Going Big (Data) in India

As a startup, tapping into a new market comes with both challenges and opportunities. Every country is unique so it’s important to have a clear strategy direction when evaluating where to expand. After a recent trip to Bangalore in January, I learned two key things about India 1) market opportunities for B2B and B2C are vastly different and 2) community is critical.

With a population of over 1.3 billion, it might sound strange to hear that India isn’t necessarily a huge market of B2B customers. Earlier this month, as part of the Microsoft for Startups Global Alumni Community, I traveled to Bangalore to take part in the Microsoft Think Next event on the Indian market. The advice, articulated throughout this event was that B2B startups could start with India, but should plan to expand to other parts of Asia and ultimately, go global fast. On the other hand, B2C startups have a huge potential market opportunity: they can achieve enormous volume very quickly by focusing just on India.

And as for culture, while there are major differences, rather than being an obstacle, these differences can actually be used to a startup’s advantage. If you are a B2B startup, you are doing business person-to-person, so it’s crucial to “see” the other person and to choose a representative that can relate to the local market. Having a local ambassador on the ground can also be a hugely helpful asset in terms of understanding and getting oriented in India.

Your team and the way your company is represented is something to consider carefully, but finding the right circle for your business to grow in is even more critical. So much can happen once you find the right group and sit in the right room. I’ve found that an investor or partner like Microsoft can shortcut a lot of the networking you would otherwise need to do and provide you with access to a prebuilt network and community.

Community is essential in India and so; Microsoft’s Steering Committee works to connect people, by bringing together accelerator alumni. This model is implemented worldwide. The steering committee helps new startups penetrate the market, workshops problems and solutions, and shares knowledge and resources. Microsoft has built this valuable resource throughout major global tech hubs. (As an example, you can click here to read more about the steering committee in Silicon Valley).

In India, the steering committee is unique. The accelerator program there is mature and the committee is composed of diverse startups with a heterogeneity that is very appealing. I think of it as a “multi-generational home”. The ability to connect with other startups who are at different points in their life cycle helps to better understand the Indian ecosystem, ranging from specific issues like marketing, sales or development to simply being able to connect to other people facing similar challenges.

At Neuro Flash we’ve benefited from our experience in the Microsoft Berlin Accelerator and from the numerous programs available to Microsoft Startup Alumni. Throughout our engagement with Microsoft we’ve received mentorship, training and more. In particular, the workshops I took part in helped me pitch better, and trained us on how to be modular and relevant for more than one client – both for startups and for enterprise clients, ultimately helping me to better prepare to scale and take part in Microsoft’s ‘Go-To-Market’ motions.

In terms of India, Neuro Flash has some experience in the market, especially from outside looking in. One thing that stood out from our market research was the importance of English. When we interviewed and surveyed potential customers in Hindi and English we found that 99% of respondents replied to us in English. However, this doesn’t mean that the English used in India will be completely familiar to Americans or Europeans. The underlying meanings and associations are often different and this is something Neuro Flash provides detailed insights into.

Armed with big data, we figure out the subconscious associations that underlie people’s thinking. For example, we’ve found that in chat conversations, using words that express “certainty” and “uncertainty” can increase the chance of a sale. On the other hand, focusing too much on abstract, amorphous terms like “justice”, “honor”, often decreases the chance of a sale.

But what’s most interesting is how linguistic associations relate to and relay the messaging of a brand. What startups should care about is whether people are adopting their brand language and brand persona, what the subconscious positioning of their brand is, and how this links to their market impact and positioning.

Through big data we already have a wealth of knowledge on linguistic associations regarding English spoken in India. We use this data to provide brand-positioning services to fortune 1000 companies and marketing services to startups to help optimize their performance. In India, we have begun working with other Microsoft alumni to improve their customer offerings and increase their sales. Ultimately, the data we are gathering provides us with the kind of in-depth and nuanced cultural insights that can help make or break a startup looking to enter a new market like India.

Get to know Dr. Jonathan T. Mall, CEO & Founder of Neuro Flash

Hobbies. Competitive laser tag (www.tilta.earth) in Europe’s biggest laser tag arena, where sessions last up to 2 hours and participants run up to 8 kilometers. Laser tag is a great way to relax and disconnect – there is so much going on that you can’t worry about your next investor meeting or company milestone. I’m also a big fan of escape rooms – they are fantastic!

Favorite restaurant. The Butcher in Amsterdam – they have the best burgers in the world!

Favorite place in Bangalore. Chai Point.

Most productive work spot. On my treadmill – I have a walking desk.