Go East, Young Innovators: Look to India
India is largely seen as the world’s next frontier for technology growth. I was reminded first-hand of the sheer volume of innovation and the potential that exists during a recent business trip to the country. There were billboards for mobile apps everywhere and talk of new startups launching. In spite of India’s restricted resources, many technology entrants are creating technology solutions to the community’s biggest problems.
Every good story offers a bit of the unexpected, and innovation in India is no exception. Innovation doesn’t simply flow from Silicon Valley and developed nations to developing ones; it can travel in both directions. I see India’s nascent state as one of its biggest advantages that can help to inspire entrepreneurs in the developed world.
Dial M for Mobile:
In a place where more people have access to a cell phone than to indoor plumbing, the most imperative question for those doing business in India today is undoubtedly, “what’s your mobile strategy?”
Indian companies are increasingly focused on a mobile-only approach. Last year, fashion retailer Myntra shuttered its website in favor of a mobile app-only approach. The company’s rationale was that nearly all of its online traffic and nearly three-fourths of its sales come from smartphones. Myntra’s parent company, ecommerce marketplace Flipkart, also adopted an app-only approach naming similar reasons and Ola, an Uber competitor, followed the retailers’ lead. Central to their strategies is creating a seamless user experience optimized for smaller screens and offering app-only incentives and deals to entice users to download.
When developing new products or services for our own market, it can pay off to diverge onto a seemingly niche path if you take the time to identify current demand, and predict where things may shift over time.
Missed Calls—An Intuitive Way to Communicate:
Sometimes innovation can capitalize on a local custom. In India, missed calls are counter intuitively used as a way to communicate with friends and family due to the historically high telecom and SMS charges. People dial and hang up before incurring airtime.
Innovation doesn’t simply flow from Silicon Valley and developed nations to developing ones; it can travel in both directions
This custom remains prevalent and sparked the idea for ZipDial. Brand advertisers can use unique phone numbers assigned by ZipDial in ad campaigns, which consumers can call and hang up quickly before being charged airtime. The missed call fulfills a specific call to action such as a request for coupons, entry into a contest or a request for information, allowing users to complete typical online actions without incurring charges.
An idea originally designed to solve for the prohibitive cost of data and unreliable Internet connectivity in developing nations morphed into a mobile marketing platform that even the likes of Twitter could not overlook. Twitter acquired ZipDial earlier this year and plans to leverage the platform to deliver its content in an affordable and accessible way to mobile consumers.
That’s the Spirit:
While shifting to a mobile-only approach or building a service around missed calls aren’t advisable for most U.S.-based companies, in India, these are some of the strategies making the most sense for the unique market demographics and cultural conditions.
Venture capitalist and author, Ravi Venkatesan, wrote that India is chaotic, no question. However, if you can figure out how to do business there and be successful, you can do it anywhere in the world.
I urge you to look east to draw inspiration from India’s present-day evolution. If you’re singularly focused on identifying ways to creatively solve some of our citizens’ most basic needs and desires, while accounting for our distinct market and cultural idiosyncrasies, your entrepreneurial spirit will have an exciting trajectory.