Globig recently interviewed Julian Leuthold, producer of GetGlobal, the premiere international expansion conference for the United States. With his extensive background and familiarity with India, and his experience in consulting with companies doing business in India, Mr. Leuthold was able to provide great insights into the country during our conversation.
To set the stage, Mr. Leuthold gave several of his own definitions for terms important to India.
Culture: The shared experience of all the things that fill up your world and inform your worldview with the others around you, making your culture distinct from other cultures. Culture can be at the national and regional levels, as well as within companies and relationships.
Colonialism: The reaction to having been colonized.
Post-colonialism: What happens when the colonizers leave. This is an important concept since the reaction to the experience can be a dominant cultural force.
History plays a big role in any country’s culture and it’s important for companies planning to do business in a new country to understand how history and culture will influence how they do business. For instance, a driving force in Indian culture is their history of colonialism from the British. Many people may not know that the British initially entered India as a company, not as a country. This can bring extra scrutiny to foreign companies entering India. Any company that touches labor in India, or has a reputation of being unfair to labor, will get additional eyes on it. As with any company and any country, it’s important to understand and be sensitive to the culture – and the history that drives it – in new markets.
What does this mean for foreign companies entering India? First of all, understand that India is a tech-loving country and has access to information from around the world. If you are a large company, they will know how you are perceived in your own country and how you conduct business there. If you have a bad reputation at home, they will know it and will pay extra attention to your activities in India. For instance, people in India read international newspapers, saw the problems that Walmart was having in the United States, and were concerned for how Walmart would act in their country – even though Walmart might actually be providing benefits to the country overall.
For smaller companies that aren’t a known entity, what matters is how they interact with Indians. The key is to leave your assumptions at home. Treat people like they matter and that you are listening and you will have greater success. “Come in with a clean, clear canvas…and paint with their colors”. Of course, this advice applies to larger companies as well. Any trace of condescension or disrespect will be noted and could blow up around you.
As mentioned earlier, Indians are connected to the world. It will be unacceptable if you do business in other countries and are found to not be treating the Indian market in the same way you treat customers in your own country. For instance, though it is hard to do background checks in India, Uber found itself in hot water when one of its drivers assaulted a passenger and it was discovered that they weren’t conducting background checks in the same way as in other countries.
And Facebook put Indians in a tough position when they introduced Internet.org and Free Basics, both intended to make the internet more accessible and affordable in India. While Indians love having the ability to share knowledge and ideas and access information, they were resentful of the fact that Facebook wanted to introduce a ‘slimmed down’ free version of the internet, with limited options decided by Facebook and Facebook at its core. Again, they saw a company offering them something less than was available to other countries and were suspicious of Facebook’s intent. It could also be perceived to set a precedent that the country is not necessarily interested in.
The question then becomes, what can a company do to increase its chances for success in India? In India, you have to win over the hearts and minds of the people all over the country. Above all, listen. As Mr. Leuthold says, you will have to listen at some point, so do it early.
To summarize, listen first, start slowly, and build from the ground up. Enter India with an open mind, leave your assumptions at home, and build relationships by listening. To hear more of Julian Leuthold’s insights, listen to the Globig podcast: Post Colonialism, Culture, and How to do Business In India.
Globig will soon be adding India as a country, join Globig to get notified.