Recently I had the opportunity to travel around India, interact with entrepreneurs and consumers, and witness the incredible change in consumer behavior. I’m jotting down some of my observations that I feel are worth sharing:
India’s consumers are increasingly becoming digital at a pace much beyond our imagination. They are multi-faceted, and transcend the boundaries posed by urban differentiation, age, literacy, and technological savviness. Here are some of my observations —
a. My 67 years old mother was technologically illiterate until six months back. I gifted her a smartphone so that I could connect with her when she stepped out of the house. I soon realized I had underestimated her tech ability when she sent me a whatsapp message and told me she had shopped online with a friend’s help. She had ordered a blender that wasn’t available in her Tier 4 town of Govardhan in northern India. She was thrilled to know that the product was 30 per cent cheaper online. She has now installed Flipkart on her phone and browses through it for good deals. As she learned more about the online world, she joined Facebook to connect with her children and grandchildren, turned to Facetime for a virtual experience, and became a YouTube user to watch devotional songs.
b. A good friend of mine, who recently returned to his hometown, Jaipur (Tier 2 City) from New York got a re-entry shock when he discovered the rapid digitalization of India. He has replicated his American consumer behavior in Jaipur and uses e-commerce actively to buy and sell a vast range of items ranging from grocery to furniture. Here are some of his recent transactions-
i. Bought a brand new sofa at Snapdeal and got it delivered within a few days.
ii. Used OLX to sell his old sofa at a very reasonable price.
iii. Uses PayTm for a regular supply of high quality dry fruit from a different state.
c. In the US, we recently moved to online grocery shopping but it took my wife a long time to give up retail shopping for perishable items. During this visit, I was surprised to see that in India, a large number of people are graduating to online order services like Big Basket and Grofers. This trend is not limited to only Tier 1 cities in India but becoming mainstream in Tier II cities as well.
d. In the last one or two years, there has been a major shift in the behavioral pattern of car owners. Instead of commuting in their chauffeur driven cars, many now prefer to switch to on-demand taxi services like Ola and Uber. They feel it’s more convenient to limit themselves to a single car given the lack of parking space. Additionally it’s more economical and it eliminates their dependence on a personal driver.
e. In addition to digital consumers, SMEs are increasingly conducting businesses on Whatsapp. Vendors are taking orders and getting immediate confirmation from their customers through this mobile app. Not to be left behind, religious leaders have also discovered the efficiency of whatsapp to disseminate their thoughts to their followers.
Passion and energy of Indian entrepreneurship
The next wave of growth is not only being led by Tatas, Birlas, and Ambanis of India. Matching their steps or sometimes surpassing them are the forward looking first generation entrepreneurs. Most of them are in their 20s and 30s, have a bold vision, and the determination to achieve their big, hairy, audacious goals. Here’s what I gleaned from my interactions with the following entrepreneurs-
a. InMobi: Naveen Tewari, a good friend, who operates from Bangalore (India’s silicon valley), is focused on disrupting the way mobile advertising industry operates globally. While a lot has been said about how his company has already made a dent in the industry globally, what stood out for me is the culture that he has created for employees to grow and realize their full potential. The philosophy is to create a culture which helps grow employees vs. manage their performance. For instance, if an employee has an idea, which could help the company grow, he or she is encouraged to pursue it. More interestingly, if an employee wants to take the entrepreneurial route, Inmobi’s ecosystem provides the required support (e.g., use of office space, support network, mentorship). Such a culture is a new phenomenon in India, and Naveen is one of the pioneers in India.
b. Indusdiva: Vineet Saxena, another good friend who was a co-founder of Myntra, a popular online fashion retailer, is one of the pioneers who helped shape the e-commerce market in India. He is now working on an audacious goal of creating at-scale private brands for ethnic wears in India through his latest venture, Indusdivas, an Indian ethnic wear portal.
c. Razorpay: Founded by twenty-something IIT Roorkee alumni, Shashank Kumar and Harshil Mathur, Razorpay, aims to revolutionize the online payment industry in India. In a market where the competition is high for the online payment gateway solutions, they claim to have a much superior product tailored for the Indian market (e.g., slow connection, unreliable network). They are hoping to capture a lion’s share of the market without being caught in a price war
d. Rivigo (earlier Trucksfirst): Deepak Garg, a former McKinsey consultant has taken on the mammoth task for transforming the traditional inter-city logistics industry via technology. He feels that the problem in India is at the supply side: be it the quality of trucks, driver efficiency, or the optimum route. He has established a fleet of trucks equipped with technology for optimal fuel efficiency and route, and created hubs around the country to minimize truck downtime, and improve the quality of life for drivers. He is looking to streamline the highly fragmented trucking industry in India (which could be over $100 billion in India) and could potentially be going global.
Finally I met a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to solve India specific problems (e.g., commuting, skill development, online education, e-commerce repeat delivery cost). A common thread that runs through their stories is that they are dreaming big while being grounded in reality in terms of solving real pain points. They are also brave enough to let go of their traditional paychecks and are brimming with confidence to help shape a new India.
More to come….
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