Indian startups are driving growth and change

There are many drivers of India’s economic growth and transformation – but certainly punching above their weight are Indian startups.

There were over 50,000 startups in India in 2018.

India has the third largest startup ecosystem in the world.

The success is partly driven by corporate India (which is providing much of the funding) and by the Indian Government policies.

Bengaluru is in the world’s top 20 startup cities and ranks in the top 5 of the “fastest growing”.

Some of the best known Indian startups include Ola Cabs, Snapdeal (e-commerce), OYO (hotels), Swiggy (food delivery), Big Basket (food e-commerce) and BYJU’s (ed tech).

Watch this space.

Can you trade with India without leaving home?

As Covid19 has made us all (Australia, UK, USA, Canada etc) more cautious, we are reluctant to travel.

Add to that a leap in Indian online e-commerce for all kinds of products and services.

Is the future of trade with India digital? Do relationships matter any more?

We have always said that the key to long term success with India is in the careful and gradual development of close working relationships. This has to be done face to face, but these days can be supported via phone and video calls.

Deakin University is the prime example of success through perseverance and relationship building – they have had a presence in India for over 25 years.

Ravneet Pawha has led Deakin in India for most of that time and she is now the Deputy Vice President – Global and CEO – South Asia. She knows everybody in decision making on education in India. Ravneet is a regular promoter of Australia and our education at conferences and in Indian media.

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The Australian citrus industry is taking a closer look at India but their CEO has told members it could take five years to build a market.

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So relationship still matters in dealing with India.

For our diplomacy, we need closer relationships at Indian central and state government levels.

For education, we need to follow the lead of Deakin University and be on the ground over there, building collaborative relationships.

And for products and services, while online is becoming the way of the future, products and services will only become trusted and valued as people have a relationship with your brand.

Australian PM Morrison has been gradually building a closer relationship with India PM Modi and this is producing some progress on agreements and cooperation.

Relationship – it is the way forward with India.

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10 essential tips for doing business with India

Doing business with India? Here are some tips that might help your experience, but keep in mind you will find many variations and contradictions of these points in the very diverse and exciting India market:

The language barrier is real – even English

India has some 26 major languages, but your Indian counterpart will almost certainly speak English, which itself can be a problem – it creates the illusion of communication and understanding. Many of us speak English and think western – your Indian partner speaks English and thinks Indian, so take care to build real understanding. Also keep in mind there are “many Indias” with many different languages and ways of thinking.

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You are in a different culture

Visitors to most of Asia and China are visually reminded all day that they are in a vastly different culture. But often, especially in offices, India can appear quite westernised and individuals also give that impression. Better to open your mind and see things and people more clearly, looking beyond the surface level “westernisation” – exploring cultural differences expands your horizons and you will find many charming similarities.

Be patient and you will get there faster

Adopt a patient long term view – India is a 5 to 10 year game. It is very easy to get MOU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) signed with fanfare in India but too many do not produce any outcome. One way to improve our cultural dexterity would be to take a long-term view and apply lots of patience.

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Businesses should not start out on market entry unless they are prepared to commit at least five years to making it work. Governments need the same longer-term perspective. Rushed trade missions, political announcements and photo opportunities amount to very little – we see them as an achievement, but they are just a beginning.

Relationships take time – but they are everything

India is a collective culture which means relationships are the number one factor in success, and building relationships takes time. Many who see India as not a short-term transaction opportunity can find success, but not for long as someone with a better price comes along. A better strategy is to aim for longer success through a focus on building relationships. The first trade meeting in India can be exciting and positive, but from the India side this is just seen as an introduction and they will wait to see if the relationship grows. Trust and relationship take time.

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“Yes” can mean “maybe” or “no”

See beyond the politeness: Indians are among the most courteous and generous hosts on the planet. On top of this, their culture demands that they never provide an outright rejection or “no” statement, even when this is clearly the only answer. The dumbest question for a business to ask in India is “can you help me with market entry for my products?” The answer will always be “yes” and you will sit idle for a long time back home until you realise this is not the right question. Within Indian culture built so solidly on relationship above all else, the word “no” is a real relationship breaker and is rarely or never used. “Yes” can in fact mean “maybe” or even “no” and you need to look for the signs. Like most of Asia, Indians are indirect communicators.

Prepare for the collective

Most westerners come from a culture of the individual, but the Indians they meet are firmly placed in a collective culture.  A visitor to an Indian company will often find four or five Indians in the meeting, and often it is not clear who is in charge. Many Indian leaders will not speak up or even speak at all in these meetings – in the collective someone else does the talking while they do the evaluating.

