Indian startups go abroad to win at home

Cultural cringe and poor sales skills inhibit the ability of Indian software companies to compete with global vendors on their home turf.
Written by Mahesh Sharma, Correspondent

Cultural mindset, poor sales skills, and smaller marketing budgets have inhibited the ability of Indian software vendors to compete with their global rivals on their home turf.

In fact, a Nasscom project called IP4Biz was launched last year with the aim to eliminate the perceived bias among Indian corporates against locally developed software, which is regularly overlooked in favor of the big global software brands.


"In India, to sell to your neighbor, you have to go through the United States."

In an interview with ZDNet, Manju Gowda, co-founder of Nasscom's IP4Biz program, said the industry body had made some progress, but he believes it will be several years before the attitudes of Indian CIOs can be changed.

"In India, to sell to your neighbor, you have to go through the United States," said Gowda, who previously sold his IT security startup to BlueCoat Networks.
Last year, he founded i7 networks in Koramangala, Bangalore, but struggles to convince neighbouring companies to buy the vendor's BYOD security offerings.
"I just came back from the U.S., and it's easier if you go that way. Once I have some of these U.S. customers, then going to Indian customers becomes a lot easier," he said.
A sale to a U.S. customer is the seal of approval (or described as "chap", in Hindi) necessary to sell technology in India, where he said purchases are decided purely based on reputation and trust--as opposed to economics, functionality, and user experience.

Last October, Gowda and the founders of two other software startups, Sangeeta Patni and Sumeet Anand, launched IP4Biz, a group that sits within Nasscom. At a trade fair last year, it showcased 10 software products "Made in India" targeted at enterprises.
"Nasscom has helped us a lot and helped us tell local CIOs to look beyond Oracle, IBM, SAP, and Microsoft," he said. "There are Indian companies with very innovative products, but CIOs are so used to buying from multinationals that we don't even get a look-in."
Local vendors cannot compete with the marketing-savvy and budgets of their big American rivals, but Gowda believes this will eventually change as the purchase priorities shift from brand to value for money.

"We're cheaper, are a local business, and provide local support, but we don't market well in India," he noted. "We're not well-known because of our smaller marketing budgets. We're better at speaking technical jargon."

Startups also struggle to explain their cutting-edge technology to corporates that lag the latest US trends by a year or two, he said.
While Indian firms play catch-up, startups will continue to use the U.S. sales channels to win at home.

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