My roundabout take on India’s startup hub: Koramangala

Four years back, I moved to Bengaluru to work for Flipkart. Since then I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Koramangala.

One one hand, it was like being in a giant mela. There were food stalls everywhere and crowds mill about, all seemingly happy and hopping from offices to eateries and pubs. On the other hand the people seemed to live in bubble that stretched from Hosur road on one side to Bellandur lake on the other with no concept of life outside this bubble in rest of Bengaluru.

Now, 4 years later, working for ChalkStreet, I am back right to the heart of this place. And, I have the following observations to make:

If you hang around Koramangala long enough, you encounter an event that will scar you for life: The wait at Sony World signal. Its a strange black hole where time stands still and world stops moving. Getting past this gives most Koramangalites such a sense of universal accomplishment that they carry it around all day like a badge of honor. People from outside may often mistake this to a more general obnoxiousness. They are wrong.

These days you spot these bikers in Koramangala. Based on their fancy full-body leather attire you‘d that they are planning to bike up the Himalayas but truly they are just trying to get to that 10 AM meeting at their office. If you see a guy on leather jacket riding a fancy bike in peak hour traffic, stay away — they usually have poor understanding of the concept of time, space and physics and tend to leave you in a spot of bother.

Life in Koramangala is built up in blocks. 8 to be precise. Some blocks are popular and some are not. There is rampant block’ism. 4th block, being the numerical middle, has no special significance except having perhaps the hottest investor-startup exchange in all Bengaluru — the Costa Coffee on 80ft road.

Koramangala is a place where dreams are built and destroyed in Cafes. It is littered with them. There is the more than usual smattering of CCDs, Costa Coffee and an occasion beleagured Barista. Then there are hundreds of one-off gourmet cafes. Some of them have a vagueEuropeanish sounding word in their name. Others pun with their names, often making you cringe. Some are just plain nonsensical. All of them have high ‘peter’ value.

Quiz Question: Why do Koramangalites drink so much coffee?

Because, its what cool people do.

Our hot startup-investor exchange, the Costa Coffee on 80ft road, can probably boast of being the smallest real-estate through which the maximum number of startup ideas get sounded. Sitting here is like scrolling through a ambiguous Quora feed. You hear a lot of voices with such authority that you’d be led to believe every one of them.

Here, startups pitch to investors. Startups pitch to potential employees. Potential employees pitch to investors. Investors pitch to other investors. Even the guy at the counter pitches the new menu to you.

So, if you have money and want to invest in a startup, just call me.

Our startup, ChalkStreet, is located near Maharaja Signal. The stretch of the 80ft road in 4th block is divided into key-events called Sony world signal, Maharaja signal, Wipro signal, etc. Getting from one to the next is often celebrated with drinks at Prost (whenever you get there).

Also, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle applies in this stretch when coordinating with a delivery boy.

As is known, Koramangala is filled with Startups. But not all startups are the same — there are hierarchies. There is the baap-of-all which is Flipkart. It is like the Pole Star of this suburb. Get lost anywhere in Koramangala and you can use a Flipkart office to get back in the right direction. These offices serve as shrines for the thousands of other startups dreaming to similarly litter the area with their offices.

Below is quite possibly a very common exchange in Koramangala:

“Hey, Wanna meet? I am near the Flipkart office”

“Which one?”

“Duh. The one in Koramangala”

“Which one?”

“What the…. The one in 4th block?”

“Which one?”

Then there are hundreds of other companies that, flush with funds, flush the funds in large offices, wall-art and foosball tables. Their employees are hot(as in driven) and the culture is cool. Its also an in-thing to swear a lot. And generally be seen as opinionated and ballsy. There is a whole sub-culture here that is fascinating and scary in equal proportions.

Work hard, Party hard

is passe.

Work hard. Work harder. Work is party.

is just stupid.

Below these, there are startups who can afford a name board and some employees. This is where we fall. There are a gazillion of these in Koramangala. Name board printers are making a killing. Many of these are looking to progress to the next level. Some of them have stayed here for too long. Some, just continue to have the name boards for picking up old mail.

The level below this is usually a couple of guys, a can of beer, good wifi and a dilapidated home. They pop in and out of existence at random and work on the next-big-idea. Sometimes, they materialize at the Costa Coffee on 80ft road.

Startup naming is an art. Like in fart.

Talking about Koramangala and not talking about food is like watching a Rajnikanth movie without hearing whistling. Food makes up for almost all of Koramangala’s fallacies. The good thing with drinking in Koramangala is that once drunk, its very easy to stumble semi-consciously into a place to eat.

It is often difficult to build consensus within a team of 5 on where to eat. Conversations could go like this:

Person 1: I feel like eating Biryani today.

Person 2: Oh, sounds good.

Person 3: Yup.

Person 4: Yeah.

Person 3: Egg Parata also sounds good.

Person 2: Maybe. What about Burrito?

Person 4: Yes!

Person 1: Nope. How about some Indian Chinese?

Person 3: Should we go get ice-cream after?

Person 4: How about doughnuts?

This typically goes on for a while…

In the end, people eat where they can find a place.

And finally the most important part of the life in Koramangala. Life in a Startup. To be honest it varies quite a bit but there are some common themes:

  1. Everyone masters the hyperbole. If you are not the largest, most-radical, fastest, biggest or cheapest something, you are nothing. Tactical, tangible goals are for losers. You must be changing the world. At a bare minimum, at least changing the country.

  2. Planning is for losers. Just do it. If you are planning, you are over-thinking.

  3. Emails are stream of consciousness. Have thoughts. Must Email.

  4. Processes are scary. They create Orwellian nightmares of becoming a big company.

Yet, its all good.

Koramangala is the proving ground for a startup ecosystem that can only do good for the young spilling out of our colleges in the millions. We still have a long way to go and there isn’t enough focus on innovation happening in traditional businesses but its a start. An experiment worth making. Meanwhile it makes sense to wall-off this strange universe between the clogged veins of Bengaluru’s large roads.

And, if you are interested in working for ChalkStreet, do apply at :)