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Startup Act 2: Hardware Emerges And Software Evolves

Startup Act 2: Hardware Emerges And Software Evolves

It is now plain for anyone to see that the startup ecosystem in India is booming. The latest statistics from Nasscom’s annual report cites India as ranking third globally for number of startups. This impressive growth means that it’s not just the volume of startups that has increased, it’s also the variety.

It is this variety that I would like to examine in this article, from two very specific lenses – hardware and software.

A Boom In Hardware Startups

Let us first look at the hardware side of things. If we turn the clock back about two years, the then newly formed BJP government led by Modi announced an ambitious campaign titled ‘Make in India.’ The aim was to create a business environment geared to make India a global manufacturing hub. Amongst the many policies incorporated within this initiative, from the perspective of startups, three stood out.

Creating a skilled workforce, multiple incentives for manufacturing and making it easier to secure intellectual property held the most potential and promise.

This was probably the first time that hardware startups began considering manufacturing in India. According to Tracxn, a startup tracker, there were 122 hardware-led tech startups that were founded in 2014 and 85 in 2015. Close to 30 of these attracted investors and 16 actually got funded as well.

The variety of startups in the hardware space, to name a few, span categories such as robotic solutions for warehouses, electric scooters, wearable tech, car diagnostics and ‘maker-spaces’ such as Makers Asylum, Workbench Projects and another interesting one I recently came across called Banao.

Banao, the lesser known of the three, is a team I have had the pleasure of interacting with personally and find their area of work to be very interesting. They aim to extract the ‘hard’ from hardware and position themselves as a ‘makers playground’. Looking to democratise access to tools & resources, they want to enable everyone to become a ‘maker’. Along with guidance, they will provide the tools for people to play with. Folks will have access to state-of-the-art tools and machines, like 3D printers, and be able to iteratively work on projects, even remotely if required.

Their model, which includes an integrated online platform in the future, has a lot of scope for collaborative efforts that are not bound by geographical limitations. These guys are going to play a big role in making the world of hardware accessible and fun for everyone.

Software Evolution 2.0

Let’s shift focus now from the emerging world of hardware startups to the rapidly evolving world of software in startups in India. If I was to put my finger on one specific change I have noticed here, it would be the focus shift from computational and analytical prowess of the back-end to aesthetic appeal and design of the front end. This is the classic ‘right brain vs left brain’ phenomenon that we see playing a major role in this shift.

Previously, the focus, not just for entrepreneurs but even for the investor community, was how well the back end for any software-driven product works. The faster the computing capabilities and the more complex the algorithm, the better the product was assumed to be.

Slowly but surely, with consumer behaviour demanding much more, the focus has shifted to the front end. More and more attention is being put on how something looks and feels, the back-end capabilities themselves simply not being enough to impress anymore.

Consider the classic PC vs MAC story. PCs dominated the personal computer market until Steve Jobs changed the game with his attention to aesthetics, design and user interface. “We made the buttons on the screen look so good, you’ll want to lick them” he even quipped once.

This thinking has now found its way to the Indian startup ecosystem. Design thinking and a focus on the actual, interactive experience of the end user has caught on in a big way.

Personally, I’m guilty of being very particular about the user experience as a potential consumer of any product or service. If it doesn’t look appealing, chances are it ends up not being used.

Recently we went through an extensive exercise at 91springboard to figure out which tool we should use as our leads management system. We did a lot of research and finally settled on a tool which we felt was the most efficient. However, one of the main criteria we had when selecting was how user friendly the interface is. After some time of rolling it out across the organisation, we learnt that while the tool has an effective back-end and what we believed was a user friendly front end, it was just not being used.

The feedback on the tool was clear; it’s not easy to use or user friendly enough. We went back to the drawing board and have now settled on another tool which has a much easier interface and the adoption rate has seen a steep rise. This simply goes to show how important this approach has become and I see the same kind of approach being incorporated by entrepreneurs across the board.

At 91springboard, we host a lot of knowledge-based events and the demand for design thinking workshops has seen a steep rise over the last few years. The interesting thing to note is the profile of the attendees span entrepreneurs across the spectrum, right from the idea stage to full-fledged running businesses.

In Conclusion

To conclude, both these trends are heartening to see and will be interesting to track as the focus on startups continues to gather momentum in India. While the going has been better than before for hardware startups, there is still a lot of work from a policy implementation point of view to be done.

A myriad of loopholes, going into which will go beyond the scope of this article, still need to be ironed out to enhance the ease of doing business and encourage more entrepreneurs to get into the hardware field. Similarly, while the focus on design thinking and aesthetics is on the rise, it’s still in its nascent stages and we need to actively do a lot more to encourage this behaviour. As the old saying goes, even a journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.

[This post by 91springboard.com co-founder Varun Chawla appeared here and has been reproduced with permission.  91springboard is a vibrant coworking community created for startups, freelancers and business owners with a startup mindset.]

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