“There are many Indias.”
This is the number one piece of advice offered to us by a brilliant host, recently stepped down from a well-known multinational.
To be fair, there are many Indians. Over 1.2 billion, representing 17.5% of the world’s population, it is predicted to be the world’s most populous country by 2025.
So, many Indias, and to begin to get your head around them is going to take some time. Longer than a week. Which is how long I have just spent in Bangalore and Delhi.
75% of the population here are mobile subscribers (919.2m people) and there will be 300-400 million new web users within the next 3-5 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, entrepreneurs are interested to know how they can design products and services which connect with these millions.
According to the Boston Consulting Group, India had 4 billionaires in 2001. Today it has 55.
54 million Indians will become college graduates over the next ten years. Over that time, the US will see thirty million. So to see the Indian opportunity as simply a chance to design low-cost things for millions, is limiting. Similarly, with this many consumers, to see the country as little more than a source of low-cost labour lacks imagination.
Paying the bill in a Delhi tea-room, a colleague catches sight of an upright piano. “Do you play?”, he asks the waiter. “Yes sir”, comes the reply. “Do you really?” asks the guest. “No sir”, admits the host. What is going on here? To my mind, it is a small and interesting clue which supports the theory that the Indians I meet during the week want to please, to connect, to be of service. Time and again, they go out of their way to be helpful and considerate. To quote a family member’s motto, “The answer is yes. Now what’s the question?”.
My surface scratching, brain-boggling exercise is part of a trade mission – Web Mission to be precise, with fifteen of the UK’s most innovative web companies. Supported by the Technology Strategy Board and UKTI, it is the eighth mission I’ve helped to organise, and the first to outside of the United States. From Buffalo Grid (bringing power to hundreds of millions of mobile users) to uMotif (helping people remember to take their medicine, using text messages and smart phone apps), a terrific range of founders, from their thirties to sixties.
From swanky hotels lobbies to a charity which serves 1.2 million school meals each day, it is a week of contrasts. You can see a short film from each day here.
Amidst the tuk-tuk rides, networking events and limited sleep, I begin to conclude…
Laughter is the best medicine, and although the statistics and briefings may lead you to dwell upon the differences between people and cultures, every single conversation I have during the week seems to hint at something more powerful. That we are more similar than different.
People are not the same as companies. Yes, I am travelling “with fifteen companies”. In fact, I am with fifteen individuals. Similarly, they may have just met with a multi-million dollar company with 150,000 employees. In fact, the magic of the meeting came from a connection with an individual. Someone who saw their potential and wanted to build a relationship. This distinction is worth remembering.
Four curries a day can be good for you. Good for the soul, at least. Eye opening, yes. Eye-watering, often. A wonderful way to trigger new conversations.
And finally. I must return to India. One week is no time at all.