India’s biggest issue is user experience: Sunil Rao, Google India

Google Launchpad, a startup mentorship programme of the internet giant, will have its first batch of 25 startups from India by February next year. Sunil Rao, country head of the Startup Ecosystem programme of Google India, in an interview with Anand J described the value they will bring to the country’s startup ecosystem replete with accelerators, incubators and venture capitalists (VC). Excerpts

What is the mandate of the new startup wing Google has established?
We are part of the developer relations team. Globally, our charter is to work with the developer community, and run this community for the developer and the business group. We are currently looking at how we can shift the focus to products. We started out in March-April and are pretty new, globally. We are focused on this in India and a lot of people from the Google Innovation team is working on this, devoting 50% of their time. The entire developer relations team, the largest division globally, is being consolidated in Bangalore now. We are doing similar work in Brazil as well. We were scattered all around in Hyderabad and Delhi, but everyone has moved here now and we want to make Bangalore the hub.

Are good pure tech companies still coming out of Bangalore?
Around 45% of good startups are coming from Bangalore alone. Delhi-NCR contributes 15-20%, mostly in e-commerce, while the rest of the startups are scattered all over the place.

Is this division an afterthought — after Android Play Store became big and you needed more apps from India? Google Ventures is not in India…

This is not part of Google Ventures, but part of Android and Sundar Pichai’s team. If you look at the big picture, if Google Ventures is looking at the best startups in India, they will look at us. They might not come to India directly, but will invest on their own if they see potential. This came up because the gap we have in the ecosystem currently is completely on the mentor side. So we don’t have anyone who can take a great product from Point A to Point B and make it successful.

We will be doing everything with the startups, from mentoring them in terms of user interface and experience to architecture and market strategy. We will do everything but invest because already there are 400 VCs in the country. We won’t add value by being just another VC.

Most tech companies have their own accelerators and incubators in India…

As of now, we will be working very closely with accelerators and VCs. The Google Launchpad programme will be similar to an accelerator, which we are launching in February next year. We will have 25 companies in the first batch and have selected 11. We are taking nominations, keeping eyes and ears open and talking to the startup community. VCs and accelerators will nominate their best startups for our mentorship programme.

Our mentorship is very particular about early-stage, pre-accelerator startups. If you have a great idea, a team backing it and some idea on how to go about it, we provide you the right guidance in terms of architecture and vetting it.

How much of the focus is going to be on apps for Play Store?
We are talking about any technology company. If they have potential, we go out and mentor them. Anyone who is using technology for business and not just specific to apps.

How realistic is the goal of making India a startup hub?
We have been mentoring some very good startups in the Valley. We want to work with people and create success stories and see what really works for them. On the technology side, they are fantastic. The biggest issue I see here is user experience and we will be filling that gap. And we will address how the startups scale globally.

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