Born@B’luru: Our Silicon Valley deserves a tech startup museum

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“Yahin par shuru hua tha (It started here),” the security guard outside the yellow bungalow told me. “Flipkart yahin se shuru hua tha (This is where Flipkart began),” he said again, looking directly into my eyes, with a sense of pride I hadn’t spotted even in some of Flipkart’s longest-serving employees.

Standing there, I had to fake a surprised look, or else that guard would have been offended. His sense of pride was that deep.

From outside, the building looked like a typical middle-class home in Bengaluru’s startup hub, Koramangala. It was rented by Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal in late 2007, soon after delivering their first online book order in October that year.

Since Walmart first announced its acquisition of Flipkart for $16 billion in May last year, valuing the startup at around $21 billion, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. First, Sachin Bansal quit the company after the deal was announced. Later, the second founder, Binny Bansal quit in November following allegations of “serious personal misconduct.”

The events and headlines leading up to Flipkart’s sale seem to have clouded its contribution in shaping India’s e-commerce. From offering cash on delivery to consumers who didn’t have credit cards to do online transactions, to building a mobile app and growing it with the next generation of Indian online buyers, Flipkart’s history is the history of India’s e-commerce.

As I listened to the security guard, I was looking inside the bungalow through the doors to see if there were any historic pieces from the Flipkart story tucked in a corner. Perhaps an old bike that the founders used to deliver early shipments, their first computer, first big order, anything at all. “Ab yahan delivery executives ko training dete hain,” the guard told me. “Aur koi nahi aata (This place is used to train delivery executives. No one else comes here),” he added in a complaining tone.

Why can’t this building become a museum, I asked myself. After all, documenting and celebrating history to inspire future entrepreneurs and innovators is nothing new. In the Silicon Valley, there are tech museums that showcase everything from the world’s first microprocessor to Apple’s first computer prototype, and so on.

The Flipkart story has already spread beyond the walls of Bungalow No. 447-C. The company’s early employees and top executives are also building the next unicorns — startups with over a billion dollars in valuation. For instance, Udaan, a startup helping smaller manufacturers connect directly with shops on an e-commerce platform. Founded by former Flipkart chief technology officer Amod Malviya, along with Sujeet Kumar and Vaibhav Gupta, Udaan became a unicorn in less than two years — the fastest for any Indian startup.

The founders of Udaan and several other startups are funding their next ventures with the wealth created from their Flipkart shares. Today, there are more than 200 startups whose founders have worked at Flipkart. These include PhonePe, Cure Fit and many others.

To be sure, Flipkart’s journey leading up to its buyout has been controversial too. Apart from the founders’ exit, there have been questions about its work culture, its inability to compete and win against an aggressive rival such as Amazon, and so on. Clearly, not everyone won in Indian startup ecosystem’s biggest victory.

But all that will soon be forgotten on the back of a massive wealth creation, thanks to the buyout. Both founders are now building their next ventures and investing in other startups. The investors too are celebrating their exit. And the employees, especially those who were able to sell their shares for millions of dollars, are either funding their next ventures or their other dreams.


But what about the legacy of Flipkart?


In perhaps a decade from now, it will be known as one of the many international businesses of Walmart. In Flipkart’s sale, learnings of over a decade about Indian online consumers, and what works, what doesn’t, were given away to Walmart. But there’s no reason why entrepreneurial lessons need to be buried with the deal.

From Infosys to Flipkart, Indian startups have come a long way. While Infosys founders still remain the ambassadors of the journey, can Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal wear Flipkart on their sleeves long enough to inspire a new breed of entrepreneurs?

I went back to the Koramangala lane the next day to meet the security guard again. This time, another guard was at the gate. And I asked the same question pointing at the old company logo. “Is this the same Flipkart?”

“Sir, Flipkart yahin se shuru hua tha,” he replied.

Bengaluru has been a hotbed of futuristic startups. Clearly, there’s a lot more to the city than its traffic snarls and dying lakes. Bengaluru offers a unique, front-row view of the future of everything in India. It’s about time the city’s entrepreneurs and administrators wake up to build a tech startup museum that helps change the narrative.

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