India – Three Countries

A few days ago, Founding Fuel posted a cogent piece by Haresh Chawla on How India’s digital economy can rediscover its mojo. In it, Chawla speaks about the current crisis of confidence surrounding the digital economy and the so-called unicorns. It’s a great piece on the realities of the startup mania, and has a lot to offer to many of us – regardless of the role we play in the ecosystem. What was most intriguing for me, however, was Chawla’s thoughts on how India is not just a huge mass of consumers as many in the western world mistakenly assume. Here’s how he articulates it…


India One: Club the top 2-tiers above and you find that the top 15% of Indians, i.e. about 150-180 million, earning an average of Rs 30,000 per month, are the ones who have money left over after buying necessities. These 15% of Indians control over half the spending power of the economy and almost its entire discretionary spending.

India Two: This is the middle 30% or 400-odd million Indians, earning an average of Rs 7,000 a month… They are the ones who “service” the $1 trillion market (yes, read that again) that India One represents… Of course, we report them as internet consumers in our slick presentations on Startup India.

India Three: These are the forgotten 650 million who subsist and don’t have the money to buy two square meals. Their incomes rival that of sub-Saharan Africa… However, they are the ones who form our vote banks and determine the political future of our nation.


Think about that for a minute. Yes, as Indians, we all know that there are huge disparities in the wealth that surrounds us. And that is unlikely to change in the short term. But to think of India in terms of “three countries” puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they were thinking of “building an app” as a path to striking it rich…

Of course, it is a silly notion to think that one app – any app – makes for a healthy and sustainable business model. And I’m sure the marketplace will address such misplaced notions appropriately, for the most of us who venture into this ‘glamorous’ territory completely uninformed about what lies ahead. But there is a larger issue at play, here.

Even if you don’t intend to start an app project on the side, if you’re reading this, you are most likely a part of the ‘India One’ that Chawla writes about, and therefore, in a position of some influence in Society. You are more likely to be involved in making decisions on behalf of your employers related to the products or services you manage. You are more likely to spend your waking hours in the pursuit of making your product or service available to consumers across categories – India Two and Three included.

Do we really understand the customer we seek to satisfy? Do we know what their world looks like? Do we identify with their trials and tribulations? Or do we assume that their lives more or less resemble our own, except for the fact that they don’t watch Star World or converse in the Queen’s English?

Think about India in terms of three different worlds, and you may just have a greater chance of success when it comes to translating your lofty ideas into success on the ground. After all, understanding your customer’s needs and addressing those needs profitably is the very foundation on which any business is built. Is it not?

Digital RoadMap: Making IT Work

This post first appeared in the Digital Marketing Consultants Special edition of Aug 2016 in Consultants Review, and is based on previous blog posts written on the Think! Blog. It aims to provide a snapshot of the essentials involved in creating a digital footprint for your product or service.


We have all come across staggering statistics of the Digital world… Every 60 seconds, we send or post more than 168 million emails, 11 million instant messages, 98,000 tweets and 695,000 Facebook updates. As a society, we share more content, from more sources, with more people, more often and more quickly. However, as organizations, we will need to understand the dynamics at play and harness these forces, before we can put it to work effectively.

Take the example of Retailing… While brick-and-mortar stores could always keep track of their inventory and know what was selling (and what was not), an online storefront enables the business to not only track what customers are buying, but also what else was considered during the buying process (cookies and server logs), what promotions influenced the outcome (ad impressions and banner optimization) and how other customers’ opinions helped or hurt the purchase (social media and comment analytics). A traditional business simply could not access such a vast repertoire of information, let alone act on it in a timely manner.

So, how can you go about making the most of this new, world order? What constitutes success in the Digital arena? Is there a roadmap you can follow?


What’s The Business Objective?

As Technology-savvy as they may be, your customers do not spend all their lives online. That is why every online initiative must be rooted in business fundamentals, and focused on improving Customer Engagement – not merely chasing the latest fad or ‘killer app’.

So, take the time to discuss your internals goals with the Leadership team, and define a Primary Business Need for your digital initiative. Are you trying to acquire new customers or address existing customers better? Are you focusing on improving profitability or reduce attrition? Is the goal an improved Channel Partner engagement or recall for the Brand?

