The past few days have been dominated by what is quite possibly the biggest news in the history of Indian startups, that of Walmart acquiring Flipkart. There has been much analysis done already, most of which was lukewarm to the idea of this acquisition. And no, this column will not add to that list, especially since I do not have any nuance to my opinion of this deal apart from a “lucky fellows!” hurled in the general direction of Flipsters. (That is actually my biggest takeaway from all the articles I read about this news. That Flipkart employees refer to themselves as Flipsters. I wonder if it is only coincidental that it rhymes with hipsters.)
One thing seems amply clear. That it is time now for the biggies. Almost every aspect of our technological lives seems to be now dominated by one of the big five — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft. If it is not one of these five, then it is still dominated by someone equally old and entrenched. So is this some sort of a death knell for startups then? For the answer, let us do a quick exercise. Take a look at all the apps on the first screen of your mobile phone. More likely than not, you have these app shortcuts here because you use them the most often. A good chunk of them will likely come from one of the aforementioned big companies. But there will be one or two for sure, where the app you are currently using replaced something from an older and bigger company.
In my case, there is Cricbuzz, that replaced the venerable Cricinfo and my own product from a time gone by, Yahoo Cricket. While Cricinfo still has the better commentary, and Yahoo Cricket even in its newer avatar still has the better UX and UI, Cricbuzz caters to a couple of very important points of discontent and dissatisfaction, that is very important to someone using the app to follow a cricket match on the sly. How quickly the score updates, and how easy it is for me to get all the information I need to catch up with what has happened in the match thus far. Both Cricinfo and Yahoo have always been well aware of this discontent, but various internal and extraneous reasons make it much harder for them to react to solving it, compared to a newer entrant. You can find similar examples across both B2C and B2B businesses. The biggest opportunity for startups is that they can always be the quickest to convert customer or client discontent into business opportunities.
This in a way is also an answer to a question that entrepreneurs often face when they present potential investors with their business idea. “What if Amazon or Google or one such decides to do it themselves? It will kill your business overnight!” The correct answer to that always is “They have not done so yet. Because clearly something stops them from doing so. And by the time they solve that and get around to doing it, I would have captured the market.” There is huge opportunity in discontent, and I do not think any entrepreneur will be hanging around and not exploiting it, fearing that one of the big companies will get to it before he does.