Monday, August 24, 2015

Why no Google in India - Part 2

This is the second of my blogs on the reasons why there is no Google in India and what can be done about it.

The common beliefs and the truth about start-ups

Various reasons have been attributed to the start-ups culture in Silicon valley and else where. Like the proximity to investors, tax breaks, legal incentives, incubators, availability of workforce etc. []

But these are the accelerators and elements of a platforms for scaling up, rather than the necessary condition for the birth & success of a start-up. By themselves, they are not the sufficient ingredients to create a start-up culture.

According to Steve Blank, consulting associate professor at Stanford University and a lecturer at National Science Foundation and principal investigator at the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, growth in the number of start-ups is constrained by five factors :

1. The high cost of getting the first customer and the even higher cost of getting the product wrong.

2. Long technology development cycles.

3. The limited number of people with an appetite for the risks inherent in founding or working at a start-up.

4. The structure of the venture capital industry, in which a small number of firms each need to invest big sums in a handful of start-ups to have a chance at significant returns.

5. The concentration of real expertise in how to build start-ups.

All these factors are however altered favourably with the presence of a customer(s).

Nearly 48.8 million small businesses exist in India, most of them aren't funded, nor recipients of special government concessions or nurtured in incubators. The thing that gave birth to them and sustains them is - the presence of a customer(s).

All the means of production begin to fall in place with the appearance of a customer(s).

India with its large and diverse consumer market provides the fertile ground for much of these enterprises to exist. [

Take a look at the eco-system of the Auto & Engineering industry in a place like Pune. Nearly none of them have been supported by VCs, most have survived and thrived despite adverse government regulations, infrastructure deficiencies, lack of expertise, and at best mediocre cities for their people to live in. The presence of customers (large auto manufacturers) has been largely responsible for a strong manufacturing start-up culture in the city.

A mid sized customer of ours, a supplier to Tata Motors, has over a hundred smaller suppliers supplying to them in turn.

There are a lot of small companies, toughened by years of living with constrains, that could grow out very rapidly under a more congenial environment. With the right environment (policies & infrastructure), many of whom could be part of the international supply chain and become world class players.

ACMA says the industry is driving towards a goal of crossing the US$ 100 billion mark including exports of US$ 30-40 billion by the year 2020.

India is probably the most competitive country in the world for the automotive industry. It does not cover 100 per cent of technology or components required to make a car but it is giving a good 97 per cent - Vicent Cobee, Corporate Vice-President, Nissan Motor’s Datsun.

What is Constraining the Software Product business in India

In comparison, the Software industry has not suffered from such constraining regulations, neither is the infrastructure requirement as demanding. It has done quite well in exporting software services, but not so with software product exports. Nearly all of the hardware (and software) used in India is imported. These imports, classified collectively under electronic goods, threaten to overtake the Oil import bill by 2020

The reason could be the lack of an eco-system as robust as that of the Auto and Engineering sector.

Perhaps due to lack of cost constrains, maybe to ensure proximity with their customers, maybe to move rapidly, maybe to ensure compliance, the software service industry chose to mostly use pre-built and standard software (and hardware) made elsewhere (with a few exceptions).

So it was with other Indian businesses. To survive and grow, post industrial liberalisation, Indian businesses accelerated their use of the IT to build more efficient businesses, enable growth and enter new lines of business. Something that they had not given much heed to hitherto. The emphasis was mostly on speedy implementation and risk mitigation. CIOs mostly got busy with purchase, implementation and management of 'proven' IT systems. Most of government institutions and government owned businesses too followed a similar path.

The result is a large IT reseller and service segment but not may local makers of software & IT products.

Starting up a robust local Eco-System

As a company we've been fortunate in having gained support of some bold CIOs and CXOs who have supported us as customers for our product. The customers, especially those that supported us in the early years, were undertaking risks quite unusual of CIOs in India. The presence of customers, not just helped us financially, but it also gave us the context to create the product, helped us find systems integration & solution partners to enhance our offering. Helping us move towards a world class product.

Maybe it's time CIOs (and more so CXOs), put some time and resource aside to engage with and invest with local start-ups as a means to build new advantages for themselves. They stand to benefit from cost savings, unlocking new efficiencies, creating unique advantages for their businesses.

CIOs/CXOs could start with the periphery, with processes and parts of the business still not digital, with experiments on new business models, with start-ups that have demonstratable capabilities, as low cost experiments. The pay-off could be huge. The cost of failure not much. And the learning of great value a certainty for all.

They won't be a day too early in initiating it. Start-ups like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Ola, Quickr are already creating new systems of business that offers a platform for rapid scale and profits, by a more innovative use of technology. Running factories and business operations efficiently, having large production capacities, or ability to manage scale, might not be enough to survive in the new business environment where business rules are being rewritten at a rapid pace.

Such investment hold promise not only for the customer and the supplier (start-up), but also to the industry (through the creation of a robust eco-system) and country as a whole (through business & economic growth).

Who knows, it may just seed a Google here in India.

What do you say?

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