At ThinkShop, we believe that a clear understanding of your Business Goal helps set the tone for your digital initiatives in a way that aligns them with internal processes and employee needs. And, that makes for sustainability and success.

Customer Centricity

Put your “customer” hat on, and think back to all the times you struggled with any product or service. More often than not, it wasn’t because the organization didn’t work out the chinks in a highly complex offering, but because the fundamentals were lacking. Customer Centricity, Customer Engagement, Customer Delight – call it what you may; It doesn’t do much if your organizational culture is focused on internal workings and challenges, and loses sight of who they are working for.

When we roll out bad design in a product or service, we disregard the customer. When we up-sell or cross-sell irrelevant offers to our customers, we disregard their wants. When we include a plethora of unnecessary terms and conditions hidden away in fine print, we disregard their needs.

Design matters. User Experience (UX) matters. So does listening to customer needs and trying your best to deliver on those needs. And, to do this, you need to be clear about your Primary Customer Target, so that you can align your efforts to that segment.


Digital Marketing = Digital + Marketing

Marketing is, essentially, about addressing customer needs in a relevant manner. And, Digital Marketing is no exception.

You need to go where your customers are, and offer your product or service to them in a manner that they can identify with. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your customers look like you and behave like you do. The key is to understand their needs and wants, and try to offer a solution that best matches those needs – whether it is an NFC-based or contactless payment option, or simply reduced response times for an online help ticket.

A word of caution: It helps to have a sense of how your suppliers’ business model works. e.g. If your agency or platform of choice makes money based on the throughput of emails on your behalf, it has a monetary incentive to push for more emails and campaigns, at the cost of privacy or relevance. Remember, it is your reputation on the line, not their’s. So, choose wisely.


How Much Is Too Much?

It’s no surprise that we are inundated with data and marketing messages from all sides. Experts estimate that over 90% of all data was generated just in the last two years, and the rate of data creation is exploding each year.

In this crazy world, some social media and digital experts will have you believe that, if you want to “engage” with your customers, you will need to embrace almost every social network out there, and churn out updates every hour, or publish new blog posts multiple times a month. But, where do we draw the line? And, who is reading all that content?

My advice: Don’t try to be everywhere at once. Instead, choose one or two modes of engagement that you think you can manage well, and start with that, to establish a two-way dialogue with your primary target audience.


Defining Success

Even before you begin the project, I recommend that you have clarity of what success (or failure) will look like for your Technology initiative. Don’t forget to define a timeframe to achieve this goal and communicate it to key stakeholders.

What are the metrics that matter? Is it overall/unique visitors to your website? Or perhaps, number of online purchases? Or even, repeat visits vs dropouts? Think of the metrics you want to focus on, so you can capture relevant data from day one. Rinse and repeat for every new initiative or promotion.

Finally, if all this is too overwhelming, or you don’t have the resources to manage it internally, it pays to hire a consultant who understands this space well, and the objectives your business is trying to achieve.


This post is not about how to recover from a crashed disk. It’s about how not to let a disk crash affect you in the first place…

A few weeks ago, the hard disk of my home computer crashed. Just like that. It wouldn’t turn back on. I ran some diagnostics using a recovery drive to check if there was any chance of salvaging it (the hardware, not the data), but there wasn’t. So I unplugged it, ordered another one, and went about my business on another device.

When the new drive arrived a few days later, it took me less than 30 minutes to have it up and running with every thing I needed. No data files to transfer. No settings to copy down or migrate. No nothing.

This was the goal when I began moving to a device-independent setup a few years ago. Piece by piece, I had successfully moved every thing I ever do on a computer to the cloud, so that if the day came when my hard disk crashed, I would not be affected.

And, it was satisfying to see that it worked! Today, all the mobile and computing devices I use (at home or at work) are irrelevant when it comes to the data they work with. It’s all online. Synced in real time. No fuss. No muss.

