Articles & stories Alibaba Who? Indian Consumer Tech Comes of Age

Alibaba Who? Indian Consumer Tech Comes of Age
It’s not easy being an Indian consumer tech company. Not only do you have to operate in a fiercely competitive environment and navigate India’s infamous state bureaucracy, but there are also those pesky China comparisons to deal with.  

So it was unsurprising that China was one of the topics that came up in the panel ‘India’s consumer technology and internet sector – the action is just beginning…’ on Day 3 of the 21st Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.

The response from the speakers can be split into two categories. On the one hand, China’s online consumer companies are some of the best and the biggest in the world, so holding them up as an example shows the potential of their Indian counterparts.

“We have a good opportunity in the next 15 years to create companies the size of China,” claimed Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO of OYO, India’s largest hospitality company. He pointed to the example of his own firm which has 70,000 keys under management, while China’s biggest equivalent company has 330,000 keys - a figure he was confident of reaching.

But while China’s size and scale might be the ultimate destination, it was clear from the panellists that India’s journey will be very different.

Perhaps the most striking example of this difference is in the approach to payments. While Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Tencent have driven the development of online payments on the Mainland, in India online payment adoption is being driven by the government through its Unified Payments Interface (UPI) that allows consumers to make payments through a single mobile application through any of the banks that join. In addition to the major Indian banks, participants include mobile wallet operator Paytm, Google (through its Tez app) and WhatsApp, among others.

This is typical of the current government’s approach, explained Harshvardhan Lunia, Co-Founder and CEO of Lendingkart Technologies Pvt. Ltd, with the Ministry of Finance actively engaging with fintech companies, though he cautions that not all the decisions are totally supportive. “But they are listening.”

There’s a difference between listening and doing. If India can do both, maybe then it will be time to put those China comparisons to bed.