Indian entrepreneurs applaud Digital India and here is what they expect from Modi 2.0
I grew up in a very different era when using the internet was considered one of the biggest luxuries. Even up to the age of 18, making phone calls to different cities, let alone countries, was a very big deal for me and for everyone around me as well.
How many of you remember the local STD booths where dozens of us would line up to make that one important phone call to this very important cousin who lived far away? How many of you remember talking at a reasonably fast pace, with one eye trained upon the metre that moved as if with our own heartbeats? They were, after all, very expensive calls to make.
But, things are different now. Today, I am a proud citizen of Digital India. Like many startups before me, I have built my business online - a business that wouldn’t have been possible in a pre-digital India. And with everything that is happening - the advancements in technology, smartphone usage skyrocketing - I can only feel optimistic about all the transformation a truly Digital India can bring to our lives in the future.
If India has to build a platform economy, we really need to win the digital battle globally, especially the battle of 5G. And, I am happy to note that our government is already making efforts in this direction. While all the rhetoric about how the current government uses a lot of noise goes on, I would point out that it has done some substantial work in making Digital India far-reaching and impactful.
Earlier this year, Telecommunication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government will also set up one lakh digital villages and five lakh wifi hotspots. The government is also working hard to start trials of 5G services that will play a vital role in its plan of digital inclusion for the deprived sectors and for social causes.
Since its launch in 2015 by PM Narendra Modi, the Digital India initiative has achieved many milestones. And yes, we still have a long way to go if India is to really be a digital superpower. On the occasion of Digital India Day, we reached to several movers and shakers of the ecosystem and asked them what they think the Modi 2.0 government needs to do now to realise the full potential of Digital India...
“We have a government with the perfect startup spirit — the challenger of the status quo. I believe our Digital India mission will be a milestone in making India lead the 21st century.” - Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder and CEO, Paytm
“The government needs to improve access for the marginalised communities. For example, running special programmes that enable more women to go digital from just smartphone ownership to promoting women-centric applications. They also need to move government services to easy online interfaces similar to an ecommerce or food delivery experience for getting a driving license or a PAN card.” - Mekin Maheshwari, Founder of Udhyam and Flipkart’s former Chief People Officer
“Firstly, a focus on consumers - everyone is already digital! For government entities and corporates, we need to create incentives for ‘going digital’, which will accelerate the adoption of new tech from startups and make both government and corporates attractive for startups so they don’t have to trek overseas to focus on global markets.” - Sanjay Nath, Managing Partner, Blume Ventures
“I think trust must be developed among the masses for digital platforms. Be it in the ecommerce industry or online payments, a segment of people still don't trust digital platforms. Mass advertising that digital transactions are secured would go a long way just like how private banks were advertised a few decades ago.” - Shrey Kumar, Co-founder, Aadvik Foods
“Digital India dream cannot be achieved without breaking the language barrier. The government must ensure that all its websites have domain names in Hindi and include content in Hindi along with English. Additionally, all state government websites must be in English, Hindi and the regional language. They must have email addresses available in local languages so that people who do not know English or prefers to communicate in their own language, can easily access content without any language barrier." - Ajay Data, Founder and CEO, XgenPlus
“Digital India can only be successful by making it all-inclusive. The problems that need to be solved have to be local and unique and are most probably being done by local entrepreneurs. It is also an opportunity for massive job creation for and by local entrepreneurs as the cost of starting a business is very low. So, it would be great if the mission of Digital India can be pivoted to creating a huge velocity of local entrepreneurs solving relevant Bharat problems.” - Virendra Gupta, Founder and CEO, Dailyhunt
“Design systems so that people are not exploited by middlemen and agents. These systems should be easy to use even by the semi-literate population.” - Meeta Malhotra, angel investor and serial entrepreneur
“Two sectors where India needs to focus if we want to become a $5 trillion economy by 2022 - agriculture and small scale manufacturing. The government needs to see how digitalisation can penetrate and bring world-class automation and modernisation. The manufacturing sector needs to improvise on quality and scale if it wants to compete with China. A focus on a digital cluster can be one option.” - Alok Patnia, Founder and Managing Partner, Taxmantra
“Firstly, all govt process, especially financial processes including bank loans that are so paper-dependent, need to become digital. We run a Singapore company for all our international business and it's easier for us to operate that versus an Indian account while still being in India. This is only because you can not operate an Indian bank account for international transactions in digital-only format - and it needs to change. Last but not least, having a common ID for every Indian in the form of Aadhaar is one hell of a powerful thing with huge potential and we need to start using it the same way.” - Vinay Singhal, Co-founder and CEO, Wittyfeed
"The government needs to focus on the bottom 50 percent of the population, and encourage startups and initiatives from people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. It needs to announce policies to encourage economic leaders from marginalised sections of the society like women, Dalits, minorities, tribals, and other sections of the society." - Bilal Zaidi, Co-founder, OurDemocracy.in
