“The Web’s Third coming is near”, say’s Capital18’s Sarbvir Singh

For those of us who remember the year 2001. Two things come to mind, the 9/11 bombings and the dotcom bubble in the USA and the world over. Since then India has emerged as something of a slow learner in the web space, but there are those who are bold enough to say that the web’s potential in India will only grow. It sounds like a cliché, ‘but it is actually not’, says Sarbvir Singh, CEO of Capital18- the VC arm of Network18, which holds interests in media and publishing. Excerpts from the interview where he discusses his views on the web in India:

Qns: What is happening to the internet, how can one present a business case for it?

Ans: The number of users of the net has really not gone up significantly from the 45-50 million    number that has been thrown around for the last 2-3 years. But what we have seen is sharp growth in the number of folks who use it daily and the time that they are spending on the web. That means a whole host of services such as entertainment, gaming and e-commerce are potential businesses. Payment options remain a challenge to make the latter happen. Payment providers are going to be key business drivers on the net. I feel that if entrepreneurs  get the proposition right then the internet era could finally be upon us in India.

Qns: What do you mean when you say payment providers and the services that they can offer?

Ans: I mean payment providers like Pay Pal. In almost every large country, there is a different payment service which is dominant – Paypal in the US, Alipay in China, mobile solutions in parts of Africa. Perhaps, this is driven by the varying regulatory environments and the need for a customized solution.  In India too, the RBI has very clear ideas on what they will allow and not allow.  I believe that the space exists for a customized solution in India which can take mobile/internet payments beyond the narrow sliver of folks who use it today. However, creativity is needed in ensuring that this meets regulatory requirements yet is easy to use and secure.

Qns: Now what else will trigger this internet opportunity?

Ans:I feel that the 50 million internet users should become 100 million users in the next 2-3 years. It is likely that the devices these people use to access the web will go beyond PC’s. The mobile space will be large and is throwing up several opportunities. With Reliance entering broadband, it is only a matter of time that this market will get a major boost. 100m users will create scalable opportunities that entrepreneurs can capture and for funds such as us to invest in.

Qns:What is happening to the world of print, will content online draw more revenues?

Ans:It is a tough call. The coming decade print will be challenged as digital platforms gain wider usage. On the other hand literacy is still growing in India and print could remain the first port of call for new readers. The immediacy of news will drive consumers online and there has to be some differentiation if you have to draw customers to print. A minimalist copy and paste job will not get you anywhere. One of the reasons Network18 is consolidating its digital businesses is to put more focus on them and invest behind the coming opportunity. We see the need for differentiated content and the need to give users a reason to be online. Perhaps, after a few false starts, the internet market in India is finally getting ready to take off!

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About Deepak
Venture Capital and M&A advisor, Entrepreneur, Startup enthusiast..

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