K. Vaitheeswaran’s new book has many lessons for Modi’s Startup India

Book cover and image of author
Failing to Succeed by K Vaitheeswaran | Source: @vaitheek & Maven Rupa

K. Vaitheeswaran co-founded India’s first e-commerce website, Fabmart.com and his book speaks of how what was arguably India’s first startup collapsed.

Many startup gurus say that Indian culture does not allow much room for failure. The story of the first e-commerce website – launched much before India’s dot-com boom – is worth remembering today. Because it failed.

In 1999 when not many Indians were on the internet or used plastic money, Tirunelveli-based engineer K. Vaitheeswaran co-founded India’s first e-commerce website, Fabmart.com (rebranded Indiaplaza.com). A risky, but innovative venture, Vaitheeswaran’s team notched up many firsts in the e-commerce ecosystem globally.

“Failing to Succeed”(Maven Rupa, 2017) is a tell-all tale of an entrepreneur. It is a story of how he conceived the idea, built a company, drew in reluctant consumers and yet lost everything.

Despite being among the first movers in the industry, Fabmall and Indiaplaza are today outstanding examples of failure, not success.

Mapping a dizzying journey of a failed startup, Vaitheeswaran provides many insights into the e-commerce industry. It is also, in many ways, an “I told you so” book. He warns about an eventual bust in the industry because venture capitalists are blindly funneling vast amounts of capital into loss-making startups purely because of bullish optimism.

He writes about his own efforts to put an end to this “value vs valuation” vicious cycle through a focus on metrics to benefit the startup ecosystem in the long run.

Vaitheeswaran says failure is seen as a valuable asset in the Silicon Valley, but in India, it is just a stigma. Today, he is a popular speaker on entrepreneurship and advises global digital brands.

The book makes for a gripping read because of his chatty writing, whimsical observations, provocative predictions and about 14 years of fighting “the good fight”. It is a must-read book to understand failure (or “casualties” like himself) as today’s players look to differentiate themselves in this cacophony of startups.

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