What’s On(line) In India?

Over the weekend, I booked a trip (air + hotel), paid my bills, checked my bank and brokerage accounts, bought movie tickets, booked my mother-in-law’s bus tickets, ordered a couple of movies for renting and gifted something for my friends newborn. And the best part – all without stepping out of my home. That’s the beauty of online services which I had so grown used to in the US as a consumer and was initially concerned I might miss after my move to India.

But, I’m glad to say that I feel that India “is happening” when it comes to online services. This is from the perspective of an avid consumer who enjoys trying out new technologies/services that improves efficiencies. Let’s face it – if I were to step out of the door and get those tasks listed above completed by making physical stops, it would take me more than a week. For a specific example, I went to a reputed bus operator to book a long-distance bus ticket and it literally took me 2 hours door to door (20 minutes in front of the guy who was more keen on answering phone calls than completing my transaction). The same thing I was able to do in less than 5 minutes online (in spite of the payment gateway dropping my transaction the first time – payment gateways need to fix this issue, seriously).

Just for the fun of it, I wanted to list out various online services I used in the US and equivalent ones in India. The table below captures my first draft list. I have used most of the Indian services listed and have been satisfied with the quality. The only sites I haven’t used but have received feedback from others who have are the dating/matrimony sites – for some reason my wife does not approve of me spending time on these sites even if I tell her its for work J



 *Full Disclosure: These are portfolio companies of Accel Partners 

As I mentioned, this is just my first draft list and I’m sure I missed many. What are your favorite categories/sub-categories/sites that I missed?

Note: Pluggd.in published this blog here.

Frugal Innovation in Medical Technology


For those of you following medical innovation in the developing world, the article earlier this year in The Econmist was quite informative. Here’s the link to the article. This was a good follow-up by The Economist to their more industry agnostic Frugal Innovation article from last year. Wanted to share some of my observations on frugal innovation particularly as it relates to India and medical technology.

Activity Level

  • Startup activity:  There is a decent bit of activity in the frugal medical innovation space in India. There are at least 15 to 20 startups that I met over the past year who are doing high quality work in this space. Most of these fall under the diagnostic devices category aimed at areas such as opthalmology, diabetes, cardiac conditions, cancer and infectious diseases. There were also a couple of companies going after therapeutic devices.
  • IP creation: There is some level of Intellectual Property creation in these startups especially as they try to completely re-engineer and build the product ground up to suit the Indian price point and market conditions. Granted these are not based on years of scientific research done in an educational institution and hence are not fundamental innovations but still there is a decent bit of novelty in these technologies and their applications.
  • Talent: The other good thing for the ecosystem is the existence of large Multinational Corporations such as the Healthcare divisions within Philips, GE and Siemens that have a decent pool of talent. Many of the startups I met with are people who have either gained experience working at these larger companies and/or done a PhD in scientific research at one of the leading US institutions (MIT, Stanford, etc.). At the firm I work, we have at least two instances of founders matching this profile and doing a healthcare related startup. 

Top Challenges

  • Distribution: Many of the companies I meet with are going after the Bottom Of the Pyramid (BOP) as their initial market. The challenge is that majority of this market exists in rural India and distribution becomes a big issue. Even a GE that has come up with the low cost ECG machine for India apparently had challenges with distribution. It becomes all the more challenging for a one product startup with limited financial resources. This is an important issue to think through before figuring out which market you will focus on.
  • Who pays: The other issue with going after the BOP is that in many cases the end consumer does not have the financial capacity to pay. Hence in many cases the government and its programs subsidise the cost of treatment. And as a startup, it becomes tricky to deal with the government as a customer – to put it mildly. You probably need someone in the team who has previous experience in a similar role of selling to the government.

Ideas to Ponder

  • Tier II instead of BOP: Now that many healthcare service providers are focusing on the Tier II Indian cities for growth, does it make sense to target these as the initial customers and gain market traction before attacking the BOP?
  • Go for CE or FDA certification: I see many startups doing this already. They go and get a CE Mark or an FDA approval and that helps them get more market adoption in India. I will share more about the regulatory process in India in a subsequent blog post.
  • Disrupt existing incumbent technologies: Would be good to see some of these technologies that go after Tier II and BOP segments move up the chain and service the mainstream healthcare service providers in Sec A Indian cities. I am trying to find an example for such a story but can’t think of one at the top of my mind. 

Would be great to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Note: Pluggd.in published this blog here.

Hosting On The Cloud: Inputs For Early Stage Startups

I recently came across this post on Quora that talks about various hosting options for Indian startups and found it very informational. Many early stage startups are faced with the question of where to host especially as they get off the ground. Key questions they have are: what are my hosting options, costs involved, what other aspects should I consider and what are other Indian startups doing? I have tried to collect data to answer some of these questions. This is particularly aimed at startups that are just getting off the ground (very early stage) and not for ones trying to optimize performance/cost.

Note: The intention of the article is to help early stage Internet startups get quickly off the ground using hosting services. Inputs regarding various services mentioned in the article should not be considered as an endorsement by the author or the organization he is associated with.

Comparison of various hosting options

Here’s a quick summary of comparison between various hosting options (both in India and the US) for an early stage startup. Please note that these are just off the shelf monthly prizes (based on assumptions of usage as outlined in the table) that we could get either from the web or by calling the company. Obviously rates would change based on your particular requirements as well as your ability to get discounts such as yearly subscription, etc.

Key takeaways:

  • Amazon’s AWS offers the most cost-competitive option (at least for the configuration mentioned).
  • If you are focused on hosting in India (particularly for latency reasons) E2E seems to have a reasonably priced offering. I haven’t been able to talk to someone hosted on E2E and hence don’t have too much information on them.
  • If you go with AWS and want to improve your performance, you can refer to the Quora post referred above that talks about using Cloudfront (CDN) for optimizing latency as well as hosting non-latency sensitive workloads in the US and latency sensitive workloads in AWS Asia (APAC).


Getting off the ground

If you are just getting off the ground as a startup, your easiest bet might be to go with a cloud based provider. The costs for setting up are not high and it is also scalable (elastic) depending on the demand (which is usually tough to predict in advance). In addition, some of these services (e.g. Amazon, Rackspace, E2E) are quite granular and so you can pick and choose configurations that work best for you (computing, storage, bandwidth, etc.). One caveat I gathered from talking to startups is that you need to have someone on your team who understands configuring these options. For example, if you are going with Amazon’s AWS, you need someone who understands and preferably has worked on it before. In particular, you need someone who understands the components of your application, various pieces of the AWS system (EC2, EBS, S3, CloudFront, etc.) and failure points so as to mitigate and avoid data loss. Don’t get me wrong, this is not very hard to configure and get going. But, it still is not trivial to take for granted and that is why the startups I spoke to recommended having a person familiar with the setup onboard. Alternately, you could start with an option that provides a simpler holistic solution (e.g. SliceHost) albeit at a slightly higher cost. You could then graduate to one of the other cloud providers at a later point on a need to basis.

Where are startups hosted?

And finally, you might wonder what other startups in your similar shoes (or ones that are further along) doing? I polled close to a dozen startups (small but good group of tech savvy startups) and 80% of them are hosting in the US. Of those, one third are hosted on Amazon’s AWS. If you are in a startup that has gone through a similar exercise of picking a hosting provider, would love to hear from you on what your experiences have been and any tips for others who might follow your footsteps?

The above is a post that I did for yourstory.in.

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