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India is a priority market for Facebook, says Sandberg

We want to ensure that access to Internet in India is faster, better and cheaper, she said

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

India is one of the biggest bets for Facebook’s future growth, according to the company’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. “No other country has the potential that India has,” said Sandberg, adding that the company has already started monetising in India where it has more than 100 million users out of its 1.2-billion users globally. India, the second-largest market for Facebook in terms of users, is set to overtake its home market (the US) soon.

Putting India among the top-priority markets for Facebook, Sandberg said the California-based company has plans to look at setting up a research and development (R&D) facility in India. “We have started expanding our R&D slowly beyond the US. India is certainly a market we would look at. We have been investing in India and we are really willing to invest more because the returns are so great to our global and local business. We also want to develop this market, and I think that will happen as people go online,” she said.

She said India’s importance for Facebook’s global technological advancement will continue to grow. Some of the developments, in terms of technology and application, including a lot of such things for ‘Facebook for featurephones’ was done in India, or with the Indian market in mind. “It then rolls out to other featurephone-heavy markets. So we look to India to contribute to our global business,” said Sandberg.

According to her, Facebook has already started monetising in India and its growth phase is well on track. “Our goal is to grow while connecting the world,” she said. However, Facebook is not present in China, the most-populated country.

For Sandberg, who worked in India during the initial days of her career for a World Bank project in 1991, connecting the next few million Indians is top of her agenda in the coming years. “India is a very promising market with very active Facebook users,” she noted, adding Facebook wants to grow through partnerships with cellular operators, handset makers, brands, non-government organisations and the government.

Like any other geography, Facebook is open to acquisitions in India if it’s a strategic fit, irrespective of size, said Sandberg, who was the chief of staff for the US Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton and the vice-president for global online sales and operations at Google prior to joining Facebook.

Facebook made its first acquisition in India in January this year by buying into Little Eye Labs, a Bangalore-based software product start-up, for an undisclosed amount.

Meanwhile, Sandberg expressed regret at the manner in which the findings of Facebook’s psychological experiment in 2012 were communicated recently. “We communicated really badly on the study and we regret the way this got communicated. This was a one-week study a long time ago and it was like any product, testing different aspects of a product so that we can provide a better feed experience and the communication on it, and how that was interpreted was horrible,” said Sandberg, stressing that Facebook is not a company that produces content.

“We’re just trying to give you the best of what you see. None of this has a political point of view or is motivated,” she added. Sandberg claimed Facebook takes privacy very seriously. “It is the hallmark of our service, it is the underpinning of our service.”

Sandberg, who met a lot of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) along with large conglomerates during her ongoing visit to India, said there are about 900,000 SMEs on facebook in India compared with 30 million globally. “For them, Facebook is the best platform to connect with potential customers. Some percentage of these SMEs are paying for the page product. This explains the impressive growth here. Business here contributes globally,” she said, adding Facebook wants to ‘enable commerce’ by helping SMEs to find customers and expand their business, which in turn helps Facebook grow.

“We want to ensure that access to Internet is faster, better and cheaper. We are making serious investments,” said Sandberg, adding that Facebook’s mission is to help people across the globe “connect and communicate”.

In the financial year ended March 2013, Facebook's India unit had revenue of Rs 75.64 crore - a 68% jump from the previous year's Rs 45.06 crore, according to data by Registrar of Companies, Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

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First Published: Thu, July 03 2014. 00:49 IST