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Google building up team for greater India play

Google has increased the focus on building products for India that it looks to also take globally, which has led the company to make key appointments in senior leadership roles in India.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 04, 2018, 11.09 AM IST
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Google is betting big on India because it is already the second-largest internet market though just 390 million of its 1.3 billion people use internet actively.
Google has recently bulked up its India leadership team with a number of key hires, even as the social media network Facebook and its instant messaging platform WhatsApp are struggling to build local teams in the country.

Sajith Sivanandan, who was the managing director at Google for Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and new emerging markets, has relocated to Bengaluru as head of payments and access service in India. The internet giant also brought back Ambarish Kenghe from Flipkart-owned Myntra to lead product development for its UPI-based payment platform, Google Pay (previously Tez).

Kenghe, who was the co-founder and product management lead for Google’s Chromecast based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, had joined Myntra in 2015 as the e-commerce firm’s chief product officer.

Over the past year, Google has increased the focus on building products for India that it looks to also take globally, which has led the company — perhaps for the first time in its 15-year journey in India — to make so many key appointments in senior leadership roles in the country.

Caesar Sengupta, general manager of payments and vice-president for Next Billion Users, told ET that the company was heavily invested in supporting the growth of India’s digital payments ecosystem.

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“One instance of that is the leadership team we are putting in place in India. A team that has a wealth of experience and deep understanding of India and the next billion users,” said Sengupta.

Pankaj Gupta, who was the founder-CEO of Halli Labs — a Bengaluru-based artificial intelligence startup that the company acquired in July last year — has been appointed as director of engineering, Next Billion Users, Google India.

Munish Seth who was recently serving Facebook as the regional head-APac for connectivity solutions, and led Express Wi-Fi programme in India, has also joined Google as the new country director for Android and will be responsible for driving partnerships with handset makers.

At its flagship Google for India event last week, the company announced a facility for customers to get instant loans from their banks through the Google Pay app and released a stripped-down version of its latest operating system, Andriod Pie, called Andriod Pie Go.

It also unveiled a bilingual Google Assistant which can interchange seamlessly between Hindi and English and a variant of the Assistant in Marathi. It onboarded Samsung to the Android Go platform and launched Navlekha, an initiative to enable regional languages content firms to publish online quickly.

“The future of internet is reflected right here in India. Truly India inspires the world,” Sengupta had said at the event, summing up the launches.

Google, which connected 400 railway stations in the country with high-speed internet, will now connect more than 12,000 villages and around 10 million people in Andhra Pradesh in partnership with Andhra Pradesh State FiberNet. After its launch in India, the Google Station project has been rolled out in Mexico, Nigeria, Thailand and Indonesia.

Similarly, the company is exploring the launch of its payment product in other countries on the lines of Tez. Sengupta said when Google builds for India, it builds for the world.

“Many governments across the world are asking us to bring digital payments in their country; so rebranding Tez as Google Pay will act as a unifying experience,” he added.

Google is betting big on India because it is already the second-largest internet market though just 390 million of its 1.3 billion people use internet actively. This leaves a large chunk of the population which has to still come online.

Moreover, Google has been seeing a 270% year-on-year increase in voice searches in India. It expects 500 million Indian language users to join the internet over the next two years.

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