It will be slow and fast

Modern India can be slow or fast and it is hard to know which you will encounter. Sometimes delivery seems to take forever, yet on other occasions it is faster than the west. This means to succeed there you need incredible patience, so don’t send your least patient executive to India. Being able to respond positively under both slow and fast delivery is the key.

The visitor can be shocked and unprepared for the speed of modern India. Businesses need to go prepared to deliver on a product or service right now, not just having some idea for a future opportunity. Trade missions from around the world arrive weekly, so they have plenty of choice. Fast and slow, east and west – India is a living and dynamic paradox.

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India is many countries in one

Differences are not just seen in the North, South, East and West, India is truly many countries in one and you need to be ready for cultural diversity. While Mumbai is the fast and flashy financial capital, it is also a tough place because everything is done on grand scale and at great speed. New Delhi is more formal and stuffy, also more liveable, and is more than a political capital – it is a powerful business city. Chennai is one of my favourites, embracing that slower southern pace and the values that shine in southern businesses. Regions have varying strengths, so research is the key. Recent moves to allocate Smart Cities across India can provide insights into alternative gateways for you.

Navigate through the spider web

While the west strives for simplicity and certainty, Indian business leaders know that life is like trying to find your way through a spider web – where does it begin, where does it lead, who can tell? Consistent with this view, most Indian corporations offer an incredibly diverse range of products and services – whereas western business tends to focus on just one area. In most cases Indian companies are willing to buy from you but are also looking for the deal to include some intellectual property sharing arrangements – think about these before you head over there.

Learn the art of flexibility and patience

Being patient and flexible is an asset, even if you come from a country that likes to be blunt, direct and structured. Most Indian communication is indirect, so it can take some time to work out what the real issues are. India is full of surprises and you cope best through being flexible. Dropping any “one rule for all” approach is a good start.

If you are thinking of going, India’s great thinker Rabindranath Tagore can be your inspiration: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

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Abu Dhabi invests big time in India’s Jio

India has close economic and diplomatic ties in the Middle East. They just got stronger.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) invested US$ 806.28 million in Jio Platforms, taking the total capital raised by its digital services subsidiary to around US$ 14.19 billion in just seven weeks.

The UAE is India’s third largest trading partner and more than three million Indians live in the Emirates.

So far, Jio Platforms has raised US$ 13.89 billion from seven marquee global investors.

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ADIA, which is a globally diversified investment institution, invests funds on behalf of the government of Abu Dhabi through a strategy focused on long-term value creation. It has made several investments in India, mostly through its private equities department.

Jio Platforms is at the forefront of India’s digital revolution.

Jio, with 388 million users, combines all of RIL’s digital and telecom initiatives, including Jio digital services, mobile and broadband, apps, tech capabilities such as artificial intelligence, Big Data, and Internet of Things, and other investments such as in Den Networks, Hathway Cable, and Datacom.

India offered flexibility on RCEP – the world’s biggest trading bloc

RCEP – the initials that describe potentially the world’s biggest trading bloc.

RCEP needs India back – it walked out during earlier negotiations.

To urge India back to the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), its 15 member countries have offered New Delhi the option of deferring commitments related to opening up its market.

Reports on the RCEP move come on the eve of online discussions between Indian PM Modi and Australian PM Morrison. I hope they can advance the talks.

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The move was reported in The Hindu Business Line.

According to some diplomatic sources, the deferral means that India does not need to worry about RCEP’s impact on the broadening of its trade deficit with China and other member countries when it signs the RCEP agreement.

India quit talks with the RCEP — which includes the 10-member ASEAN, China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand — in November 2019, as it could not agree on crucial issues including the level of market opening being demanded by the members, especially China.

“If India agrees to the package then it can enjoy the benefits of all other aspects of the RCEP pact such as investments, services and intellectual property rights, without having to worry about the fate of industry and farmers,” the diplomat further said.

The RCEP, once completed, could be the largest trading bloc in the world, accounting for 45 per cent of the world’s population and 40 per cent of world trade.

 

 

Australia should join with India to become the “food bowls” of the Indian Ocean

India and Australia can become the major “food bowls” of the Indian Ocean region, if the two countries can find a way to collaborate in horticulture  The region includes some of the world’s fastest growing middle classes, including much of Africa, the Middle East, India and its neighbours and Southeast Asia.

This is one of the conclusions of our study of “India-Australia Horticulture Collaboration” which was part funded by the Australia India Council, DFAT.

The Indian horticulture sector already faces pressure for change, presenting Australia with a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a collaborative commercial relationship with India.

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Pressures for change in India are market driven as the middle class grows, Government driven with a push to bigger farms, mining industry driven as it seeks to play a positive community development role and horticulture industry driven, as farmers want innovation as a pathway to better incomes.

