Let’s face it; most people have never heard of Bangalore, India and have no idea that this city exists, let alone do they know about the amount of startup activity here. From a US or European perspective, when you mention India most people think of New Delhi and Mumbai, they think of Bollywood and Slumdog Millionaire, they think of rickshaw drivers and cows walking through the streets. They don’t think of the “Silicon Valley of India”, IT parks galore, UB City and Infosys.
I say this because throughout the course of the last 2 years the majority of people whom I have met or spoken with have never heard of this city. For those who have, they generally know of it as an IT/Tech hub, but most can’t really name any companies other than Flipkart and maybe Zomato (many don’t realize that Zomato is an Indian company). Generally speaking, most people remain ignorant of all the special things going on here, and rarely look at it as a place of flourishing opportunity.
In the initial stages of starting BrainGain, many people told me that Bangalore would be a hard sell…we’ve found quite the opposite to be true. After a quick chat where I tell them about startup activity, a metropolitan city with vibrant nightlife, a booming craft brewing industry, travel opportunities at your fingertips, and a very low cost of living, people generally become interested very quickly.
It is for this reason that I am going to delve into the Top 10 Reasons Why Bangalore is Awesome. I personally believe it’s the best city in Asia, but hey maybe that’s just me. I’m curious to hear what everyone else thinks.
1) Startups and Entrepreneurship
According to a recent NASSCOM study, India is the world fastest growing startup ecosystem, with more than 800 new companies arising every year. It is also now the third largest entrepreneurial ecosystem worldwide. Companies are raising money left and right, being acquired like never before, and companies like Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Zomato have reached a stage of maturity where they are not only making domestic acquisitions, they are also acquiring global competitors (look at what Zomato has been doing to compete with and dominate Yelp around the world, its awesome!).
2 years ago I rarely heard about an Indian company being acquired. In the off shot that I did, it was typically an acqui-hire, rather than an actual acquisition. However in the last six months I have seen at least 10 acquisitions (Zipdial, Eventifier, Foodpanda, TastyKhana, IndianStage, Urban Spoon and others just to name a few), and many of these have been from Indian companies acquiring other Indian companies. In the instance of Zipdial, it’s even bigger news because an expat-founded company was acquired by a global giant like Twitter, which sends all sorts of positive signals to the rest of the world.
Venture funding has also exploded over the last 6 months to one year. Every day you hear about a company that either raised their first round, or raised another round. It has never been easier to raise money in India; investment is flowing and there is now finally both quantity of companies looking to be funded, and of high enough quality to actually receive it. Hell, I’ve seen about 10 different food delivery startups all raise rounds within the last 3-6 months! (great for both my bank account and the fact that I can’t cook ).
Plain and simply, you don’t see this type of startup activity anywhere in Asia, let alone in emerging economies. Not in Indonesia, the Philppines, Thailand or Malaysia (but watch out for all of these countries as they are all about to explode in the next 2-3 years… nearly 400 Million people in Philippines + Indonesia alone with nearly 200% Mobile phone penetration!!!). I would say you also don’t see this type of activity coming out of Singapore either (especially in the context of acquisitions).
It’s a very exciting time to be here in India, and in my opinion it’s just getting started. If you can’t tell already, think NBA JAM “Heeeeee’s heating up!” – That’s what Bangalore feels like right now.
…Oh and did I mention that over 50% of all startups in India are coming out of Bangalore? Yea, Bangalore is the place to be if you are interested in startups and entrepreneurship in India.
Bangalore has some of the best weather in the world. No intense monsoon season or humidity like you find in Delhi and Mumbai – just a consistent 70-90 degrees year round (for those in celsius, lets just say a consistent 25). The moderate weather makes Bangalore a great place to be regardless of the time of year, and you never have to worry about it getting too cold, or too hot, or too rainy. Bangalore weather is like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears; not too cold, not too hot, juuuuuuust right.
3) Metropolitan City with Good Nightlife
As I mentioned before, when many people think of India they think of Slumdog Millionaire, not UB City and Infosys. Many people expect to see the poverty of India, but they don’t expect to see the wealth. India is a country of co-existing polarities, and for however bad the poverty might be in some areas, thats how far the opposite end of the spectrum goes when it comes to ostentatious wealth.
