Digital Transformation in India: Better late than never?

1.3 Billion vs. 1.4 Billion

In 2012, I was studying Mandarin in a part of Beijing known as a student’s hub – Haidian district is home to over 15 significant universities including Baidu headquarters. When you’re living in China, it’s hard to miss how the fashion sense of the locals grows on foreigners. The Chinese like to express their individuality through their appearance. And what better reason to shop when the clothes are cheap and there is too much variety?

I vividly remember thinking to myself about their obsessive shopping from Alibaba-owned TaoBao – a shopping haven similar to Amazon and eBay. Even on a freezing snowy morning on my way to class, I would pass minivans dropping off ‘packages’ right outside the university, creating obvious heaps of brown cartons.

In China, online purchases generated approximately $121 billion in sales in early 2011 and about 80% of all transactions were done on TaoBao. Were people in India ready to rely on online platforms to shop? Was a China like digital transformation possible in India? Even though there were companies that established similar platforms in India as early as 2012, I can hardly recount a friend or relative shopping online. But there’s always a first time for everything, right? Cut to today, everything from my shoes, clothes, electronics, even my next doctor’s appointment is booked online. But are we really there yet?

Here’s a fact that’ll tell you exactly how far we are – Out of 20 top Internet companies in the world 5 are Chinese, one each Japanese and English while the rest are American. Even though India ranks third globally in terms of the number of startups, why can’t we find ourselves in this list? Two major factors contribute to this – digital access and digital capability.

Even though there’s not much of a difference when comparing the number of people in the 2 countries, at the end of 2014 India had approximately one-third of the total number of internet users in China. The government has finally expressed the desire to promote the Indian startup ecosystem and we have a long way to go before the Internet reaches Tier II and Tier III cities. Clearly, digital transformation is still in-the-process of arriving in our country.

Coming to the digital capability gap, a staggering 25% of the Indian population cannot read and write compared to China’s 5%. Taking this into account, it’s safe to say that making Internet accessible for all Indians is more a need than want.

Digital transformation: Ready or not, here I come

Digital transformation is the development and implementation of strategies that help captivate and engage digital customers.

Here’s a simple way to describe why digital comes first today:

Say I move to a new city and plan my housewarming party, I hire a party planner. After the party, I look for a plumber. To find all these, I go online and search for the nearest service expert available and I come across Urbanclap, a platform that allows a person to find the best service professionals.

Here’s another example, I want to consult a doctor, but I want to be sure of his capabilities and expertise so that I know I’m going to the right one. What’s my first step? I Google search him. I will probably come across hospitals where he works, his LinkedIn profile or better yet his own website.

The previous generation was alien to the whole idea of going online to find the right people. While they relied on services they found via word-of-mouth, things have taken a digital bend today. We don’t need to talk anymore. All we need to do is ‘search’ online. And we open a world of patient reviews, years of experience, work locations, accomplishments and so on.

Pure convenience on your fingertips.

According to reports and statistics gathered over the years, digital transformation not only helps improve customer engagement but the sort of one-on-one experience that digital channels offer lead to a high percentage of customer satisfaction. Big companies, like Myntra and Paytm or startups like Innerchef and Fassos make sure they respond almost immediately to customer concerns with packaging, delivery or even service quality. Direct customer relations with the company not only help resolve issues fast but provide instant organic feedback from hundreds, thousands or even millions of customers.

Did you know that most companies do not have preconceived blueprint and execution protocol for content strategy? To engage customers, companies require fresh content on traditional and social channels. And to achieve the utmost level of customer satisfaction, the focal point doesn’t just fall on customer experience but additional rich sources of expertise from company culture bred employees and leaders, who create quality content that acts as a catalyst in building the company voice and brand.

Since this transformation is still in-process, we face an obvious roadblock when it comes to old-school company campaign strategies. To engage a customer, companies now need to allocate budget keeping in mind digital marketing besides offline marketing. The creation of an event is not just about location, sponsors and footprint but also about social media presence, Google Ads and online content. Turns out Paid Social is an integral part of digital transformation as it helps reach target audiences and build brands by retaining ads on social media giants.

Overcoming these limitations and evolving with new-age digital strategies will help companies build a brand, create engagement among their customers and deliver smoothly. Much like Huawei who recently announced innovative solutions for 4.5G, Internet of Things (IoT), 2K/4K video and Safe City. Question is – in a country where less than 2 companies out of 5 have taken their business online, how far is the digital transformation dream?

Originally published on BWdisrupt Businessworld.

Startup India: A series of uninterrupted one-liners & an action plan

It was a huge deal. First time in India, the Prime Minister took the initiative to announce new and exclusive exemptions for India’s growing startup ecosystem. And why shouldn’t he? According to NASSCOM’s report, India stands at a whopping third place when it comes to the highest number of startups in the world. After the his stint in Silicon Valley, PM Modi grew even fonder of the idea of an independent India building strong, smart entrepreneurs. Love his governance or hate it, this is the sort of vision India needed in its Prime Minister.

The power pact day, 16th January, entailed 1500 eminent speakers, entrepreneurs, startups and government officials present at the event – by invite only. The day started off by addressing basic yet vital points – Why focus on the Indian startup system? How can we nurture innovation in India?

Followed by sessions in-conversation with the policy makers of the country, women entrepreneurs making their mark in the industry and eventually the announcement of the big action plan.

Felt like déjà vu when Modi ,yet again, emphasized on Setting up of a ₹10,000 crore fund for startups. 2 years ago, the finance minister announced the launch of India Aspiration Fund (IAF) but the financial plan is yet to be shared with the public.

