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Building for 'Bharat' biggest, but also most challenging for Indian tech companies

The infrastructure, however, to enable the aforesaid Bharat to join the country’s growing digital economy, has to keep pace with demand.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Aug 23, 2019, 09.59 PM IST
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ETSA 2019 Panel: The Next Frontier - Building Digital Businesses for Bharat
ETSA 2019 Panel: The Next Frontier - Building Digital Businesses for Bharat
BENGALURU: Building for ‘Bharat,’ or the next 500 odd million Internet users in India, is going to be the biggest and most challenging opportunity over the next decade, said top executives of some of the country’s largest Internet companies in a panel discussion at the 2019 Economic Times Startup Awards.

In order to do this, the experiences that companies build need to be very different from what has been done in the past to serve the top 50 million consumers, who have largely resided in the country’s metros and tier-1 cities, they opined.

“Bharat is about high volumes, low cost, video, voice, local language, full stack and consistent experience,” said Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of Infosys and architect of India’s biometric identity infrastructure Aadhaar.

The infrastructure, however, to enable the aforesaid Bharat to join the country’s growing digital economy, has to keep pace with demand.

“The more innovation, entrepreneurs, capital and effort being put together to move Bharat to digital, and the infrastructure along with it, the better it is. We need all the help we can get. The beauty of the internet is that it is a completely transparent world. In such a world, customers will choose the experience that is truly superior,” Amit Agarwal, country head for India for Amazon, said.

Moreover, the task of bringing the formal economy to the next 500 million users, will be a combined effort of the government, private sector as well as local entrepreneurs. But a moot point being made by all executives on stage, and who head some of India’s top consumer internet companies is experience.

“When Bharat and people at all income levels demand great experience. We don’t think they need that much more experience, but their 500 rupees is more than our 5,000 rupees. It’s very important to understand that as we build business for Bharat,” Peyush Bansal, chief executive of Lenskart, said.

The challenges facing policymakers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders are formidable, but not insurmountable.

“While Bharat is going to be the biggest opportunity in the next 5-10 years, possibly in the whole world, it’s also one of the most challenging opportunities,” Kalyan Krishnamurthy, chief executive of Flipkart Group, India’s largest online retailer, said. “I think the ecosystem has to come together and solve this and reliance has to play a role, the government has to play its role and we all do. The penetration of e-commerce in retail is negligible, so it’s a natural opportunity, but a difficult opportunity.”

“As a percentage of our GDP, our spend on R&D has remained flat for the past 20 years, it’s less than 1%. We have over 130 million new voters who were voting in this election. They are going to build their lives, businesses and families for the next 20 years. So what are all the enabling factors which can create more inclusion for this demographic?” Aditya Ghosh, chief executive of India and South Asia for Oyo Hotels & Homes.

“Whether it’s science and math education, whether it’s spend on R&D and whether it’s pure tele-density and internet density which is a big divide between the urban and rural areas. The gap has shortened, but it’s still 1/3rd or 1/4th of what it is in urban centres. Can this get us there faster?” Ghosh added.
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