The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

June - 2010 - issue > In My Opinion

Technological Prescience & Building Great Indian Products

Pradeep Elankumaran
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Pradeep Elankumaran
There was a curious moment on my trip to India this year when I realized that the majority of the country utilizes a component of the GSM cellphone protocol from 1985 - the ability to send short text messages - in a manner that’s completely different from what I was used to in the Western world. SMS is ridiculously ingrained in almost every aspect of Indian society now, starting from friends and family using it to communicate cheaply to event and train ticketing and even marketing products to a distinct clientele. While this in itself is not surprising in a country like India with its sharply segmented market and quickly-adapting but value-conscious consumers, what’s truly curious is the fact that SMS has only recently seen rapid growth in the West, with the teenage crowd enthusiastically sending messages to match up with the way the rest of the world has been using the format for years now. The kind of SMS marketing campaigns that India has been running successfully for years have only recently started to take hold in the mobile culture of the West. What’s happening here?
The ‘great indian number trick’ always applies when you’re talking about India, a country that has a population of over a billion; even a small fraction of the market is still quite a lot of people when compared to most other countries. At the same time, what works for the rest of the world more often than not fails miserably in India, as many big multinationals have discovered to their dismay (for instance Kelloggs’ and Coca-Cola’s marketing problems) over the last decade. With this kind of market conditions, adoption of new technology is truly not a linear process, and while in retrospect a piece of technology may seem a perfect fit, it doesn’t appear so during its infancy in the Indian market. Again taking SMS as an example, missteps, sudden growth spurts, and many failed ideas have converged to bring forth a standard, recognizable format that provides opportunities for both personal and economic growth for the majority of Indian consumers and businesses. The companies that were shrewd enough to see the immediate advantages of the then-new format a few years back were the ones that are now reaping big, big dividends.

Let’s take for example SMSGupshup. They run an SMS-based social networking service that (among other features) lets people subscribe to topics of their interest using their cellphones; whenever new content is posted about a topic all subscribers are notified immediately on their phone. They understand that their segment of the Indian market consists of people who require information quickly, effortlessly, at dirt cheap rates, and using technology that they are comfortable with and understands their cellphones. At this point SMSGupshup’s network consists of 26 million users, and is growing with $12 million in funding quite recently. This is pure innovation tailored to a particular market, and hopefully showing other Indian startups the way things should be done in India.

Building Products for India Using New Technology

So, if you’re an Indian software or hardware entrepreneur looking to build products for the current and future Indian market, what should you be concerned about? First, drop all thoughts of global expansion for the moment. Your product needs testing and growth on Indian soil before it will ever be ready for a global launch. Remember, there’s always more money to be made at the bottom of the pyramid than at the top. Apart from financial issues, after speaking with many Indian Web entrepreneurs, you realize that once your vision is in place and your market has been defined more often than not your problems are related to people rather than process. At the same time, solid technological and procedural foundations need to be established to ensure quality and to truly cement a product into place in a market like India’s. Let’s talk about both at this point.

Technology-wise, open source and open standards trump all in the long run. In a country like India, it’s almost impossible to have useful closed systems, and your software and overall architecture should reflect that. Open source software lets you leverage the years of work that quality developers have already put towards developing a stable piece of software, along with the freedom to modify whenever necessary to fit your product’s vision. Working with open standards ensures seamless integration with other products and services later on in your product’s pipeline - no developer likes software that doesn’t play nice.

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