BANGALORE--To achieve worldwide success, Indian entrepreneurs must act local, think global, and solve the issue of how to make money in a market where consumers expect apps to be free.
At the Startup Festival event here Thursday, over 100 entrepreneurs filled the modest Sangeetha Sabha auditorium in Indiranagar neighborhood, about 15 minutes from the Central Business District (CBD), to congregate on the country's startup future. On the question of whether India would soon produce a globally recognized startup brand, there was positive consensus from the panel covering the topic "Digits and data: the mobile revolution", which featured one of the world's most successful iOS developers, a Microsoft evangelist, an investor from Lightspeed venture capital, and two entrepreneurs.
Robosoft Technologies CEO Rohith Bhat said his company, located about eight hours outside Bangalore, began developing apps for Apple devices in 1998. Since then, it has created 600 apps over the past two years, mostly for other companies, which have been downloaded over 80 million times worldwide.
Its early commitment to Apple's then-unpopular platform earned the Mangalore developer a preview of the first iPhone's software development kit (SDK). Some of the company's apps were mentioned by Steve Jobs at the launch.
Robosoft developed the Camera Plus app, the first app to offer digital-zoom for the iPhone, Bhat said. It also created Boom, a laptop speaker amplifier, which won an Apple best-of-show award and currently generates nearly US$1,000 revenue every day. Robosoft's apps have been downloaded more than 25 million times.
Bhat believes an indigenous Indian app, as opposed to a localized, American knockoff, will eventually achieve global success. "It's like the evolution of TV content when foreign programming first came in, then localization started happening, and then local content became more prevalent than what was being imported," he said.
The CEO explained the app development space now was at a similar stage. "Right now we're trying to consume the content produced by the global companies. It's all about a global play. The product should be built for a global market, not the Indian market," he said.
Make stuff that make money
According to Harish Vaidyanathan, Microsoft's director for evangelism, the missing piece is offering products which make money.
Successful companies will navigate the different buying habits between the swipe-happy American consumer, and the miserly Indian mobile device owner that only pays with cash, Vaidyanathan noted. "It is possible to monetize in the U.S. market where people have credit cards, but there's one rule when you target the [Indian] market: everyone wants it, nobody wants to pay for it.
"Anything that requires credit cards in India is finished," Vaidyanathan said, referring to the fact that cash is used in nearly all small purchases in India. "Entrepreneurs have to think about monetization from day one."
An Indian global startup success is inevitable, according to entrepreneur Karam Lakshman, co-founder of the Sibling App. "We're all in the first generation of the ecosystem here," said Lakshman in his hybrid Indian-American accent, adopted during his high school years in Hong Kong and university education in Canada.
"You don't see the Camera Plus app [being featured] on Techcrunch, even though it's one of the most popular apps out there. The next logical step for a Camera Plus would have been [to evolve to become] an Instagram, but it was probably too early for that to happen," he noted, adding that it was only a matter of time before India's startup community sees global success.