Suck Goes to High-Tech India


Next stop: "Koramangala's Most Happening Place," — why waste time with the second or third most-happening, thought I — which turned out to be the modest, well-kept home of Balbir and Amrit Singh, proprietors of I'd found the site, which caters to the Bangalore IT crowd with a combination of semi-regular local-interest articles and a few e-shopping offers, via Google; Balbir had replied to my mail immediately, and enthusiastically, "with me and Amrit, you'll never feel shy from the minute you meet us." And sure enough, over the next few days, the Singhs shuttled me to appointments, fed me, and generally treated me like an old friend. Since I represented media coverage, I was never sure, in that Almost Famous sort of way, if I was being spun. But by and large the Singhs seemed extremely genuine.

Earlier in the year, Balbir and Amrit went out looking to get some venture funding for, using a Wired article on Bangalore as Exhibit A to establish that they were, indeed, very happening. Balbir asked if I'd seen the piece in Wired. I hadn't, but he had several copies around.

Brad Wetzler had actually led his story with Balbir; by my reading, he made him out to be some sort of manic, delusional enterpreneur, an ambitious buffoon drunk with get-rich- quick possibilities. Despite the characterization, the Singhs proudly and constantly talked about the piece.

Apparently the local VC community agreed with Brad; they were concerned with the Singhs' pie-in-the-sky plan to compete directly with India's quite-well-funded portals (Rediff and Satyam). The Singhs would provide the high-service Bangalore alternative. "They said we were just a mom-and-pop site," Balbir grimaces over a late-night supper of homemade idli. "Well, we're going to be the best goddam mom-and-pop site out there. And we're not taking venture money now, which is good, because we don't have to answer their damn questions and we can grow more reasonably."

Frankly, if I were an investor I wouldn't put ten rupees into, either. Since Balbir has to devote at least some time to his well-salaried, well-resented day job selling consumer-product packaging materials, Amrit handles most of the incoming orders of flowers and sweets and whatnot. Amrit picks everything out herself so it's all very fresh, and she delivers punctually. They provide great service (other services frequently botch the deliveries, but not the Singhs) but their DIY method isn't scalable worth a damn - it's never going to throw off the cash flow that would make an investment worth a VC's time.

But that doesn't mean it won't still be a great business for the Singhs. This year will pull in revenues of perhaps Rs300,000 ($6600) and make a profit of around $1200 — a meaningful boost to the Singhs' already solidly middle-class household income. With their costs so limited and their time available (Amrit's especially; despite her economics degree, is her first job in twenty years), it doesn't take much to make the site a worthwhile family venture.

More than a business, though, is the Singhs' pet project, the vehicle for the social as well as financial ambitions of a very highly educated but until now strictly middle-class couple. One senses that the Singh's are doing at least as much for the notoriety and access that accompanies being local media celebrities. They like to interview government officials who wouldn't otherwise talk to them. They like to write editorials about the conditions of Bangalore's roads. They like to email local CEOs and get responses, and to drop their names in conversation. Which is somewhat refreshing: In a climate crazed with money, they're good old-fashioned social climbers.


Speak your mind about today's Suck
Goes to India

Let's Go Bangalore!
E-Commerce, Mom and Pop-Style
The Accidental Feminist
Money Changes Everything
The Billionaire Socialist
Those Crazy Kids and Their Cult
From Hyderbad to Worse
Masterbuilders on the March!


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