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The Outline By Inc42+: Finding Hope

The Outline By Inc42+: Finding Hope

Pandemic has coloured most of our lenses grey with uncertainty, here’s to finding that lost hope


After weeks of bleak and gloomy forecasts, let’s start the second half of this year by looking ahead at the light at the end of the tunnel, the beacon of hope, the lighthouse which will guide us out of the storm.

The past few weeks have all been a shade of grey, each one darker than the other. But you can’t make grey without a tint of white. This week, we attempt to find those white spots on the world’s canvas. Coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic was the explosion of altruism and cooperation around the world. From small acts like people singing for each other from their balconies, to neighbours delivering groceries for elderly, to volunteers risking their lives to feed migrants — yes, there have been flashes of hope even in this bitter time. 

As ever the digital world is also not bereft of these examples of courage and compassion. In the past few months, Indian entrepreneurs have taken time out to advise early-stage startups and opened up their DMs for founders struggling with mental health issues. A five-year-old started a podcast to ease fears, while free fitness and yoga lessons on Zoom kept many fit and alert even as the world outside crumbled. Broadway performers threw an online dance party and musicians posted songs of comfort to ease people’s anxiety in these times, as social media briefly became a place for positivity too. 

There is a whole different world on our screens today, filled with authentic human experiences rather than packaged holidays and destination photoshoots. We have seen the humble kitchens, the families, pets and private corners of the lives of influencers that haven’t ever been seen before. The mask of pretentiousness is finally off. 

Getting Closer To Home

And beyond those shiny rectangles, some families have found solace in spending more time together. The lockdowns stripped away most of our social obligations — from the office to school or after-school lessons and to parties. There’s no rush to leave home and all the more time to just eat breakfast with your family. 

“During the lockdown, I’ve had more time to reflect on my family and our obligations than ever before, and it’s only now that the activities we used to fuss over have been stripped away that I’m starting to rethink how much of it is necessary,” wrote author Clint Edwards.

With people joining office meetings from the comforts of their home, work from home has also changed the professional dynamics. Even though the corporate world has evolved over the years and loosened its tie just a little bit, managers never seemed vulnerable or relatable — at least not as much as they had become during video meetings. 

Each day we join video calls sporting casual t-shirts and shorts, with less makeup and hair tied into buns to meet our managers who have similarly embraced casual attire. The video calls have also opened a window into the inner lives of our colleagues, showing just how normal their homes are — kids screeching in the background and dogs barking at inopportune times.

The Digital Way Of Life

Similar to the widespread adoption of video calls, countrywide shutdowns have also contributed to the growth of other technology platforms. What earlier was a matter of choice, has now become an essential part of our lives. One of the clear winners out of this lockdown have been online learning and open course platforms like Udemy, Coursera, upGrad and Unacademy among others. 

According to SimilarWeb, based on a study of 35 top online learning platforms, during the first 28 days of lockdown, the traffic share significantly shifted towards massive open online course platforms like Udemy (17.81%) and Coursera (10.10%), who tripled their paid marketing spends in the lockdown period. This could also be justified by people’s growing interest in taking up online courses to either make use of the extra time they had at home or to get upskilled in the changing market conditions.

Similarly, the Covid-19 pandemic has made ecommerce a necessity for many even in the unlocking phase. The lingering fear of Covid-19 has increased demand for supply chain visibility in ecommerce deliveries, which has always been the forte of direct-to-consumer brands. Many observers believe that instead of single platforms dominating ecommerce horizontally, the Indian market will see a mushrooming of digital brands with specialisations and vertical focus. 

The third biggest impact from a tech point of view has been on Indian SMBs that are now headed towards a digital makeover at light speed. The nationwide lockdown has forced many small retailers to adopt SaaS products overnight, because asking an employee to physically get a receipt or maintaining a physical inventory was out of the question. As Shashank Dixit of Deskera puts it, “The question is no longer ‘why’ a SaaS product is needed for SMBs, it’s about ‘what’ and ‘how’.” As the Indian government celebrates another MSME Day today (June 27), millions of SMBs are preparing to adjust to the tech-first nature of the market. 

Local Over Global

Like in the rest of the world, in India too, the big focus has been on bringing up the domestic capabilities to tackle any future global shutdowns. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to buy local products and support Indian businesses in these times of economic depression. This was closely followed by the government’s proposal to give preference to local suppliers and locally manufactured goods in distribution of government partnerships and contracts. 

But it’s not just about Indian companies — the effort is to bring the world’s manufacturing industry to India through these initiatives and build India as an exports hub. 

In addition to the willingness of the government, the availability of cheap labour and a huge domestic consumption market improves the success potential of this push for local manufacturing. Of course, the real proof will be when large companies move more of their production to India from China and Vietnam, which is increasingly becoming a competitor for the global manufacturing dollar. The finance ministry’s decision to slash corporate tax rates to 15% for new domestic manufacturing companies has made India an attractive destination. In March, Apple’s manufacturing partner Wistron Corporation said it would expand its footprint in India, while South Korean firms like Posco and Hyundai Steel have expressed interest in setting up operations in India. 

