Redhotcurry Review - Rating:
Reviewed by Lopa Patel, 16 April 2010
Mitra's book 'Vision India 2020' is an orgasm of entrepreneurial
zeal in which she takes 45 successfully established business models,
adds a dash of marketing masala, and relaunches them in a 'futuristic
retrospective' India circa 2020. Admittedly, Mitra who has successfully
started three US-based businesses and written several books, including
the 'Entrepreneur Journeys' trilogy, begins with a good grounding
in research. Armed with a degree from Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT), she knows "of what she speaks" when
writing about disruptive technologies, rollout of digital communications
and the critical success factors to turn startups into global players.
In America she has the business models of Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle
and others to draw upon and in India she has the promise of hard
work, enthusiasm and the sheer 1.2 billion population size from
which to start.
firmly believes that ten years from now "India stands to be
the world leader in everything from technology innovation to state-of-art
railways, solar energy to film animation" and that her book
is a clarion call to "visionary entrepreneurs everywhere who
are daring enough to turn ideas into billion-dollar enterprises".
And therein lies my first problem with this book.
Mitra's utopian nirvana, business models like Grameen Bank's micro-finance
initiatives and micro franchising, that have longed struggled to
achieve scale, become billion-dollar businesses. She takes arts
and crafts, effectively cottage industries, and turns them into
billion dollar businesses. She imports wine and Argentine tango
(the dance) and rolls out a billion-dollar lifestyle business. Clearly
this is all rubbish. I struggled to think of one such business locally,
let alone globally. Indian social venture enterprises like the Ela
Bhatt's hugely successful 'Sewa' initiative (not mentioned in this
book) remain social ventures or not-for-profit - this is the core
of this model. So I would argue that many such models would suffer
when turned into commercial ventures, let alone billion dollar commercial
second problem with Mitra's strategy is she fails to take into account
business competitors. The chapter in which she sets-up 'Taxonomy'
and takes on Mike Lynch's 'Autonomy' is an example. Taxonomy is
India's flagship software product company that tackles the identified
problem of 'unstructured data management'. "Open source allowed
us to be a more marketing-orientated business than a sales-oriented
business", she claims - a feature that allowed them to compete
head-on with Autonomy. "Often, our customers would not only
buy our products but also a development team from us which created
a tremendous exit barrier that Autonomy could not compete with".
Which is all very interesting, but untrue. Open Source is often
used for portability of data between applications, databases and
suppliers - it is not used because it is free or low cost. And what
of Open Standards in data management? Mitra also fails to speculate
on how Autonomy, which had sales in excess $500 million in 2008,
might retaliate to this assault on its business model from open
source technology that has been around for decades.
five of six chapters of this book, one begins to notice classic
Mitraisms: she merely has to pick up her address book to find mentors,
investors and VCs all willing to relocate to India to set-up her
fictional businesses; she writes a blog and a million CVs flood
in; she sweet-talks officials and is able to acquire large chunks
of India's prime real estate and in several chapters she is able
to begin a mass slum clearance from the hellhole that is Dharavi
(Mumbai's biggest slum) to rural idylls where the under-privileged
earn income from flower-growing, mango orchards, creameries, craftsmanship
and running franchised book-keeping businesses! In a retro 1960s-style
flashback, Mitra has been able to achieve what had eluded India's
politicians for generations.
skills do not stop there: she tackles large-scale infrastructure
projects like railroads (Lighting Rails), waterways (Eastgate),
roads (Magic Carpet Rides), shipping (Himalaya Shipping), water
treatment (Gangotri), solar power (Adishakti) and housing projects
(Green Village). She tackles medical care issues (Maya Ray), education
(Lucid), semiconductors (Nucleon), travel services (Renaissance),
film animation (Elixar), sports TV (NCTV) among other hi-tech business
models like software and search. The sheer range of business models
is exhausting to even think about and the ideas a little polarised
given that Mitra fails to factor in 'human nature' into her equations.
'Vision India 2020' is just that, a vision. I admire Sramana Mitra
for sketching out the details of her visions and while I might criticise
the liberties she takes with the financial accounting in her fictional
businesses, I do applaud her for the boldness of her plans. In the
introduction she writes, "in my model of development, it is
the entrepreneurs who wield the most potent weapons of mass reconstruction.
To build markets: to build nations; to build worlds". And for
that reason alone 'Vision India' is a must read for anyone who wants
to envisage one way in which India may be reinvented as a true global
super power by 2020.
Mitra is a technology entrepreneur and strategy consultant in Silicon
Valley. She has founded three companies, writes a weekly column
for Forbes and the business blog, Sramana Mitra on Strategy (www.sramanamitra.com).
She has a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer
science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her three
books, Entrepreneur Journeys, Bootstrapping, Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction,
and Positioning: How To Test, Validate, and Bring Your Idea To Market
are all available on Amazon.com.