The Vernacular Window of Opportunity
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There has been an unsaid assumption for the past twenty years. Using the internet in India meant that you knew English. The English speaking population of India has benefitted tremendously with this access. It’s lead to faster personal development in all crucial aspects of life – knowledge, communication, career, social, love, keeping in touch etc.
Less than 10per cent of India actually knows English. Out of internet accessing a population of 400 million, more than 300 million are not comfortable with English. This population has not realized the potential of using the internet yet. The power of the internet is now being offered to the non-English speaking population of India. Amongst the 2 major barriers that existed – internet access and knowledge of English, the former has been solved with cheaper smartphones and cheaper data availability from the likes of Jio.
Internet and English
The latter barrier is a bit more complicated to solve. Either 90per cent of India needs to learn English right now to use the internet. That seems improbable OR the internet is quickly made available in local languages for every use case that users are looking for. That looks to be the faster way.
These 2 approaches will merge at some point in time in the next 10 years and English might make its way to the larger population of India. But in the meantime, there’s a window of opportunity to build a much-loved brand by taking the internet to everyone in languages that they are comfortable with, today. By building this brand in the shorter run, the same brand can make itself available for any use case and any language, including English, in the future as the knowledge of English increases amongst the wider population.
The New Way Out
This is exactly what the first movers in the vernacular space are enabling. Content seems to be the first entry point. There is a huge demand for local language content and very little supply of the same. There was never an online ecosystem that developed to produce content in vernacular. It’s always been in English.
The time is now to enable this underserved demand with platforms which aggregate and help create local language content, keeping in mind their unique taste for consumption. It’s not as easy as it sounds though. In the last decade, technology entrepreneurs have mostly built businesses which solve a problem they themselves have faced. This in itself hasn’t been a bed of roses. Now, add to that the fact that the entrepreneur has to understand the mind of a user who can’t say out what exactly they’re looking for in a product. That now makes it extremely complicated. Trying to get it right the very first time will be extremely challenging.
The only way to go about building products for the next billion users would be to fundamentally accept that it will take time and patience. It will also require an ability to move fast on experiments and have zero inhibition to discard those things that do not work. To be able to experiment fast, the entrepreneur should also have an innate ability to think and ideate fast and an extra bit of natural creativity would go a long way.
Here’s celebrating the fact that there is an opportunity that the internet giants would find extremely difficult to crack. Local entrepreneurs have a limited timeframe where they can act and build a gigantic company which rivals the best in the world. It’s for each one of us to grab this opportunity and make the most of it.