One-To-One With Mr. Narayana Murthy On Entrepreneurship And Start-Ups
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One-to-one with Mr. Narayana Murthy on entrepreneurship and start-ups

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In my various roles in the global high-tech sector, I get to talk to many successful entrepreneurs, but it’s not often you get to talk to successful Indian entrepreneurs because they are always protected by minders or PR people, and it’s often difficult getting past them. Maybe this is because India has a billion plus population and so people in the public eye need to be more careful than in the developed countries in order to protect themselves – but that’s another discussion.

Coming to the topic of this piece, last Friday evening (on 21 November 2008) I had the privilege of talking exclusively with Mr. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys. He was in London attending board meetings, and as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, he was encouraged by the chairman of TiE Global, Apurv Bagri, to speak to an audience comprising TiE’s UK chapter. I was there in my role as co-founder of The Chilli, and thanks to the PR lady for TiE UK, we had secured a slot to speak one-to-one with Mr. Murthy two hours before the main event.

Mr. Murthy is well-spoken and gentle, and you get the idea that he is both philosophical and ethical in his approach to business and the hurdles that were put in front of him back in 1981, and his approach to life now. Maybe that comes from what people say are his socialist formative years. What I was hoping to do is to capture some of his wisdom so that I could share it with others.

We covered various topics – from the start-up spirit and what it was like then in 1981, to what it is like now for start-ups and also his tips for other start-ups. We also talked about what he would do differently if he were to start again, and also his mentoring and philanthropic values.

What was very heartening is to see that, like other successful people I have met, he is very down to earth. During our talk/interview, he openly took a phone call from his daughter on his mobile, who had just arrived in London from the USA, and invited her in to sit alongside him while our interview was going on. In my experience, many others would have said ‘sorry, I am in an interview and I will call you when I finish’.

The start-up spirit – the obstacles and the perseverance

When asked about the mood during the start-up days, he talks about how in those days India was a closed country and where there was a tremendous ‘friction’ towards business.

He contrasts the conditions then with those now – and in particular, how India was an unfriendly environment for start-ups looking to operate globally. For example, he talks about it taking 40 visits to the capital city Delhi just to get a licence to import a computer, and each visit would take at least 2.5 days by train. Banks would not give loans, and it would take 10-15 days for approval from the Reserve Bank of India just to travel overseas. He also told of how it would take 3-4 years just to get a phone line.

He says that while they encountered these difficulties, entrepreneurship is all about a passion that drives you to overcome those hurdles. Mr. Murthy comments, “We were very positive in those days – we saw every bottleneck as an obstacle race, as a chance to show we were smart and perseverant and we were optimistic.”

One of the key things that came out from the discussion with him about starting up is that he wanted to prove that entrepreneurship could find a place in India.

When I asked him about his tips for start-ups today, whether they are in Europe, the USA or India, he was very enthusiastic about the opportunities for entrepreneurs today. “The issues today are not infrastructure, or bureaucracy. The issue today is the market, competition, and how smart you are.”

The full interview and audio podcast is available on The Chilli’s web site.

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