Further, America’s latest decision to cancel all new non-immigrant visas till December 31, 2020 is being seen as something that could boost offshore investments into India as IT giants are unlikely to overlook the cost savings of outsourcing rather than hiring expensive local talent in the US. Sheela Murthy, founder of an immigration law firm in the US, told MoneyControl, “this shift in policies would push Indian as well as the top US tech companies to look at countries like India to set up offshore centres.”

Hope For The Earth

Arguably, the biggest hope emerging from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic is that globally, less oil and fossil fuel and coal was consumed than anytime in the past century. Global lockdown measures resulted in worldwide energy demand dropping to levels not witnessed since the second world war.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), only renewable energy has managed to hold its ground in these times. Further, it pegged renewable energy to grow by 5% this year, in order to meet about 30% of the world’s shrinking electricity demand.

Even India has seen a dramatic drop in fuel demand, leading to the first major reduction in the country’s carbon dioxide emissions in the past 37 years. “Earlier this month, the Indian government put out a tender for round-the-clock electricity supply, and the price for solar with battery storage was lower than the price for power generated from coal,” energy analyst Sunil Dahiya told BBC. 

Big tech’s new found interest in the cleantech innovations could also be seen as the growing possibilities in the green energy space. Just this week, Amazon announced a $2 Bn venture capital fund focused to invest in sustainable technologies. Earlier this year, Microsoft had also launched a $1 Bn fund to invest in carbon reduction technologies. 

Whether it is in terms of disinfection of public places, acts of compassion, or sources of energy — the world is getting cleaner by the day. Who knows, maybe we’ll grow to like this change way more than we expected. After all, adversity is known to bring out the best in human beings. 

Hopeful Anniversaries

This month, about a decade ago, Sanjay Nath and Karthik Reddy set the foundation for what is known as one of the most loved early-stage venture capital firms in India — Blume Ventures. Commemorating the journey, Reddy recently tweeted, “Jun 2020 marks 10 yrs (to the mth) since a pitch deck with both Sanjay Nath and Karthik Reddy names went out for the 1st time. It was titled Project Faktory. We hadn’t concurred on a Fund Name as yet. We pitched our fund idea to everyone we could #10YearsOfBlume.”

Here’s a look at the journey of Blume so far:

Hopeful Planning

Speaking of hope, our soonicorn prediction Zerodha has joined the unicorn club and proven that you don’t need big money investments to make it big. The bootstrapped stock trading platform announced a unicorn valuation ($1 Bn) in its latest employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) buyback offer. The investment platform claims it will spend INR 60 Cr to INR 65 Cr to buy back ESOPs from senior management and long-term staffers and offer liquidity options in its 10th year. With this, the company will be valuing itself at INR 7000 Cr (roughly $1 Bn). 

Dashing the hopes of acquiring TechEagle, Zomato is now partnering with telecom major Vodafone Idea to take its drone delivery plans further. The duo will conduct ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) drone long-range experiments.

And Google is hoping that more retail businesses and service providers will see the benefits of going digital. It’s turning YouTube into a shopping destination for stores and other online sellers. Actionable video ads will make shopping easy and will complement the many ads that you undoubtedly skip after 5 seconds. Will YouTube turn into an ecommerce giant? 

Hopeful Startups

Sequoia India’s announcement of the Surge accelerator in January 2019 was seen as an ambitious exercise, some would have even called it hopeful at the time. Over a year down the line, coupled with mentoring and Sequoia’s strong network, Surge has become something of a golden ticket to startup success. Thanks to Surge, Sequoia India has also doubled its deals in the past one year to become the most active venture capitalist in India. 

Given the accelerator’s sweeping success, we decided to analyse Surge’s Indian portfolio to unravel what exactly has been Sequoia’s formula for early-stage bets. Staying true to the big and easy trends in the startup ecosystem like betting on experienced founders and backing startups that have already been around for many years and have also received funding. And if the market leader sticks to the popular formula and continues to play it safe, is it really changing things for the early-stage ecosystem or just perpetuating the cycle?

And when we speak about hope these days, it’s impossible to not consider the slew of changes in the healthcare space. Telemedicine is being touted as the solution to solve the low doctor-to patient ratio in the country. According to a McKinsey Digital India 2019 report, telemedicine in India can reduce in-person outpatient consultation load by half and is said to cost about 30% less for individuals.

Hope is the most basic driver of change. From a fresh graduate who aspires for a job to the tech mavericks of today who are dropping out of college to change the world with their startup — we are all driven by it. When things get as uncertain as they are currently, our best bet is to cling onto this hope and work for a better future. 

As ever, we are here to listen to you in these tough times, so write back and stay in touch. 

With Hope,

Yatti Soni