The recent Cambridge Analytica imbroglio involving the abuse of user data and privacy on Facebook evoked worldwide outrage both in the mainstream press and on social media. One particular tweet read as follows, “Beginning to wonder if it’s time to consider having our own social networking company that is very widely owned & professionally managed & willingly regulated. Any relevant Indian startups out there?”

What was interesting about this quip was that it wasn’t made by a casual Twitter user accustomed to proferring worldviews on all and sundry topics or even by a startup founder or investor looking for the “next big thing” in the world of social networking. The man behind the tweet answers to the name Anand Mahindra. The billionaire chairman of one of India’s largest and most reputed conglomerates, Mahindra has been included in the list of  “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune magazine and has a long list of other achievements and honorifics to his name.

Anand Mahindra’s tweet on 26 Mar, 2018

More importantly, Mahindra is an innovator with a deep understanding of technology and how to leverage it for solving business problems. This is readily apparent in his business ventures—for instance, in the automobile sector where the $19-billion Mahindra Group is a prominent player, his is the only company in India that manufactures electric vehicles today. It is also one of the few automobile majors worldwide that has already stepped into the world of autonomous vehicles by rolling out a semi-autonomous tractor aimed at helping farmers in India tackle issues around the availability of farm labour. Many of these innovations have been incubated in a secretive skunkworks initiative within the Mahindra Group called Blue Lab.

But admittedly, hitherto Mahindra’s interest in technology and innovation has been largely limited to familiar domains such as automobiles and agribusiness where the group has been a market leader for a while. The group’s IT services play (Tech Mahindra) notwithstanding, Mahindra’s interest in a “startuppy” consumer play like social networking is both new and different.

The fact that Mahindra followed up this initial tweet with several more thoughts and has already set up an initiative called “Peepul” to build out this idea is proof enough that he is serious about building “our own social networking company.”

Does this initiative have a meaningful shot at building the “Anti-Facebook”? Why does this matter? What are its imperatives?

Let’s try to answer these questions.

AUTHOR

Sumanth Raghavendra

Sumanth is a serial entrepreneur with more than eighteen years experience in running startups. He is currently the founder of Deck App Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup attempting to re-imagine productivity software for the Post-PC era. Sumanth’s columns appear regularly in leading publications. He holds MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, USA.

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