The Calacanis controversy: What happens in India?

March 10, 2008

Jason Calacanis’ recently wrote a post on ways to save money. It quickly became controversial when others such as Jeff Nolan responded indignantly to it. A good summary is here at Techcrunch. Essentially, Jason said Fire all those employees who are not workohlics and the rest fired him for such a ruthless and casual approach to one’s own people. Jason seems to have missed the obvious: A start up aims at making money and not at saving money. It saves money to last longer to have a better shot at making money. Make cost cutting a priority by itself and you’ve shot your self in the foot. He seems to get it in his chair tip but missed it when it came to people. Maybe Michael Arrington got it right in his post that Jason didn’t mean it.

Later Gauravonomics asked an interesting question:

“Has anyone read an Indian perspective on the “startups need workaholics”
controversy created by the @JasonCalacanis post ?”
“Especially because part of the controversy was about “family vs work”
& Indians are supposed to be both more hard-working &

The answer is a bit complicated actually when it comes to India. I thought of providing an overview of what’s happening today rather than my views (which are not very different from others! Relaxed mind produces better and more).

In silicon valley, one quits a large company and takes a cut in salary for stock/stock option. However, in India one joins a start up for a higher salary plus stock. This is in an extreme form in the Indian Mobile VAS industry where the average life span for an employee is about an year before s/he hops to another VAS player for higher cash. This means that the bosses do demand more work and results. This also means that the future holds little incentive and doesn’t drive people. Only the founders and very early employees tend to motivated by the future ahead.

On the other hand, the Indian family man (or woman) doesn’t have the same concept of work life balance as in US (and certainly not Europe!). Almost everyone here works long hours without any protest; start up or not. Its common to sit around in office even without work because it doesn’t look nice to leave early. Amongst younger folks, the real reason is that there is nothing better to do at home. Older folks just can’t say no the boss who asks for one more thing at 6 PM.

The end result: Long hours almost everywhere. But some are working hard for the extra cash, some because they are too timid to say no, some are not working at all!

Its not all bad at office though. Most of the early stage startup offices that I’ve visited seem to be a bunch of friends or a family. They get along very well and have fun together. They also have pizza parties, siesta time, movie outings etc. Later stage ones may compromise a bit on location for saving money but offices are quite plush and comfortable inside. People are taken care of.


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