Google India managing director Rajan Anandan says the next phase of growth for the Internet in India will be driven by local-language content. He also spoke to us recently about the company’s role in India, and how he sees technologies like driverless cars or augmented reality (Google Glass) gaining widespread adoption over time. Edited excerpts:
While Google is obviously a familiar name to anyone, what does Google India do? Are you doing more than just marketing here?
Google has engineering teams in Bangalore building global products, and there’s also a marketing team here. In India alone, we have over 300-plus engineers. We’ve also got offices in Delhi and Mumbai where we focus on marketing. As such, marketing, business development, sales, public relations and government relations all take place out of India, and there are around 2,000 people who are working with the company here.
Instead of focusing engineering out of just a few locations, Google has always built distributed development cells around the world, and that’s the case here as well, so you have engineers in India working closely with engineers in Europe and the US, on everything from Maps to Search.
For many people, Google is the gateway to the Internet. What can you tell me about Internet usage?
India has the third largest number of Internet users in the world right now, at around 150 million users, and most of the new additions have been mobile users. That’s a huge audience, and what we’re seeing is that the Internet has gone mainstream. Around 50 million people are watching video online, up from 15 million two years ago. Around 37% of all YouTube viewers in India are doing so on a mobile device.
One area that’s of particular interest to us is the small business uptake. SMB (small and medium businesses) ads have been growing in the triple digits, with large adoption. Our role there has been to help build the ecosystem. We’re also seeing some very positive trends with e-commerce. I think that the industry reached its inflection point at the end of 2011. The growth was around 40% in 2011, and in 2012 it was 120%. People became familiar with buying things on the Net...
The audience has also definitely become more sophisticated, and the kinds of offerings available now, prove that.
For example, “Local” is growing now; it’s in its early days, and there isn’t enough data in place yet, but if you look at things like Maps, or movie ticketing, or look at a company like online food and restaurant guide Zomato, then you can see that there is a lot of great potential, and I think that by the end of 2014 all the pieces will be in place for this to really grow.
You mentioned that mobile has been driving growth. This is particularly true for smaller towns. How can companies effectively reach this new audience?
I think that we’ve already seen good growth, but we’re going to see a lot more happening soon. One of the obstacles is definitely language, and with more local language content, you’re going to see a lot of growth. This will also be helped along with improvements in speech to text, and voice controls. We have 150 million Internet users, and the next 300 million won’t use English. That’s why we’re working on Indic languages, which is the key to driving growth.
With that said, we’re definitely seeing good growth happening organically. There’s heavy usage from small towns and people are definitely eager to be online because the Internet offers even more value in a small town.
In the tech industry, keeping your employees is considered one of the big challenges. Can you tell me what Google does to address this?
Employee retention is actually something that we don’t worry too much about because we’re very careful about whom we hire. The interview process is incredibly rigorous, with five to nine interviews; that can make the hiring process a little difficult, but it means that we hire the very best. That’s essential because we’re doing amazing things here.
By hiring smart people who work well together and empowering them to take their own decisions, we create a collaborative culture where people are able to think big, and take risks. Instead of 10% growth, we’re always thinking of 10x growth.
Along the way, there are the perks like the food and the rides that get talked about, but those are perks, and not a retention strategy.
You came to Google after a leadership stint at Microsoft. Can you describe the difference in the perspectives of the two companies?
One thing that we don’t like doing is comparing ourselves to other companies, so I’m not going to do that, but I’ll tell you that at Google the focus is very much about building the future; what I said about 10x growth is the driving philosophy. We’re very excited and invested about our projects, and what we do is informed by that. Our goal is to democratize technology, and change the world by doing so.
What are the Google projects that you are personally excited about?
Everything that we do! I think that in terms of existing projects, YouTube and Google Plus are very exciting right now. We’ve also got some amazing projects like self-driving cars and Google Glass. The idea behind these projects isn’t some sci-fi fantasy, but rather, they’re about democratizing technology, to change the world for the better. In the short term, I think that digital TV is going to be very big. Over the next two to three years, I think that Google Glass and ubiquitous computing are going to be the game changers; everything is going to connect to the Internet, and that’s going to dramatically change the world.
You’re an active angel investor in India—can you share your perspective on whether Google would look at Indian start-ups?
For me, investing in start-ups is my top hobby. I do it because it’s what I want to do. Google believes in empowering start-ups/entrepreneurs and have numerous initiatives running in India. Google is one of the partners of (software services industry lobby group) Nasscom’s 10,000 start-ups programme, which aims at supporting 10,000 technology start-ups in India over the next 10 years.
Apart from this, we have our own initiatives in India such as India Get Your Business Online, which helps Indian small-scale businesses go online, and Women Entrepreneurs on the Web programme, which aims at helping women to grow their businesses through online presence, collaborate effectively and connect with their customers in the online domain.
What do you do to relax?
I spend my weekends with my wife Radhika and my daughter Maya. That’s very important to me, and we like to get in some outdoor activities together, like swimming or biking, or going to the park. We also go rock climbing together.
I’m also an art collector by proxy—my wife is very knowledgeable and interested, and as a result I’ve come to learn about art as well, and we collect modern and contemporary works. That’s one thing that the two of us do together, which is very important to me.