The plan was this: three of us would fly into Kolkata to meet with a key business partner, discuss our spiffy new project and sell the partner on working with us. My role: play the guy from America, the one who flew all the way here, proving this project is really important. My colleagues, Ashok and Samir, would do the hard work, explaining the project in bits and bytes. They could shield me from the really hard questions, since the team we would be meeting with would consist of top flight Ph.D computer scientist types.
Then Ashok called in sick. And then Samir missed the flight. He immediately sent me a text convincing me not to worry, since he could get on a conference call and handle the tough inquiries over the phone. No problem, I said. I can wing it with the best of ’em.
I registered at the desk, submitted my laptop for inspection (security is tight in all public buildings: you have to send the serial number of your laptop and all your credentials ahead of time). I received my picture ID and met my contact inside. We made our way through a labyrinth of narrow hallways to the conference room.
I set up shop with my laptop as waiters wearing white gloves served as cookies, tea and Indian coffee. (It appears that Indian coffee is served at about “tea time” across India. It is mixed with an abundance of sugar and served in little paper cups.)
At this time, a small parade of people began filling the little conference room. It was a room that could comfortably seat about 10 and we had over 30.
I began the presentation, speaking loudly to be heard over the distracting din of the air conditioning unit that blasted at full power and sounded like the wind in a blizzard. But things seemed to be going well. Heads were nodding at each point I made. Then, about half way, a question was posed from the audience.
Before the first questioner finished his inquiry, another had started. And then another. Just when I was about to text Ashok or Samir for a lifeline, I got lucky. They actually started answering each others questions. The inquiry turned into their own little brainstorming session.
This happens a lot in Silicon Valley as well. But in the Valley it’s a constant game of posturing, showing others that you know more. Here, it was different. I got the sense these guys were really trying to figure things out. Probably because their livelihood depends on it.
One other thing. These guys were generally under 30. The population of Indians under 30 is greater than the entire population of the U.S.
If there is indeed strength in numbers, these guys have the future locked up.