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Sachin Bansal, co-founder Flipkart. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Sachin Bansal, co-founder Flipkart. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Indian start-ups call for a level playing field against global peers

Indian start-ups plan to lobby for favourable laws for domestic companies, countering Chinese and US consumer Internet firms

Bengaluru: India needs to create a level-playing field for start-ups to compete effectively against global companies with significantly larger capital, said Sachin Bansal, co-founder Flipkart Ltd, and Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder Ola (run by ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd).

“There’s a fair way to compete and there’s a non-fair way to compete. What’s happening broadly in the consumer Internet sector in India today is there’s a narrative of innovation that the American companies or the non-Indian companies espouse, but even though products are largely similar, the real fight is on the capital side. The markets are being distorted by capital," said Aggarwal, speaking at a panel discussion at the Global Tech Summit in Bengaluru being held by Carnegie India.

The two leaders of India’s top home-grown consumer Internet companies were of the view that India shouldn’t shut its borders completely like China did, but that some measures need to be taken keeping in mind what’s best for India in the long term. Both are locked in fierce battles for market share with the Indian units of US firms Amazon Inc and Uber Inc.

Mint reported in October that Bansal was talking to several Indian entrepreneurs and influential investors to create a group that will represent the interests of Indian consumer Internet start-ups, that would primarily lobby with the government for favourable laws for Indian companies, countering Chinese and US consumer Internet firms as well as India’s powerful brick-and-mortar retail lobby.

“When a ride goes to Uber, the high end jobs are being created in the US, not in India. What we need to do is what at some level China did. They told the world that we need your capital but we don’t need your companies," said Bansal.

However, others on the panel stressed it was the product that determined success and not the country of origin. “We have had Google messenger long before Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger came, but the later built better trust, they built better products, and they won. At some point, execution and building that trust, and building value is going to involve lot of innovation engineering and not necessarily involve whether it was done by an Indian or a French person," said Anand Rangarajan, engineering director and Bengaluru site lead at Google.

“Innovation can’t be held by boundaries, and borders and visas. With that said, I believe there has to be a level playing field for foreign players and Indian players. The lines are blurring, so we need to be careful there. Assuming we get to a level playing field, the customer or the user drives the success of the companies that we see," said Navneet Kapoor, president and managing director, at Target India the India arm of the US-based retailer Target.

While some question whether a company is truly Indian even as it take large sums of capital from foreign investors, Aggarwal stressed that “the crux of what makes a company Indian is the entrepreneur and the management team."

“We are creating our legacies here. That’s what defines Flipkart and Ola, that’s what makes our companies Indian. Capital does not," he added.

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