Here’s what works for me…


  • Google Calendar – To manage multiple calendars online; Synced across devices
  • GMail – For my work/personal emails; Synced across devices
  • Google Drive – For all my personal work documents; Synced across home PCs/laptops I frequently use
  • – For all home/common documents; Synced across PCs
  • Evernote – For long notes; Synced across devices
  • SimpleNote – For short notes; Synced across devices
  • Google Photos – To backup any photos I shoot (on the phone/cameras) to my Google account
  • Pocket (plus its Chrome Extension) – To save any bookmarks from my phone or PC that I need to read/retrieve later
  • ToDoist (plus its Chrome Extension) – To save any To Do items (with/without reminders) from my phone or PC

Mobile Devices:

  • An Android device serves as my primary mobile phone
  • All my Contacts are saved on a Google account – nothing is saved/stored on the phone
  • SMS Backup & Restore – To periodically save SMS messages & threads (when migrating from one phone to another)
  • Google Photos – To auto backup any photos shot on my mobile device
  • Apps for SimpleNote, Evernote, ToDoist, Pocket and Drive, as above

Second Level Backups:

  • All documents & pictures from any computers I use are also backed up – once a year – to two external (portable) hard disks… This goes in a folder with the name YYYY
  • I also keep one of the two external disks in a remote location as an offsite backup, just in case

That’s it, really! This simple setup now enables me to work from anywhere, with instant access to all my data, as long as I have an Internet connection. Plus, if one device fails, I can literally switch over to another in minutes, without any loss of data.


Digital Impact: A Closer Look


This post first appeared on YourStory in July 2016…


Around 40% of the world population has an internet connection today; In 1995, it was less than 1%. KPCB’s 2016 Internet Trends report pegged India as the second largest Internet user-base in the world, with China at the lead and the US now in number 3 position. Indians already feature among the largest users of What’sApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, globally. But, is this making a difference across all sections of our society, or is the access restricted to a privileged few?


In other words, do we still have a Digital Divide to contend with?
And, if so, what is being done about it?


A few weeks ago, I drove down the Mumbai-Pune Expressway to visit some slum areas in Pune. The idea was to visit the National Digital Literacy Mission ( centers being run by the Digital Empowerment Foundation ( to see, first-hand, the kind of work being done at the grassroots level to impact Digital Literacy in India.

Prior to the visit, I had been in touch with Osama Manzar – the Founder & Head of DEF India – who had helped me connect with Rahul Tirpude – their Regional Coordinator for Maharashtra. Rahul oversees operations in DEF’s centers across the state, and was excited to hear that I intended to make a visit to the Pune centers in the days to come. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. A little context, before we begin…


Community Resources

If, like me, you are not already aware of NDLM, it will help to know that the Govt. of India has an ongoing mission – National Digital Literacy Mission – aimed at “making one person in every family digitally literate”, as an integral component of the Digital India vision.

To that end, the NDLM partners with NASSCOM, various corporate sponsors, training partners and implementation partners to operate NDLM centers across the country, ensuring that folks in rural and economically-backward areas have access to basic digital education via a month-long computer literacy program.

And, that’s where DEF India comes in. DEF India runs 150+ Community Information Resource Centers (CIRCs) across India, delivering computer literacy programs for folks in rural areas. Having done this for many years, DEF India was the candidate of choice to join hands with NDLM as its implementation partner, and help deploy centers on their behalf.


Grass Roots

Thanks to the hospitality of Rahul, during my two days in Pune, I was able to visit the NDLM centers at the slums of Rahul Nagar and Yamuna Nagar, meet with the team that helps run them, interact with the students, and also visit one of the homes in the community.

It was a thoroughly informative experience, and I was very pleased to see the efforts being put in place by the team to spread Digital Literacy at the grassroots level, despite the obvious challenges. And, challenges are aplenty…

The space in which such centers are run is often arranged for by local corporators “donating” a local gym that is no longer in use, or a small room built on a temple ground, or some such communal facility. While rural locations are relatively clean, slum areas tend to harbour unhygienic surroundings with access paths that may be difficult to traverse. In one such location, there was also an ongoing dispute between two sub-communities that lived in the same zone but refused to “share” any common facility – since the centre was technically located in one sub-community’s area, the other wanted an independent centre to be built in their area so that they could patronize it!

It’s not just about the space. Such economically-backward areas face a number of other difficulties. Anti-social elements are a common sight in these neighbourhoods, families sometimes discourage their youth and women-folk from attending such programs, and finally, there is the matter of how to make time for this when you are busy holding down a job as a domestic maid or the housekeeping staff in a nearby mall.

