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Nikhil D'Rozario

Chief Strategy Officer, Head Incubation & Director Finance, Starfish Growth Partners

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Ideas, Innovation, Individuals: India’s Quest For Standardizing Disruption

Disruption doesn’t mean taking an existing concept and doing it better. It involves the creation of a low end market that can scale to billions of users at a low ticket size.

Let’s play a quick game of ‘Identify the Disruptor’. In the below list, can you spot the idea or technology that fits in the definition of being a ‘disruption’?

Google Search Engine | Tesla Electric Vehicles | Uber (ride hailing app) | Coursera

If you guessed any of the above, you’d be wrong. In the 90’s, Clayton Christenson coined the definition of the term ‘disruption’ as the process by which smart, agile and focussed newcomers can take on established market leaders with a fraction of their resources. While all the aforementioned examples are great examples of business success, they cannot stake claim to be being true pioneers in their domains. 

Disruption doesn’t mean taking an existing concept and doing it better. It involves the creation of a low end market that can scale to billions of users at a low ticket size. Since reach is of paramount importance, it is not surprising to see digital leading the march to disruption. YouTube and Netflix are ideal disruptor examples that identified evolving consumer behaviour and was able to create a technology platform that influences more than half of the content that the world consumes today. 

Former WhatsApp co-founder and Executive Chairman of the Signal Foundation, Brian Acton, recently attested to the growing stature of India in the global product narrative. He claimed that one of his key learnings was that if you build for India, you build for the world. Indeed, India’s consumer economy is no longer a secret. With 500 million or more, upwardly mobile users connected through affordable 4G connections, few markets are as fertile as India for rapid internet product adoption. Having the right market place is the fuel that is needed to spark innovation and India has the right mix. 

In a world that sometimes overstates the legend of companies that affect real change in the way we live, it can be hard to distinguish true innovation from mere enablers. At last count, Indians have founded 61 unicorns. However, 40 of those companies have not been built in India. The US and Europe are popular breeding grounds for Indians looking to develop world class innovation. This points to a pressing need for an ecosystem that allows innovation to flourish. While Bangalore and Hyderabad have rapidly climbed the ranks of innovation cluster zones across the world, India needs to reimagine how we nurture ideas. 

Creating successful businesses from ideas with disruptive potential requires the alignment of people, capital and timing. Especially in India, where key elements of the early stage entrepreneurial ecosystem have a lot of catching up to do, creating impactful industry ripples can seem a far-fetched value proposition. Founders need to understand that disruption is not just an end goal but an attitude and culture ethos. When the entire team of focused on enabling disruption through the same development principles, magic can occur. Fragmented focus can lead to bad product strategy and poor market fit. The people impact on innovation is probably the most understated and least understood factor in long term success. 

An inordinately high number of start-ups in India fail to reach the 5 year benchmark because they lack in innovation. The venture capital and incubation ecosystem needs to quickly change gears to be able to truly nurture innovation. Founders should have the flexibility to focus on their product and customer while receiving the right guidance on important business functions like growth, sales and marketing. India is in the cusp of transforming from a consumer economy into a creator economy and it needs to elevate innovation priority for the innovation ecosystem to flourish. For that, we cannot look at disruption as just an end goal but an attitude and cultural DNA.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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