It’s 9:30 pm in the Bay Area. As most families wind down for the night, I'm getting started on my second shift. The post-dinner cleanup is done, and it's time to hop on a call with a portfolio founder who's all the way in Bangalore. She needs to discuss her fundraising strategy, and I'm here to help her make it happen. On a different morning, you might see me on a trail, having an animated phone call with a friend in New York. Some afternoons, I will FaceTime a cousin who lives in Sydney or will just hop on a zoom call with a founder friend who splits his time in the US, Mexico and India.
A majority of my closest connections are remote. I am not the only one with remote relationships. This is quite the norm for the global diaspora in the US and elsewhere in the world. With this remoteness, come challenges of intimacy. I have to invest in calls and visits and more to make sure my relationships are healthy. It takes work but it is worth it.
Where am I going with this? This phenomenon of building intimacy, while being physically remote is showing up in the world of business as well.
US businesses have been going remote, for a while
For decades, businesses have been going progressively remote. This trend started with manufacturing going remote in the 70s & 80s. The expansion of international trade agreements like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which later evolved into the World Trade Organization (WTO), have made it easier for businesses to invest and trade across borders.. Everything from electronics to apparel to pharmaceuticals is manufactured outside the US.
Then came software development and support going remote in the 90s & 2000s. IBM, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Facebook all set up offices in India, for support and eventually for software development.
All these businesses started with focus on their customers in the US, built relationships and built growth engines. Then went remote to get cost and scalability advantages. This is a great example of Remote Intimacy at work. Intimacy in customer relations to get market share, while using remote resources to drive margins.
Remote businesses are coming to the US now
The world is changing, and so are businesses. In the past, businesses started with customer intimacy and built towards remoteness. The opposite is now starting to happen - businesses which start remote, and build towards customer intimacy.
Take a look at Freshworks. The company started off in India, but has built a billion dollar business selling into the US market. Others like Postman, Browserstack and Hasura are so intimately used by developers in the US that most users do not even know that these companies came out of the India startup ecosystem.
India's innovation ecosystem is thriving, and its track record speaks for itself. In just a decade, India has gone from 0 to over a 100 unicorns across commerce, payments, logistics, SaaS and more. India has already seen early successes of the remote intimacy model - over 15 unicorns created in India serve the global market, while building in India. The growing human capital puts India on a massive growth trajectory. According to Pew Research India is set to become the most populous country, crossing China, in 2023. A majority of this population will be working age, till 2100. To put this in context, India will account for 22% of the world’s working population over the next decade, according to a report by Deutsche Bank.
While India is the furthest along on this journey, of remote startups building towards customer intimacy it is not the only place where this is happening - Atlassian and Canva in Australia, Wix and Miro from Europe, just to name a few.
Why does the world need to care about this?
The emergence of multiple innovation hotspots around the world is great news for everyone. Decentralization makes innovation more robust to stressors. By diversifying the sources of innovation, companies and societies are better able to respond to disruptions, changes in markets, and other unexpected events. The last few years have shown us that large macro events - pandemics, war, weather events - can totally disrupt large swaths of the world. Having a decentralized innovation makes sure that progress continues when these large disruptions happen.
Venture is too much capital chasing too few deals. Not surprisingly, a majority of these deals are in a few hotspots, while remote innovation is ignored. This underpricing of remote innovation creates a great investment opportunity. By investing in startups globally, investors have the opportunity to enjoy significant returns while helping new ecosystems flourish.
The phenomenon of remote intimacy is reshaping the business world. As companies build with remote intimacy, they are able to access talent and resources from around the globe, while staying tuned to the needs of their customers. By acknowledging and investing in remote innovation, investors have the chance to capitalize on new opportunities and support the expansion of thriving ecosystems globally. Here is to building a more interconnected and resilient world with remote intimacy.