Colonization of Indian Tech space

It was a hot morning in Ahmedabad when I finally sat down to pen down my thoughts into an article. I turned the air conditioning on and relished the cool blast of air in the face as I turned on my laptop to work. In the kind of lives we lead, we never stop to notice how technology is deeply enmeshed in our lifestyle. And India as a country has a long uphill journey to procure the tag of a technology-driven economy.

In India, the local market is brimming with foreign competition, the competition that our homemade firms cannot handle, due to lack of funding, consumer loyalty, protection, and even the lack of a refined product. But how did this come to be? Let’s start right at the beginning.

If you step out today, and refuse to climb into the local bashed up transport and instead click on ‘Book now’ on your smartphones, you’d be greeted with a cab within five to fifteen minutes. And you’d most probably go for either Uber or the Indian counterpart, Ola. Uber entered the country at the perfect time, when Ola had readied the consumer for the service, understood the market needs and challenges and facilitated the infrastructure for logistics. But at this stage, when Uber arrived in style, Ola was not ready to take on such a fearsome opponent. It was still in an infantile stage where it had not perfected its product or created a customer loyalty that would protect it from being rammed by foreign competition. And thus began a war where both firms started vying for supremacy. Uber being a much larger firm adopted the policy of free rides and unnatural discounts to spread its tentacles in the country. While Ola strived to do the same, it is destined to fail, for it holds a much smaller wallet.

Here let’s take a detour into China. A lot of us whined about Xi Jinping inflicting a death blow to Uber, but very few of us actually admired the beauty of Didi Chuxing, the local ride-sharing platform. Didi is a vast network that fulfills all the transport needs of a customer. Right from hailing a cab, to owning a car and to maintaining it, it accommodates for features of car servicing, financing and insurance as well. So when Uber arrived in China, the customers stuck to Didi as it offered a wider range of features and showcased a better understanding of their needs.

This incubation period is what was missing with Ola, in India. It does not understand the needs of the Indian customer any better than Uber. It would’ve had a better fighting chance against Uber, had it gotten the opportunity to expand its range and extent of services. However, we can attribute a portion of the blame to the government. Our government has been particularly inviting to overseas firms, being largely detached with the idea of cushioning the progress of local industries. Looking at the Chinese government again, we see that they follow an extreme state protectionism act which safeguards the domestic firms against foreign competition. This also allows them to study these firms and incorporate in their own enterprises, the better features of the others. Thus making their product more refined which further appeases their existing consumer base. This kind of ‘patriotism’ has been missing in India, and is a need of the hour, as it provides an impetus for the industries, giving them more of a fighting chance.

The situation can be perked up by the introduction of new and fresh firms. But here, the cog in the wheel is the funding. These start-ups find it very difficult to receive local funding and hence they have to resort to foreign investors. And then I wonder, how Indian are these firms if up to 80% of their funding is foreign? This almost feels like a colonisation of India’s tech space.

Now, a few things need to change for India to start on the path to a technological boom. Firstly, the Indian start-ups need to invest a lot more into their infrastructure and logistics to improve their quality of service. According to a columnist, the existing firm “in many ways has less to do and less to spend to wow and woo the Indian consumer than the Chinese consumer”. The Indian consumer is yet to be pampered to a speedy e-commerce. Buying goods online and have them delivered to your doorstep in a couple of hours. This kind of service, is what will shield the foreign competition, for this requires an almost complete localisation.

Secondly, a deep understanding of the needs of the consumer must exist. The firms need to widen their horizons and delve into incorporating complementing features as add-ons to their service, making it indispensable to the user. It makes for a more refined product that enhances the user experience and builds on a more permanent and loyal consumer base, which creates an inertia for the consumer to shift to using the services offered by an external industry. This is because, at the end of the day, we live in a country where McDonald’s came up with a McAloo Tikki burger, Subway serves up Paneer Tikka subs and the most authentic of Japanese restaurants, provide for vegetarian sushi. I’m just waiting to see, how long it takes for the tech world to realise the worth of this untapped potential, and for them to feel the need to catch up with the rest of the world.

By Ishita Shah

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