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Market driven changes result from a growing middle class anxious about the content, health outcomes and quality of the vegetables and fruits they buy. Plus, a whole range of vegetables labelled as “exotic” in India now face rapidly rising demand – broccoli, cherry tomatoes, capsicums, parsley, celery, cabbages, zucchini and asparagus. Berries are becoming sought after, especially blueberries and strawberries.

Government driven changes are creating one of the biggest historical shifts in rural India – the new Farmer Product Organisations (FPO).  The Government has set an aim for 10,000 of these collaborative ventures. An FPO is a grouping of at least 10 and up to 500 farmers into a collective including marketing. The Government will fund these FPO’s and possibly farm subsidies will be distributed via them.

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The FPO structure is currently in need of support services to enable them to secure business acumen, market linkages, better insurance terms, quality assessment infrastructure, precision agriculture solutions for better crop management, access to finance, IoT based applications and more.

At the same time India’s agricultural research centres (Central, State and private) are very keen to be part of the solution and become a focus for knowledge and training in horticulture techniques new to India. Their demand for displays and services around hydroponics and protected cropping is very high.

Miner driven changes result from delays and obstruction from farmers, and awareness that by supporting horticulture innovation around mines, they can contribute to increasing the income of farmers and provide new income for rural women – thereby making a contribution to the livelihoods of the communities they operate in.

Indian farmer driven changes follow complaints of declining incomes and knowing they have an inability to meet the needs of the new middle class, at home and in the Indian Ocean region. Women in rural communities are seeking new ways to add income to households.

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While farmers are traditionally conservative, there is growing awareness in India of the need for “new skills and innovations for new products”.

India will want collaboration, not high pressure selling

Facing these demands for change, India is not inclined to simply import and adopt western approaches – rather, it seeks to create Indian style innovations with global partners who can adapt to this demand. The Israel and Netherlands governments have established free standing centres of horticulture excellence, with low levels of interest and participation. Australia can move into this space if it is prepared to adapt to what India wants.

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What will be needed for these changes? Skills training and train the trainer programs, IT systems, adapted hydroponics and adapted protected cropping systems and products, post-harvest storage and to market systems and a combination of displays and training at Government and private research centres (not free standing).

Protected Cropping (PC) opportunities are huge but need to be tailored for India – including shelter by artificial structures and materials, enabling modified growing conditions and protection from pests and adverse weather. In the mix here are greenhouses and glasshouses, shade houses, screen houses and crop top structures.

Hydroponics and Controlled Environment Horticulture (CEH)

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The most modern and sophisticated form of protected cropping have been developed in Australia and we should be able to export this knowledge – might be relevant to corporate farms in India with some key adaptions, creating “modified hydroponics”. CEH combines high technology greenhouses with hydroponic (soil-less) growing systems. CEH makes it possible to consistently and reliably control or manipulate the growing environment and effectively manage nutrition, pests and diseases in crops.

Hydroponics in Australia and the west is crop production using a soilless growing medium with nutrients supplied in a liquid form. The choice of substrate can be varied to suit the crop and climatic requirements. Hydroponic growing also includes growing in a flowing nutrient stream without utilising a solid medium. This is known as nutrient film technique. For India, some adaptation of drip irrigation, soil and non-soil bases leads to “modified hydroponics” and would meet demand over there.

Agricultural research centres in India play a major role in supporting farmer innovation and skills upgrades. There is an opportunity for an Australian Centre of Protected Cropping and Hydroponics to be embedded in at least one of the Indian Government agricultural research centres, another with the State of Tamil Nadu and in a private research centre. These could be supported by a “virtual centre” with farmers accessing it via mobile phones.

This would be a major step forward in building a genuine India-Australia collaboration in horticulture, enhancing the capacity of both countries to become the food bowls of the Indian Ocean.

 

The “Developing India-Australia Collaboration in Horticulture” research project by Genesis Horticulture Solutions was part funded by the Australia India Council, Australian Government

 

Indian PM Modi announces A$400 billion stimulus policy

Indian prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a A$400 billion stimulus package, one of the biggest in the world’s responses to Covid19.

The package is approximately 10% of India’s GDP.

The stimulus package is called “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan” and aims to make India self reliant and to revive the stalled economy.

Details are still coming out but part of the program will be major reforms across areas such as land, labour and liquidity laws to underpin a boost to the “Make in India” campaign.

Other areas will likely include supply chain for agriculture, reforms to national taxation, simplification of some laws, build capable human resources and strengthening the financial system.

It is typical Modi – ambitious, unexpected in magnitude and investors are already reacting with enthusiasm.

Flipkart and the amazing growth of Indian startups

Year 2007 saw a landmark event in the history of Indian enterprise – one of many events that mean you should change your strategy for India market entry.

