Any mention of the technology startup scene in India almost invariably highlights Bangalore, the city that has led India's IT services industry for decades. For good reason, as well, since Bangalore still fields the largest talent pool of experienced engineers and new graduates, and many startups either emerge from or are drawn to that labor force.
As India's economy continues to grow and its entrepreneurial culture matures, however, other cities have begun to attract their share of India's new tech companies and the angel and venture capital investments that follow them. Greater New Delhi, for instance, has attracted a concentration of ecommerce companies, such as Jabong.com and MakeMyTrip.
Mumbai, India's financial and media capital, is increasingly becoming a startup hub as well. Centered around the Powai campus of the world famous Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai's startup scene practically begs comparison between its natural counterpart of New York City, especially given the latter's efforts to lure startups to what was once called Silicon Alley, competing with that other place south of San Francisco.
Such comparisons are too facile, and in order to get an insider's view of the tech startup environment in Mumbai, I spoke with Tarun Mitra, the CEO of LurnQ, which is bringing social discovery and other disruptive web tools to the burgeoning online education market.
LurnQ is built using proven, modern web technologies, such as open source web development languages and frameworks, NoSQL style databases, with hosting and scalability provided by Amazon Web Services. What sets them apart is their application of these technologies to enable users learning via the web to more easily find what they really need based on what others interested in similar topics have already found useful. This includes both having content from trusted sources, and having that content curated by users they follow, plus other social tools. That's an oversimplified description of their platform, and I urge you to check out their site to learn more.
The point is that, like many startup successes elsewhere, LurnQ will succeed based on the strength of its product management, the more-art-than-science ability to understand what users need, and give it to them in an attractive and intuitive package. It is precisely these types of product-centric companies that Mr. Mitra sees Mumbai spawning and attracting, rather than trying to compete with the services focus of Bangalore.
Here a comparison to New York City might be useful. Like New York, Mumbai attracts people from all over the country, and many who chose to study or work there want to stay because of the city's cosmopolitan attractions. Case in point is Mr. Mitra, who calls the city home after stints in Silicon Valley and Singapore.
This more diverse talent pool is key to addressing the need to recruit non-technical staff. The universities, anchored by IIT, take care of the engineering labor pool, and the city of Mumbai attracts the rest.
Mr. Mitra credits other factors as well. Active angel investors are critical, and have helped propel the success of other Mumbai startups such as Housing.co.in and Olacabs.com. Although not specific to Mumbai, Mr. Mitra cites the liberating effect of India's economic growth. Graduating engineers are increasingly free from worrying about supporting their entire family with their top-notch degree and can gamble on a startup instead of taking a more secure job that offers less long-term upside potential.
Mr. Mitra even goes as far as saying the startup scene in Bangalore is actually inferior. He told me, "If you're talking of the ecosystem for startups, Mumbai wins, hands down. Bangalore has a strong IT services ecosystem, which is misinterpreted as a startup ecosystem, probably since many globally successful Indian companies are in the business of IT services." Whether you agree with him or not, it's clear that he's dedicated to doing his part by leading his team to make LurnQ the next success story of a product-centric tech startup from Mumbai.
Claudio Caballero is COO of Palomar Systems, a software development and systems integration firm in Bangkok, Thailand. Prior to returning to Asia from his native New York City, he was an IT consultant for 12 years, beginning as an Engagement Manager with B2B consultancy Lante in 1998, and most recently as a due diligence advisor to private equity firms. Mr. Caballero has been managing developers and engineers, and delivering complex IT and automation systems, for more than 20 years.