Many people fail to realize that Bangalore is a metropolitan city that offers a great quality of life for an affordable price. It’s a city with great nightlife, a very big international expat scene, fantastic food and restaurants, and plenty of things to see and do. Don’t believe me? Go check out one of the hotel parties or a Viren Khanna Expat party, or hit up one of the many all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-drink Sunday brunches and try to tell me you didn’t have a good time!
Yes, the city does start to close at around midnight, but that doesn’t mean the party ends there. Back home I was used to the “Pre-Game” and then go hit the bars way of doing things. Here, it’s the flip; go out and eat and drink and then head back to someone’s place to continue the festivities. Plenty of my favorite experiences here have went well on into the night and laws around bars closing don’t prevent people from having a great time even when restaurants have long since closed.
4) Craft Brew
I give this one it’s own section because I believe it deserves it. Bangalore is the only city in India that has a flourishing craft brewery scene. A few years ago it was only Toit, Arbor, and Biere Club, and the occasional trip to Windmills. Since then you have Big Pitcher, District 6, Prost, Vapor, Punjabi by Nature and so many more that are all brewing up some world quality craft beer. For someone who hates drinking cheap tasteless beer, this has been hands down my favorite aspect of living in Bangalore. A good beer is never far away, and the fact that many of these breweries still don’t bottle makes the experience that much more fun because you have to go to the bar to get it.
Now this one is a bit more of a prediction, but I foresee India becoming a brewing capital of the world in a few years. It’s only a matter of time before traditional Indian flavors begin getting meshed into Indian beers in a big way. India is the land of herbs and spices, and its an eventuality to see these flavors incorporated soon. When the first masala ginger beer, or coconut chickoo beer comes out, sign me up and I’ll be the first one to try it
5) Low cost of living
Compared to the US or Europe, living in Bangalore is insanely inexpensive. My average monthly cost of living in Bangalore is around $500 USD/month, including rent, food, nightlife, travel, everything! My rent is $200/month, a cleaning lady is $20/month for them to come everyday and it’s the same for a full time chef. I also take an Uber everywhere and eat out at restaurants for 95% of my meals, so my costs of living are probably higher than most. Live off of $750 USD/month? You can live a very very good quality of life. Spend $1000+ and you will live like a king/queen.
Now how does this translate for those who are trying to start a business or figure out their next move? If you’re a budding entrepreneur with a few thousand dollars in the bank account who wants to get to work on a new idea, your money won’t last you very long in the US or Europe. However, if you move to Bangalore with $5000 you can make your money last you upwards of a year while getting to work on your company. I personally was able to launch my business in under a year for under $5000 including all of my living expenses throughout that time.
Or what if you’re a company that just raised some money and want to have a longer runway? Bangalore is once again awesome. People blow through so much money in NY/SF/LA and other places simply due to overpriced real estate and overly expensive cost of living. So much of the money that you raised will be going towards your overhead and monthly expenditures, rather than actual product development and gaining real traction with real customers. In many circumstances it makes more sense to come live here for a few months while working on product development and keeping expenditures low, and then return to the US(or elsewhere) with a viable product and begin business.
Simply put, if you need a place where you can stretch your money and think clearly without financial pressures weighing down on you, Bangalore is a great place to do it.
India has something like 26 different languages and over 22,000 different dialects; by default English has become the predominant language of business and all of your day to day interactions. All of the work you do here will be done with English speaking clients, the marketing materials and emails you send are in English, and so on. In the context of working and/or starting a business abroad, this is huge.
The same can’t be said for places in Latin America like Brazil, Chile or Argentina, and the quality of spoken and written English is much lower in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The fact that everything is English friendly in India makes it much easier to hit the ground running and smooth your cultural acclimation.
7) Travel Opportunities
India is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Name any type of terrain, India has it. Beaches, jungles, hill stations, deserts, backwaters…everything! India is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen, and every time I get to visit somewhere new it simply blows my mind. I guess that’s why they call it “Incredible India!”.
Given the centralized location of Bangalore, getting around South India is very easy. In my first six months here I would jump on an overnight bus/train on Friday night, spend the weekend somewhere new, and be back and ready to work by early Monday morning. Places like Mysore, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Hampi, Goa, Kerala, and Pondicherry are all an overnight bus/train ride away and are insanely easy (and cheap) to get to.
