Friday, January 16, 2009

What India Does Better Than Anyone Else

In a word, education. The basic education called CBSE (or something like that) is very heavy with multiple classes in math and science in each grade (or standard as they call them here). Families place a premium on getting good grades and getting into the best colleges. Students may stress out completely before exams because they are told how very important they are for their future well-being.

This education, however, provides an excellent curriculum for individuals who love logical, left-brain thought processes. For those who are right-brained, creative individuals, they are limited in their success.

Nevertheless, the teams that I've had the good luck to work with here are brilliant. All marketers I've hired come with good, solid backgrounds understanding more than simple marketing. They can work with new technologies and learn quickly. They can function in a number of the aspects involved in web development. For example, one Team Leader, as part of our reorg, ended up being part of another team as their technical lead. He had mad design skills, could program, and was able to do a lot of the work that, if we had depended on other departments to build, would never have launched. He built web sites from start to finish in a few days, rather than weeks. My only interaction was providing feedback prior to final launch, reviewing the rework and approval. People who have absorbed this vast knowledge are every where. It's just a matter of finding them.

The challenge I have, is getting them to share whatever creativity they have to come up with what Americans call "the big idea". What else can we do to increase market share and drive traffic? I would have meetings with groups and no one would talk, afraid of looking stupid in front of their peers. To me, that meant that I had to provide a setting that felt safe for them to do this. We cleared out the second section of our office and added a conference table and chairs. We installed a big white board. We had all of our planning meetings in this space. It felt less formal than using my office and people responded. They came up with good ideas, like widgets, and social media concepts to enhance social proofing for our site to make it more sticky. We tested many of these ideas and some really succeeded.

Because of that success, they were spurred on to come up with more unconventional ideas. I publicly gave recognition for their ideas and efforts. I ensured that the big bosses knew who was responsible for coming up with the ideas in the first place. I promoted natural born leaders who could articulate where the web was going and took mentoring to heart. They trained their staff individually and with care to ensure that priority was given to the more important tasks. I trained my Team Leaders to think for themselves - develop plans to push projects on their own. Some had immense challenges to overcome when I told them they owned it, but when they succeeded, they came back with a new intensity and sense of accomplishment. When they failed, I told them that they will learn more because they failed. We did post-mortems on dead projects to see what could have been done better.

Overall, my teams make a lot less than Americans do and typically I've found that I need two people for to produce the same quantity and I think this is purely because of the cultural gap. Originally, our "blog" content writers would write about their daily lives, not understanding exactly what an American does in their daily lives. They didn't understand the starbucks on every block syndrome, they didn't go to the drug store or pick up their dry cleaning. They didn't know what an laundromat was and had never experienced the pressure young professionals deal with when moving into their own place and staying with a job you hate 'cuz ya gots to pay the rent and your school loans. They didn't know what a road trip was, or going to Canada on a bet. They didn't understand heading to Denny's after a thorough night out drinking heavily and dancing. Their only references were TV shows like Friends and Seinfeld. They thought everyone lived that way.

I had to go back to the U.S. for an interview, so I picked up American candies, like root beer barrels, red hots, rasinettes, m&ms, etc., plus a ton of magazines from the supermarket, like People, US Weekly, Redbook, even the Enquirer, along with Vanity Fair, Martha Stewart Living, O, etc. It really helped them to see the content Americans engaged with. BTW, no one liked the root beer barrels - too odd a flavour as far as they were concerned. :-) I miss root beer. (sigh)

As long as Indian companies that want to work with American companies, it is critical to understand the importance of identifying with that culture. Provide time for regular training sessions - it's more than just readjusting your accent. My Indian teams have been eager to learn and excited to do so. It has been a joy to watch them grow and succeed. :-)


  1. Nice blog.

    I (Indian)live on the other side of midnight and am raising my child in North America.

    It's exactly the reverse of what you are going thru.

    My son loves pasta, pizza, M&Ms and yes - Root Beer while I crave for Bhel Puri!

    I am drilling all my left brain processes into him and I noticed he thrives in school. He has the fundamentals right - no whe can actually enjoy applying them!

    Keep writing.

  2. Oh, wow - that's cool. Why are you there? Do you have plans to return to India? There are a lot of NRIs returning to work here because the jobs are here and the lifestyle you have here is much more comfortable. What are your thoughts on this?

    -- J

  3. Hi Jeanne:

    Thanks for replying to my comments.

    "Why am I here?" - good question. I guess it had something to do with the mass migration of Indian students overseas in the 1990s - we just followed the flock.

    I don't think I would return to India right now. I will wait till my son completes his undergrad. Also with the recession - I think jobs have been badly hit and I am hanging on to mine.

    Incidentally, what is your opinion on the job situation in India? Do you think things will improve?

    About lifestyle - each country has its pros and cons - I personally prefer the North American lifestyle - especially dealing with government bodies - (I loathe the bribery and corruption in India). So all seems well here except for shovelling the darn snow:-))

  4. India's economy is still optimistic. My opinion is that as American companies try to cut costs, more will try outsourcing. The issue here is that other countries that are not as developed are getting into the outsourcing business, such as the Phillipines, which are at a lower cost than India.

    Overall, I see this is a long term, positive trend for globalization. As early adopters move to the Phillipines, more mainstream businesses will head to India which means that India hasn't even begun to saturate this opportunity. New industries, such as legal paperwork/evidence processing, are coming up as the American companies commoditize their services purely on price. Once the profit margins get too low to be viable, these larger firms will outsource to India as well.

    This is a huge part of the reason I'm here. It feels like the 'net circa 1998 when the industry was beginning to expand into the mainstream and large companies gained major portions of market share. I am enjoying this aspect. Because of India's educated workforce, there is ample growth just waiting for India to to produce. :-)

  5. What kinds of websites are you creating?

    And are these site being built just to make money off the advertising or do you also build e-commerce sites for merchants who want to sell their goods on-line?

  6. I like your objective analysis - thank you.

    Please continue posting your unique updates.

  7. Kenyan Entrereneur:

    The company I work for now specializes in SEO/SEM and internet marketing. We don't do web design or development for those companies. Typically thec ompanies are not getting the payback they expected on their investment in a web site and we come in, provide a plan, and implement that plan to meet their goals.

  8. I'm curious as to what designing an SEO plan involves?

    What are the main things you do? is it links? PPc? etc, etc