Walmart’s decision to purchase a chunk of Flipkart last week was hailed as ‘revolutionary’ by sections of the Indian press. Economic Times, the business arm of The Sensational Times of India, went so far as to call Sachin Bansal the ‘poster boy of Indian e-commerce who redefined 21st century startups’.
In some ways, it was relief for the company that had witnessed its valuation dip by a few billion dollars last year. Amidst news of Amazon and Walmart vying for a piece of the Flipkart pie, the $16 Billion deal with Walmart must have been a sigh of relief.
As expected, the acquisition caused social to go berserk, and over-zealous patriots began pompomming the deal as a matter of pride for India; a shot in the arm for our ‘startup revolution’. At the risk of sounding like an anti-national presstitute, here is my not-so-rosy opinion on Flipkart and the Walmart deal.
Flipkart gave me my first real experience with e-commerce. I had read about the magic of e-commerce on The Economic Times – that intimidating newspaper that I chucked the moment I started studying journalism.
To their credit, Flipkart were the first ones to fully trust Indians with a Cash on Delivery option. Earlier, sites like Rediff Shopping and Indiatimes offered COD, but you needed a Credit Card, a shopping history, and four pet tigers. And even then, the items available were limited to ‘safe’ products like baseball caps and talcum powder.
My first online order was placed in the year 2011. Ironically, as the world was moving towards smartphones, I was ordering a feature phone – Nokia X2 – the poor man’s Blackberry. This phone set new standards in over-promising and under-delivering.
I placed my order and the phone got delivered in three days. I even got a mail saying the delivery guys tried getting in touch with me. So low were my expectations, that I was moved to tears.
Ain’t no appreciation like genuine appreciation!
This genuinely good impression aside, I did not become a huge fan of Flipkart in the coming years.
At its very essence, Flipkart is a rip-off of Amazon – the world’s largest e-commerce site. I find it amusing that the founders took the same path that Amazon did – books. However, Amazon did it in 1995, and Flipkart in 2007! What’s even more shocking is that the founders are ex-employees of Amazon. Imagine you’re employed by a company, and quit to start your own clone of the same company. I’m not too familiar with business lingo, but that’s kind of a dick move.
If you look carefully, Flipkart’s business strategy is lifted from the world’s largest e-commerce site. And even it’s logo seems to be lifted from the logo of the world’s largest social media site.
In the years that followed, Flipkart and Amazon went head to head, often with similar strategies, similar logistical decisions. After Amazon did it, Flipkart launched their own music player Flyte, which took flight after a few years. Flipkart also launched their own e-book reader that had more than a few similarities to Amazon’s Kindle. The service was later transported to Kobo, and eventually shut down.
Flipkart’s few bold moves backfired badly. The decision to go app-only with Myntra was quickly aborted. Flipkart’s in-app chat service Ping was also dumped in less than a year. Nearby, the grocery-delivery add-on sank without a trace.
Flipkart’s only real innovation must have been those annoying sales. Big Billion Sale, Gazillion Sale and Poonam Dhillon Sale.
As Amazon announced its arrival to Indian shores, Flipkart did everything to prepare itself, including buying the rest of the market – eBay and Jabong, and a long, gruelling negotiation with Snapdeal.
But then, India has never been the torchbearer of innovation. Our much-lauded IT revolution has been around for more than 20 years now. And yet, we haven’t shaken up the world with a single product, service or organisation. For the most part, we are cheaper alternative for high-end labour. An advantage that is expected to slip away from us as our brethren in Philippines and other countries wake up to the wonders of Rapidex English Speaking Course.
May be that is why we are so hung up on our past. Everybody from your friendly neighbourhood social media troll to ministers at the highest echelons of power – they love to hark back to that magical era. We love to stake claim to every modern technological thought, claiming we had done everything in the Vedic age (except sex, of course. Indians don’t have sex. They do tapasya and babies are born).
And this lack of innovation is not limited to Flipkart alone. If you search for the largest Indian startup companies, you’ll find they are all clones of global companies. Often times, the products and services are nearly identical. Ola is Uber without the professionalism. PayTM began with phone recharges and jumped on the smartphone revolution to follow the path of WeChat and other payment carriers. Swiggy does what global companies like JustEat and Takeaway do. OyoRooms is a shameless rip-off of AirBnB.
It’s perhaps telling that most of the founders of these clone companies are from IIT-IIMs – those haloed meccas of education in our country. And our media keeps worshipping these guys as visionaries and trailblazers. Whereas in reality, it is a case of first-mover in a booming economy. The strategy has been charted by others. It just needs some money and good replication skills.
I am yet to come across a single Indian startup company that is working towards a unique Indian solution to a uniquely Indian problem. (If you do, please let me know in the comments – I would love to read up on them!).
I am sure there must be organisations that are honestly trying to blaze trails. But they will never enjoy the funding or popularity that the copycats will enjoy in our culture. A culture where we go down on our knees to suck off anybody who got ‘foreign ka paisa’.
The Flipkart deal with Walmart might be celebrated among India Inc, but please do not call them ‘change-makers’.
It makes me cringe when the founders of these companies are hailed as ‘change-makers’. They are bringing as much change to the world as Venkatapathy Raju brought to the world of fashion designing.