Act globally, think locally
At the 2010 Kellogg India Business Conference, speakers stress the importance of customizing products for Indian consumers By Sara Langen
5/18/2010 - As emerging markets establish themselves in the world economy, Google India Managing Director Shailesh Rao believes India is one that could set the standard for success.
“I’m fairly convinced, with all the challenges and opportunities facing India, that it will be the bellwether for the future of the world,” Rao ’99 said during his keynote address at the 2010 Kellogg India Business Conference. “If India can succeed, I think you’ll end up with a roadmap” for the global economy.
More than 300 business leaders, students and alumni gathered May 8 to discuss the forces shaping India’s future. The theme of this year’s conference — now in its 16th year — was “India: Remarkable, Resilient, Relevant.”
One reason for the country’s relevancy is its remarkably vast population of more than one billion people, said Rao, who also serves as managing director of Google Media and Platforms, Asia Pacific. With such a large, varied population, how do companies connect with consumers?
“India is a unique market requiring a segmented approach to handle the extreme diversity,” he said. “By cultural choice, (Indians) prefer products and services that are localized by nature.”
Customizing those products and services to meet the needs of Indian consumers in a targeted way — whether according to geography, religion or other cultural differences — is essential, Rao explained.
“What you have to do is help the underserved,” he said. “You’re going to approach the country in a systematic way. Very quickly, you’re going to have to figure out how to localize, then build capacity.”
Understanding the local customer’s needs is the first step in building a successful business in India, said Innosight Ventures Partner Hari Nair during a panel on entrepreneurship.
“Our premise is, a consumer has a job to be done,” he said. “[Consumers] don’t buy products — they hire a product to get a job done. We took that premise and applied it to India and ran with it. If you get those products right in India, you will absolutely be successful.”
Fellow panelist Adarsh Arora, CEO and co-founder of Lisle Technology Partners and CEO of Athena Security, reinforced the message of customization.
“There are real needs in India, but you can’t just take a product from here and put it there,” he said. “There are serious customizations that have to occur. [Then you have to figure out] how you can penetrate India in a systematic way.”
Being frugal and creative and not over-relying on venture capital in the early stages is also important, Evalueserve co-founder and chairman Alok Aggarwal said. Taking too much money too early can result in a corporate culture of waste and extravagance, he said. Fellow panelist Pranav Parikh, managing director of Q-India Investment Advisors, agreed.
“Capital at the right time is the right thing to do,” Parikh said. “If you don’t need it, there’s no point in taking it because then you end up wasting it. [You want to take capital when it] will actually take you faster to where you need to be.”
The popular panel discussion was moderated by Mohanbir Sawhney, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation Clinical Professor of Technology at the Kellogg School. Other key sessions included a panel discussion on healthcare and keynote addresses from Padmasree Warrior, Cisco Systems chief technology officer; D. Shivakumar, Nokia India managing director; and H.E. Hardeep S. Puri, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations.