Nirmalya Kumar is professor of marketing and co-director of the Aditya Birla India Centre at London Business School. His most recent book is “India Inside: The Emerging Innovation Challenge to the West”. He is a leading thinker on strategy and marketing and has taught at Harvard Business School,
IMD (Switzerland) and Northwestern University (Kellogg School of Management). He has written six books, including Marketing as Strategy, Value Merchants, and India’s Global Powerhouses. Nirmalya has worked with more than 50 Fortune 500 companies in 60 countries. He graduated from Calcutta University, University of Illinois and Northwestern University. Nirmalya is also a passionate supporter of the arts. He joins us in this exclusive interview on global business opportunities and Indian startups.Q: What were some of the unusual reactions your book received?
The book was well received in India and the TED talk based on it is nearing 300,000 views. The reactions have been more extreme than we anticipated. Some feel we are just wrong and innovation cannot happen in India. Those who fall in this camp, see innovation as only restricted to visible end products for consumers. In some sense, we understand their frustration and recognize that we were more in the realm of “next practice” or what we see evolving. Over time, we hope to see this current invisible innovation capability transform into visible new products invented in India for the rest of the world.
The concepts have been more widely accepted and found interesting by people. Thus our contribution may finally rest on these new concepts such as sinking skill ladder, browning of the top management teams, and injection of intelligence.
Q. In addition to the big companies you studied in India, what are your findings with regard to startups in India? Will this give rise to an “India Outside” phenomenon?
We covered this to a small extent in our book. But I am more optimistic on this front as more individuals dream of starting businesses in India than anywhere else in the world. The start up industry infrastructure needs further development as startup funding, university led entrepreneurship, and angel investors are still limited.
Q. What are the typical challenges Indian entrepreneurs will face as they scale up?
For B2B companies this is having world class quality to compete against the best products and services. This is best addressed through investments in
manufacturing excellence and process innovations.For B2C companies, the most important challenges are end user insights and building a brand with developed marker consumers. Here I am more pessimistic as the costs of building a brand and distribution network with end users in mature markets is prohibitive for an Indian company. Perhaps acquisitions are the only way in B2C markets.
Q. How are Indian policymakers and educators responding in your areas of recommendations?
I think here we see some promising initiatives. The IIMs and the university sector have responded and now are examining how to generate more research in Indian institutions that is published in the global academic outlets. Some ministers have also picked up on our conclusions that India needs to upgrade the research infrastructure and think of the leading educational institutes such as IIT and IIM as more than selection agencies and teaching factories.
Q. What is your next book going to be about?
It is called Brand Breakout and is about how emerging market firms can build consumer brands in Western markets. It is mostly about Chinese firms and identifies eight pathways that emerging market firms can potentially follow to build a brand in developed markets of the West.
Q. What is your parting message to the startups and aspiring entrepreneurs in our audience?
Fail early, fail often, fail small, in order to succeed sooner!
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