However, despite these challenges, the program offers tremendous hope… Once the students enrol, qualified trainers deliver the month-long program in sessions of one hour each day, in a variety of local languages if needed. The students at these centers showed an eagerness to learn and seemed to have a genuine interest in showing up and doing their bit. On interacting with them, I found that the number one need voiced by them was: “How can I keep my education going, once the month is up?”

Imagine that! Here are folks that struggle to make ends meet, and live in conditions that most of us would consider challenging. Yet, after taking the first steps towards digital literacy, all they want is to learn more.


How Can We Help?

Every drop makes the ocean. While I was visiting these centers, I took the opportunity to donate some of my technology devices, books and accessories under the MeraByte program that DEF India runs (inviting folks to “donate all kinds of old and used (but functional) devices or accessories to make them available to the underserved”). Based on my interactions with the staff and students, I also drafted a few suggestions for DEF India which they have promised to take to next steps.

The fact is, some of these ideas are not limited to any one institution, and can be implemented over a much wider canvas. I’m sharing just two of them with you in the hope that they may spur new thoughts, or inspire you to take a small (or big?) role in any way you can…


  1. Community Libraries

Some locations can be used to setup a small Library for the community members. Access to large corporates, and initiatives like MeraByte, can be used to mobilize books on Technology, Internet, Communication, etc. Organizations can also donate their monthly subscription issues of Technology magazines, once the current month is through. All these can make for a robust resource for the community to be use as a reference or lending centre, enabling their ongoing education.


  1. Community Learnings

A website or discussion forum can help assimilate learnings on such community initiatives, to assess what works and what doesn’t, and invite suggestions. This will help shape thoughts and actions of those who want to contribute to the cause, making them more relevant. Folks that run community centers will also be able to tap into this shared resource to run local experiments or implement additional initiatives that may be applicable to their centers.


Some of you may already be in influential positions at large corporates that have CSR initiatives underway, while others may want to help in an individual capacity. Naturally, the “digital community” at large, can also be a part of the entire process, contributing via ideas, inputs, connections and more.

And, the issues are not limited to basic digital literacy. When we think of mobile apps and start-ups mushrooming all over cool areas like Powai & Koramangala in metros like Mumbai & Bengaluru, we are essentially talking about urban solutions designed by urban folks to address urban needs. But India, like Mahatma Gandhi once said, “lives in her villages”. And, those folks represent thousands of millions of users with real needs and real problems that need real solutions.

Not all of them speak English – they need solutions that work in local languages. Not all of them behave as a homogenous group – they need folks to understand their specific context and design solutions for them. Not all of them have access to computers – they need the Internet to be mobile.

There are already a few bright sparks among us who understand this predicament, and are working on solutions based on Technology focused on the underserved. But, much more needs to be done in this arena before we can rest easy. I may have barely scratched the surface with regard to understanding the various dynamics at play. But, I believe the efforts already underway will make a real difference at the grassroots level, as long as we keep the momentum going.

2016 Internet Trends

Mary Meeker at KPCB recently released the 2016 edition of the Internet Trends Report. At over 200 slides, it is indeed a treasure trove of information on the growing popularity of the Internet, and on the macro-economic trends that will shape our lives in the days to come.

Here are just a few elements that struck me as noteworthy…


Global Internet Users @ 3 Bn and 42% penetration

India Internet User Growth accelerating at +40% year on year

India Internet Users @ 277 Mn passed US to become #2 global market after China

Internet Retail on the rise bolstered by Always-On Connectivity + Hyper Targeted Marketing

Internet is now 10% of Retail Sales vs <2% in 2000

Video Usage, Sophistication and Relevance continues to grow rapidly

Voice as Computing Interface gains prominence with accuracy reaching >90%

Global Smartphone Users slowing at +21% year on year (vs +31% last year)

Global GDP Growth slowing = Growth in 6 of last 8 years below 20-year average

Interest Rates have fallen to historically low levels; Total Global Debt are high and rising faster than GDP

Demographic Trends = Slowing population growth, Slowing birth rates, Increasing life spans

Economic Growth slowing + Margins for Error declining = Easy Growth is behind us


Here is the entire report. Bookmark it and read it.

