He was the son of a government empl- oyee, with no background in entre- preneurship but Arun Jain, chairman and managing director, Intellect Design for Digital and chairman of Polaris Software, had the entrepreneurial spirit even as
a school student.
Soon after graduating from the Delhi College of Engineering, he chose to walk the entrepreneurial route with two of his friends.
In 1993, he started Polaris Software Lab
with Rs 10,000 ($150). By the time he had
sold 53 percent of its share to the United
States-based Virtusa last year, it had become
a Rs 21 billion ($314.06 million) company.
Now, his attention is focused on Intellect
Design, a products development lab he has
created, and on being a mentor and angel
investor to young entrepreneurs. He has also
launched Start up Nukkad, where young
entrepreneurs can meet and share ideas.
He takes India Abroad through his journey and explains why Narendra Modi’s Start
Up initiative needs to be fine-tuned.
From government jobs to an entrepreneur
When I was young, we were so subservient
to government jobs; the only dream every
person had — and this happened after 1947
— was to get a government job.
Rural India, however, has always been self-sustaining. Every person living in rural India
was an entrepreneur. Where were the government jobs there?
I would say the human mind is an entrepreneur’s mind, always trying to create
Becoming an angel investor
I became an angel investor to help develop
good ideas that will have an impact on society. I tell young entrepreneurs never to say
they don’t have the money to explore a great
idea. Money should not be the first priority
of a start up; it should be problem-solving.
Unless you solve somebody else’s problem,
you will not make money. They should have
the solution to a unique problem. Then I will
help them scale up their business. Being an
angel investor, I believe, is not an investment
business, but a problem-solving business.
What he looks for in a start-up
I look for two things: The thought process
and whether they can solve a social problem.
I try to see whether they use their heart to
solve the problem; there is a lot of difference
between dil (heart) and dimag (head). An
entrepreneur has to have his heart and his
head in one place.
I’m interested in how they can help people.
I also see what kind of team they bring
I prefer to call it design thinking. What I
am today is because of the image I have of
myself. Similarly, I can help a young person
to move from the role of a manager to a
CEO. When I mentor a start up, I help them
develop their self-image to that of a CEO.
They are not going to be a technician or sales
person for their company; they are going to
head it. The role of the mentor is to help
them change their self-image.
Advice for young entrepreneurs
They have to be passionate about what
they do. Their idea should solve a problem
and they should try to go deep into the problem before coming up with a solution. They
should never try to feed the customer with
If they are not ready for a 10-to-20-year
journey, they should not become entrepreneurs. They should not get lured by the
money they may make in a short period;
money may be there today and it may disappear tomorrow.
They should always prepare themselves for
failure and for days without a salary.
Bullish about India
All the people who made money in the last
15 to 20 years are first-generation entrepre-
neurs. First-generation wealth creates a dif-
ferent outcome from second-generation
wealth, as the second generation is only a
trustee of the wealth.
While the first generation can take any
decision about the wealth they have created,
the way second generation wealth is spent
can be questioned. While a Nandan Nilek-ani or a Narayana Murthy can do whatever
they want with the money they made, those
from TVS Sons cannot spent the money as
they wish because they are accountable to
Thanks to the first-generation wealth creators, there will be a lot of capital in the
country that can be invested in good causes.
See, our needs are limited. We still live in
the same house. We do not have 20 or 40
servants in the house. In fact, in my house,
my wife cooks food for us.
So, when I get Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion
or $89.73 million) from selling my shares of
Polaris, what will I do with the money? I
will invest in good causes like good ideas,
education and health care in both urban
and rural India.
It warms my heart to see a lot of great
ideas coming from young people.
I won’t say it is the incubation centers that
are helping them come up with such amazing ideas; it’s because the world is wide open
in front of them.
They know what is happening in Silicon
Valley, they see what people like Mark Zuck-erberg have achieved at such a young age
and they get inspired.
Some want to make money, but some want
to improve society. Today, great changes are
taking place in society as parents and society
itself are supporting these youngsters as they
chase their dreams.
Unless there are entrepreneurs with fresh
ideas to solve problems, a country will not
prosper. What does an entrepreneur do?
He fills a vacuum in people’s lives. A successful entrepreneur sees the vacuum and
tries to fill it.
What the Indian government must do for
I feel Modiji is putting a lot of efforts into
the Start-Up India initiative, but the government should look at what (former Indian
prime minister P V) Narasimha Rao did in
the 1990s for the software industry. He set
up the Software Technology Parks with 100
percent tax break for 10 years. Today, if software is a $100 billion industry, it is because
of the STPs.
On the other hand, the Start-Up India initiative has just a three-year tax break. In three years, a start up is not going to break even.
Somebody should advise the government properly. You need a 10-year agenda for start-ups also. I am very disappointed by this.
Similarly, if India wants to manufacture
great products, they should have schemes
like long tax breaks which will impact industry for a longer period.
India in the next five years
Everybody is obsessed with double-digit
growth for the country. Though it can be
achieved, I am not fascinated by growth
numbers. What fascinates me is what I see in
The highways and infrastructure-building
have changed the face of small towns like,
say, Ujjain and Bhubaneswar and Indore.
With the kind of highways we have, the distance between Bhubaneswar and Puri is just
45 minutes now. Similarly, the distance
between Indore and Ujjain has lessened.
Highways will change the face of India.
See, America built its highways in the
1930s and early 1940s before World War II.
America developed in the 1950s and 1960s
because it had the infrastructure.
That is why I believe the next 20 years are
really bullish for India. By then, we will have
infrastructure and we will consume too.
What’s the need to depend on the rest of the
Today, we talk only about the urban economy. No, we cannot imitate the model
America followed. America has 300 million
people and we have 1.5 billion people.
We need to build local economies or local
clusters in rural areas. We need village clusters formed by joining 10 to 15 villages.
Then, we don’t need subsidies for villages as
there are lots of opportunities there.
The more I work in rural areas with social
impact programs, the more I feel our growth
is lopsided. Our programs are imitations of
the West. Our ideas should be a combination
of Silicon Valley and Gandhiji.
We don’t just need smart cities, we need
smart villages too. If you are planning 100
smart cities, you should plan 10,000 smart
villages too as there are six lakh (600,000)
villages in the country.
‘Our ideas should be
of Silicon Valley
Entrepreneur, angel investor and mentor
Arun Jain discusses India’s entrepreneurial eco
system with Shobha Warrier.