Are Some Indian Startups Lacking Innovation?

On April 7, 2010, in Startups, by Ramanujam

The Indian startup arena is undoubtedly a rapidly growing one with hundreds of passionate entrepreneurs. Being a part of the Proto.in team in the early stages was one of the best things that happened to me when i was an undergrad. It gave me the opportunity to meet some of the best inspirational minds who threw away cozy jobs to work on their start ups.  Inspiration is one vital thing to keep us going forward but what sucks is when that inspiration takes an ugly face and becomes a rip off. I can recall the lines from a talk given by Mahesh Murthy during the Delhi edition of Proto.in where he said there is no good reason to build the “Indian” version of Twitter or the “Indian” version of Flickr when the original versions are out there strong.

The ‘Indian version thing’ is completely fine and might even turn out really well but the bad thing is when the startup starts ripping off things from their western inspirations and this post is a small showcase! The point is not to hurt the people behind these companies but just to let out my thoughts. I bet these guys are burning their midnight oil to make things happen but some minute things like these are going to put the black mark which will definitely be hard to erase in the long run.

Infibeam from Amazon.com

Infibeam.com is one of the big names in the Indian e-commerce arena. The site’s alexa rank (~2340, Apr 2010) is a clear indication that they are receiving a pretty good inflow of traffic. I did read that the company’s founder was a part of the Amazon M&A team and there are rumors about Amazon acquiring them but neither of this is a reason to rip off the logo/design/color schemes. Not to leave aside the “PI reader”!

The color schemes used in Infibeam.com are also pretty similar (if not the exact hex code stolen from the stylesheet!).The layout isn’t different either.

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Destination:

Grabbon from Groupon

This is the kind of service where i said the Indian version will make good sense. A site like Groupon will definitely be beneficial for a city like Bangalore filled with a bazillion software engineers hooked on to the internet. Grabbon(!) did capitalize the opportunity well and started off at the right time but …..

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Destination:

There are also a handful of other indian websites which use the group buying concept and the story isn’t much different there. Exhibit : Group2Deal.com, Mydala.com

PS: If you are replicating the idea it doesn’t mean that the the menu navigation wordings, footer design etc need to be the same across all sites.

24HoursLoot from Woot

This one replicates the hugely popular ‘one day, one deal’ model. Not a big rip off and brownie points for not copying the design.

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Destination:

Bid20 from Swoopo

Bid20 is the Indian version of the bidding fee auction site Swoopo.com. Swoopo is a highly controversial site which made a revenue of $28 million dollars according to Wikipedia. The user has to pay money upfront and buy credits in order to make bids. This shopping model is pretty addictive as it gives the scope to get products at really low prices. No wonder this site is doing good in India!

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Destination:

I bet these are not the only ones which fall under this category. The only question which i have is “WHY”?

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5 Responses to Are Some Indian Startups Lacking Innovation?

  1. Here are a couple of reasons why I think indian startups copy their US counterparts:

    - Majority of us have learnt web designing ourselves by hacking away on built site designs. NO professional education.
    - We are unwilling to pay ~$500 for a professional designer to work on a unique design
    - No understanding of user testing, what the user actually wants and what works on the site.

    Tackle any two of the above, and you will see a refreshing change in the way Indian startups approach their online presence.

  2. AJ says:

    I believe there are plenty of online resources that can be called “professional” and are available for free. I know cost is a big factor but aren’t designers (graphic) in India economical to get too?

    Programmers are rarely designers, be it western world or eastern. Look at http://www.python.org/. It is designed by a bunch of hackers. Not the dirtiest design, but not something I would want to see as a design of an organization this big and influential (in at least 1 area).

    I think it is mostly because we in India are not focussed on what we actually want to do. We are told to ‘become’ something that ensures a decent salary for X number of years. Not a very bad choice I’d say, but then again, people who do not pursue their dreams/passion are not likely to become innovators in their bread-earning choice of field.

    * All above is IMHO.Thanks.

  3. Ramanujam says:

    @Shivaas

    I quite disagree with your first point. Most of the successful designers in US/UK are self taught. I bet every one started learning by hacking someone’s code like you said.

    With a large number of awesome tutorial sites providing step by step lessons, it is pretty lame to still rip off things.

    Unwillingness to shell out a few hundred bucks and not caring about the user are really really valid statements. But there are many indian startups which focus well. Hope the others follow suit.

    @AJ

    Totally! Apart from the online resources, there are also many talented UI/ Interface designers in India who do a really good job at an economical cost.

    What you have expressed is very true but these are guys who have taken the bold step to run a startup. What i feel is as an entrepreneur if you are doing something, then do it right and not for the sake of doing.

  4. I think indian version of the US site is mere a shortcut to get established easily. It’s not copying only designs but, the business model. I think during that process the copier think that having a similar design will give the user a feel and confidence of the original site and these aspects will help them promote their business and make more money.

    I hope only original ideas will search/research for new designs and layout and the mere copycat will try to get the site quickly up and running with the original site as reference with adapted contents for the local region.

    This just came up from my thoughts.

  5. VP says:

    No, innovation is not lacking instead opportunities to try a new concept is where we are lacking . For example even to just build a circuit you need money, so there are no organisations that can help innovation. I do not know about other nation but this is what science students are facing. What do you people say?

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