A Returning Indian Entrepreneur Reflects…

By Kashyap Deorah

Let’s just say our job in the US was done for now and it was time to go back home. Shruti and I returned to Mumbai at the end of October 2007. We carried back memorable moments from our time in the US: the parties, road trips, startups, ideas, cracking the code, problem solving, craigslist, blueberries, wine, mountains, lakes, snow, runs, beaches, dance, gigs, deals, money, stock options, weather, cars, hacks, radio stations, the daily show; but, most of all,our friends who helped us live each moment to the fullest.

It took us two years of planning to pull this off. Shruti decided to take a break and explore an entry into the environment and climate change industry. I decided to start a business to serve the Indian mass market with a direct-to-consumer service over the phone. Though the impulse to simultaneously desert our lucrative career paths front-loaded the risk; moving back with my parents into their nice spacious apartment with a bonsai garden and a window plunge into Juhu beach provided a launch-pad.So what did we learn in the first few months? I share these thoughts so you can set your own expectations as you consider or plan your own back-to-India move. I try to stay away from the points that are oft discussed about the differences between the two places (lifestyle, economy, growth, family, food, kids, etc.), though they are all relevant and significant. Here I point out differences that oft get missed as we imagine our new lives from 10,000 miles away.

Opt-in Vs Opt-out

To use an Internet metaphor, the US environment is an opt-in environment. You choose your friends, your activities, your religious status, your cereal, fat content of milk in your coffee, and how low you wear your jeans. You are in a choice-driven culture and economy. India is an opt-out environment. Everyone has an opinion on how you should live your life and what day-to-day choices you make. There is a universal “best” in every category of stuff you want to buy, your tourist guide decides which place you should visit and when, your family decides whose wedding you attend and not, your service provider decides which plan is best for you, and your accountant decides what is the right business for you to enter. Once you suspend yourself in the environment, you will be swept with the flow and you must flap and hustle to move in the direction of your choice. The number of people you meet and number of decisions you make per day would take a steep hike.

2C2 Vs 4C2

My high-school math teacher taught me that the number of pairs in two things is one (2 choose 2), and the number of pairs in four things is six (4 choose 2). In our US household, there was one relationship that both members of the household were focused on – the relationship between my wife and I. Our India household may seem like an addition of one couple, my cool parents. However, it is at least six times as complex (not counting the dozen household help staff). Our attention is divided across six different relationships, each of which is significant in its own right. Four of these relationships are old and established, one would think; while the two new in-law relationships are the ones to build. The reality is that the four old relationships must change to recalibrate and reconcile with the two new ones, in order to optimize the well-being of the household.

Sequoia Vs Banyan Tree

American companies are like Sequoias, Indian companies are like Banyan trees. Like Sequoias, American companies grow tall and large to maximize their size. Like Banyans, Indian companies grow far and wide to preserve their territory. Like Sequoias, American companies invest several years to efficiently grow their trunk and broaden the base before branching out. Like Banyans, Indian companies diversify at the earliest possible opportunity throwing aerial roots back to the ground to add more stability to the conglomerate. Like Sequoias, American companies scale new heights at a scorching pace through inorganic, yet scalable growth. Like Banyans, Indian companies survive the test of time by incessantly growing in an organic fashion from generation to generation. Turns out, Sequoia is the national tree of USA, while the Banyan Tree is the national tree of India. It is no co-incidence that they mirror the respective cultures.

Diversity Vs Diversity

If I geo-tagged the nationalities of my friends in the Bay Area, I would exhaust well over 20 countries across 5 continents – Canada, France, China, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, Japan, Israel, Egypt, Palestine, UK, Chile, Mexico, Russia, Colombia, Philippines and South Korea; not to mention USA and India. This melting pot of world cultures is unique to the Bay Area, the common soup being aggregation of the smartest engineers and tech people in the world. Mumbai on the other hand, is an aggregation of multitudes of professions. My friends range from social workers, politicians, activists, IAS officers, police officers, journalists, fashion designers, event managers, actors, writers and artists to traders, shop owners, businessmen, industrialists, investors, bankers, business consultants, landowners, religious priests, and movie stars. I, hereby, declare that the above statements are true to the best of my knowledge and beliefs.

The hardest comparisons in life are those where there is no way to determine better or worse. They are just different. Understanding the differences is the first step to embracing change. This is the beginning of our new and exciting journey, and these are our first few lessons learnt in the process of managing this change.

Kashyap and Shruti are a young and enterprising couple who recently moved back to MumbaiSilicon Valley. They maintain a travel blog called Glob where they log their worldly travels and tribulations.

