Language and affordability to drive Google’s next leap of business: Sanjay Gupta

We bring you Part I of the two-part series from the first-ever interview with Sanjay Gupta in his new role as Country Manager and Vice President, Sales and Operations, Google India

e4m by Nawal Ahuja & Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Nov 18, 2020 1:32 PM
Sanjay Gupta

Barely eight weeks into his new job as Country Manager of Google India, Sanjay Gupta had to steer the world’s biggest tech company in a country with over 500 million internet users during one of the worst-hit pandemic. Ten months later, in his first ever interview in his new role, Gupta says the experience was ‘unique’ in many ways. In a candid conversation with exchange4media’s Co-founder Nawal Ahuja and Editor Naziya Alvi Rahman, Gupta in this first part of the interview talks about Google’s mission in India, on ways to achieve the mission, the big $10 billion grant, Google’s desire to use AI and ML to change India’s agriculture, health and education sector and finding indigenous solutions for Indian users. He also talks about how a technical push for SMEs will play a crucial role in building a digital future of the country and the way forward for digital publishers to garner revenues.

Below are edited excerpts:

What are some of the key long-term and short-term plans Google has for India?

The mission in India, which is somewhere the mission for global as well, is that we want to make the internet helpful for a billion Indians. Internet is still in a nascent stage in India. Only one-third of the country uses internet, two-third is still internet dark in some ways. The second mission that we have within the context is an enabled Indian digital economy to become a leading digital economy. I think the Indian digital economy is roughly around $450 billion today. We believe that over the next five years it could become a trillion-dollar industry because as a society and community we are seeing a dramatic shift in embracing digital economy both in people and businesses. That has been accelerated through COVID in the last nine months.

Google also believes that we need to provide different solutions for emerging internet users than for the first-time internet users. Therefore, this concept of next billion users was set up around five years ago. We need to cater to billions of people on the internet and create solutions for the next billion people that will come our way. That is how a lot of things are born in Google. Like Google Pay that is an outcome of a deep understanding of internet users today and hence it is designed and developed in India and is now in the process of being rolled out globally. Our understanding is that when you design products and services keeping India in mind you find better answers.

What are your exact plans with the $10 billion investment announced in July this year?

Fundamentally, we felt that the first thing we want to do is make the internet even more accessible than it is today. A key step towards it was ensuring that smartphones are made affordable. Therefore, the first announcement that we did was a partnership with Jio bringing a high-quality smartphone at a very affordable price. This is to be produced in local Indian languages and if you don’t have solutions for billion Indian languages there is no business in play. 

Secondly, solving challenges that are uniquely Indian. We use the power of UPI in India for GPay to drive payments and that has become the norm of the day. The government has played an important role in creating a layer of technology in which so much more innovation can happen. We did something for Google Bolo which is now called Google Read Along. It is for kids to learn at a very early age, and is in the process of being launched globally. 

Thirdly, we want to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and technology to do good for the society. Our learning has been that during COVID, more than before, the people who have been hit the hardest are the poorest in this country.

One of the areas we believe we need to work in is our agriculture sector because 50% of people in India are involved in that occupation and that section contributes to 15 to 16% of the GDP. Agriculture is one area where technology can help and we hope to partner with the government and Niti Aayog for the same. Secondly, in terms of health we are moving big time into the sector to understand how we do something with AI and ML. We have done some very interesting work globally, not necessarily relevant for India, but showcases the power of technology. By doing a retina scan you can know if somebody has diabetes or not. Thirdly, education is where there is a huge appetite but there is not enough quality.

Therefore, the challenges that Google is solving more dramatically in India are things like language, affordable smartphones, agriculture, health, etc.

With so many investments and plans in the pipeline, at the base level, how are you joining the dots when it comes to ad revenue and doing things which do not have an immediate connotation?

Language and affordability will grow the core business. For Google, let’s look at search in India. Let’s say three million people speak and understand English. Even if they understand English, they consume content in their language. If you want to see the next leap of growth in India, we need to do it on the back of Hindi, Tamil, Telugu etc. The more we enable more consumers to consume the internet and the more we enable content availability in different languages, we will continue to grow. Language and affordability are the key pillars on which we will build the next leap of our business as well. It should be good for the consumer but it will be good for business as well. I think that is where the opportunity for growth will come. 

If we talk of video consumption on TV, 2% of content consumption is in English and 98% is in the local language. YouTube might go down the same path making the scope for languages more meaningful. On search, people may not type in their request, they may speak. We need to be at the cutting edge of language to get the end-users of Indian language. We must also have technology where we can subtitle a Hindi show in Malayalam and so on. These two pillars will also drive the next leap of advertising growth in this country and that is an important thing we need to secure. As we do more of it, we will create an opportunity to earn more from it and get the fuel to keep investing back into the Indian business.

It is believed that a lot of revenue that Google drives from its search business comes from Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) which have been hit hard by the pandemic. How is Google working to help them recover from the crisis and have your share of revenue back on track?

SME as a community is pretty large in India, they are close to 60 million. But the contribution to GDP is the smallest in the world. Our SME contribution in India is only 25%. In the US and China, the contribution is around 55-60%.

Two things SMEs are missing in this country is access to capital and access to quality.

We are deeply interested in impacting SME positively. The ratio of ad dollars to GDP is 0.4% and it has not grown, in my mind, because SMEs have not grown. Globally, ad dollars GDP goes up 1 to 1.5% because of the SME contribution to ad dollars versus the contribution of larger companies. It makes a lot of economic sense from a future growth point of view of even advertising revenues.

Millions of those users are starting to use payment products and Google Pay is one of them. We believe it can be an important tool to provide access to capital.

Also, if you couple it with what we can do with small tools like Google Cloud or Google Ads, they will get better quality than what they get today. However, we don’t have a fully drenched out strategy at this moment but it is an area which we are deeply experimenting on. Google Cloud services clubbed with Goole Pay business in partnership with Google Ads to provide better value for SMEs to grow. The strategy has to be how SMEs can become stronger and grow faster by using Google Technology. It will set the stage for us as for them to grow and contribute more to the GDP. 

How can digital news publishers garner revenue in India given that the market is so fragmented?

The issue of legacy mediums is real in TV or Print because of the nature of the current environment. The number of copies that you deliver has come down effectively in terms of newspapers. So the number of people that you can reach out to through a newspaper from traditional medium has come down. But the number of people that have been touched through the internet is growing.

My learnings come from my last role at Star. You need to start solving for this new medium with a fresh pair of eyes. That is what Hotstar did in terms of the content they wanted to provide and how they are going to do that to make it relevant for audiences to come and spend time on the platform.

In my mind, it shouldn’t be just another channel. You need to have the right content strategy for it because the audiences are different. We need to use this opportunity to solve for content creation and build the brand. Some of the news publications have spent decades in building their brands with the current set of their users.

But those brands must not be growing effectively because there more than 550 million new internet users today. Each user is a potential opportunity to consume the content of any one of us are creating. To get this going, the capability that you need in the organization has to be leapt off dramatically.

In Star, my learning was that it was a creative organization but it had to build an internet and technology muscle. That is not only true for Star but for any company that is trying to build a business in the digital world. This is going to be a painful transition. 

Even if we look at Hotstar, it started with zero revenue it has taken a few years to get a subscription and advertising big revenue and that is true with any digital company. When you start building the consumer profile in the scale you start making money. There needs to be an embracement of this new world in a very positive manner for it to shift.

To be continued…

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