The case for “Made in India, for India”

Over the past few weeks, my post on Game Development in India accounted for about 50% of the hits on my page. I average about 20 hits a day, so in a larger perspective, that is not a huge amount of interest. Nevertheless, it is motivating enough for me to want to follow through. I am going to guess that those who hit the story are interested in the Indian technology industry.

Living here in Pune with my parents, has given me the luxury of an immersive experience of the culture and progress here. I have had the good fortune of attending at least 2 weddings in the past few weeks. Weddings have always been a great opportunity for me to reconnect with friends who I grew up with around these parts. Amongst my circle of friends who graduated junior college with me, I was the only one who picked Computer Science as my focus in College. Today, our paths have converged. Most of my friends are now directly contributing to or are employed with IT related companies in their own unique ways.

They belong to a (suddenly) wealthy current generation of Indians. This generation is offered unheard of remuneration and benefits, in many cases twice as much, some times even four times as much as their fathers earn. The growth in wealth could be correctly compared to a blindfold pulled over the eyes, an obvious dissuading influence for budding entrepreneurs and innovators. While I am not against reward, I am concerned about the lack of interest in a potentially huge local market that is waiting to be tapped.

A friend of mine pointed me to an article on the Wharton business school web-site (see “What’s behind the overseas forays of U.S. giants“). The interesting tidbit I refer to talks about eBay’s recent acquisition of

Take eBay’s acquisition of Baazee, for instance. In June, the U.S. auctions behemoth announced that it would take over Baazee, which describes itself as India’s biggest online marketplace, for a reported $50 million. Amit believes that the biggest hurdle eBay will face in making the deal work is dealing with the fact that most Indian consumers don’t use credit cards. Meanwhile, though the numbers are growing, at present Internet penetration is fairly low. Eventually India is likely to be the second biggest market in the world behind China, but now the country has 17 million Internet users, according to research firm IDC. That figure is expected to increase to 30 million in 2006, but still remains paltry for a company with a population topping 1 billion.

Amit isn’t necessarily skeptical of eBay’s forays abroad, but notes the company will have to overcome cultural norms. “In many places around the world people want to meet face to face,” he says.The ability to localize a global business is one of the biggest challenges, say experts. “When you have a business model that works at home, the challenge is to find out what’s critical for success and then look for ways to localize,” says Adrian Tschoegl, an adjunct professor of management at Wharton. “You have to be cautious with the changes — you just can’t start fiddling around.”

Who can be better at adopting technology for mass use in India other than the quintessential Indian technology worker himself? The article clearly highlights the challenge any entrepreneur would face in the Indian market, the lack of information network infrastructure for the common man. While Internet is still trying to catch up, the mobile rules. Trust us Indians to come up with innovative workarounds. The other day I ran into an advertisement in the local newspaper for those interested in Yoga. The advertisement aimed to create ad-hoc groups of Yoga students around Pune (and other cities). All you had to do is to SMS the name of nearest (public) park to your location against your name. Perhaps the idea was not an original one, but it does demonstrate the cultural differences and how they can be overcome.

If your an entrepreneur interested in a better India, think of services for other developed nations as a secondary goal. While I am not particularly interested in self-reliance or self-sufficiency (I think India had had enough of that upto the 80’s), I am interested in establishing our existing infrastructure, capabilities and building on our potential. If your a student engineer in an IT related discipline, think about packaging your final year project and marketing it so that it pays for itself (see “Project Aardvark” for an idea of where to begin). Finally, if your a developer like me, look for entrepreneurs like the one I just described!

Unfortunately, I can only think of a few truly Indian models that have touched the everyday life of an Indian. For example, E-Choupals, “Indian Soybean Farmers join the Global Village” – NYTimes, January 01, 2004. Time instead calls for action so that we might script many such stories and set the standard for other developing nations.

Other related stories on,

Encouraging Entrepreneurs in India. While the IT Exports sector has been singled out for benefits, the local IT sector receives no such encouragement from the Government.
Promod Haque wants to invest in Indian startups. Norwest Ventures find fresh interests in India to invest in.
Services lobotimizes would-be Entrepreneurs… The story highlights the negative effect of the services industry on innovation in the Indian workforce.

Update (2nd Feb. 2006): Rajesh Jains’ page is an incredibly rich resource on entrepreneurship in India. His research spans several years and his accounts are very detailed.