E-Summit 09: Day 1: Guest Lecture by Sramana Mitra (Part II)

After WATER, Sramana took us to the next area of opportunity: IT & TELECOM. Her suggesting IT & Telecom as a sector which required more innovation and had a lot of potential came as a surprise to some initially. After all, wasn’t India already a leader in IT, and hadn’t the industry reached a saturation level which left no room for innovation? Apparently not.

She began by exemplifying her assertion. She took the example of bootstrapper Sridhar Vembu of AdventNet|Zoho. Sridhar developed an online office suite, the Zoho Office Suite, which includes tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking, wikis, CRM, project management, invoicing and other applications.  While the company has over a 100 people working on its software in Chennai, there are just seven in the Silicon Valley, mainly to market it. This leads to dramatic price undercutting. Products and Services offered by AdventNet cost less than one-sixth of similar offerings by rivals. AdventNet makes use of Software Concept Arbitrage to cut its costing.

Her point is, India can be in software what China is in manufacturing. After all, India has the expertise as well as labour that the west lacks. While the IT sector is already quite developed in India, it is nothing if you look at the future prospects. As of now, India is a haven for outsourcing. By 2020, India, instead of helping their western counterparts make products through BPO, should start creating its own products. This calls for a paradigm shift.

Another remarkable example she gave was Carol Realini, founder of Obopay. Carol realised that majority of the population in the world accesses technology not through computers but through cell phone. This is especially very easily understandable in India, where cell phones have infiltrated deep into the rural areas where there are no other signs of technology. So while banking has gone online, she realised there’s a much bigger innovation waiting to take place. She took banking to cell phone. So now Obopay enables you to make payments, and do all sorts of banking activities from your cell phone. Now that’s innovative thinking, bringing in millions of dollars. There still remains a lot of scope, say, integrating microfinance with mobile technology. Watsay?

She also talked about her rural BPO venture, Maya Ray. At times like these, Indian BPO industry is facing serious trouble. The problem is, the Indian BPO industry till now, is concentrated in urban India, and caters to large US enterprises. The US has approx 5 million small businesses which have a potential for small-scale outsourcing. Even with an annual budget as low as $5000, it adds up to a whooping $25 BILLION. The biggest problem with Indian BPOs: rising costs, can be totally avoided since Rural BPO means large number of people- simple demand & supply equations will lead to huge cost-cutting. It’s a win-win!!!

There are many other large markets to explore as well. The US healthcare market needs IT support, and it’s a perfect opportunity for Indian software industry to capitalize on. Similarly domestic security and defence industry is now a big money game, and needs IT support as well. The opportunities just don’t seem to end.

Sramana also discussed the driving force behind Entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurs are driven by PHILOSOPHY (Yes! Knew it!). Successful innovation may involve years of hard work and countless hurdles to clear before any sign of success. Lots of risks, lots of experimentation, lots of obstacles, before any fruits of success are visible. If one does not believe in the self during this time period, it’s very easy to give up. Sramana suggests reading up on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead for inspiration. Who’s John Galt, anyone?

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