I’m glad that we returned to India (R2I) and have a verdict on the R2I experiment. In the summer of 2012, we are moving to America.
Why R2I didn’t work out – the important stuff
Immediately after returning to India, I started and ran a web design consulting company and helped startups with their product definition, branding and design. One of these was listed as a top 10 startup to watch in India by a major publication. Another one is getting good traction with VCs. We are very proud of them. Starting and running a consulting business in India was challenging on 2 fronts:
Finding people with the right skillsets was extremely difficult. We spent 2 hours daily looking for candidates. Mostly, they failed in having usable domain skills. We tried several permutations – hiring from other industries (print, advertising), hiring from universities directly, poaching seniors from competitors. We got a strong team together but at some point I realized that it would be increasingly harder for us to find more talented people. This was the single biggest obstacle to scaling the business and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
We thoroughly enjoyed working with startups. Selling to and working with large and mid-sized corporates was challenging. But for all the clients, the economics didn’t work out. If you are in a similar industry, you’ll have to find better paying clients to do good work AND make the numbers work. These clients are probably not in India.
I’m in the process of leaving the consulting company that I founded but I’ll continue as an adviser to some of the startup clients. These projects were special and I’d really like for them to succeed. To learn more about my work, please read my long comment at the end of this post.
Building deep friendships takes time. There are some people we hang out with regularly, but 12-24 months may be too short for the depth. Our neighbors have been extremely friendly and helpful. But contrary to our expectations, we don’t see longtime residents with a good circle of friends either. Most peoples’ social life is skewed heavily towards family – not surprisingly given the primacy of that unit in India. Occasionally they meet their school/work friends. Otherwise, there is polite-conversation socializing. I preferred the people of Mumbai (cheap and expensive cars were parked next to each other outside parties) over Delhi or Kolkata (host and guest cars were in the same price range).
If you have lots of family that you are close to in India, R2I may be great. I don’t have close family in India so this wasn’t important to me. Meenal will have a very different take on this.
This may seem odd coming from someone who grew up in India until his late teens and only spent the adult life in America. But such a long time away, along with your entire family, changes you and how you think of your adopted land. America was foreign when I left India but over the years it became home. Local issues affected my daily life and I followed it on the radio and the papers. I developed deep friendships, began to appreciate barbequing and the great outdoors, and visited my mother, sister and Nascar-loving nephew in North Carolina. The New Globalist is homesick, discusses nostalgia and global migration. I felt this nostalgia for my friends in Delhi when I moved to America as a teenager. Now I miss the crisp winter air from my long walks in the snow.
Meenal’s realities were different from mine and she has evolved differently as a result (wait for her article in a couple of weeks). For me, Boston and Massachusetts became home.
Why R2I didn’t work out – the less important stuff
Quality of life
Our R2I apartment had 4 mbps internet, 24 hour electricity and water, and air-conditioning. We bought a beat up car that is even more beat up now. The broken public infrastructure, especially the roads, was a downer but I (grudgingly) learned to live with it like everyone else. I loved visiting Lodhi Garden in the winter months but the outdoors couldn’t become a part of our regular life – something I missed terribly. Eating and drinking are singular pastimes in most cities and you’ll have to work hard to find other activities. All in all, I feel life has more to offer than I’ve experienced in Delhi.
Money, Cost of living
Be aware that local pay is low and cost of living is surprisingly high. We found many people spend far more than my spreadsheet analysis could explain. It may be because inheriting housing and other parts of a lifestyle are fairly common.
Due to the bad air quality of Delhi, Meenal’s developed a mild case of asthma after R2I. Before you call us wimps – respiratory diseases are exceedingly common in Delhi. We are hoping that cleaner air after our move to America somewhat fixes the damage. Outside of that, we’ve been very careful with mosquitos nets, eating only cooked food and drinking bottled water. We’ve had no other health problems.
Timeframe for the R2I experiment
It took us a bit longer than a year to come to our R2I conclusion. Expect to spend between 12-24 months to figure it out yourself. Anything less than a year would have been unreasonable.
Update April 15th
A well written R2I blog with a different perspective: Ulaar.com