observations. The top three challenges returning entrepreneurs seem to face are: getting the early team right, navigating bureaucratic red tape (like incorporation, bank accounts) and finding seed/early stage funding

WHAT DOES A VC LOOK FOR?

I am also often asked what is it that a venture capitalist looks for in a company? What does a VC in India want? An early-stage VC always looks for an outstanding team, aiming to solve a problem in an exciting market, with sustainable differentiation and a solid business model. In addition, there are two criteria particularly relevant to India — strong customer interest in a product or a service that can be verified and measured, and the ability to scale or grow a business. It is also important to understand that a business model that works in one city might not necessary scale across India with all its diversity.

PERFECT TIME This an awesome time for any entrepreneur who is considering a move back to India with a goal to be actively involved in a startup. My tips to those planning such a move is to pick an exciting industry or business segment that matches your expertise. Next, make sure that you choose a founding team to launch the business with great care; make sure you have some people with recent India experience. Do not fall into the trap of worrying about things beyond your immediate control such as traffic, bureaucracy and poor infrastructure. Finally do not look back, burn the bridges to wherever you came from, so that you are not tempted to return prematurely. After all, it usually takes five years or more to succeed as an entrepreneur and India is currently one of the best places in the world to live that dream and to impact the world.

I wrote this for the Economic Times. Would love to hear your perspectives on this topic. Here is a link to the ET e-paper column.

Aal Izz Well

Context of title: Song from my latest favorite Hindi movie “3 Idiots”

It’s been two months since I started work here in Bangalore and things are going great. I joined Accel Partners as a Principal and will focus on seed/early stage investments and so if you are working on a startup  at an early stage, you know where to find me.

Thanks to one of my colleagues I was able to go and see an India Premier League cricket game last night and we were sitting right next to the players. Being a huge cricket fan all my life, it was a treat being there live and not having to watch over the web at odd times (as I used to while in the US).

In this blog, I want to share some observations from the past two months here.

Environment: “Encouraging” is the one word to summarize the environment here in India. The whole country is on the move forward. Many MNCs are hiring actively in India. Last week the IIMs (top Indian B-schools) reported healthy placement of their graduates. IT sector is projecting 10% salary hikes (not that great for employers but birthing pains of a growing economy). The release of a well planned budget by the Indian Finance Minister has propelled the stock market higher. GDP growth rate of 7.2%. All these are really promising signs for a high growth economy. Inflation is a big concern (at >9%) but the central bank is expected to hike interest rates to counter this.

Events & Entrepreneurs: Over the past couple of months I have been to two pitch sessions and a couple of conferences. Through the pitch sessions (thanks to TiE), I listened to more than 50 companies present. One of the events focused on the Clean Tech sector while the other event was industry agnostic. One thing that struck me immediately is that most of the entrepreneurs I met were quite young (probably in twenties or early thirties). For a country that has >50% of people below 25 years (and a median age of 24) it is very encouraging as a VC to see young  aspiring entrepreneurs who want to change the world. I was at the EmTech event last week and they announced their TR35 award winners for the first time in India. It was an impressive group of twenty innovators under 35. All this bodes well for the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem and I am quite excited to be a part of it. ???

Notes From Our Move To India

Happy New Year and Greetings from India! We finally arrived in India last week. It really feels good to be home! We got up today to the doorbell ringing with neighbors bringing in sweets for Pongal/Sankranti festivals. We are staying with some close friends who had moved to Bangalore a couple of years back. They have been extremely helpful for our family (my wife, two young kids and myself) to get setup here. The past week has been extremely busy – finding a rental apartment, clearing customs, tracking a couple of our bags that Lufthansa managed to misplace, etc. But, finally things are falling in place. We are moving to our apartment next week. And I’m quite excited about starting work on Monday.Before work kicks in next week I wanted to jot down some points from our move to India for those of you interested in moving here. For others, please skip the rest of this post.Preparing for the move

