Startup ecosystem today is remarkably different compared to 10 years ago: Sanket Atal, Salesforce India

The startup ecosystem today is remarkably different from a decade ago and the ecosystem is only expected to get better in India, says Sanket Atal, Managing Director, Operations and Site Lead, Technology & Product, Salesforce India.
In an interview with ET Digital, Atal explains how Salesforce is guiding startups via its Idea Exchange programme and helping them come up with ideas on what to develop. The Salesforce Startup Program provides startups with connections to companies that have partnered with Salesforce in the past, including venture capitalists and angel investors. Edited excerpts:

The Economic Times (ET): How do you see the evolution of the startup ecosystem in India?
Sanket Atal (SA):
The typical way startups get going is for smart people to come together saying ‘we want to solve a problem’. But now what’s happening is these folks are doing or able to do research on the technology areas that will actually get them a market foothold. That’s different. And the focus on things is not quite there yet, but more focus on things like how do you actually design the product from a UI perspective design, from a functional perspective, those things are coming in, and that’s allowing these guys to be much more mature.

But why is that happening? One thing is many startups fail, and people have learned from it. The other thing is, there has been a lot of movement of people from the US to here, as well as a part of some company or the other, some of them have ventured out into startup land. So, that connection with the US — the most thriving startup ecosystem — is also helping these folks learn the best practices.

The state of startups today as compared to say 10 years ago is remarkably different. Money flowing in is also significant. It goes up and down as the economy grows, but money flowing in is significant as people are becoming much more courageous, willing to take risks and establish the right connections to be able to do so. I think the ecosystem has matured quite a bit, and that’s going to continue with time.

ET: What do you think about Indian startups in terms of innovation?
I think they are very innovative. The availability of resources in the form of money, for example, is scarce outside the US, and even Europeans complain about the lack of funding. Funding is scarce. You have to be very creative about what you do and how you do it right. That takes a lot of innovation. That’s one part. The other part is that with the enablers, the availability of various kinds of tech etc., people are looking at how best can they get a leg up on their competition. And I am seeing amazing innovation, not just limited to our view of innovation to just tech; it’s also in the approach to the market, and how they are trying to address that. ET: What is the Salesforce Startup Program?
When you develop a product, you need to take it to market, but you are not quite sure how. Now if you are a mobile app developer, you know what to do. You go to the App Store for Apple or Google Play and you are able to do that. But what do you do with enterprise apps? It is different. I had heard of the app exchange from Salesforce. And upon joining, I realised that we have not quite positioned that with startups. So, if you take a look at what the startups really want to do, they want to come up with ideas on what to develop. They are looking for help. We also have something called Idea Exchange, which is basically all the technology gaps perceived by our customers and our users’ family we call trailblazers; all of this in a database available for anybody to use. So, you can go in there and get ideas that ‘hey, these are the technology gaps that need to be filled’. Yes, globally, these are ideas that you can use to create applications that are adjacent to our application. So, you use that to develop the applicator concept, and then you develop the actual application on our platform and we provide. No matter what you want to do — no-code, low code, whatever it is — we provide your platform. Once it’s developed, you get it approved, just like you get two apps approved by Google or whoever uses them approved by us, and then you put them on a marketplace for that.

In addition, we have a lot of startups that are interested in running the companies on things like our products. But they’re not quite sure if they can, because you only hear of Salesforce powering large companies. So, we give them the opportunity in case they’re interested. There’s a no-push model; if they’re interested, we connect them to our sales folks. Then the startups go about trying out the products and seeing if this is a viable solution. And I’m very happy that a lot of startups have actually done it and been very happy with applications on AppExchange.

The third aspect of our programme involves providing startups with connections to companies that have partnered with us, including VCs, angels and our ventures team.

ET: What are the three major problems that startups are facing and that need to be resolved?
I think access to funds is a big one. You know, one of the things that happens is some of them try to work to get money because they hear all these stories. And you have to realise that the moment you get some money, you lose control. So you have to go in at the right time. The reason a lot of US companies get funding is because they’re in the same town and same city as most of the VCs.

I think that’s one area which needs to get better for sure. The other one, I think, is that greater focus on design is needed. Our goal is to just get things done. But a focus on design is needed. Design is a big enabler for adoption.

ET: Do you see any big trends in the startup ecosystem in the next 5 to 10 years?
Everybody is venturing into the AI space. I read somewhere that more than 2,000 startups have propped up around AI, and quite a few have come up in the generative AI space. Being able to leverage these technologies would be awesome. And another area, like the agri space, really needs to be innovated in. We are a huge country, a supplier to the world for various things. So if people get innovative with that, some amazing things can happen.


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