India, which currently has 35 million online shoppers, is likely to have around 100 million by 2016, according to a recent research by Forrester Consulting and Google. In the first of a three-part series, Business Standard looks at how e-commerce is fuelling the aspirations of ordinary middle-class Indians, and turning them into entrepreneurs
Assem Bhardwaj, 30, returns home from work at about 5:30 am. He spends the next three hours helping his father, Surinder Bhardwaj, a retired State Bank of India branch manager, with mathematical calculations. They predict the course of the stock market and update it on their website before the opening bell.
Aseem, who works mostly on night shifts as a software consultant with an information technology firm on the outskirts of the national capital, started niftycontrol.com a few months ago and convinced his 70-year-old father to help him run it.
"My father is an avid follower of the stock market and I am good with software. So, we decided to do something with our skills. I did not want to curse myself five years down the line for sitting quietly when there were opportunities to make money. Today, we eat, breathe and sleep in the virtual world," he says.
The Bhardwajs represent just one example of how the online wave sweeping metropolitan cities has fuelled the aspirations of ordinary middle class Indians, prompting them to launch businesses on the side, or quit jobs altogether to start internet ventures.
"The entrepreneurial bug has bitten Indians. Everyone is thinking about going online or starting a business. It has become the talk of the town," says Padmaja Ruparel, president of the Indian Angel Network, an association whose members invest in early stage businesses.
Indeed, words such as "social media marketing", "clicks", "visitors", "domain name" and "search engine optimisation" are cropping up more often in conversations in restaurants, drawing rooms, meeting rooms and even on WhatsApp.
Until last year, Ruparel received a daily average of two or three proposals for a start-up. This year, she says, it is eight or nine a day. She attributes this jump to the growing economy, more money in the ecosystem and easy availability of a talent pool. The network is getting proposals for ventures in the realm of clean energy, health care, social services, hospitality and e-commerce.
Experts say there are three sets of people leading the rush towards dotcom entrepreneurship. The first consists of those running offline businesses, who have been forced to enter this space after facing competition from online players. The second consists of professionals who have quit jobs to start their own online businesses. Finally, there are those in fulltime jobs or businesses who run part-time online and offline business.
These aspirations are not confined to the young. Take 57-year-old Deepak Oberoi, whose family business manufactures heating parts for export to companies abroad. He is busy hunting for a social media marketer who can help him promote his new side-business - selling pickles online.
"We displayed our range of pickles, based on my garandmother's secret recipes, in Select City Mall in Delhi last year and the response was an eye-opener," he says. "That's when we decided to start an online business. Who will mind a second source of income?" Oberoi says he now makes anywhere between Rs 30,000-40,000 a month from selling pickles. His wife supervises the business, which has three employees, and he plans to jump in fulltime himself once online sales pick up.
Like Oberoi and Bhardwaj, other part-time online entrepreneurs are popping up in the metros. Deep Dogra and his wife Shruti scout local markets for ethnic wear on Sundays and use platforms such as Amazon to sell these products outside India. "There is a huge demand for Indian ethnic wear in the US. We list and sell our products online after office hours," says Dogra, who works for a multinational firm.
"There are costs," he admits. "We are growing but this is consuming our personal space," he adds.
Anirudh Gupta, who co-founded a travel website in July last year, while working with Rocket Internet in Dubai, realised early on that it needed his full-time attention. "There is no short-cut to success," Gupta says. Thus, he left his job and came to India to become fully involved in his new venture.
Shashank Mehrotra, business head of BigRock, which sells domain names for websites, says the industry has witnessed an impressive spurt in the registration of domain names in the last two years, with an approximate 15 per cent growth on a year-on-year basis.
On an average, around 45 per cent of domain name registrations in India get converted into a live website. "We have already crossed the one-billion mark for total number of websites globally in September 2014, which reflects on India being poised to become the second largest internet user base (after China) by 2016," he says.