Vignesh Rajagopalan wrote an good article on why few IITians end up doing startups. While he does try to address the issue, I think he misses a few points. I thought I would try to explain that from the prespective of an IITian. But first things first, a disclosure from my side:
I am an Alumnus of IIT Delhi. I left the well trodden path of working for a consulting company to get into entrepreuneurship. After a couple of failed attempts, I started BookStreet.in, an online textbook rental company with 1000+ textbook titles in over 35 courses.
Now, to the main issue:
To be fair, I believe IIT Delhi has been the most entrepreneurial of all the IITs. The founders of Flipkart, Zomato and Yebhi are IIT Delhi Alumni. My hostel junior is changing medical technology in India. The awesome actor in this mentos advertisement who wears a watermelon as a helmet to escape the cops is my junior. My batchmates have even directed & produced a movie! So the question now is pretty simple what separates them from the rest. Why did they decide to do something different while others didn’t.
To understand this, we need to get a little background of IIT students. I remember when I was a student at IIT Delhi, I casually asked 10 of my friends sitting at the lunch table “Were you guys toppers is school?” I was shocked when all of them replied to the affirmative (Disclosure: I was never a topper). In fact if you go to the IITs it is very difficult to find students who haven’t been toppers through their school days. While its fantastic to be a topper, the primary drawback of this is that most of these students have never faced failure. Society has always seen them as impeccable machines and entrance into the IITs strengthen that belief. Though most will not admit it, they hate to fail, primarily because they don’t know how to cope with it. On the other hand, a startup is actually designed to fail. Successful startups are actually an exception to the rule. With the risk of failure being so high, most of these students don’t want to leave success to chance. Most of them wouldn’t know what to do if they failed, since they have never faced failure before. So, they leave the risky option and decide to take up a high paying corporate job where they slog their asses off.
Another issue is what is perceived to be successful in campus. In the final year, getting a high paying job in an investment bank or a consulting company or getting through the IIMs is seen as cool. Starting or joining a start up is seen more as a desperate move to save one’s career. Everyone in the campus. therefore, wants to be seen as doing something cool.
Do you know that the Bansal’s of Flipkart weren’t toppers of their department in IIT Delhi? When you think of it what stopped the toppers of Computer Science department from starting something like Flipkart? I am sure they would have been as good, if not better than the Bansal’s at programming. The real reason is that the Bansal’s weren’t afraid of failure. They had an aim a kept at it until they built what is India’s largest eCommerce company and they seem to have no sign of stopping. On the other hand, 8 of the top 10 students in Computer Science department in my year of graduation went on to pursue careers as investment bankers, a safe and richly rewarding career path in 2006.
I often hear many of my classmates telling me that they are now envious of my position as an entrepreneur. I ask them “What’s stopping you?”. Almost always, I hear an excuse as a reply. It’s either I have just gotten married (isn’t that actually better? your wife can support you) or I will do it as a side business (they almost never work) or I will do it when I am forty (yeah right!). So, there you have it. That’s the real reason… no one wants to fail.
PS: I don’t intend to hurt anyone. This article is my personal views. I really want to see more of my batchmates doing start ups. They were way more capable than me and I really would like them make small dent in this universe