Can India truly be 'Aathmanirbhar' in the product space

Having completed his Executive Education from IIM Ahmedabad, Srivatsan also holds a PG Diploma in Data Science, AI & ML from International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. He has been associated with SAP Labs for over a decade now and been at the frontier of its success in recent times.

According to NASSCOM, India’s IT export revenue is heavily tilted towards IT Services (over 50 percent), followed by an equal share from Software Product, Business Process Management/Consulting and finally, Hardware sector. Surprisingly, this share has not changed for past 10 years even in terms of revenue growth! Also, for every patent filed in India, 10 patents get filed in the US. In 2020, we had around ~1000 patents awarded in the Software product space and this seems dwarf in comparison to any other large economy’s patent numbers. However, there are some green shoots which are quite visible. India had 500+ startups registered in 2021 and more than 41 progressed into a Unicorn state, which is a fabulous fete. With strong support from the Government, this would only get better.

A cursory look at the number of product leaders in India shows that we have ~60,000 practicing product leaders compared to 1.8 million product professional in the US. Additionally, we have a very poor gender diversity among Product Managers in India. NASSCOM estimates women and non-binary gender together to constitute less than five percent of product managers in India. Based on these aspects, two areas which need attention in order build India into a product leadership hub are People Factor (skillset, mindset, leadership) and Product Innovation.

People Factor: The Missing ‘X-Factor’

There has been lots of emphasis in this space with Skill India and helping build the right skillset needed for roles like Product Managers. NASSCOM has been pioneering efforts around this space with NASSCOM ProductSkills (NPS) with an aim to make India a product superpower by building and nurturing 50,000+ product professionals by 2025. We have some amazing Product Leaders and thought leaders in India. One aspect which India needs more in people factor is what I call ‘Influencers’ – X factor. Product Influencers help create a market for new innovations, prepare the market for disruptive innovations and evangelize them.

Another aspect that I believe a product leader needs is, not to be an elephant with an iron ring tied to its one leg. Since an iron ring is attached to its leg right from a young age, it is mentally tuned that when a ring is attached, it needs to calm down and not challenge it. As a product leader, you need to challenge the constraints, redraw boundary conditions, define what’s acceptable and define product stickiness quotient. To take the next gigantic leap for bring a product-led nation, along with addressing the mindset, this ‘X’ factor is a must.

Product Innovation: Democratizing Innovation

As the data shows, we see some amazing green shoots w.r.t startup culture and the number of unicorns created in India. If we look at the last 50 years of any developed economy, there was a big movement around entrepreneurship, and this led to the current state of large product behemoths. It is possible for India to go this route, and there are data points to show that 40+ companies evolve into unicorns in the last one year. But to make this a movement, we need to democratize innovation via Intrapreneurship: Intrapreneurship with a Vengeance!

What the Date Does not Convey

I live in Bengaluru. Apart from being called the ‘IT capital’ of India, it is also getting attention for its bad state of roads in recent times. In this context, I recently bumped into R Vasudevan - the plastic man of India who pioneered the vision of mixing recycled plastic with normal tar to increase the durability of roads. This frugal innovation of R Vasudevan is now being adopted by many municipalities in India and finds mention in research outside India. He had initially applied for a patent, but later removed it so that everyone can benefit from this frugal innovation. But do we know that a patent for something similar was awarded to an industrial house outside India with corporate funding? What prevented us and our product leaders from productizing this innovation and launching it for the world?

The journey from Jugaad to product is not an easy one and needs a product leader to help find the viable sweet spot between product capability, market demand and user experience. Jugaad for me is democratizing innovation, and this culture is thriving in India. We need to take the next step to conceive them as products. We are in the stage of transitioning from Ideate (Jugaad) to Innovate (Product) and then to Indigenize (Make in India). Despite having the mindset of an innovator, the person who devises the ‘fix/jugaad’ many a times does not productize his/her ideas as ‘Designed and Made in Bharat’ and remains a ‘de facto’ way of our lives.