You have heard of many Indian IT companies that are global brand names – Infosys, Wipro and TCS, to name a few. India is well established on the global map as the largest destination for IT industry, accounting for a whopping 60% of a market valued at USD 130 billion (Source : India Brand Equity Foundation).
Now, think of branded software products (or software as a service) and the picture changes. India has not produced a Salesforce, or a Microsoft, an Oracle or an Adobe, despite having outstanding software talent (including some of the best brains in all the countries I have mentioned). Do you wonder why?
I have thought about why things are so, and come up with an answer. Though everyone might not like to hear it. In India, we have worked ourselves into a comfort zone, with a service provider orientation. Our USP since a long time has been cost competitive quotes made possible by a market where skilled software engineers are available in abundance. We lack the same level of comfort when it comes to building software products. Despite the promise of scaleability and long term earning, the road to product development is a rocky one and requires staying power. Also, software product development is a risk, and requires heavy investment. Not many are ready to walk this road, especially in India, where we can leverage the reputation of being a market for low-cost, reliable services.
As an entrepreneur who has spent 30 years of my life building software products, I genuinely understand the challenges that Indian companies face in this space:
- Patience and flexibility, while the market keeps dynamically evolving
We started Anant 5 years ago with a vision to build a product that promotes digital inclusion – the product that would bring the next 1 billion people online. We have always stayed true to our vision, but the product that would deliver it, has kept changing with time. Because India is a dynamic market in growth phase, and change is the only constant.
Unlike a services model, which can quickly be up and running, a software product is not built overnight. There is a gestation period from idea to implementation and multiple iterations in development. It takes blood, sweat and persistence in the face of repeated setbacks, to roll out a software. It’s a play for the long-term, not the short-term.
At Anant, we are developing a platform for mobile application development. In layperson’s language, this is a software that developers can use to build a mobile app that can run on different operating systems and phones. In the course of our 5-year product development journey, the market has seen huge shifts and changes. From a market that was almost 90% feature phones, we are down to 60% feature phones. From a market where Nokia, BlackBerry OS and even Windows Phone had a share, we have become a market that is almost 90% Android. Google has moved from offering only English, to offering Android keyboards in XX Indian languages.
When we started Anant in 2012, our first product was a vernacular language Operating System for tablets, but we realized that the market was quickly evolving towards budget smartphones running Android and the tablet market dried up.
Every change in technology environment, needs to be factored into product development. Effectively, our product roadmap has to remain fluid, while we still persist with the vision that we started out with. For me, working in a category that is constantly evolving, is actually a brilliant opportunity to demonstrate real staying power. It is a reminder that our vision is bigger than any speed breaker we encounter.
- Working with a fragmented mobile ecosystem
Working in the mobile space in India, you quickly come to realise that the entire ecosystem is fragmented. Operating systems get skinned by manufacturers with little adherence to common standards; apps are rolled out to be compatible with a few versions of operating systems, but it is a near impossible task to test with every combination of handset and operating system. Look at the reviews for any popular app in the app store and you will see many complaints that an app does not work on a specific handset, running a specific version of OS.
At Anant, we are obsessed with transcending the differences to arrive at a universally perfect app solution – one that will run smoothly on every single phone and offer a uniformly superlative app experience to each user.
This means, that we are actually on a mission to unify the ecosystem. If an app developer was to use our platform, he would simply bypass his struggles to create an app that works consistently on every device. An app created on Anant platform, would just simply work. And that is a big deal. To achieve the end goal of digital inclusion, you have to end the fragmentation in the development environment. It’s about getting every stakeholder – government, developer, client, customer – onto the same platform. This is what we believe in, and work towards.
- Differentiation vs. Heavyweight international competition
There are a handful of global app development platforms – Appcelerator, PhoneGap and Xamarin, to name a few. No Indian company has figured in this list till date – though we are the second largest mobile market in the world, and one of the fastest growing mobile internet markets. So if you are an Indian app developer, you will be working on a foreign platform – until today, when Anant will give you a homegrown option.
One of our sources of pride at Anant, is that we are a fully indegineously developed technology, a 100% Made In India product. And we offer Indian app developers a completely Indian app development experience. In fact, in our next phase of product development, we will even facilitate coding in vernacular languages (which has never been a possibility before, and will transform the profile of people who will become coders)
Also, we aim to be a complete solution, unlike all competition in the market. No one offers the entire package that Anant does. Some companies offer pure app development platforms but do not let you translate your app into Indian languages. Some are only suited for development of UI and are not app development platforms. There are some vernacular tools that try to convert into Indian languages, but this is an added layer on an existing app development platform. And there are some tools that only ensure that language fonts render correctly. We do all of this, on our platform.
We want to highlight that we are the first Indian company that has come up with a platform solution that rivals international competition – and single-handedly unifies what they do together. This is not a small feat.
- Walking the talk as a social entrepreneur
In the space of digital inclusion, the long term vision is to benefit the Indian masses. Yes, we are in the social entrepreneurship business, but like any other business, we wish to attract investment, make profit and attract the best talent to work with us at market payscales.
All of this becomes more of a challenge when you are a product company vs a service company. You need to stay invested in development, and costs mount over time. As I mentioned, this is a long term game. It takes patience and persistence to succeed. The goalposts keep shifting.
One of my learnings in the process has been, that it is extremely important to create a culture and mindset that attracts like minded employees, partners and associates. Though we are a small team at Anant, we are all united by the passion and sense of purpose to build a product that changes the category paradigm for mobile. We find the same spirit in people whom we work closely with. We constantly search for the entrepreneur with a big app idea, because we would like him to build that app on the Anant platform.
The decision to bootstrap the company for the past 5 years was never difficult for me, because I have always been inspired by the end goal that we are working towards. I look to the future and I see 1 billion plus Indians using apps as easily as they make phone calls. I see every state government having one app that runs on Anant, that unifies all departments and paperwork. I see our end user in Vellore, placing an order in Tamil with a trader in Punjab – who in turn sources the product from a producer in West Bengal. Each one speaking their own language, yet communicating through a platform powered by technology that can unite them.
Our journey is one of digital transformation, and I invite everyone to join us!
Anant Computing is a mobile platform provider with interest and expertise in building apps for inclusive development in India. Apps developed on Anant platform are light, fast, and work in all Indian languages even in low network or offline conditions. Anant is India’s first indigeneously built platform for app development.