The Cool Brigade

The Cool Brigade
Let's begin with a coolness test. What do you think is cooler - Indian Premier League cheerleaders or a company that hires four people per minute? Shahrukh Khan's six-pack or a startup that lets you design your own products? Kareena Kapoor's size zero or software that lets you record your life minute by minute?


The advertising world may not have been able to shed their Bollywood hang-ups when it comes to defining 'cool', but Gen E is showing signs that it thinks otherwise.

Observe these recent developments. Three years ago, only two per cent of young students of Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) wanted to work at start-ups. Today, over 20 per cent of its graduating batch is planning to join startups.

Campuses are also witnessing a phenomenal increase in entrepreneurial activities. National Entrepreneurship Network, India's largest catalyst of entrepreneurship education in India, recently conducted its NEN Semi,Annual Campus Survey to measure entrepreneurship activity levels on NEN campuses. The results were astounding. Since five year ago, NEN's Survey findings show a combined increase in activity of over 12,000%!

This trend was even reflected in the one-week NEN Entrepreneurship Week held in February this year. Over 2,00,000 students from 270 institutes across 30 locations held about 2,500 events to celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship in their campuses.

Ankur Gattani, a student of Indian Institute of Management-Kolkata who recently founded his own internet company Life in Lines, feels that more and more youngsters today are getting excited about being associated with startups because "Startups represent passion, power and learning. Working closely with the company founders makes you share their enthusiasm too, which makes your job far more meaningful. That's cool."

Ankur feels this change in attitude is being driven by the realization that careers are not always about money. "Working for someone else is perceived as an easy way to earn money, but it is not necessarily true. If your startup is successful, you can earn several times more. If it fails, you may not be rich but it leaves you with a wealth of learning. That's the kick," he explains.

Also, the changing nature of startups is contributed to the trend. 10 years ago, new companies were generally associated with the small scale industry. Five years ago, they weren't regarded as innovative. Today, companies are seen as high-impact, interesting places that allow for self expression while building value for society.

And Gen E has decided that's cool.

However, not all companies are considered cool. The views of young entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and bloggers reflect that the 'cool factor' is not about the sudden desire of young people to start small businesses, but is related to the nature of the start,ups that are capitalizing on the opportunities in India today.

So what makes the startup cool?

Here are some points of view.

Be world-centric

Any practice that makes the world a better place is cool. Achieving world class excellence and becoming global thought leaders are important goals for an ambitious startup, feels R Sriram, CEO of Crossword Bookstore.

Cut new ground

"The startup should have the vision to change the human beings behave. If you look at history, Microsoft Excel was such a huge success just because it was able to change the way human beings behave... the transition from paper to software was an amazing change," feels Vaibhav Pandey, techno blogger and co-founder of Open Coffee Club.

Make the next, best

Those who establish next best practices that the world follows is cool, feels Sriram. "The vision of the startup should be to create practices that are not just the best today, but also tomorrow," he explains.

Be original; trash the formula

32-year-old Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames feels the cool quotient of the startup comes from the originality behind a business idea or the innovative twist given to an existing idea by the entrepreneur.

It is not a popularity contest

Cool startups do their own thing, follow their own passions without caring much about what others think. Though accepting and working on feedback is important, it should not lead to compromising on what you feel is right, explains Vaibhav. “Perhaps, this is why they 'become' popular," he adds.

Being a first timer can be fun

Rashmi Bansal, popular blogger and founder of JAM magazine, finds first generation entrepreneurs cool. "It is challenging to begin from scratch, when you don’t have anyone to fall back on when things go wrong. It also makes the startup experience more exciting and cool,' she says. Founder member of Mumbai Angels and Senior Investment Director of BlueRun Ventures Sasha Mirchandani thinks early stage startups that think creatively to make profits become innovative and cool. “A strong domain experience also helps," he adds.

Don’t be trendy

Rashmi is currently working on a television programme on young entrepreneurs, and the ones she thinks are cool don’t follow ‘fads’. "An entrepreneur packaging the traditional Ganga jal in a trendy way is far more cool than starting a yet another social networking site in an already saturated market," she points out.

Find your niche

"A cool startup is very sharply focused on a niche market, does something different and differently and creates a need or takes a pain away,” says Padmaja Ruparel, Vice-President of Indian Angel Network. A sensible startup works in a domain that has enough opportunities to grow and scale, adds Sasha.

> Social Entrepreneurship: Critical for Development - Vijay Nair
> The Entrepreneur as a Manager - Vijay Nair
> Creativity A Survival Strategy - Laura Parkin
> From Vision to Visionary - Vijay Nair
> Brand New Ideas - By Rupin Jayal
> How to be a High-Performance Entrepreneur - Subroto Bagchi
> Can You Teach Entrepreneurship? - Laura Parkin
> The Well Balanced Team: Me, Myself, and I - George Gendron
> I Did it My Way - Laura Parkin
> Fresh Help for Start Ups - Laura Parkin
> Angels: India's New Saving Grace? - Laura Parkin
> 5 VCs Talk About Their Marriages - Laura Parkin
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