Srinivas Balasubramanian, a BITS Pilani, IIM Calcutta alumnus and a serial entrepreneur with 3 successful startups previously, is currently the CEO at Photon Infotech. He has held this position for more than half a decade now. Photon Infotech powers the largest number of Fortune 100 mobile experiences and has a huge pool of trained mobile experts in the world at over 1500. Photon also has the largest number of consumer touch points for multi-channel experiences at over 50 Million. I caught up with Srinivas to know about the industry trends and his experiences over the past decade and a half.You've been with Photon Infotech for more than 5 years now, how has your journey been?
It has been a rewarding entrepreneurial journey. Our stellar business growth, marquee Fortune 100 customers (20% of the F100 are our customers), innovative startup customers, and the fact that we are the largest mobile experiences company in the world in such a short period is a source of pride for our entire organization. Through these 5 years we have learned and unlearned many startup lessons as we moved from small, but high profile projects to large enterprise-class opportunities. The journey had many ups-and-downs, but building a high performance team has always been a pleasure.
Having spent so much time around mobiles and mobile technology, what is your general take on the space from Photon’s perspective?Rapid, sustained growth has made India the #2 mobile subscriber base in the world. With access to the lowest-cost tariffs in the world, we are seeing a large segment of the population now being connected and able to communicate. The smart phone segment is about 15 million, largely driven by a young consumer base and they will continue to drive adoption of the latest devices. Low cost tablets and ubiquitous availability of 3G and 4G will be game changers. Mobile applications being adopted are largely global in nature but we are seeing some great innovative new experiences being built for Indians by Indian firms. With innovative new devices from local vendors such as Micromax and Lava, we will continue to push the envelope on the smart phone adoption and expect 20% of all phones in India to be smart phones by 2015.
Talking about mobiles, everyone has their bet on apps. What are your views on this space?
Currently the only genre’s that get attention are social networking and media (news, sports, etc). Content, commerce and gaming will drive the future of mobile applications. As more people leverage the mobile Internet, there will be a critical mass of users that bodes well for the future of mobile applications in India.
Do you see mCommerce overpowering eCommerce anytime in the near future?
Globally we are seeing multi-channel commerce being adopted. Customers want seamless experiences across all mediums – mobile phone, tablet, laptop, televisions, kiosks etc. Certain categories (certain segments of travel in particular) are better suited for mobile commerce. Since the number of mobile phones is a lot larger than the number of computers, mobile commerce transactions will exceed those of eCommerce within this decade, but the GMV(Gross Merchandise Value) of eCommerce transactions will still be larger than mCommerce.
Location based services are also being leveraged widely. What innovations have you seen/ foresee in this space?
An example of leveraging location based services is where we delivered, for one of our retail customers, barcode scanning of their prescription and reminders to pick up their prescription when they are in the vicinity using GPS. Another example is when sales professionals at one of our customers are able to spot trademark infringements at local stores and immediately send pictures and evidence from their location-enabled smart phone to let their central office. We see more innovations in the area of combining location based services with couponing, emergency services, local services and others.
Photon lays a huge emphasis on ‘innovation’. Tell me about some of the innovative projects you've been involved in at Photon.
An example of what we have done for one of our large technology customers is to bring “home like” experience to the baseball stadium – which is counter-intuitive to the “stadium-like experience” at the home. Our experience allows consumers of our customer to get live scores, immediate statistics, player profiles, instant replays and local services to every baseball fan at the stadium.
Another example of our innovation is how we have allowed consumers of a large retail electronics customer to research all the information about various gadgets right in the store by taking photographs of the device and immediately making consumer reviews, product specifications and competitive pricing information available on their mobile without leaving the store.
Also, for one of our large apparel retail customers is to bring live inventory and price comparison information right at the fingertips of the consumer, even when they are at a competitor’s retail presence. We have seamlessly integrated their warehousing data, inventory and price management systems with a single mobile experience that’s a pleasure to use for their consumers.
Entrepreneurs should solve problems. What are the areas that can be targeted currently?
As smart phones become ubiquitous and their processing power increases, data services on the mobile start to grow faster than voice and SMS. Entrepreneurs should look to solve problems that help with this data growth and management. Another set of problems involve helping users with very small form factors and screen orientation and very little attention to get the right information quickly. Finally problems of managing privacy on the cloud are a very challenging set of problems for entrepreneurs to tackle.
Being a front runner in the space, you’d have been witness to some noteworthy patterns in the digital world. Tell me about them.
There are 5 major trends we have seen.
First is the issues around sharing and openness – users are a lot more open and share more now than they did 5 years ago. Privacy concerns do exist, but the providers are trying to address that and will continue to do so.
The second is adoption – it is dramatic and has grown fast. Everyone and their grandmother is on social media. This creates a medium where we are truly becoming global citizens of the social network rather than those of individual countries.
The third one is empowerment. Events like the Jasmine revolution, India’s own anti-corruption drive are being fueled many fold with social media.
The fourth is the emergence of niche social media (Pinterest, Branch out, etc.). There was a feeling a few years ago that one social network will suffice for all, but that’s now changing to multiple networks by demographics, usage, etc.
Finally the last trend we are seeing is collection of all this information shared on social media to better personalize products and services to consumers’ needs. It is still in early stages but this is an exciting trend.
On this informative note, Srinivas signed off. More about Photon Infotech here; the website might evoke a few strong reactions.