Earlier this week there was a startup event where the founders of Flipkart, Inmobi and Paytm — arguably India’s most-lauded startups —were panelists but they were largely ignored.
The loudest applause and the highest media attention was centered squarely around their fellow co-panelist — a man by the name of Rahul Yadav.
Rahul Yadav — enfant terrible of the Indian startup ecosystem, erstwhile CEO of the soon-to-be-erstwhile startup Housing.com, numero uno startup hero, premier role model for all young and wannabe entrepreneurs in India…and all-season buffoon.
I watched in morbid fascination as the media studiously held on to every trivial thing that Rahul said — like beggars gratefully accepting the leftover scraps from a rich man’s five star buffet lunch — breathlessly reporting them in blaring headlines as non-obvious insights that the rest of the startup ecosystem ought to heed.
The most tone-deaf article from this lot was the one that reported on Rahul Yadav’s skewering of the media — calling them out as “poor talent” who lacked basic courtesy. The complete lack of self-awareness was starkingly ironic.
Here was a kid whose only achievements were firstly around running a company that has raised over a hundred million dollars of funding into the ground and secondly being abusive and generally disrespectful to all around him…
Yet he was being deified and apotheosized by the media.
That’s when it struck me — a prize idiot like Rahul Yadav is exactly the kind of startup hero that we in the Indian startup ecosystem deserve…
For two reasons…
Our Laser-Focused Obsession With Funding
As a startup nation, we have always been somewhat enamoured by funding — but earlier, this was like the stolen glances that a smitten lover would snatch off his object of affection. But today, this obsession with funding is more akin to a full-on, shameless public orgy…
We no longer care about what a startup has achieved or aims to do, the problems it solves, the benefits it provides or the impact it has had.
We only care about one thing — how much funding has a startup raised. And that amount determines where you are slotted in the startup caste system…
And in this buffet of buffoonery, Rahul Yadav is the veritable pièce de résistance — the roast suckling pig with a rotting apple stuffed in its mealy mouth.
The fact that Rahul has raised a boatload of funding for his startup implies that he has earned his place at the top of the totem pole and needs to be celebrated and venerated.
Our Arnab-ized Media
99% of the credit to painting this narrative shaping Rahul Yadav as a startup role-model goes to our clueless media.
Except for a few notable exceptions, the media folks covering the Indian startup ecosystem are invertebrate hacks who are more interested in chasing page views than in providing any kind of meaningful commentary or insights.
But who can blame them when we live in a country where the number-one media person is the insufferable and cacophonous Arnab Goswami.
One can almost sense Rahul Yadav playing to the galleries in front of these media monkeys — assuming a persona that paints him as a startup savant doling out sensational headlines to help these journalists sell their newspapers, websites and events. So what if this persona is doltish as long as it drives page views?
So against this backdrop of an obsession with funding and an emasculated gutless media hungry for sensationalism, it is no wonder that Rahul Yadav is a startup hero. Precisely the kind of hero we deserve.
The tragic part here is that positing a cretinous neophyte like Rahul Yadav as a startup hero shows how starved we are for real role models to look up to.
Despite all the buzz around India having arrived as a hot startup destination, there have been precious few aspirational startup exemplars since the halcyon days of Sabeer Bhatia and Narayan Murthy. A false dawn if ever there was one…
Equally tragic is the fact that folks who could potentially be startup heroes — a Sachin Bansal or a Vijay Shekhar Sharma — seem to be idols with feet of clay…either backing the likes of Rahul Yadav with angel investment to continue this cringe-worthy charade of faux startup-ism or needing him to fill seats at their own events. The signal is loud and clear — it doesn’t matter if you are a lout or have demonstrated zero meaningful startup skills as long as you can string the media along in this charade…and if you can do that, we are all happily complicit.
This is not to say that there are no startup heroes or role-models in India.
How I wish the media highlighted the story of a Santosh Panda who has diligently persevered to build Explara over several years with almost zero funding…or of a Nikhil Pahwa who selflessly fights for a public good like net neutrality at a great personal cost…or a Girish Mathrubootam who is pioneering a seminal “value arbitrage” competitive differentiator that other Indian SaaS startups would do well to emulate.
But what fun would that be?
There would be no sensational headlines.
No avalanche of page views.
No bums in seats at your startup events.
So I am not holding my breath hoping that we will get the kind of startup heroes we need…
Instead I will get my popcorn and join the mob as we watch yet another episode of “Rahul Rants” — another episode chronicling the monomyth of the startup hero we deserve…