Content Marketing – How Much Is Enough?

It’s no surprise that we are inundated with data and marketing messages from all sides. Experts estimate that over 90% of all data was generated just in the last two years, and the rate of data creation is exploding each year. Just to quote one statistic: “Every minute, up to 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube alone!” Think about that for a minute.

In this crazy world, social media and digital experts will have you believe that, if you want to “engage” with your customers, you will need to embrace almost every social network out there, and churn out updates every hour, or publish new blog posts multiple times a month. But, where do we draw the line? And, who is reading all that content?

How much is too much? It’s a pertinent question to ask in today’s times.


Mark Schaefer posits in Content Shock that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy:

…The volume of free content is exploding at a ridiculous rate. Depending on what study you read, the amount of available web-based content (the supply) is doubling every 9 to 24 months. Unimaginable, really.


However, our ability to consume that content (the demand) is finite. There are only so many hours in a day and even if we consume content while we eat, work and drive, there is a theoretical and inviolable limit to consumption, which we are now approaching.


Like any good discussion on economics, this is rooted in the very simple concept of supply and demand. When supply exceeds demand, prices fall. But in the world of content marketing, the prices cannot fall because the “price” of the content is already zero – we give it away for free. So, to get people to consume our content, we actually have to pay them to do it, and as the supply of content explodes, we will have to pay our customers increasing amounts to the point where it is not feasible any more.


That makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever tried to sustain a blog or a social media account on behalf of a brand/product/service, you’d know how hard it really is to keep churning out something of value, not just more of the same.

By the way, the “paying people to read” that Schaefer is talking about includes paying with your time – the work you put in to generate all that quality content. Naturally, in such a world, deep pockets win and entry barriers become impossibly high. And, the only players that benefit are those who are selling the modern-day shovels for the gold rush of today – The Facebooks and Googles of the world that monetize the platforms that we want to keep using, to reach our target customers with more and more content…

This is not just a social media problem. It affects email – the most fundamental form of electronic communication prevalent today.


Seth Godin points out the hazards of relying on over-zealous SPAM filters in his blog post, The Choke Points:

Google (also) automatically moves many Mailchimp newsletters to your promo folder in gmail. As well as airline alerts, school newsletters and more. Without asking you first. Plenty of babies in that bathwater. This error violates the do-not-harm principle… If people trust you to deliver their email, then deliver it.


Google’s spam filter is a revelation, it’s free and it works, most of the time. The challenge they face, though, is when they start to ratchet up what they filter. The number of things you are counting on getting by email keeps going up, and we need to be able to count on this medium to keep us informed.


When an AI engine or algorithm is in charge of “curating” the content we read, it will have consequences that are far reaching.

Is there a solution? Does the answer lie in cutting back? Could we possibly reduce the amount of content we are putting out?

I think the answer will vary depending on your position in the food chain. If you are one of the “deep pockets”, you’ll probably want to keep going about your business, as you’ve done for so long. If, on the other hand, you are a fledgling startup, or small business, or (god forbid!) a solopreneur, then I’d advise you to bite no more than you can chew.

For me, the right fit is a blog post every month or so, and a tweet every other day, except on some occasions when I tweet out stuff from a conference or something newsworthy. To save time, I also cross-post content from one social network to another, and don’t have a Instagram or Pinterest account. For you, the answer may be somewhat different.

How much is enough? It’s a pertinent question to ask in today’s times.


If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh

Communication Design Essentials

ThinkShop works with many clients in the domain of Marketing Strategy. And, “marketing” comes down to Communication Design that works. It’s not really rocket science, but most folks still seem to get it wrong.

If you’re new to it, here are 7 simple but powerful tips to help you get started…


1. Know Your Customer – There is simply no substitute to this. Whatever your business, you need a develop a very good understanding of your target audience.


2. Primary Target – Every new venture can attempt to address multiple customer segments, but it pays to know your “primary” target group. Once you agree on who they are, focus maximum efforts on those.


3. Don’t Ramble – When designing any element of communication, it is important to keep the content clear and concise. Don’t ramble. No one wants to wade through it to find what’s relevant.


