Has Mumbai lost the startup fight to Bengaluru?

We’re back in 2016. Housing is dying, TinyOwl is dead. Ola and Quikr have left for Bengaluru. Porter.in, which came up, just after you left, too, has moved cities. Is Mumbai’s promise as a startup hub over?

Yes, there have been Twitter spats over this, Quora posts and Facebook notes. But we want to have our say, and show it too.

Quikr says when it had to scale, it had to leave. Bangalore gave it a cheaper and deeper talent pool. The real estate costs were lower and its legacy of being home to Infosys and Wipro meant that people were just more entrepreneurial. “Networking is better. It is easier to meet people at short notice once you are in Bengaluru,” says Atul Tewari, COO, Quikr.

Ola mirrors the line and Porter says South India is more receptive to technology.

Damning statements.

But there are a few entrepreneurs in Mumbai who can’t help but disagree. It isn’t hard to find them either. They meet every two weeks, get drunk and talk. Most of them are angel funded and are part of a 256-person WhatsApp group, which was started by Shubham Rai. He is the co-founder of a professional social networking app called Nodd. And a few Thursdays ago, there was one such meet at an upscale Bandra pub.

Let’s get it started

It is 9pm, almost everyone has settled in. The bar is open and pizzas have been ordered. A few of them, who have had some craft beers, are trying to flirt with two attractive women. No, they are not part of the party. One works in advertising, the other in a small startup. On the big screen, a rerun of the Olympics plays and is summarily ignored. The bar is full and so are the tables. The music is loud. Everyone is buzzing.

A simple question is asked: Three of the biggest startups in Mumbai have moved base to Bengaluru. Is Bengaluru the be-all and end-all of startups?

The questions start to make their way across the group. The typical reaction is to roll their eyes and focus on the beer and the work at hand: score a lead for the business.

In Mumbai, it is always dhanda first.

Zainul Abbasi is not drinking. He has to drive. After being coaxed into a beer, he decides to take a stab at the question.

“Why do most startups go to Bengaluru? Easier access to technology? What technology? Most companies that have moved are app-based. Are you telling me they can’t find Java developers in Mumbai to work on your app?” yells Abbasi, co-founder, Phi Robotics. The pint was drained reasonably quickly. He really wants to make the point and insists on stepping out. And, to be fair, very few can beat Sia telling the bar that she loves cheap thrills.

Once outside, he fishes in his pocket for a cigarette. The smoking zone is dominated by others from the group making connections and a few have spent almost the entire evening there. A young couple is smoking weed on another floor. Bins are already overflowing with empty cigarette packets.

Through the haze, Abbasi dismisses the argument that the talent pool isn’t deep enough in Mumbai. Bengaluru has an IIM, an IIT in neighbouring Chennai and ISB in Hyderabad. Mumbai has an IIT, an SP Jain and a flock of engineering and business schools in Goa.

Impact of the experience

Okay, hiring freshers is never a problem, hiring experienced hands at reasonable costs is the issue. Quikr, for example, went from a 70-person tech team in Mumbai to a 400-man army in Bengaluru. “Seasoned hands with a few years of experience are difficult to find in Mumbai,” says Quikr’s Tewari.

Arnaud Lorie, an Israeli national in Mumbai running a jewelry marketplace called Joolz, who is also at the party, agrees with Quikr. He is nursing a beer. His company raised around $500,000 recently and wanted to hire a CTO but the salaries were twice as expensive as they would be in Bengaluru. He ended up outsourcing the tech functions.

Abbasi is not around to hear any of this. He is now ambushed by a woman who runs a garbage disposal startup. She is trying to explore “synergy”. Both awkwardly smile and nod.


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