22 April 2020

Breaking the barriers – Decoding Indian business culture for your startup


To establish your startup in India you have to understand the Indian business culture. Even though the country was under British rule for almost 100 years, there are many things which are different from the Nordic standards, which you are used to. Here are ten points for you to understand the Indian business culture:


  • Addressing people by a title and their last name is a good policy in a country where status and formality underpin good manners. More casual forms can come later, but only once you have really got to know the Indian partner very well.


  • Check the calendar for festivals and holidays, as it is a hard time to do business. A holiday listed for one day might run for four, so check it out first.


  • In the west we tend to read a lot into handshakes. Most of your handshakes in India will be pretty limp by western standards, but it is not a sign of lack of interest or indifference. It’s just how it is done over there, almost like a formality to get over and done with.


  • Even though Indians speak English they still think Indian, so take care to build real understanding. Clear communication is a must.


  • India might be the most diverse country on earth. Religions, beliefs, languages and culture all immensely varied. Keeping an open mind will help you avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions. The person you are meeting could have spent many years in the USA or the UK, and have a global outlook – or never have left India and have a regional view.


  • Being patient and flexible is important, even if you come from a country that likes to be direct and structured. India is full of surprises and you cope best by being flexible. Dropping any “one rule for all” approaches is a good start


  • Indian breakfast meetings can be set for 10am or even later – they are late starters. But your dinner meeting at the end of the day might not start until 9pm or later. Hours are long and weekends are for working because “work is life” is the mantra.


  • Despite your expectation, India runs to its own rhythm. Often you will be called minutes before a meeting to change time or venue – going with the flow is an asset over there.


  • Forget delivery times in the west, it could take much longer time in India. To succeed you need patience.


  • Indian culture provides diversity, both in dress, styles of doing business and differing reactions to personal contact are to be expected over there. Your host might want to talk about something totally different than your product, so it is wise to go with the flow.