4. Tell A Story – Whenever possible, tell a compelling story. It’s the easiest and most engaging way to reach your audience.


5. Establish Credibility – New brand? New concept? Every one needs to establish credibility with the audience. Use Social Proof, if necessary.


6. Start With A Bang! – If you are crafting a written piece in long-form, start with your most important agenda item, instead of eventually getting down to it in the seventh paragraph (or worse, ending with it!). Most folks won’t be going through its entire length.


7. Call To Action – End with the action you expect your readers to take, guiding them to the results you want, instead of leaving it to them to decide.

These can go a long way in making your Marketing efforts more effective. And once you get cracking with some of these, you can always engage with a professional that can help take your initiatives to the next level.

The Technological Indian

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Prof. Ross Bassett of North Carolina State University on the subject of M.I.T. and the Technological Indian. In that lecture, I discovered some surprising facts about the history of Technology in India and at MIT. Here is a small glimpse…


During World War II, about 200,000 soldiers came to India, and circa 1945, saw the establishment of the US Office of War Information at Hornsby Street. This also housed the earliest version of the American Library, which was how information on M.I.T. first became available to Indians!


Some of India’s best-known industrialists – Adi Godrej, Ramesh Chauhan, Aditya Birla, etc. are M.I.T. graduates; G.D. Birla also pursued senior members at M.I.T. to seek their help in shaping the vision and setup at BITS Pilani


Between 1861 and 2000, more than 1,300 Indians graduated from the M.I.T. campus; The first Indian at M.I.T. was Keshav Malhar Bhat from Pune in 1882, after which no other Indian went for the 20 years that followed


Lokmanya Tilak’s English weekly – Mahratta – regularly carried features from western publications, thanks to the advent of steamboats and the printing press; As early as April 1884, the Kesari (published in Marathi) wrote an editorial on the need for an “industrial school” in India to be modeled on the lines of the M.I.T. campus, even though the M.I.T. model was not yet fully demonstrated in the US!


Mahatma Gandhi was also associated with several Indian students who went to M.I.T., including penning a recommendation for a few that sought financial aid.


The modern computer was also created to a large extent at M.I.T. between 1946 and 1970


Finally, TCS, Datamatics, Infosys and other large I.T. giants owe their origins to M.I.T as well, establishing the foundation of the I.T. industry in India!


What a fascinating look at Technology through the eyes of a modern historian! Thank you, Prof. Bassett for an enlightening afternoon.

Big Data: The New, World Order

This post first appeared in the CIOReview magazine in Nov 2015…


On Monday, 24 Aug 2015, 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family. That’s billion with a “b”. Just on one day.

Every 60 seconds, we send or post 168 million emails, 11 million instant messages, 98,000 tweets and 695,000 Facebook updates. Every minute, more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube alone.

What does this mean for individuals and organizations? How does “Big Data” shape the world around us? How can we use it to our advantage?


What is “Big Data”?

The term “Big Data” refers to an exponential growth and availability of data, both structured and unstructured, that is difficult to process using traditional (database and software) techniques. Such data, when captured and analysed, can help an organization gain useful insights, ranging from customer retention to increasing revenues.

In a research report in 2001, industry analyst Doug Laney articulated three defining characteristics of Big Data: 1. Volume, 2. Velocity and 3. Variety…


Volume refers to the fact that Big Data does not sample; it merely observes and tracks what happens. Think of it as N=all.
Wikipedia asserts that “Big Data size is a constantly moving target, ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data”. And it will only continue to grow as we adopt more modes of communication and connectivity.

Velocity implies that Big Data is available in real time, and not after all the action is over.

When scientists first decoded the human genome in 2003, it took them nearly a decade to sequence all the three billion pairs – a task that can now be done in a day. The pace at which data is being generated is increasing exponentially. So, it follows, that the pace at which it can be used must also be in sync.

Variety means that Big Data is available in a variety of formats – structured and unstructured.

Maps are data, and so are GPS coordinates. Tweets are data, so are likes on your friend’s Facebook post. The photos you share on Instagram are data, and so are the sentiments of your fans and followers.


