Tales of disruption as the old world meets the new in India

Technological disruption can uplift some while undermining the establishment in a country like India, giving rise to both profit and violence

The outdoor market in the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi around this time of year is a sight to behold. It is Goat city. Goats are stacked in stalls, perched on carts and paraded from one location to another.

If you had no idea what was going on, you would think that all of Delhi was goat crazy, that the flowers around the necks of some and the anklets on others were a sure sign that the lowly goat had suddenly become elevated to the status of "favourite pet" in India.

Sadly, the more grisly truth is that these goats are mere lambs to the slaughter. Literally. They are a vital component of the ongoing major Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha, or Bakra Id ('Bakra' means goat). These beasts have been traditionally slaughtered to commemorate Ibrahim's readiness to sacrifice his son Ismail on Allah's request.

But could this iconic market become a shadow of what it is today in five or ten years? Could it even fade away entirely? Apparently, goat breeders who fatten up their animals for Eid and hawk them at traditional markets are now migrating to popular online classified sites like Quikr and Olx in droves.

This shouldn't be so surprising since both sites are favourites amongst second-hand car sellers and buyers. If you can flog cars there, goats should be a no-brainer. Indeed, many of these beasts are pricier than your average second-hand car, having been pampered with expensive fruits, nuts and milk throughout the year.

There are good reasons as to why messaging apps like Whatsapp and classified sites like Quikr are becoming hugely popular amongst those ensconced in traditional modes of commerce. Firstly, smartphone penetration is increasing at an exponential rate (it is at roughly 30 percent today).

Secondly, the middle-man who usually takes a fat chunk of the profits in traditional markets is no longer a necessary medium to go through. In fact, there's a depressing account of how Dalits, or the so-called untouchables, are still being prevented from taking part in local markets that are nerve centres for the wholesale buying and selling of vegetables.

Which is why any account of technology empowering traditional livelihoods or the marginalized is always heartening to hear about.


Now here's a story that's a little less quixotic and more ugly but similarly, a classic outcome of the collision of new and old ways of doing business where the middle-man is being dispensed with.

Nobroker, an e-real-estate startup, thought it was onto a winner when it decided to connect renters and landlords directly instead of going through brokers. Leveraging the internet to disrupt the house market has become big business and other e-commerce startups in this arena such as housing.com and commonfloor.com have attracted hundreds of millions in venture capital money.

No broker considers itself the largest "peer-to-peer" site in real estate with a user base of 300,000. It also estimates that it saves its customers more than $2.5 million in brokerage costs every month across four major cities in the country.

No wonder then that one morning, the offices of 18-month-old nobroker.com were laid siege to by a hundred or so irate brokers, many of them drunk, who then tried to enter the premises forcefully. Many staff were assaulted until some managed to form a blockade of sorts to keep out this disenfranchised mob until the police arrived.

Expect more incidences like these as disruption continues to roil traditional business segments in India.