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“Capital is Chasing India”- Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India.

The opportunity that exists in the Indian landscape is amazing. The kind of diversity that we have .The kind of numbers that we can work with in the digital space.

This discussion was part of India Internet Day by TIE Delhi NCR. It was a keynote on Unboxing Innovation and Empowering Startups.

President of Microsoft India Anant Maheshwari. He has been running all products and segments of Microsoft in India. Under Anant’s leadership the company has transformed in India as a cloud first company.

Given the business that you run. All the things that you do that start-ups need. From Azure to all the investment programs. You’ve invested in companies like Ola. You’ve got a unique view about Indian start-ups. In the Indian start-up ecosystem what excites you but at the same time what worries you?

The opportunity that exists in the Indian landscape is amazing. The kind of diversity that we have. The kind of numbers that we can work with in the digital space. The second thing is capital. Capital is chasing India. The Angel Capital is readily available. In that angel capital, is experience. Earlier the capital that came in was just money there was no experience with that capital. Now when you have the angels you get that 10-20 years of what has happened and knowledge with that capital. The third thing is talent. You look at Linkedin and you figure out where is the talent in the world three countries come to mind USA, China and India. In a way it goes down to the fundamentals of economics land, labour and capital. If you look at that fundamentals there is no better place than this country. On the question of what is concerning. I believe that there is still friction in the market. Out ecosystems and our governments make things interesting for us. Friction exists whether its tax laws, or it is the way you get going. In the capital space. In the PE/VC route there is still a lack of experience. Even though this will get better with time.

Can you elaborate a little bit more on the friction point? Mainly from a start-up and technological stand point.

There is friction in every country. There are different kinds of biases that exist for start ups in any part of the world. For me it’s part of the game. It’s the dialogue that is happening that is important. There are enough voices saying that this should not be happening. There is enough focus on saying that India is about start-ups. So let’s make it happen.

If you look at B2B SaaS (Software as a service) companies. There are only two. ZOHO and Freshworks. I would love to get your take on why there aren’t fast growing large SaaS companies?

The ‘metoo’ phase of starting up companies in India which imitated what is happening globally and bringing that from China and USA. I think that is wrong. There is mere desire to see what’s new. Then if you see the other part of Indian landscape. There are three types of companies large, medium and small to medium companies (SME). Now, the medium sized companies barely have debt. Smaller business more or less beg borrow steal and run their businesses. The large companies were building their own company or are now buying. The market didn’t exist. The only market you could go serve is the global market. The market that companies like ZOHO and Freshworks serve are the global SME market which is the medium sized market in India. There is a very large market in India. Last three years everything has changed. With what is happening with Jio in the market, with mobility in the market, the telecom market. There is so much that has changed that the market is just ripe for disruption in the SME space. I do think MuSigma and InMobi are great examples. They are moving to the enterprise side. The fastest unicorn created is Udaan in India and they are serving the SME market. The fast growth that you will see is not in the consumer model but in the SaaS model. There is money to be made if you have positive cash flow. I have a lot of positivity for the future.

As an investor you are going to invest in a SaaS start-up. Do you think there is a possibility of building a 50 million SaaS company in India?

Absolutely. If you look at what happened with Jio. That is the fastest growth of customer in the world. Faster than Google and Facebook.That is the scale at which India operates. Whether you go and take 10 Rs from SME every month and there are 10million SMEs. It is a completely different equation. To me the value of India is in the bottom of the Pyramid supply that is there.

AI is the single most important tech topic globally these days. What is India’s place in the Global AI map?

Most people think AI is new. AI is actually 6 decades old,1960, Alan Turing in MIT was working on AI. Lots of people were trying to make AI work. However data analytics didn’t exist to make that happen. In the last 2-3 years AI has become a big thing. Analytics, Big data and cloud all three have come together at the same time and that’s why AI is real now and it will scale. The situation between US, China and India. The question is which three countries have Analytics, Big data and cloud. US, China and India all have this capability. India is at a unique place where a bunch of companies are doing the work. Even the global players like Google, Microsoft are working on AI in India. With the ethics and trust in place the AI that will be developed in this ecosystem is potentially the best. If you look at the next 5 years the ethics and trust that is in place in AI in any country will be a deciding factor on how much trust the users will put in AI. That is the play India has in the AI space.

Where do you think is the big play for Indian start-ups in AI?

Health, Fintech, Commerce in general, logistics, governance. There is an opportunity for the government to bring the power of AI to 300 million people. For the people who need skilling for work. You can use AI to empower 300 million people. Opportunities are there in variety of sectors. The first opportunity is obviously in health. In which country will you find a billion pairs of eyes, hearts? To map out the health of the users. The opportunities are tremendous. There is so much that will happen in the bottom of the pyramid finance.

Talk a little bit about the programs for start-ups in Microsoft?

First up there is Microsoft Scaleup which is a program. Which used to be the accelerator previously or M12 which is another program. If you ask the question why did InMobi choose Microsoft. When it had the entire world running after it. InMobi didn’t choose Microsoft for the money. It chose Microsoft for two other assets that are fundamental to any business. We truly believe that we will provide capabilities, technology etc. to any start-up which will infuse in the business of the start-up. Where the IP is still owned by the company. The second thing is the sales capabilities. InMobi gets access to forty thousand sales people of Microsoft. We look for companies that have unique capabilities. 


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