  • Identify a good mover: I did some shopping and settled with Sky2C Freight Systems. Tarun & Anu Tandon there were helpful in planning my move and executing it. Four of my friends had used them with positive experiences. Mine has been great so far (packing, loading the container, delivery to Bangalore customs, customs clearance in Bangalore). They will be delivering my stuff home next week and I’m hoping that will go smooth as well.
  • Buying stuff: I would suggest buying as much as you can in the US and shipping it here. Particularly electronics such as a Home Theater system, BluRay player (and DVDs), Playstation/Wii and a good LCD/Plasma TV (ensure that it’s PAL compatible or buy a PAL to NTSC converter – I found this particular Blog helpful in deciding what specific electronics to buy). I was also advised by people to buy furniture from the US (Sofas, Dining Table Sets, Beds, etc.) – you get good furniture in India but it is more expensive. In our case, since my wife and I had planned this move for a few years, we accumulated stuff over the years and that made it easier.
  • Customs: I would suggest spending a few minutes familiarizing yourself with this customs page http://www.cbec.gov.in/travellers.htm. If you have stayed for a couple of years abroad you are normally eligible for “transfer of residence” and in that case the customs duty is very less. Please note that if you are planning to bring expensive items (such as an acoustic piano), you might be levied 35% duty even though this is not mentioned in the customs webpage.
  • Planning your travel to India: Once you ship your container, it takes about two months for it to arrive in your Indian city of residence. Plan your travel so that you arrive in India well in time to find an apartment before your stuff arrives (we cut it too close but luckily things worked out).

What to expect once you arrive here

  • Missed Luggage: If you are moving here with family and checking in a handful of bags, there is a high likelihood that a couple of them might be misplaced (Lufthansa is particularly famous for this). The day I arrived, there were at least 20 people missing their luggage. Pack accordingly – especially if you have kids. I would suggest carrying valuables as well as stuff you need for 10 days in your hand luggage
  • Apartment Hunting: It would be good to do some homework on where you would like to stay before you arrive. I found the MagicBricks website very helpful for finding an apartment in Bangalore. Most good apartments rent through real estate agents (who take 1 months rent as commission). It’s tough to avoid this especially since many of the apartment owners live abroad and prefer to rent via an agent. You will be able to find agents through MagicBricks listings. A few agents I found helpful in Bangalore are – Pradeep (+91 99450 60262), Saleem (+91 98806 60669) and Ram Rajpal (+91-98450 79698). I would also recommend living in one of the bigger apartment complexes that are quite self-contained (shops, swimming pool, gym, squash courts, etc.). Here are a few good builders here in Bangalore that I have checked out – Mantri, Prestige, Sobha, Salarpuria
  • Transfer money to India: If you are renting an apartment, you will have to give a 10 month deposit + 1 months commission to the rental agent. In addition you will need to buy a car and household appliances (refrigerator, washing machine, etc.). As a rule of thumb, I would say it would be safe to have between Rs. 5 to 10 lakhs in an easily accessible account in India from which you can write a check or issue a draft
  • Stay with family or friends: The first few weeks are the toughest, especially if you are moving to a city where you haven’t lived before. It is easy/cheap to find a service apartment to spend the first month. But if you have a close relative or friend living in the city you are moving to, I would suggest staying with them. Obviously this is a very personal call, but in my case my wife and I decided to stay with a very close friend and his family for the first couple of weeks and this has made our transition much smoother. In fact, we are renting an apartment in their same apartment complex just so that we have them (as well as another friend) close by for support and guidance in settling in
  • Stay close to work: This is particularly important in Bangalore where traffic is quite unpredictable. I’m violating this advice that I got from multiple people mainly because I wanted to stay in the same complex as our other friends (as mentioned above)

That’s about it for now. If I can think of other things to add, I will append this post. For those of you who have been through this process before, please feel free to add what I might have missed. If you are considering a move to India and have any specific questions, let me know.

It’s All About Expectations

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in the Caribbean with family and friends. There is nothing like being able to walk around in shorts, swim in the ocean and grill – all that in the middle of December. But anyways, the reason I mention this is that I was catching up on news from the last couple of weeks and read an article in the New York Times titled “Some Indians Find It Tough to Go Home Again”. Here’s the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/28/business/global/28return.html

I was initially pleasantly surprised opening the article and seeing the photograph of someone I know from my MIT days – Shiva Ayyadurai. But when I read the story, it sent shivers down my spine. It could have been me who went through the same experience that Shiva went through and be forced to return to the US after a stint in India.

