India's SaaS cloud stars

India has long been derided as a desert for product companies. Some point to the country’s long history as a colonial subject as a reason for this phenomena, others to its socialist past, and many to its lack of a culture of scientific innovation of any significant scale and reach post-independence.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer

If India is known for anything economically, it is for its IT Services industry which roared into the national consciousness post the year 2000, thanks to the considerable tax breaks given by the government. However, our 60 percent services-heavy economy seemed to emphasize that making things of a global standard was somehow beyond our capabilities, embodied by the memorable, burly Ambassador car, which for all of its sturdy, iconic qualities seemed out of step with a world of small and nimble, fuel-injected Japanese autos that took over the world. For many years, the only software product that we could name was an accounting one, called Tally.

SaaS part of the move away from the old India characterised by the Ambassador
Image: Tatiraju.rishabh, CC-BY-3.0

All of that is changing fast. Today, India is one of the global hubs for auto manufacturing. And slowly but surely a culture of making products, whether in the medical-technology field, or in motorcycles, is taking hold. Amidst this change, one of the biggest and perhaps most significant product revolutions is in the world of cloud computing.

The cloud is breeding a swarm of Indian companies whose products are being consumed by a global audience. Zoho, which has a CRM product reportedly used by at least 8 million people worldwide, is rumored to have become a US$100 million revenue business in just a handful of years, something that would have been unthinkable in India a decade ago.

Indian cloud players are providing SaaS applications in all kinds of spaces—from workflow to helpdesk to Big Data and analytics—and are being lapped up by individual customers as well as businesses around the world. Indian companies are also churning out leading Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings for companies in areas like gaming or code-testing, plus Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) products that dynamically allocate resources in the storage solutions space, amongst other things.

Ironically, many of these promise to render their IT services cousins obsolete. The world is fast turning to plug-and-play cloud solutions for basic enterprise software needs as an alternative to engineering the time-consuming, customized and capex-heavy traditional approach.

But what has made this almost overnight tsunami of Indian cloud firms possible in the first place? 

For one thing, Indians have begun returning to the country in herds, armed with degrees from top-notch global engineering institutes and experience working at quality global product companies. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in an era where an idea can quickly become a multi-million dollar company, they are now able to easily tap into an online sales channel to reach global markets instead of sweating over manpower costs to drive sales and profit. Relatedly, people have become used to buying stuff off the net, especially software. Most importantly, perhaps, it doesn’t take a whole lot to start one of these firms—in some cases just an idea, a joy for coding, a deep desire to solve a problem, and a hunger to win.

This article links to profiles of Indian cloud companies that caught ZDNet's eye. It is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list. No doubt, there are a few out there who deserved to be included but weren't because of our own oversight. We’ll be sure to add them on as time goes by. And admittedly, scores have and will continue to fail, while a few succeed in what has become a fiercely competitive global space. But for now, these are some of the outfits turning the heads of VCs and customers, both in India and around the world.

Check back each day for more profiles of India's SaaS cloud stars.

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