Experts estimate that over 90% of world’s data was generated over the last two years; More data has been created in the last couple of years than in the entire history of the human race. Some folks like to think of Big Data as data that cannot be handled by an Excel worksheet, while others argue that it’s not so much the actual size of the data, as what you do with it.

Whichever way you look at it, Big Data implies a vast quantity of data that we now have the ability to process in real-time.


“Big Data” Thinking

“Big Data” thinking allows you to do things at a large scale that simply cannot be done at a smaller one.

Let’s take the example of Retailing. While brick-and-mortar stores could always keep track of their inventory and know what was selling (and what was not), an online storefront enables the business to not only track what customers are buying, but also what else was considered during the buying process (cookies and server logs), what promotions influenced the outcome (ad impressions and banner optimization) and how other customers’ opinions helped or hurt the purchase (social media and comment analytics). A traditional business could not access such a vast repertoire of information, let alone act on it in a timely manner.

Access to large volumes of data also impacts how we work with it.

Until recently, most of our experiences were based on “small data” thinking, wherein we developed elaborate techniques (like sampling methods) to use as little data as possible. In fact, the need for sampling is a relic of the analogue era – a time when information was too scarce and too expensive to collate. Think census, for instance. By definition, a census is a complex exercise, and one that involves considerable cost and resources. Therefore, it is conducted only rarely.

But, when all of the data is available at hand, our reliance on ‘exactitude’ can take a back seat. More data often means it’s ok for it to be more messy, as long as we get a sense of general direction, with more accurate insights at the macro level.


The Enterprise Challenge

In enterprise, traditional notions of using data have often involved concepts like data warehouses, management information systems, and extract- transform-load (ETL) operations to make the data more usable for decision making. But, that approach does not help Amazon offer recommendations to customers, based on what they (and other customer groups) are adding to their shopping carts, in near real-time.

The fact is that data doesn’t just reside in neat tables inside the enterprise. Mobile devices, sensors, scanners, microphones, GPS devices, programs, software, social media, cameras – almost every electronic device or service around you generates data. There are already more than 4.6 billion mobile-phone users across the globe, with Cisco estimating that there will be 50 Billion+ devices and objects (IoT) connected to the cloud by 2020.

That’s why organizations will need to understand their customers in all their dimensions, and learn how to work with the vast amount of data being generated every day.

Consider the example of a website revamp or a new mobile app being developed on behalf of a large enterprise. When organizations start taking their first steps towards gathering data, it is typically in response to a very specific need, and often based on the assumption that building processes and mechanisms to collect, store and analyse data on a large set of parameters will be resource-intensive. Accordingly, they may conclude that it is better to stick to a few parameters that are high priority and of immediate value, rather than build the means to track every thing.

But, “Big Data” thinking shows us that the opposite is true – patterns can emerge from large data sets of seemingly trivial information, if only we had enough data along with the means to track and analyse it. And today, we do.

In a “Big Data” world, ‘more’ trumps ‘better’, messiness (in a very, very large data set) trumps high accuracy (from a small sample), and tags yield better insights than taxonomies.


A New, World Order

We may just be at the beginning of a revolution that will shape every one of us, for years to come.

Google Flu Trends already uses search terms, combined with mathematical models, to predict the spread of the flu virus long before the CDC is able to spot it. In Finance, two-thirds of the US equity market is already traded by computer algorithms that crunch enormous amounts of data to predict gains and reduce risk. As more and more organizations gain a better understanding of how the world of Big Data works, they will be in a better position to put it to work.

The digital age has already given us the means to collect, store and analyse enormous quantities of data, with ease. We now live in a society that shares more content, from more sources, with more people, more often and more quickly. Cloud computing is now available at our fingertips, offering us access to highly-scalable infrastructure at affordable costs.

What’s needed is a change in our thinking. What’s needed is for us to embrace the new, world order.

ECommerce in India

ECommerce is booming. And India is where the action is. When stories of “unicorns” (startups with a valuation of more than 1 Bn) are all around us, it helps to take stock of where the industry is at, and where it’s headed.