Other points announced included – Lower government interference in business, a credit guarantee fund for startups and a Startup India Hub – a platform where investors and startups could meet.

While a startup India hub sounds exciting enough, my favourite announcement were the Tax exemption for 3 years and capital gains. But then I realized, not many startups would generate taxable income in the first three years! I still feel like the PM got a bit too ambitious when he mentioned the launch of a mobile app and website that would enable single point of registration for startups – all in a day. The same would be used for clearances, approvals and registrations. I’m all for this, but a government app that can smoothly perform these function would be a boon and almost sounds too good to be true, especially for startups that are just starting off.

Although the day was all about the action plan, the one-liners young entrepreneurs and seasoned investors threw at the crowd stole the show. Whether it be Softbank’s Founder, Masayoshi Son, “In 25-35 years, I have a feeling, this country will surpass all other countries in the world to become No. 1 (in GDP).” or the young 22-year-old starry-eyed entrepreneur Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, OYO Rooms “I dream of a country 15-20 years from now where there will be more self employed people than the number of people employed by other companies.”

What can the Startup Action Plan do for India in the coming decades?

More startups mean more solved pain-points of the common man. More consumer based companies mean happier customers. This might just be the formula to a more content India. India’s increasing internet penetration is proof enough that startups are here to stay. The PM’s Action Plan is the perfect catalyst to shaping his Digital India, our Digital India.

Startups Are Here To Stay, Unicorns Might Fade Away #BigIdeas2016

Startups valued over a massive $1 billion are unicorns – you know that fantasy animal that doesn’t exist? In the recent past, Indian unicorns have been in the news. Whether it’s about something as celebratory as receiving huge amounts of funding series after series or a dramatic exit of a co-founder.

It’s been a few years since the ‘startup boom’ in our country and after all the gushing, people have now started talking about the possible burst of the startup bubble.

Will 2016 be the beginning of the end? I don’t think so. Yes, investors are focusing on more sustainable revenue models. And that should have been the case from the very start. But does pricey investors mean the end of startup proliferation? Nope. It only means the good ones, the right ones will flourish.

So what sparked the fear of the tech bubble burst?

One of the main factors – famous startups ended up firing hundreds of employees (on the grounds of reorganizing the company, etc)  in the past few months led analysts to come to this conclusion. While it makes sense for them to compare the rise of the startups to that of the dot com boom, the need of the hour remains unique startups set on the foundation to solve the common man’s problem – be it hospitalization or food delivery. In other words,

startups born with the aim to raise funds, gain immediate profit are bound to break in the long run while startups built for the fundamental reason to solve an identified problem – directly or indirectly helping the masses – emerge as the sustainable hero.

The much talked about visit to the Silicon Valley by our Prime Minister was made to digitally empower Indians and promote tech investment from around the globe.

Contrary to what people have started to believe, the Indian startup ecosystem is still booming.

On 16th January 2016, Modi will be announcing the complete action plan forStart-up India, Stand-up India – a programme focused to boost entrepreneurship that will help generate employment for more than 250,000 people by 2020.

For the first time, the Government of India, has planned to promote bank financing for start-up ventures. With this sort of unprecedented support and encouragement, it might as well be impossible to anticipate a bubble burst.

Previously published on LinkedIn.

Picture courtesy – flickr.com/photos/scobleizer/14213975068

Building A Digital Healthcare Community – Focus India

On 28th October 2015, Mark Zuckerberg came to IIT Delhi for his first ever Townhall Q&A. Like any other person working in the digital scene, I was eager to hear what he had to say. The same day I had the opportunity to attend a Healthcare Leadership Forum – RoundGlass Partners premier event at Le Meridian, Gurgaon. Here are a few noticeable pointers I’d like to share.

1. Having also previously heard Mark’s talk with Narendra Modi in California, I realize that his focus while delivering talks pertains to connecting the community.He seems to be on a constant pursue to finding more efficient ways to do the same. I reckon keeping that in mind, he had the titanium guts to introduce the internet to the world – again.

The existing population isn’t enough, he wants the world to be online – and he’ll be happier if that happens on internet.org

According to Facebook, 15 million people have already benefited from internet.org (out of which 1 million are Indians).

2. It was obvious Net Neutrality was going to be in the picture somewhere. When questioned about how much Facebook supports the idea of Net Neutrality – Mark was put on the spot. I suspect he was expecting this controversial topic.

In order to support what looked like a sincere belief in getting internet access to people who did not have any, Zuckerburg made a rather sharp statement “don’t get twisted & hurt those who don’t have a voice” to people who are already connected to the World Wide Web and are skeptical of internet.org’s motives.

Answering a relatively more compound question, Zuckerburg expressed his views on startups as well.

A person who believes in an idea, rather than building a company – is a person who is ready to create his own startup.

Companies that happen to have more co-founders tend to last longer than those that have a founder – mostly because of resilience.

3. How can digital health solutions impact 1.3 billion Indian consumers? – A very real tagline to RoundGlass Partners’ event

prachi tyagi healthcare forum

Recently established RoundGlass Partners mentor the disruptors of digital healthcare – and they plan to start here in India. While Founder Sunny Singhgave a glimpse into his life and what made him an entrepreneur, Pramod Bhasin, Founder of Genpact, elaborated how even though healthcare is the second largest industry in the world – it is still broken – catering to the needs of only 30% of the world’s population. He concluded by stating that innovation in India has happened already – but a need for a strong community to identify and solve problems remains.

Both these events confirm the surge in global focus on the digital healthcare industry. If startups in India alone are able to come together and build a community to solve the health problems of 1.3 billion people, imagine the power this group would have to change the healthcare scenario of the world.