TVF Pitchers is not as exciting as the Indian start-up scene

The web series is too ‘filmy’ and replete with clichés.

WrittenBy:Kunal Singh
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Full disclosure: The founders of The Viral Fever (TVF) and most of the people working there are my seniors from college.

I recently finished watching TVF Pitchers, an Indian web series that is centred on the lives of four young entrepreneurs who quit their jobs to start their own company.

The youth-oriented series generated rave reviews from people on my Facebook timeline – most of them engineers.

Of late, though, I have also made some non-engineer friends. Some of them don’t know TVF, many haven’t heard of TVF Pitchers, and most of them haven’t watched a single episode. I suggested it to a couple of them and they weren’t really impressed. The team at TVF would do well to recognise that there are people beyond the hallowed premises of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other mushrooming engineering colleges.

I tend to judge even good movies and TV series harshly because I tend to have higher expectations of them. I was, unsurprisingly, disappointed by TVF Pitchers. TVF was supposed to be an alternative to the regular stuff. Bollywood no longer presents men and women dancing around the trees – I may be wrong, I am not a movie aficionado anyway. Television has also produced some good series, especially the ones addressing social ills prevalent in society. That is where I see the role of TV greater than that of even the government. But despite some bright flashes here and there, Bollywood and the TV industry largely continue to disappoint.

TVF, which could have plugged this gap, actually ended up exacerbating with TVF Pitchers. A new-age theme notwithstanding, the twists and turns in the series were too mainstream for it to claim any alternative space. The characters were young, perhaps the romance was fresh. But the highs and lows followed the clichéd pattern of traditional Indian storytelling.

Four young men get disillusioned with their respective corporate jobs and decide to start a new company. Naveen Bansal — played by Naveen Kasturia, by far the best actor in the entire series — has this start-up idea and the rest are his friends. The other important character is Jeetu (played by Jitendra Kumar), who is a much sought-after coder. Crudely stated, the rest are appendages.

Characters in the series are excessively stereotyped. The character of the hostel kid, Dungeon Master, who doubles up as a cyber wizard and a bully takes stereotyping to another level. It isn’t good humour either, if that was the intent. The series is replete with instances of overacting. Except Kasturiya, every actor looked too predictable. While there are flashes of genius in the storytelling, the script, overall, is too “filmy”. There were times when I got really excited with traces of realism but was quickly turned away with creeping sentimentalism.

Rajat Khanna played by Jaimini Pathak is impressive in his brief role. The reasons he cites for young people turning to entrepreneurship are widely shared. I have seen friends become entrepreneurs because of three prominent reasons (not necessarily in this order):

a) They didn’t like their boss.

b) They didn’t like their jobs.

c) Their friends just bagged some funding and the news was splashed all over the media.

Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Idealab that has incubated hundreds of companies, aggregated the experiences of Idealab and other start-up successes and failures to arrive at factors that make a start-up successful. He concluded that the biggest factor is “timing”. Companies preceding YouTube tried their hands at online videos but failed because of inadequate expansion of Internet infrastructure.

The idea, however good it may be, has to hit the ground at the right time to become a success. TVF Pitchers, despite its shortcomings, is a success. The team at TVF got the timing right – remember it’s raining start-ups in India and no other Indian series or movie has explored the start-up ecosystem.

The second biggest factor that makes a start-up successful is – no, not the “idea” – the “team”. In fact, one does not need Gross to tell you this. In many cases, I am told, investors continue to support a company, even as founders changed their ideas. They trust the team more than the idea. The third factor is the “idea”. The entire TVF Pitchers content focuses on the team, not at all on the idea. It makes sense according to investors and Gross. Moreover, a lengthy exposition on the “idea” could have killed the fun.

TVF Pitchers also focused on something else — the “funding” part. Gross rates it the least important among the five factors he shortlists. The fourth, according to him is the “business model”.

Why should, then, the scriptwriter of TVF Pitchers be so enamoured by the funding process? Not his fault alone. It is the “start-up culture”. The moment funding arrives, the media coverage grants the start-up the social legitimacy required. In a conservative society like ours, it is not easy to leave a well-paying job and take the risk of starting a new company. “You never bought vegetables for home, will you now manage a company on your own?” –- that is the kind of response you may hear from your parents. The kids also have to justify why they did not go for IIMs or IAS instead and, of course, Sharmaji ke bete ka example would be thrown in.

Engineers are facing this problem more acutely than others because of a variety of reasons that I have enumerated here. Funding, unfortunately, confers the requisite legitimacy that struggling founders of fragile start-ups desperately need. Needless to say, the financial spine provided by funding is also useful, though it comes at the cost of equity, which can have its own consequences. Recall Rahul Yadav being ousted from his own company? If media reports are to be believed, you may spot him next in the Big Boss house.

It is early days for TVF and they will only get better. I don’t mind my friends turning towards entrepreneurship either even if their reasons are whimsical to start with. Nikesh Arora, President of Softbank that has invested in many start-ups in India, recently said it is a great time to be an entrepreneur in India. Those choosing to be entrepreneur, therefore, are getting the timing right. Secondly, most of the budding entrepreneurs are in their twenties. The 21-year-old Ritesh Agarwal, founder of Oyo Rooms, has employed 1,500 people and still remains the youngest in his company. Before 30 is the age to experiment. Again, in another way, most of the new-age entrepreneurs are getting their timing right. Irrespective of whether their companies boom or bust.


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