Business in your pocket
GUWAHATI: One of the striking differences between living in a metropolis like Delhi or Mumbai and Guwahati is the presence or absence of smartphones. In a metropolis, even a common labourer will invest in a smartphone, while on average, a person from the northeast will not have a smartphone. Even more interesting is the fact that a majority of people who carry smartphones barely use it for more than calls or messages. An Apple XS is a status symbol rather than a formidable piece of machined technology, for Assam is barely in the 1990’s while the rest of India is in 2019. The digital market is a hard sell in the land of “Lahe Lahe.”
But getting back to the topic at hand, business and entrepreneurship have changed definition over time. Risk factors have changed as much as valuation systems and achievement ends. India is no longer a call sign, but is more a call to arms today. It has outstripped economic expectations with its massive and surging growth model and yet, we are still a land of family run enterprises. From the local kirana store to quite a large section of the major Indian brands, India is still the land of family enterprises. Most of them were started by some hardy soul with hardly any formal education or structured learning but with the ability or bravado to take a risk (hopefully a calculated one). Coming back to the present, the generation we live in is as much opposed to risk as our forefathers. Education, the mantra Indian parents mutter whether awake or asleep, has become expensive. It’s a simple equation – the cost of education = stability of assured income.
To take a risk and build a business or become an entrepreneur, on such a balance is not foolhardy on the face of it, but suicidal for most families - even well-off or upper middle-classes. And Indians still don’t decide for themselves usually; it’s a family decision where the votes have it for the reliable pay cheque every month with no contest. And hence, there’s a very distinct division of “business families” and “service families.” And it’s a very hard transition from one to the other. We cannot all be businessmen, that much is brutal reality. But, for many who wish to consider the entrepreneurial side, many factors must be considered.
The “India” of 2019 lives in the mainstream metropolises while the rest of “Bharat” plods on. What works in Delhi will/might not work in Guwahati or Itanagar and so on. Business viability is the key and building access to markets is basic common sense. Businesses flourish because of viability, need and delivery. For a small business owner in Delhi or Mumbai, be it production or service-oriented, the entire eco-system exists within their reach – from raw materials to end-line customers. Everything is within city limits. Not so for us, in the northeast. Everything is far away and not available usually. Even if we have goods/services to offer, we have no markets for everything. Even for goods/services which have markets, we have ceilings and issues of scale. The unit economics are sustainable for one dimension, falter at the next and growth stutters to a stop. In short, “Dhanda” needs “Grahok”…
An important linkage which needs highlighting for “Bharat” or even our hinterlands of Assam and the sister states is the advantage we all seem to carry in our pockets today. As stated earlier, we are a community which is rather slow. We use mobile phones as status symbols rather than facilitators for commercial usage.
Consider the chart (though the data is a bit old) – we lag behind in tele-density and through it access to the very same markets which every entrepreneur needs so desperately.
A smartphone is not for showing off but for use. Most of us don’t even bother going beyond basic WhatsApp, calls and Google.
When was the last time you checked the Playstore (Android) or App Store (IOS) for an application which can help you save time and effort? Is your business listed on Google? Have you tried using AdSense? Did you know most platforms are free? Have you ever tried attending a single online tutorial (also free)?
My father would deposit cheques by hand at his local branch, issue receipts by hand and pay salaries in cash and this would entail fuel cost, effort and time. Should I continue doing that? I can transfer money online, validate and maintain records on my phone, without leaving my office and save money, effort and time. Or am I being lazy?
(Any queries may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org which will be forwarded to the author; he will respond to the same in a new column starting soon)