As I think about it more, I believe that it all boils down to three words – setting reasonable expectations. Yes, I was born in India and spent the first couple of decades of my life there and hence I could think I know all about its traffic, congestion, bureaucracy and lack of infrastructure. But, the truth of the matter is that the India I’m returning to has probably all the same problems but, at a much larger scale in proportion to the growth of the economy over the past decade. And so, my expectation is that I’m going to find it very tough to settle in and that’s what I’ve told my wife as well.

When I look back at my first couple of years in the US – I found it quite tough needing a lot of compromises. I was in an alien place (Purdue, West Lafayette, IN) and was in an old house with 10 other strangers (who later became good friends) and most of them from different countries. I hated the fast food that I ate almost daily. I had to very delicately balance a budget with my meager teaching assistant’s salary. Many times I ran up credit card bills and hence had to make adjustments to basic necessities (that I would have never done in India) to fix the situation.  I didn’t own a car and used to haul grocery up a hill in the middle of the mid-west winter (considering I grew up in Chennai which never goes below 70F). But, I never once complained about any of the above mainly because I thought of this as the seeds I needed to sow to reap the benefits of a wonderful education in a top-tier school. I mention all this cause this is not my singular experience. If you talk to most immigrants who come to the US for graduate studies they probably went through the same. But we all went through this knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel (a good job). It was all about having the right expectations.

Now, I view going back to India to be just as difficult if not more. It’s probably going to take a couple of years for me and my family to settle down in India. We are probably going to have some really rough patches – both professionally and personally. If I list all the things that I anticipate going wrong – you will think I am paranoid. But, most importantly I think it will be crucial to be “A Roman in Rome”. That does not mean I will cut any ethical corners – but it just means recognizing that India has its own idiosyncrasies that I would need to first understand and then work through patiently. And I would also need to constantly remind myself that the reason I’m moving back to India is the same reason that makes it a difficult country to live in – it is a fast growing economy that lacks a lot of things we take for granted in the US and that my friends, is music to my VC ears.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Never say goodbye)

This happens to be a phrase from one of my favorite Hindi songs – Chalte Chalte. It also happens to be quite appropriate for what my family has been experiencing the past month as we get ready to move to India. We had about eight farewell parties with various friends, first in Boston and then in the Bay Area. This reminded us how lucky we were to have spent all these years in the United States and how many wonderful people we have met along the way who touched our lives. We are grateful to have such wonderful friends and we mean it when we say that we will be in touch. This blog is one such effort. One question that many people have asked me is what will we miss the most about the US. Without thinking much I could easily say that I would most miss all the friends out here. I have been thinking more about this and wanted to list the top few on both the professional and personal fronts. I look forward to reviewing this list (in no particular order) end of next year to reflect on reality:

Personal

  • Experiencing live concerts of favorite musicians.
  • Weekend road trips to a cabin far from the city.
  • Colors, smells and sounds of the various seasons – particularly Fall – which is gorgeous in New England
  • Amazon.com – I don’t think they ship to India
  • Predictable travel times and traffic

Professional

  • Walking the halls of MIT and other US Universities on a regular basis learning about the latest cutting edge technologies
  • Ability to find seasoned professionals to fill a portfolio company’s job posting in almost any industry/skill-set within a short period of time.
  • Ease of access to data and experts in almost any area of investment interest

On the same note, what do I look forward to the most in India: Personal

  • Being close to family and friends
  • Domestic help – be it cooking, cleaning, driving or taking care of children
  • Being current with cricket and Indian movies without extra effort

Professional

  • The almost limitless supply of entrepreneurial opportunities that only a fast developing country like India can offer in everything from healthcare to energy to enterprise software (to name a few areas)
  • The attitude of Indian entrepreneurs that they can conquer anything. Over the past couple of years I notice an unmistakable increase in the level of confidence of Indian entrepreneurs (particular the first time entrepreneurs) which is amazing

Would love to hear your thoughts on what I missed? What would you miss the most if you were to leave your country of residence or find the most exciting about moving to/living in India?