Small Business


India: business opportunities, technology ... and martinis

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When you get 149 women into a room, the chatter is inevitable. When they are all successful female entrepreneurs, the energy is palpable. Relationships are created, friendships are forged and deals are done.

I'm talking about the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network Event (DWEN), held earlier this week (17 - 19 June) in New Delhi, India. There are 15 female entrepreneurs from Australia and delegates come from 11 countries.

The two-day event has been a heady mix of intensive networking, discussions, collaboration and - when women are involved - you can bet there is a bit shopping thrown in there as well.

A number of themes have emerged from the event for me.

1. There's gold in them there hills

Dell's decision to hold the event in India undoubtedly reflects the view that there are huge opportunities in this emerging economy. The country's population of over 1 billion speaks for itself. Even a tiny slice of that pie would be a major win for any business. It's these opportunities that have enticed Monash University graduate Shoba Purushothaman to move to India. Originally hailing from Malaysia, Purushothaman has spent most of her career in the US and UK, most recently co-founding The New Market, a digital news platform in New York City.


Last year, she founded Training Ventures in India, to capture opportunities presented by the skills gap in the country. Speaking on a panel about "Doing business in India" at the event, Purushothaman said: "There is a general lack of sophistication in the market - and that is an opportunity. Just do what you say you are going to do, and sell what you say you're going to be selling - and you will do well."

While this may sound simplistic, Purushothaman explained: "Consumer expectations aren't very high because the consumer has not been exposed to perfection."

Purushothaman said there is opportunity to innovate and do business - but this comes with unique challenges in a country like India. "You have to think carefully about how you can reach the end customer," she says. Many Indian businesswomen at the event agreed that the country's diversity can be challenging. Often described as having "several countries within the country", the population has varying cultural, language and connectivity issues.

For example, while there are 800 million registered mobile phones, only 10 per cent of the population is connected to the internet. Reaching a population that barely uses Google (simply because they may not have a computer or internet connection) requires a paradigm shift to find a solution.

This is where innovation is key. For example, while we might "Google" an answer to a question, many Indians may instead use a service called SMS Gyan to SMS their question. The answer is SMSed back to their phone.

Similarly, catering to the specific needs of the rural population can also prove lucrative. Purushothaman points to a startup that identified that electricity in rural India is expensive and people only get power for a limited number of hours. This poses a problem for charging mobile phones. So it came up with long life batteries that last a month and they quickly penetrated the market.

"... your technologist should be involved in strategy on everything from operations to marketing because they may contribute innovative ways to create efficiencies and even take new products to market."

2. Ensure that technology is core to your business

I know that sounds like such an obvious statement but I meet so many small business owners who feel that technology is a burden instead of an opportunity. An underlying theme of this conference is that technology should be at the core of your business. This is regardless of whether you are a tech startup or a bricks-and-mortar business. In other words, "the IT guy" shouldn't simply be invited to make an appearance when your server is down, or if you need to set up a new email address. They should be involved in business strategy and in helping you find ways to use technology to improve everything from systems to marketing.

Carley Roney is chief content officer of US-based XO Group, which produces a range of online lifestyle and wedding sites including Speaking at the event, she said: "You need to create a culture from day one where your technologist wants to be a business person. And your business people embrace technology." Roney adds that your technologist should be involved in strategy on everything from operations to marketing because they may contribute innovative ways to create efficiencies and even take new products to market. This is reflected in Roney's 750 staff, of which 450 are tech-related, 200 are sales and the rest create the product.

3. Lychee martinis

As is often the case with conferences, some of the most profound connections are not made during the sessions, but in the lobby, over dinner and at the bar. If you hide in your hotel room when the sessions conclude, you are missing out on valuable opportunities to connect and potentially find strategic partners and new business.

Just don't have so many lychee martinis that you forget who you've ended up doing your deals with.

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