India as First Market

For long, I used to think that India is a lab to try out our ideas, and then take them to markets outside India, but which were similar. In recent times, there is a change coming in my thinking. I am starting to believe that India is not just a lab, but our first and potentially biggest market. Which means we have to make our ideas work in India first.

The trigger point for this was a CNBC interview of CK Prahalad which i watched recently. He made a couple of points: the Indian consumer is extremely smart – she knows exactly what she wants, and India is one of the most competitive markets in the world, so if you can succeed in India first, then you can definitely succeed elsewhere.

My reluctance to view India as our first market stemmed from past experiences wherein I have tried to sell stuff we created in India with very limited success. Even IndiaWorld succeeded because of the audiences outside India. So, I was biased againsit India as a market. But that’s probably more because of the things we’ve not done right in product and marketing, rather than the idiosyncracies of the market.

What is clear to me is that we need to make Emergic a success in India. And we will.

ISB Discussion on Emergic

Thanks to Arun Anantharaman’s initiative, our Emergic ideas were discussed at the Indian School of Business. These are his comments on the discussion.

The general feeling was that this was more or less a variation of Sun’s push for a server based computing model. Mostly, people were not too convinced, primarily I think because of a few reasons.

1) Open source as a commerical alternative still has its doubters
2) Banks/schools may not be a feasible market because of the nature of the applications (hard disk space is possibly essential).
3) The primary push for such an ecosystem may have to come from the government-Both in terms of the network infrastructure, regulation and adoption.

Frankly speaking, right now I have my doubts about the feasibility as well. Not the idea per se (Assuming the backbone is in place, the server based model has many advantages), but more from an implementation perspective. As of now, there are the few successes like e-choupals, and the work of the M.S. Swaminathan foundation in coastal Tamil Nadu. But personally I feel that many more local language applications (if there are many local language applications that already exist, at least I am not aware of them) may be required to drive demand.

Right now after having read your doc, thought and discussed about it, I am inclined to think that to make it work certainly requires some degree of governmental fillip. For e.g. despite your own thoughts on the telecenters (tech 7-11’s) I am not sure there is a requirement today for anything beyond the services provided by a normal cyber caf/gaming center. The one place, I certainly feel there is great potential though is in engineering colleges. And arguably, besides the government, the best way to develop suitable applications and drive open source as a commercial alternative is to take this route. For SME’s, I think it will be a difficult sell until and unless there is a reasonably strong open source software support community. (Piracy still is an easier & better alternative.)

Interesting feedback. I’d have loved to have an interactive discussion with the ISB class – hopefully that will happen some time soon!

I still believe that a solution like Emergic is what is needed to bring about a grassroots technology revolution across emerging markets like India. What I do not have an answer to yet is which markets from the ones I have identified (schools, colleges, homes, telecentres, government, bank branches, SMEs) will be the first ones. I think what is required is to enable the creation of an alternate ecosystem based on low-cost computers, Linux and local languages.

The ideas about Emergic are not new – like Sun’s “the network is the computer” or Ellison’s “network computer”. The key lies in the price points that we can make this available at, and how we can build a large framework of content and applications aorund these for the next set of users, across the digital divide.

If I were to bet on the first market where we are likely to see success, it will be telecentres in schools, serving the twin purpose of education and providing computing and communications services for the community. The telecentre also becomes a front-end touchpoint for egovernance applications (eServices). This is where it can make a difference to the poorest of the poor, by giving them a voice and an opportunity for the future.