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The Next Billion Users or NBUs has been a hot topic in the Indian startup ecosystem. Given the many questions milling around this topic, and with a view to clarify this concept, we hosted a panel discussion on this topic on ‘Blume Day’ – our annual flagship event. The panel saw participation from a cohort of Blume-funded startups – Sucharita Mukherjee (Co-founder, Kaleidofin), Ranjith Mukundan (Co-founder, Stellapps), Arjun Ahluwalia (Co-founder, Jai Kisan), and Jasminder Singh Gulati (Co-founder, NowFloats). The panel was moderated by Shyam Unnikrishnan, Partner at Bain & Company.

Shyam started with an interesting datapoint – “9 in 10 internet mobile users in India will soon speak in vernacular”. Furthermore, he briefly covered the current enablers for the NBU – democratization of internet, favourable public policies and unbundling of traditional services at the last mile. He kicked off the panel discussion with a key question – “Will this user base create a billion-dollar business for Indian entrepreneurs?”

Sucharita, co-founder, Kaleidofin, said “Only the top 3 percentile makes >=6 lakhs of income. So, it’s really the rest of the 97% that we consider as our target customer segment. It is really a multibillion-dollar opportunity.”

Jasminder from NowFloats highlighted that NBUs are not driven by need but aspiration. Nowfloats, which enables SMBs with website management tools, charges  Rs ~30k to every business-owner per annum. The fact that they shell out this much money would mean that the NBUs are looking for improved business outputs. The customer has clearly evolved.

An emerging consumer segment in the next billion users is the 100mn farmer base in India, interestingly one that gets almost a third of its income from dairy. JaiKisan and Stellapps, panellists in the discussion, act as enablers to farmer population of India – where one facilitates access loans for inputs, the other tracks and manages the dairy business for farmers.

Reacting to Shyam’s question on ‘How to build for this user base?’, Arjun from JaiKisan said – “Our aim is to simplify our offering for the farmer – simplify EMI, or any financial instrument they get offered.” This meant that technology should be applied to only the touch points it gets used’. Whereas, Stellapps’ Ranjith said, ‘We will have achieved our goal if we build grade A tools for dairy management like facial recognition & fitbits for cattle’.

The panel concluded, concurring with Sucharita’s view that building solutions and not products for the NBUs is the key. At Blume, we have placed early bets on startups catering to the next rung of users and believe that there’s a larger success story waiting to be unveiled.  

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