Wednesday, April 19, 2006

India needs: to consider it's export markets

PayPal, Netscape, Blogger, Google, Friendster, Ebay, Amazon, Cisco, etc., as one looks around the Internet landscape, we see it filled with companies with roots in Silicon Valley. Infact, one would be hard pressed to find a major Internet company that does not have some form of linkages with the Valley. Or another way of looking at it, there would be very few cool new products and companies if the Valley wasn’t around.

Secret of the Valley

One thus has to ask, what got the Valley started. And why do other parts of the world not have the equivalent of the Valley? Is it the technology, the ideas, the capital? Or is it something else. There appears to be ideas, capital, technology all over the world, so why isn’t there the equivalent of a Valley elsewhere? Or is there? In Taiwan, there is the equivalent of the Valley for consumer electronic companies; in Israel, there is the equivalent of the Valley for defense products; and one could even stretch and say there is the equivalent of the Valley in India for spiritual products (show me a modern spiritual product without linkages to India). So what is it that drives the creation of a Silicon Valley?

It is market that drives the creation of a Valley. Once there is a market, capital, technology, ideas all converge to capture it. In the US, the size of the domestic market and ease of accessing it has led to the creation of the Valley. In Taiwan, the strong OEM market has led to a flourishing consumer electronics industry. In India, the strong domestic market for spirituality has led to the creation of an eco system supporting spiritual products (why do all the Gurus come from India?). Similarly in Israel, constant struggle with Arab neighbours created a market for defense products and with the government allowing the private sector to participate a robust industry sprung up producing innovative defense products.

Getting your market

So how do you get your market? You can sit and wait for a domestic market to arrive. Or you can look at the greater picture and factor in the export market, like Korea, Japan, Taiwan have done so successfully. Why be constrained by borders? Why do people get scared of international markets? Israel’s Foreign Minister said “We produce defense products for 1.1 billion people, 0.1 in Israel and 1 billion in India”. But I never heard an Indian CEO talk like that.

What Indian CEO & Brand Mangers are afraid of

India is scared of export markets, especially in the consumer space. That is why we don’t have a SINGLE consumer brand abroad. Not even one. Not tea, not beer, not TV, not furniture, not software, nothing. Even Sri Lanka has Dilmah tea. But India has nothing. Speak to marketing managers and brand managers in India about creating products & brands in export markets and they look at you as if you should be in the mental ward of Breach Candy hospital. It’s the classic story of the frog that never ventured beyond his pond to the ocean. Indian managers will go on telling you about how to tap the domestic market, about how cool India is, and about how much progress we are making as a nation. Ok agreed, but please go and see the ocean beyond your boundaries.

This psyche is possibly there because of 2 reasons:

  1. India is a large country with a historically decent domestic market, so, unlike Japan, Korea, Taiwan, one never really had to go abroad to get a market.
  2. Indians have never really traveled overseas much, especially in their youth. This was due to governmental constraints. This is changing fast, but the formative years of the current generation have been inward looking.

We need to change

But we need to change fast. We have a unique opportunity ahead of us. Thanks to a large number of Indians that immigrated to the US in the 70s, 80s & 90s, and made it big, India commands respect and connectivity in the Valley and other circles that matter. And we have strong domestic talent to back this up. We have great managers, engineers and vendors; we can roll out products faster & cheaper than our friends in the US or Europe. Given this combination, India can be at the forefront of new & innovative technology & media products.

We now need the market; and we can’t wait for the market for technology products to reach 50 million Sec A users (5 – 7 years away). We need to go out and get this market from the Asian region. India + Middle East + South East for example, easily gives us the needed market. Or India + Australia gives us the needed market. It’s a question of tweaking our products and designing them ground up for these international markets; and undertaking a marketing roll out. All the other ingredients are there.

So will Indian CEOs & Brand Managers wake up? I sure hope so. Because if they keep waiting for this Indian market to arrive, they are going to disappoint a lot of our NRI supporters in the Valley & elsewhere. And more importantly, they will do injustice to the opportunity ahead of them.

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