The multi-billion-dollar valuations of Flipkart and Snapdeal are no pricing bubble, but a signal that India’s technology boom has begun. The next five years will see a flurry of technology innovation that will transform the country as much as cellphones have over the past 15 years. This will be enabled by the availability of low-cost smartphones, the digital identity that Aadhar has provided to hundreds of millions of people who lacked any documentation, and a host of exponential technology advances. A billion Indians will be joining the global economy during this decade.
There is a lot for Indian entrepreneurs to learn from Silicon Valley. But the bigger opportunities are for them to leapfrog it by solving the problems of the many rather than of the few. The same infrastructure lacuna that enabled India to create Aadhar—lack of all technological legacy to have to worry about—offers it an opportunity to implement changes unarguably for the public good and to show the world how to create an entirely new digital infrastructure in areas such as the following.
Flipkart and Snapdeal have largely focused on consumer products for the well-to-do. The real market opportunity is to address the needs of the people who will soon be coming on line. New marketplaces need to be built for artisans in villages so they can design and create custom crafts for customers world wide; apps are needed by which fruit sellers, sweet shops, and restaurants can showcase their products and take orders from neighborhood customers; local merchants need the tools with which to provide the same types of one-hour delivery services that Amazon and Google are launching in American cities
App-based automation of public services.
Whether it be for booking railway tickets and monitoring train arrival times or for analysing government productivity and efficiency data, virtually every aspect of government services could be improved through measurement, monitoring, and automation. Entrepreneurs can take a key role in modernizing governance by using technology and data to stem corruption.
At a minimum, Internet-connected smartphones can be used to educate farmers on how to improve crop yields and minimize chemical usage. Social media can connect them with each other so that they can share experiences, and sensors can help monitor soil humidity and optimize watering. Supply chains can be improved, and on-farm diagnostic technologies can increase efficiency
With India’s abundance of I.T. talent—and its greater abundance of social and infrastructure problems—its entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to lead the world in innovation. I have little doubt that they will step up to this task and that 2015 will be the launching point for India’s technology revolution.