Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai took to the stage on 4 January in New Delhi, and announced two new initiatives — ‘Digital Unlocked’ and ‘My Business Websites’. For the gathered media, this was a departure from Google’s usual big ticket product launches. His audiences were elsewhere, perhaps in the bylanes of Chandni Chowk or even Zaveri Bazaar in Mumbai. Pichai, in effect, was addressing the 51 million small and medium businesses (SMBs) in India, who have yet to embrace the internet or go digital.
“I think of small businesses as the backbone of India’s economy,” Pichai said, citing examples of entrepreneurs who had benefitted from Google’s tools like search listings and maps. “Anyone can harness the power of technology. The internet is as much for an established local merchant as it is for a high-flying startup. And with the internet, even a small business can become a large one in the blink of an eye.”
Pichai cited three examples of SMBs successfully embracing digital, and benefitting from it.
First, GoCoop, has been working with traditional weavers, to show them how to harness the internet’s power to expand a market. While Siva Reddy visited his grandmother’s village in 2012, he saw the decline of weaving co-ops. They knew how to weave, but they were struggling to market their cloth. Middlemen were involved, they would overcharge, so he would convince the weavers, some in remote parts, to put the products on his platform, GoCoop….Today, more than a third of their customers are from overseas. Another example, Maganlal Dresswala, a venerable offline business shows how all of this can work for them just like a high-flying startup. They pioneered costume-making for Mumbai’s entertainment industry in 1926…100 years later, movies are digitizing, and so are they. Sarika…has used Google Maps and search to go beyond Bollywood buyers. Finally, personal finance app Walnut shows how the internet can enable a small business to become a large one overnight. They started in 2014 with an aim to simplify everything related to finance…They had over 2 million users in November. But then, demonetisation was announced. Walnut had become a way for people to find out which ATMs had money, and which didn’t. You can imagine the volume of users and the interest they had. They were able to scale quickly to meet the demand because they were running on Google Cloud, so they’ve gone from over 2 million to over 5 million users in the past few months.
Pichai’s colleague Rajan Anandan, Google’s vice-president for India and South Asia added that only 32% of SMBs in India were using Google’s digital tools i.e maps and search listing. There’s a lot of ground to cover. His, and therefore Google’s, message was loud and clear. The company’s next major play in India will be around extending its products to local entrepreneurs, SMBs, and startups.
This is not the first time Google has reached out to SMBs.