In October 2007, two young Amazon executives – Sachin and Binny Bansal (pictured above) set up an e-commerce website they called Flipkart, India’s most iconic startup story till date.

Flipkart was valued at US$ 21 billion when it was eventually acquired by Walmart in 2018.

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The success of the Bansals also inspired many a startup journey in this period. Flipkart was obviously not an isolated event.

More top-notch professionals started sensing lucrative opportunities, leading by example and setting up their own ventures in the 1990’s.  Sanjeev Bikhchandani, Founder & Executive Vice Chairman, Info Edge India Ltd (of Naukri.com fame), and VSS Mani, founder of Justdial, were some notable examples.

Deep Kalra, (pictured below) Founder, Chairman and Group CEO, MakeMyTrip.com, got acquainted with the potential of the internet as an avenue for distribution while working at GE Capital and decided to set up the popular travel portal.

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The most significant game changer is the manner in which mobile phones and more specifically smartphones have penetrated the Indian market. The direct implication of this has been that a large majority of Indians have, or are about to access the internet for the first time on their mobile phones.

A report by Kantar-IMRB in March 2019 estimated India’s internet users at 566 million, projected to reach 627 million by the end of the year.

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Around 97% of India’s netizens use mobile as one of the mediums.

This has created new avenues of growth and spurred startups like InMobi, Ola, Zomato, Practo, UrbanClap, BigBasket, Pepperfry and more.

These startups have been fueled by several other factors – increasing affinity towards entrepreneurship, potential of the Indian market, globalization and the resulting interface with other ecosystems (particularly Silicon Valley), rising confidence towards startup funding and facilitating policies.

According to the NASSCOMZinnov Startup Report 2019, the ecosystem added around 1,300 startups in 2019, taking the total to 8,900 tech startups.

India ranks third both in the number of startups and unicorns. The aggregation space has definitely been the beehive for startup innovation. The top ten unicorns of India as on date include 6 aggregators, two fintech firms and one edtech firm.

Investments by VCs have grown by four times during the period, and number of deals increased from 130 in 2013 to 270 in 2017.

India needs more stories like Delhivery (logistics), Vortex (solar ATMs) and Ather Energy (electric mobility).

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A welcome trend is that of well-established corporates engaging with startups to bring greater innovative capabilities in their own DNA. This could be pivotal for India as it seeks to move ahead of the curve in areas like AI and machine learning.

Meantime China is part of this Indian story.

Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, early-stage investors Hillhouse Capital and CDH Investments, large corporations such as Meituan and Fosun, and smartphone makers Xiaomi and Oppo — a little over 100 Chinese firms have made investments in Indian startups.

Chinese VCs have invested over USD8 billion and hold large stakes in a number of Indian startups, including unicorns and “soonicorns”.

Watch this space…

Thanks to the Trade Promotion Council of India for information for this blog.

India should be a vital part of the world’s biggest trade deal – RCEP

The countries involved in the world’s biggest trade deal hope to welcome India back into the group – this was announced after their remote meeting last week.

The 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – known as the RCEP – would be the world’s largest when operational, spanning India to New Zealand, including 30% of global GDP and half of the world’s people.

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But resistance from India – concerned about a flood of cheap mass-produced Chinese goods hurting small businesses in its economy – came to a head last year when India walked out of the deal. I hope it comes back to RCEP.

India had legitimate concerns and hopefully RCEP will deliver on these. Australian Prime Minister Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Modi have a good relationship and could work together on the way forward.

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The meeting, while reaching out to India, also made it clear that one way or another the RCEP deal will be finalised and signed in 2020. 

RCEP includes the ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

RIL’s Jio moves to shake up India’s retail market in partnership with kirana stores

INTO INDIA wrote recently about Facebook investing in Jio, the Reliance Industries (RIL) internet and  telecoms arm.

Now they have announced a move which could long term shake up the retail space in India.

It seems that forever retail in India has been dominated by “mom and pop” local stores which are known as “kirana stores”. Most retail changes so far have been in competition with these stores.

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But kirana stores have a firm grip on the Indian shopping psyche.

So now comes news that RIL has started home delivery of essentials in partnership with local kirana stores in Navi Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan. These services are available under JioMart, an e-commerce venture of Reliance Retail, an RIL subsidiary.

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This innovation uses WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), which has more than 400 million users in India. If it goes well, the scheme will be extended to other Indian cities.

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Bank of America reports that RIL could digitise 5 million stores by 2023. Kirana stores are keen to go digital, driven in a big way by GST compliance.

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of RIL, is moving fast to change from a petrochemical giant to a mixed business including strong telecom and retail capacity.

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