India also has the rest of southeast Asia at it’s fingertips as well. Keep your eye out for good flight deals and you can find flights to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and more for $2-300 USD.
India is rapidly growing as a tourist destination in the worldwide context, and for good reason.
8) Safety – In specific, Womens safety
Bangalore is one of the safest, if not the safest cities I have ever lived in. You don’t have to worry about assault, theft, and violent crime. You don’t have to worry about people bothering you. The most I have to worry about is a street dog biting me late at night, or a rickshaw driver ripping me off. In all of my time here I have never heard of someone getting robbed, or jumped, or anything like that (I hear about these things all of the time in NY, and a friend of mine saw some horrible things in SF in terms of violence as well).
Now I do understand that much of this safety, or perceived safety, is because I am a man. Things are still much different here for women. Women have to be careful how they get home at night, be cognizant of what they wear, and be aware of how the people they are with might portray them in a certain light. Women are frequently stared at, and sometimes even groped. I’ve met my fair share of creepy people sending strange FB messages as well. It is a much different picture for women here.
However having said that, Bangalore is light-years ahead of places like Delhi in terms of women’s safety. The vast majority of the news that people read/see about women’s issues in India have happened up north in Delhi or surrounding rural villages. North India is much more aggressive, and generally much more frightening for women. The south is much more relaxed, and instances of violent crimes against foreign women are very rare. Every foreign girl I know in Bangalore has definitely seen their fare share of questionable things, but overall they would all say that the perception of women’s safety in India is far from the reality, and for the most part they feel safe and secure.
9) Hustle Hard
I always joke with my roommate that Bangalore is one of the only places in the world where you can simply create opportunities for yourself and open insane doorways for the future. Tomorrow I could realistically say to myself, “I want to get involved in neuroscience”, reach out to the thought leaders of neuroscience in India, get meetings with 10 of them, spend the next year doing this over and over, and by the end of that year I will be well networked in the neuroscience community with potential job opportunities, regardless of if this was something I studied in school. There’s not many places in the world where you can do this.
Personally, when getting my company off the ground I had to hustle and Bangalore opened its doors wide open for me. I became en emcee for corporate events, a freestyle rapper, a voice actor for cartoons, hell, I’ve dressed up as a clown, juggled in night-clubs, and even dressed up as Santa! (btw I’m Jewish – awesomely ironic).
(*Note: Yes, I understand that some people will describe this as pulling the “white card”. There very well might be some truth to this, but I am just speaking about my experiences. I have met plenty of Indians who have also been able to leverage the hustle hard mentality and get things done in awesome ways, the hustle isn’t limited to the “white card”.)
10) Market Size/Opportunity
I give this one its own category aside from startups and entrepreneurship and hustle because I truly believe in it. I sincerely believe that South Asia is where the future lies. India = ~1.3 Billion people. Indonesia = ~250 Million people. Philippines = ~150 million people. Throw China in with the rest of South Asia and we’re looking at over 1/3 of the entire worlds population.
What makes this even more fascinating is the rate at which these countries are coming online. Southeast Asia has sky high mobile penetration rates (in some parts nearly 200%!), very large numbers of people online (more tweets originate from Jakarta, Indonesia than anywhere else in the world) , and the vast majority are coming online via the mobile phone. The opportunity to build products and services for this side of the world with a mobile first approach is quite simply nothing short of fantastic!
A friend once said to me “In the US, scale is 150-200 million people. In India this is a small pocket of the country”. And it’s true. When we talk about scale in this part of the world, we’re dealing with a whole different ballgame of scale. The amount of lives that you can touch here is absolutely mind boggling, and to create a revolutionary product that scales across Asia is a feat that VC’s are watering at the mouth for.
Now I do want to be careful not to paint an inaccurate picture of Bangalore. Yes, you will still get your quintessential Indian elements like pollution, burning trash, beggars, and cows walking through the road. You will have that side of India for the foreseeable future. But I feel that this is what so many people from an outsiders perspective seem to dwell on, rather than looking for all of the great things that this city has to offer.
So that’s my take on why my home for the last two years, Bangalore, is awesome…what are your thoughts?