The ‘Desi’-fication of Indian startups

Desification is an invented acronym of course. It doesn’t exist in the dictionary. Or in lexicon. Nevertheless, it most aptly describes the phenomenon of a technology companies culturally adapting to the local mindset. In this case, local as in ‘Desi’, derived from the word ‘Desh’ which literally means Nation.

It’s not uncommon for successful Silicon Valley startup ideas to be replicated in India. They even meet a similar level of success in the local economy. And thus you had all the travel sites after the success of Expedia. You also got the payment gateways, the online ticket booking sites, the Classifieds, “Yet Another Craigslist” sites, feeble attempts at INdianized Webmail ( anyone?), and more. Everyone and his uncle just wanted to take a slice of American Pizza, add some Indian toppings, ‘rename’ it Indian Pizza and serve it hot and fresh!

For the technologically well heeled, they got sites to help manage and boost your Twitter followers, Whatsapp wannabes and many such.

The one thing they all used effectively is the artificial trade barriers that prevent a global business from setting foot in India. Travel is inherently local and the Indian travel trade makes it difficult for a foreign company with overseas offices, to sell tickets for domestic travel. Hence the emergence of strong Travel plays. Ditto for E-commerce, which requires you to have a local warehouse and local billing to avoid forex fees and customs duties. You think Classified are any different? Not really, because you need to soak in every inch of the local culture to really understand what kind of Classified categories work, and how people advertise and consume Classified ads.

Take Quikr. Their latest punchline is squarely aimed at the Desi speaking millions (… “No fikar, Bech Quikr”, loosely translated as No worries, Sell faster). Completely Hindi punchline, delivered with unfailing regularity over every TV and Radio.

Or take OLX. “Photo khench, Olx pe Bech” (approximates to Click a photo and sell on Olx instantly). It often takes a humorous dig at attempts to sell absurd things. The hint is that almost anything can be sold. These hints are very very Indian, and you wouldn’t understand if you didn’t dig the local culture.

These success aren’t born out of nowhere. They are the result of innumerable iterations. If you’re like me, you’d have seen many an avatar of online commerce in India and how their positioning has changed over time. If there is some startup that is trying to sell to an Indian audience without tickling the local funny bone, they probably aren’t selling that well. This has been true for B2C businesses so far. It’s a different world in B2B from where I come. However, I suspect this frontier won’t be a distant one for them for very long!