Silicon Valley’s success unarguably ranks with the highest forms of business achievement around the world. Yet the time is rife to attempt a “reverse engineering” of sorts: Indian tech entrepreneurs are now ready to share what they’ve learned in The Valley with India and the rest of the world.
I was in San Jose during Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s grand vision of Digital India that he laid out with his trademark passion and conviction. India has a population of 1.2 billion, out of which 900 million have mobile connections and 250 million use smartphones – the powerful hand-held device that has come to be a part of everyday life in India. The vast numbers accentuate the opportunity: The “mobile first” approach to application development is a clear enough signal of where the target market is.
Forecasters estimate broadband will be in 250,000 villages. When this connectivity is in place, solution providers will take command. Healthcare, education, government services and every other necessary service can then percolate down to the teeming millions. Where the $150 billion Indian IT BPM industry has had its mainstay in the U.S. and U.K. markets for several decades now, these companies can now seek domestic business opportunities.
However, there’ll be a big difference in the business model: While the user numbers will be massive, the margins will be miniscule. Can tech entrepreneurs adapt to this trade-off, a model driven by sheer volume and wafer-thin margins? Frugal innovation and no-frills actually aligns nicely to India’s competitive edge.
To induce millions of mobile phone users to take advantage of the new services that will be offered will require superior user Interfaces. UI optimization is a cult-like pursuit in The Valley and will have made a deep impression on Indian entrepreneurs. New solutions will need to have a strong element of being transformational rather than simply incremental. Entrepreneurs will have to break the “juggad” mold to articulate clear value in terms of cost, convenience and more.
If products and solutions are going to be architected for a majority of people whose livelihoods are dependent on agriculture, then perhaps there can be ideas around introducing a barter economy that does not entail movement of funds but those of goods and services. Imagine, a quid-pro-quo arrangement settled through exchange of agricultural products, which can be enabled through technology. This would touch the innovation curve but meet a very India-centric need.
Interestingly, in Western countries, the idea of collaborative consumption or a shared economy has been very successful as idle capacity has been put to optimum use to earn revenue and save on cost. In India, the asset ownership pattern is different, so models would have to alter accordingly.
Products are meant to solve specific problems that have many takers. The problems that India grapples with are quite different from those in the West. A particular problem-solving approach that has worked in The Valley may not necessarily be very successful in India. On the other hand, Indian solutions may find markets in less mature geographies where the existing problems seeking to be addressed would be of similar nature to that of India. The success that Indian IT has had in African nations is a fitting example.
NASSCOM hosted the prime minister in The Valley and, as part of the program on the sidelines, we also got to see some innovative Indian startups operating in sectors like healthcare, agriculture and biotechnology. Curiously, these solutions all had a social angle, clubbed with a distinct market opportunity. The technology deployed is sophisticated, leveraging the latest buzzwords like analytics, big data and IoT to name a few. However, the problems these companies are attempting to solve are of a very basic nature concerning human existence, whereas, in the West, these problems may already have been addressed.
The Valley has approximately 250,000 Indian-American residents who have been intricately linked to the region’s legendary story of innovation. The good news is that this community is as enthusiastic about India’s prospects in technology as the prime minister. Decades of holding leadership positions in The Valley equip these expats to serve as mentors and strategic investors to startups back in India. The excitement in both countries is palpable. And given the present political dispensation, they are bullish that the future of doing business in India will be easier than ever.
In October, the NASSCOM Product Conclave, which I co-hosted in Bangalore, demonstrated the vibrancy and success that Indian software products are now experiencing. These entrepreneurs are grateful to Silicon Valley for being an inspirational example of what India can become in the near future. We look forward to mentoring and investing in them and ensuring their success!