Internet industry veteran, K Vaitheeswaran was in Goa last week to deliver a talk. K Vaitheeswaran who is often referred to as the father of e-commerce in India for co-founding in 1999 India’s first online retail company, Fabmart.com, is a successful serial entrepreneur with forte in retail. He is also an author and charter member of TiE, an organisation that assists startups in incubating, networking and funding. Presently Vaitheeswaran himself is in the startup circuit once again with the launch of a ready-to-drink beverage. In the interview with Shoma Patnaik he talks of Goa’s startup scene, how it can be improved, catching the IT bus, the state as a possible destination for e-commerce among other issues.
Q. In your opinion what can Goa do to improve its startup ecosystem?
There is not one easy answer to this question. In my view I would break this up into two parts one is at the activity micro level where there are several specific things you can do to make the state attractive place for startups.
But the big thing is that, Goa needs to do something to change its image. Whenever you think of a place visually something comes to our mind. It is like positioning the brand. So for Bangalore, startups, traffic, pot-holes are the first imagery things that come to mind. Goa’s imagery is obviously its rivers, hills, beaches and tourism. So the state also needs to make startups a part of the imagery. I think that is the bigger challenge here than other measures.
Q. Do you think Goa has missed the IT bus?
I don’t think so. There is always the next bus coming. In IT as well as in everything there is always someone behind you. The fact of the matter is one can never miss the bus. You may be behind but can certainly catch up. I think the first thing that Goa needs is to create one big success story. For e.g in Andhra Pradesh the IT story started with the state Chief Minister somehow managing to convince Microsoft to set up its largest off-shore development center outside Seattle. It completely put Andhra on the world IT map. So while it is important to get the small units one big company is very important because then the state can say, we are as powerful a destination for startups as well a large name. It may not necessarily be a company. It could be something that started in Goa but has gone up to become a big name.
Q. To attract a large player land is a big issue in the state?
Land is a challenge everywhere. Goa though has its geographical limitations as given its landscape cannot have polluting industry. Fortunately technology industry is non-polluting.
Q. What strategy would you suggest to promote a local IT industry?
I think the state should look at things that are likely to happen in the next few years. There is not much the state can do in IT services to compete because that story is over. All the big IT companies are already in services. So as an extension of IT services I would suggest block chain, IoT, data analytics- all of which does not necessarily require large land but need intellectual ability. So you need to identify people who are in these areas and support them. Goa must think bigger and perhaps aim for being the next block chain center of India. The advantage of doing something new is that the field is level and the competition is less
Q. In your view does Goa have advantages in IT vis-à-vis other states?
You have several advantages. Access to engineering talent is one. The state has several good institutes. It is not remote and very well connected to metros like Bangalore and Mumbai. You have the benefit of being accessible and yet with none of the problems existing in cities. Bangalore is no more a livable city Goa must take the advantage of being extremely livable and position itself smartly.
Q. As the founder of e-commerce in India, does e-commerce offer opportunity to Goa?
Yes. The good thing about this industry is that it does not matter where you are based. If you can get a biggie to set up office it can be a game changer. Small companies who do back-end services for Flipkart, Amazon are already in the state.
Q. Do you see e-commerce closing down mom-and-pop stores?
It is not happened so far and will not happen in the future. Amazon started in the US sometime in 1994 and has more than 40 per cent of US e-commerce market share but despite all that hype online retail is still small in Amercia. About 88 per cent of the shopping in the US still happens out of stores. So fear of e-commerce coming in and wiping out the shops will not happen. In India shops will survive for the next 25 years. Ecommerce I think gets written about more than it actually happens. Secondly if there is an impact it will affect the malls. Small shops offer a level of service that no e-commerce player can give. I think that malls have a bigger problem because the retail margins in India are lower than abroad. Given the low margins the cost structure in the malls are such that they cannot make money. Today malls are making more money out of parking than from shopping.