May 17, 2012

India Trip: Reflections

I am leaving for a 2-week vacation to India on Friday. As always, I am excited about the trip. Apart from the obvious goals such as catching up with friends and relatives, attending a wedding, and having some great authentic food, I look forward to observing a few new things in India & Kerala. Maybe, it's the right time to take a break from all the serious 'enterprise consumer' stuff to reflect on these:

Consumer Products: India must be one of the fastest growing consumer sectors in the world and has great brand marketing talent. The innovation and pace of adoption of consumer goods, especially through non-traditional & localized business models, is quite amazing. Last time, I saw the large Audi showroom (first in India) in Cochin that was quite impressive. This time, I am curious to see if there will be more foreign brands including Audis and BMWs on the roads than the quintessentially Indian Ambassador cars.

The mobile revolution and subscriber growth in India has been phenomenal. I loved the Samsung Galaxy smartphone commercial showing the country getting ‘smarter’ and making fun of the last generation Indians as ‘uncle driving the Mercedes’ out of touch with the next generation techno-savvy ‘kids’, who still sip chai at the street corner!

Technology Industry: I recently read an interesting post on the future of the IT industry in India. The expansion of the cost arbitrage from IT outsourcing & call centers to non-IT areas like knowledge processes (e.g., EvalueServe) has already happened. The radical technology adoption of mobile & Wi-Fi enables many products to ‘leapfrog’ skipping interim steps. Case studies of fishermen in Kerala using mobile phones have been well documented (Economist article). It’ll be interesting to catch up with some old friends turning into a new breed of entrepreneurs starting product companies adapting western innovations such as mobile payments to the local market.

All of these are classic low-end disruption or ‘competing against non-consumption’ in the Clayton Christensen ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’ framework. A personal example was realizing the potential of Chromebook in emerging markets. I had given a Chromebook as a gift to my dad and it turned out to be a great virus-free and maintenance-free laptop for browsing and email much better than the old and trouble-prone desktop PC. 

Movies: vacation is always a good time to catch up on Indian movies. I recently I watched ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Taxi 9211’ and am suddenly aware that it’s no longer the old Bollywood of the nineties! ‘Delhi Belly’ felt like ‘Pulp Fiction’ far from a typical Bollywood hit ‘Dilwale Dulhaniye Le Jayenge’. I was also quite impressed by Malayalam movies like ‘Chappa Kurishu’ that portray the uncomfortable contradiction in the Indian society between the haves and have-nots. It reminded me of the deeply disturbing extreme caricatures in the novel ‘White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga. It’s refreshing to see new directors treat controversial subjects with craft and flair.

I am going to watch a lot of broadcast cable TV, as it's the only option in India (no Netflix yet!). I will learn a lot about the political comedies in both Kerala and Indian politics and also about Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement. And last (and probably the least!), there'll surely be some debates on Aishwarya Rai’s post-pregnancy weight gain!

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