Saturday, September 15, 2007

India and its new grassroots

Technology, Biotech, outsourcing, manufacturing, the world has spoken about India taking a lead in at least these many sectors over the next few decades. The positioning is not entirely correct – I think we should be positioned as Entrepreneurs!

While at Bangalore recently, I met two passionate young entrepreneurs (both, coincidentally, carried the designation of ‘Founder’ in their visiting cards – a phenomena increasing sharply in incidence!) heading technology startups. The new grassroots of the new Indian turf was becoming evident in these profiles I examined. Both the companies were recently funded and wore a sheen & smell of fresh paint (figurative in one case, literal in the other) in their offices. The enthusiasm was palpable, and the mood buoyant and both companies were poised to change the world around them. This is the smell of the grassroots of the new India!

The first company, called Textual Analytics, headed by a linguist, before he went on to find the connection between software and language and decided to decode language. Noam Chomsky, a thought leader in language and also carrying the mantle of emeritus professor of linguistics at MIT, is sure to have a comment or two to make on the subject. But, this entrepreneur who heads Textual has firmly fixed his sights, maybe even a little irreverently, at changing the way language can be interpreted with the help of information technology.

The second company, i-Runway by name, is run by some young IIT-ISB graduates. They are joined by at least a few dozen 20-somethings from IIT (and as they proudly proclaim, they often beat Google in hiring these graduates!). As I understood it, they manage the patents lifecycle – from decoding the patents to filing them. Seeing them, Page & Brin would surely remember their initial days at Stanford. iRunway’s Bangalore office environment was replete with lounge chairs, bright colours & late hours all rolled into one.

So, what’s new - that’s the way all start-ups look! Well, the novelty comes from the fact that these are the new grassroots of the new India. After the companies of the west Banglored their way into India, and the manufacturing world took to Pune & Chennai (among other cities), a newly charged India is now visible. India’s entrepreneurial spirit will emerge as the epicenter of global growth over the next two decades. It is this uniqueness that perhaps will set the country at the driver’s seat of the world economy through the next couple of decades outpacing all predictions made so far.

Never has a nation been so desperate to change the world. This is the new India at the grassroots!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

BRIC by brick

With apologies to Goldman Sachs, I must say that the clubbing of India as a part of BRIC is perhaps the biggest mistake that we all took to. No matter if statistics show that India will grow at a scorching pace, no matter if in less than a few years of the report India overshot the predictions by Sachs – we should still not have taken to it in the way we did. A lot of PR hooha, a little proof-of-the-pudding, and a name like Goldman S, and you’ve got the right broth for a success thriller. Though I am thrilled that the report got India into the limelight, I insist that to be the limited use the report had for India.

But, I am going to contend the fact that BRIC was not a good idea. In fact, I am telling you that the clubbing together has done more harm to India than anything else in the last few decades. Assuredly, with the kind of publicity the positioning has received, India will take a lifetime before the comparisons to BRIC, especially the neighborly China, break down and we are treated as an independent country in its own right.

The rationale behind the fact that India should not be clubbed with BR&C draws itself from the fact that while the growth figures, may (on the surface) show similarities, there are huge and divergent basis for the growth. It doesn’t take rocket-science to see that the culture, history, politics, environment, information, work-ethics among many more are as different as chalk to cheese among these countries. Its as much as asking the preference between Empadas, Dal-Chawal and Wonton Soup?

Why do we want to be different? Why do we want our own positioning? The answer is the same as why we brand a packet of chips, ketchup, or any other service or product. It allows for the distinctiveness to show and it allows our kind of target audience to be attracted to what is best suited to us. We are not selling India to everyone (while there is something for everyone in India for sure!), there is a core audience who we want to target and attract – as for the rest, we’re happy if we don’t offend them. Like India, every other country, including Honduras or Nicaragua has its own unique core audience. Drawing from the same reference, we might not target the company which invested in China as the core investor, or we may not find Starbucks suited to our backyards as much as the Brazilians do. As long as we’re taking action after thinking and not because others are doing it, we’re probably headed the right way.

Hopefully, over time and with considerable effort, we’ll be able to undo the damage done by the Goldman Sachs report. But more importantly, the start point is in recognizing the need to do it now.