Here are some statistics from a recent story in the Economic Times on how far the ECommerce industry has come… (I’m skipping valuation and VC money figures, and focusing on customer stats instead)


Pregnancy, Birth & Childhood: Online baby care represents <10% of the $10 Bn market, growing at 17% a year; Currently clocks approx. 2,500 daily shipments across three major players


Education & Learning: $100 Bn market and booming; Student population rose 28% to 315 Mn in the last decade; However, lack of significant success stories in this arena


Grocery: Of the $500 Bn retail market in India, $290 Bn is grocery; Largest player – BigBasket – processes approx. 20,000 orders a day; 1 Mn people order groceries via apps every day, growing at 30% every month


Home Services: About 100 services on offer, with 20,000 daily users across the top 5 metros; $100 Mn market size, but challenging in terms of trained manpower and timely delivery


Shopping: Top players are diversified managed marketplaces mostly; Less than 2% of the $500 Bn retail market is online – plenty of room for growth; Hyper competition has resulted in heavy discounting and companies are unable to make profits currently; Top players clock >100k shipments a day to about 25k pincodes across India


Furniture & Home Decor: Offers high margins (60-70%) and not very susceptible to discounting; Market is pegged at $32 Bn and posied to grow to $70 Bn by 2020; Less than 1% is currently online; Average ticket size is Rs. 18,000; By 2018, online furniture sales is expected to reach $1 Bn


Taxi Booking: $10 Bn market size with brutal competition among two leading, disruptive players; Now expanding into courier and delivery services as well; Approx. 1 Mn users book cabs every day via apps in 100+ cities


Eating Out: Food ordering is a $15 Bn a year business, with Zomato now operational in 22 countries; Indian players service upto 10,000 orders daily via their apps with a few key players in fierce competition akin to Taxi aggregators


Travel & Entertainment: E-Ticketing is one of the most penetrated with 40% of rail tickets via IRCTC; Hotels and airline tickets are increasingly booked online; Huge opportunity to connect with wallet and other partners to add value


Assets, Properties & Cars: Tata Housing sold flats worth Rs. 50 crores online; Property is an overcrowded space, and used cars is a booming opportunity; New car sales still happen mostly through showrooms


Wallet & Bill Payment: New licences issued by RBI to 11 banks recently; Market size for mobile wallet is Rs. 350 crores, expected to grow to Rs. 1,200 crores by 2019; PayTM – the largest player – has 100 Mn users with an average wallet size of Rs. 350


Refurbished & Used Goods: Market estimated at $15 Bn; Platforms enable about 2 Mn transactions a month with an approx. GMV of $4 Bn


Social Networking & Jobs: India has the second-largest user base for almost all key social platforms; At 350 Mn internet users, India still has a long way to go for 100% penetration; Facebook has >110 Mn users in India; LinkedIn has become an alternate to job portals


Healthcare: Diagnostics alone is a $15 Bn market, and the overall healthcare opportunity is $100 Bn; Every month 20 Mn users book 20,000+ appointments via apps, but presence remains mostly limited to large cities


Insurance & Retirement Planning: Online term products cheaper by almost 35%, but only 2% of the business has gone online; PolicyBazaar sells about 40,000 policies every month


Others: Lingerie worth nearly $30 Mn is sold online; Lenskart ships >1,000 spectacles a day; The domestic gems & jewellery market is Rs. 1.2 lakh crore, while the lingerie market is approx. Rs. 4,000 crore, but less than 1% has gone online

Here are some more statistics from Mint…

Power: $68 Bn – GDP loss estimated due to electricity shortage across India

Infrastructure: $10 Bn – Traffic congestion costs per year

Healthcare: 1 doctor per 1,700 people currently

Financial Inclusion: 120 Mn households without a bank account


Startup Statistics:

  • Approx. 80-85k currently employed’ 3-4 startups born each day
  • $4.9 Bn investments made in 2015
  • 65+ M&A deals; 110+ incubators/accelerators; 290+ active angels; 155+ active VCs/PEs
  • 4,200-4,400 startups currently in India – 3rd highest after US & UK
  • $2.5-2.7 Mn is the average valuation of startups of which 13-15% are in ecommerce
  • 28 is the average age of startup founders

For some of you, these numbers may prove that the market is already saturated, while others may see an opportunity for growth. Whichever way you look at it, exciting times are afoot!

Note: Source of data – Various industry estimates as reported in Economic Times and Mint.