Some WOW mobile apps from India

mobile for blog

Everyone knows the India mobile internet story. And what a story it is. India is expected to have 371M mobile internet users by June 2016, adding more than 100M users in 12 months (Source). That’s phenomenal growth by any standard. And because it’s happened so fast, the mobile app ecosystem has struggled to keep up. For the last 2 years, we witnessed several debates on mobile app Vs m-site and saw some very sub-standard mobile apps coming out of the country. But, happily, we are finally starting to see some people who truly get that the mobile screen is not just a smaller laptop screen (face-palm). That the way people consume content on mobile is vastly different from how they browse online. And hence, the approach to mobile needs to be a radical one.

Although I’m a prolific consumer of mobile content, I’m no authority on the subject. But I’ve seen some great mobile apps come out of India’s start-up ecosystem recently, and wanted to call those out. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order:

  1. Hopscotch

These guys got it right quite early on. They are a time-bound boutique product company, with a large focus on kids’ stuff. Theirs is a no-frills app without too many icons to distract you. The app demonstrates a great understanding of the customer – there are 2 ways their customers would search for products on the app, and icons for those are centerstage. Of course, the clean UI adds to the appeal. And the recent changes of introducing larger images and improving the scroll experience only add to their advantage.

Interestingly, they have a less-than-brilliant website. But I suppose they realized that themselves because as I write this, I see that the site has been taken down and there is a “coming soon” message there. Aha.

2. Myntra

Myntra is one of the largest fashion portals of India. There was a lot of hue and cry when they decided to go app-only. Time will tell how that worked out for them. If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of a quality app. I think these guys have done a phenomenal job of analyzing data consumption on mobile and then creating an experience to match. I say experience because it really is that. You’re not just shopping for products, although you can do that easily. You’re reading a magazine. Trends, fashion updates, brand updates, latest collections, new products, blog posts etc. Great visuals add to the appeal and it’s everything you would expect from fashion on your phone. Two thumbs up.

3. Urban Ladder

Another e-commerce start-up that “gets” mobile. Although, these guys took a bit of time to get there. But get there they did. As a company, I consider Urban Ladder one that holds good, clean design in high esteem and this shows in everything they do. The app is no exception. Good creatives, along with a magazine-style approach to browsing makes this an app that would see a lot of repeat traffic with high session durations. I did find it a little too cluttered in places, but I expect they will iron this stuff out eventually.

4. Swiggy

The boom and bust of the food-tech bubble in India has kept Swiggy in the news a lot lately as it is one of the few that survived the ride, so far. Theirs is an app that is very basic and functional. And that’s the reason it is on this list – it works. Not every app needs to be a creative and visual array that overwhelms the user. The Swiggy user is hungry and just wants to order food quickly. The app helps him/her do just that. They should probably add an easy access menu for different cuisines, but even without that, it does the job.

5. Cleartrip

Cleartrip is one of the stalwarts of clean, functional design and digital workflow in the country. I know their awesomeness is done to death already, but no list of good mobile apps from India can be complete without a mention of the Cleartrip app. They brought a paradigm shift in the mobile travel experience, focused on what was important and displayed an understanding of mobile that was way ahead of its time. Now better apps have come in since then, but Cleartrip remains a great app.

Keep it simple

When one thinks about ‘organization strategy’, a 50 slide deck with complicated graphs and 20 colors comes to mind. Somehow we imagine strategy to be a scary beast that seasoned management arrives at after careful research and planning. That is why most of us find it hard to articulate our company strategy. We save the deck away carefully after the presentation and only open it a year later to try and remember what was articulated and how we can make the numbers look like we got there.

Honestly, what could be farther from strategy? The core purpose of strategy is to align organizations, rally them behind the vision and have it executed by every rung of the organization. How will you achieve all that by something that can’t even be explained in a conversation?

Real strategy is simple. It is something that “the doorman understands”, as Subroto Bagchi says in his book, The Elephant Catchers. His idea is simple too – strategy needs to be something so simple that everyone gets it. Only then can people get behind it. Because the proof of a good strategy is in its execution, and for that you need the organization aligned 100%.

But more important than being simple, continues Bagchi, a great strategy is an act of emotion. It is far-fetched, it is unreasonable, and it is powerful. Only then will it be memorable. Only then will it stir up the troops, because the battle to scale is not an easy one.

I am sold on this concept. I think an obvious corollary of this idea is the immense importance of actually having a strategy – a vision. An idea so simple and powerful that it gets everyone pedaling in the same direction, overcoming all the fears and apprehensions of scale and change. No one every got inspired by senior management locked up in a room and deciding on the company’s 5-year plan while everyone went along with business as usual. But with a leader who clearly articulates the one thing that the company needs to achieve as a team, repeats it at every occasion and to every employee – well, now we’re in business, quite literally.

Dancing, diving and entrepreneurship

This post was written in October 2012 while I was an Entrepreneur in Residence at the GSF Accelerator. It’s also published on the GSF website.

What is an entrepreneur’s alter ego? Yes, we all know entrepreneurship is all-consuming and your start-up becomes your identity. But ever thought about what would keep entrepreneurs you know busy, if not for their start-up?

I did some digging around with our talented bunch of EiR’s. All of us are living and breathing GSF at the moment. But what defines us? What is one big core element that helped shaped who we are and continues to be a big part of our personality? The findings were quite unexpected and two very unusual themes emerged – dancing and diving! Three of our EiR’s are trained in Indian classical dance – Hima Batavia in Kathak, Anjali Gupta and I in Bharatnatyam. Who would have thought? And two EiR’s have a strong passion for deep sea diving – Aishwarya Sirohi (who is PADI certified) and Rishab Malik.

On deeper thought, I realized that there are two strong threads that run common between these two activities – passion and creation of an alternate reality. Any good classical dancer is deeply passionate about the art; in fact, it is a prerequisite for the emotional and physical expression demanded by this form. And I haven’t met a scuba diver yet who wasn’t passionate about diving! I suppose the planning, preparation and practical difficulties of the gear itself ensure that only the passionate pursue this activity. The second interesting commonality is that both these art forms (if I may) create an alternate reality that engulfs us completely. Classical dance intentionally creates a world of its own – while portraying the emotional turbulences of the characters, the dancer is transported into an alternate world and only feels the joy and pain of this world. In diving, with crystal clear waters above you, and all colors imaginable below, it is impossible to imagine any reality apart from that. With some senses blocked and others heightened, diving lets you experience a serenity you never thought possible. My sole diving experience in Fiji is one I often relive during my stressful moments.

So is it a coincidence that dancing and diving run deep through our entrepreneurs? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, the reason is that good entrepreneurs must also display those very same qualities – deep passion for their cause and an ability to be completely engulfed by it, thus making it their only reality.