Trends 2020: What's Going to Power the Tech Engine?
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Over the past 10 years the Indian government has been investing in big ideas to equitably distribute the benefits of internet technology across the country’s 1.3 billion population. The Universal Payment Interface (UPI) and the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog)’s focus on social AI are prime examples of the government opening up opportunities for private industries to commercialize and scale innovation more widely with private investment.
As entrepreneur and tech visionary Nandan Nilekani recently pointed out, in just under eight years India brought nearly 330 million people into the formal financial system. Likewise, private investors have tapped into India’s growing pool of experienced talent, risk capital and a unique approach to product design that leverages this societal investment. Hundreds of start-ups have been tirelessly innovating against both consumer and enterprise technology problems by building world-class solutions using a unique approach to innovation that is as simple as it is powerful. We call it Indian Democratic Design.
Approach to Product Design
At the core of this wave of innovation is a uniquely Indian philosophy comprising five principles rooted in simplicity, self-reliance, scalability, craftsmanship and affordability, that yields extraordinarily creative yet boldly pragmatic solutions for the masses. This bottom-up approach to product design looks to the end user as our guide. We side with them through research, testing and observation and spend hours upon hours with them to internalize their needs. From this we combine both form and function to design solutions in the simplest, most powerful way possible. These democratically designed products are approachable, self-explanatory, delightful to use and irresistibly priced. What results are great global products that appeal to users the world over — from Delhi to Denver, Chennai to Chengdu.
A case in point is that of PhonePe’s, which has created one of the most impactful UPI solutions for very small merchants by turning a humble calculator into an internet-connected point-of-sale device that does not require a computer, internet or even electrical connection. The Bluetooth-enabled calculator allows merchants to tally a sale amount, transmit the payment information from the calculator to the consumer’s PhonePe mobile app, and then onward to the PhonePe service for transfer of funds. This simple hardware innovation is an example of Indian Democratic Design bringing the power of UPI to millions of merchants who previously could not afford internet devices or connections.
Democratic Design: Next Growth Driver?
At Freshworks, we partner closely with big players such as Amazon Web Services and thought leaders like Professor Balaraman Ravindran at IIT Madras to powerfully simplify AI for the long-tail of global SMBs and front-line end users. Our user-friendly chatbot, Freddy, was created with Indian Democratic Design principles to empower customer service agents to learn how to solve complex support problems faster, with a sophisticated yet intuitive AI-powered chat interface. Whether it’s the simplicity of yoga, the self-reliance of our Satyagraha movement for independence, the scale of our elections, the craftsmanship of our artists or the ingenuity of our engineers — who affordably send rockets to the moon for a fraction of the cost of a Hollywood movie — India is pushing boundaries of the possible around the world.
In the enterprise software space, hundreds of SaaS companies across the country are at the vanguard of Indian Democratic Design movement. We want to shake up the world by showing that simplicity, combined with practiced, ancient craftsmanship can empower businesses to take advantage of advanced technologies such as AI, at a fraction of the price charged by traditional software companies. In 2020, we expect this movement to continue as more and more product companies adopt Indian Democratic Design principles to help customers improve their lives in ways they never imagined. As we’ve already seen, it’s possible to create products that ‘wow’ people with both their impact an affordability.
(This article was first published in the January 2020 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)