Startups from India can profit from previous experiences in China, says startup guru William Bao Bean, managing director of the Shanghai-based Chinaccelator to Livemint. “I’m not saying China is the same as India, but the challenges people face in Tier-2+ cities in China were similar to those that people outside Indian metros face. So the approaches that worked in China are more likely to work in India than the approaches that worked in the US,” he says.
William Bao Bean has been hands-on with the expansion as a general partner at SOSV and MD of Chinaccelerator and MOX (Mobile Only Accelerator)since 2014. One of his new focus areas is India, where SOSV stepped up activity last year. Six of the 10 startups in the eighth MOX batch demonstrating their innovations in Taipei on 25 February are Indian.
Cheaper smartphones, lower cost of mobile data, and an expanding digital payments infrastructure are a trinity of factors sweetening the India story for Bao Bean. It also explains why he’s more interested in the Tier-2+ or Bharat demographic than the “top 30 million” well-off urban Indians. A monthly income of around ₹20,000 and growing use of Android phones in everyday life creates new possibilities.
“This little thing that they carry around in their pockets, which is maybe among the three most valuable assets they own, has the potential to really change their lives,” he says. “It’s like we’ve seen this movie before, right? We’ve seen how the internet and accessibility changed China.”
He was a partner at SoftBank China and India before SOSV, and an equity research analyst as VP of Deutsche Bank earlier. “I started covering China in 2004, when the total value of Chinese internet companies was $3 billion and now it’s $2.5 trillion. So we have a huge amount of experience.”
This was SOSV’s value proposition when it started investing across Asia in 2010. Initially, it was consumer internet in general, but then MOX focused on mobile internet. “We focus on people whose first experience or the only experience with the internet is on a smartphone. This sort of mobile revolution had a much bigger impact in China than it did in the US or Europe,” he says.
Comparisons with an earlier stage in China can be fraught with mismatches because the economy and per capita income grew so fast across the border. India is far from reaching that sort of accelerated growth. Lower capacity to pay, poor infrastructure and a patchy internet have kept VCs focused mostly on urban consumers in India. But Bao Bean can see the parallels between India and China more clearly than most.
“I’m not saying China is the same as India, but the challenges people face in Tier-2+ cities in China were similar to those that people outside Indian metros face. So the approaches that worked in China are more likely to work in India than the approaches that worked in the US.”
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