"Processes like elections, including voting, should be online and we need to find a way to do it. I am sure it can be done. If we can make online payments and online bank transfers happen, why not online voting options?" - Sagar Daryani, Co-founder and CEO, Wow! Momo
“My suggestion is to set up instant skill centres, where homemakers and senior-citizens are brought into the fold of Digital India - by skilling them in short courses like graphic designing, video editing, social media management, web designing. These services will be of tremendous value to Startup India while providing an income stream to these segments from the comfort of their homes.” - Rina Barreto, Founder and CEO, Cheree Tree Concepts, Goa
“There are so many registrations a company has to go through to start, like for a trademark, GST registrations, etc. For a retailer like me, FSSAI registrations, organic certifications, etc.. So if these trademarks already exist, we need not spend extra amounts to change company names. And if these business registration processes are digitalised, it will be easy for a layman to start their own business.” Sailaja Nukala, Founder, IndicRoots
“For Digital India to be a success, the government needs access to speedy internet services, and even speedier adaptation to the digital world.” - Dr Megha Bhatt, Founder, SciKnowTech
"Digital literacy is key. I would like to see more innovative and ambitious public-private partnerships." - Jeremy Wade, Founding Director, Jindal Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship
"Creation of a digital awareness infrastructure and policies to help assisted distribution of digital services to all segments of India is the need of the hour. A key area to look at in this direction is the exclusion of TDS on commission paid to last mile agents working for financial inclusion, who may not have the right means to apply for a no TDS certificate and still bear TDS while earning lower than the minimum slab. We request the government to help us remove the burden of TDS on them." - Anand Kumar Bajaj, Founder and CEO, PayNearby
"I'd ask them to introduce safety measures and responsible ways to use the digital world in schools to remove fears and improve safety." - Arvind Suresh Ambalapuzha, Co-founder, Flexmotiv
“The government needs to focus on making Digital India accessible for all by making it inclusive. English users alone do not represent India and the non-English users pay a heavy 'English Tax' penalty. Build Digital India for language first, instead of being English-first.” - Arvind Pani, Co-founder and CEO, Reverie Language Technologies
"Use digital media to connect buyers and sellers in agriculture, and in handicraft clusters. That’s the central thing in my view. E-NAM initiatives have to spread across every state and every mandi, and similar models for informal clusters need to be evolved." - Yugank Goyal, Associate Professor, O.P. Jindal Global University
“First and foremost, there needs to be an increase in broadband penetration, and better speed and consistency in all parts of the country. Government agencies and employees should lead by example and use robust digital infrastructure instead of using outdated technologies, websites and third-party email service providers. Additionally, we need to incentivise citizens to use digital options instead of archaic paper-based options.” - Ranga Jagannath, independent sales consultant
“Due to the government's negative stance towards acceptance of crypto assets, blockchain startups are facing issues in raising funds and hence there has been a brain drain where startups are registering their companies in other crypto friendly countries.” - Aanchal Thakur, CA, blockchain enthusiast, advisor, and investor
A lot of interesting suggestions came up - a more inclusive internet, access for the marginalised, digital literacy, more online services, etc. Many agreed that one of the most important steps was to outline job creation targets. I thank every one of them for their quick responses, and for lending their perspectives and voices to Digital India.
Just cash? Not anymore
In conclusion, let me tell you the story of a recent personal encounter I had on a flight from Bengaluru to Hyderabad. I had taken a window seat and I was looking outside the window as the plane was taking off. As you would know, India is currently experiencing its monsoon and turbulence while taking off and landing was natural. But, for someone like me, who suffers from intense turbulence phobia, not so natural. As luck would have it, I am one of those who laughs whenever I am nervous or fearful, which happened here too.
Up until that point, the gentleman next to me was pretty engrossed in his newspaper. But hearing me laugh, he looked up and asked, “What happened? Why are you laughing?” I could not help but notice that he was wearing a lot of gold - a gold bracelet and a gold chain around his neck.
He thought I was laughing at him and seemed a little concerned and a bit offended, so I had to clarify. I told him about my flight phobia. He then relaxed and we began talking. He told me he was a miner and owned granite mines and asked me what I did.
I told him I tell stories, mostly about self-made people. Intrigued, he mentioned that he was a self-made entrepreneur too. I assured him that I will tell his story someday. In response, he laughed, and this time, it was me who was a bit offended because he had found the idea ridiculous.
Still chuckling, the gentleman told me that he will be in trouble if I told his story. “My business still runs mostly on cash and even part of my revenue is made in cash. I will be in trouble if you write my revenue numbers,” he said.
It was my turn to be surprised. “Can you still run business in cash?” I asked. He nodded and said, but it is getting difficult.
That one line brought a wide smile to my face. We might not be quite there yet but we are definitely on the right path. It is getting difficult to run on cash only because the government is putting everything online and to me, that is one of the biggest milestones of Digital India.
As my co-passenger put it, "It's not easy to run just on cash anymore."