26 thoughts on “A Returning Indian Entrepreneur Reflects…

  1. Geeta Padmanabhan

    This is so true! I see that your “list of friends” doesn’t include teachers. Does that mean this group will be spared of those direct-to-home service phone calls? That would be very welcome!
    Seriously, thanks for the beautifully written piece. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

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  2. sriram

    The Sequoia vs. Banyan contrast and the opt-in vs. opt-out funda is worth fleshing out some more and see how far it can be taken

    “The reality is that the four old relationships must change to recalibrate and reconcile with the two new ones, in order to optimize the well-being of the household.”

    LOL

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  3. ram

    What a fabulous and insightful article. I would also add that along with several domains there are also diverse cultural systems. For instance I have a close friend in Theatre but who is from Nainital and has exposed me to hindi writers I have not heard of like Nirmal Verma. So its like another layer..

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  4. Kashyap

    Thanks for the motivation. Sequoia V Banyan Tree is an essay that has not seen light of day despite being first-drafted 6 months ago. Have to motivate myself to finish it some day.

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  5. Ravi

    Hey, great article man. Def concur on the opt-in vs. opt-out comparison. The “what kind of bread? wholewheat? multi-grain?” questions drive me nuts all the time.

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  6. Neha Mahajan

    All the best in whatever u plan to do.. I was unaware of ur writing talent before… but yehh even i can relate to what u r talking here.Proud of u both 🙂

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  7. Amit Sarawagi

    Loved it! I can relate and to be honest so motivated at the moment to engineer my way to India!! BTW happy birthday!

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  8. Vijay

    *counts his blessings for being able to come back as a bachelor and adapt quickly*

    All jokes apart, quite a good account Kashyap. If you do need any help on the entrepreneurial front, just buzz.

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  9. Dr. Arpita Sutradhar

    absolute realities. Yet, when we accept them as a part of our lives, they aren’t that bad. As a matter of fact, my brother and his wife, who live in States still miss the street smells and sounds of a normal neighbourhood. They feel they are ironed into a symmetrical lifestyle where one moves like a clockwork mouse.., yet they enjoy and love the freedom the country gives you in terms of individuality.
    It was a delightful piece of writing.

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  10. Priya

    Hi Kashyap & Shruti

    Really enjoyed reading the article..sequoia vs banyan tree is a great analogy! hope to get a lot more insights into your move back once we move back to bombay this dec! Look forward to seeing you guys!

    Priya

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  11. Jennifer

    Wow almost a year has passed since you wrote this great article! Thanks for sharing this!
    You both are pioneers! Trendsetters and of course fortunate to be with family.
    I like your metaphors. Optin and optout, how very true! I think this happens in US too but not so forthright as in India. In India people are vocal about it, but in US I think people may be silent about it. It’s in our thoughts. We, for instance (in my limited experience of course!) silently belittle others or make ourselves the hero in all the stories, we love to listen to Dr. Phil and read self-help books, we love to look at others faults without realizing we may actually be talking about ourselves! So it’s not so direct as it is in India! 🙂 But I am sure people all over the world have some of these traits, regardless of desi or non-desi-ness! 🙂
    The other thought comes to mind is when you say diversity vs. diversity, your interpretation is different than what I would have thought! I would have thought defiantly diversity in US is based on nationality, but in India it’s based on rationality- especially in a metro like Mumbai- and many people not aware of India’s rich, diverse cultures don’t understand that each state has it’s own language, dress, cuisine, holidays, mannerism (some extent), art forms, and the list goes on. And people migrate into the city so your friends of all different professions may actually be of different regional backgrounds, and though for instance speak Tamil at home, whereas you may speak, Hindi, at work you all speak in English! :0
    Oh the beauties of India!
    Thanks for sharing. I found your site searching for culture shock India.

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  12. priyanka

    hey…i have just come to US …but i keep thinking abt going back to india sometime….
    i too write but after reading ur blog i am just too glad to find an inspirer….i luv ur concepts opt in -opt out,diversity,relationships chakra in india.I guess US is US and India is India!Just accept this and things will fall ur way wherever u r!

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  13. Neha M Sharma

    Succintly put!!
    When you have morphed into a “banyan tree” and are looking to “diversify” — do think abt going into the writing business 🙂
    How is life otherwise?

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  14. Modi

    As someone who is on the verge of taking this leap and head back home, I could relate to every aspect of this well written post. I am glad to see that you are finally settling down and enjoying your life with the social fabric that only India can provide.

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  15. Radhika

    Had to read it again before we too take the plunge. Very insightful article..enjoyed the opt in vs opt out..gearing up to face it. Cheers.

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  16. Donna Worrall

    Have just read and enjoyed your article. Would you consider allowing us to archive it ? (and related articles you may write in the future)Please get in touch and I’ll send you more info about our procedure. Thanks.

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