Thanks to affordable smartphones and cheaper data packs, Internet has reached 500 million people in India, says the ‘Internet in India 2017’ report, published jointly by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and Kantar IMRB.
While this has made the faster digitisation of services across the country possible, it has also opened up a vast vault of untapped opportunities by ecommerce players across tier II and III cities of India.
But the one barrier that still stands as an opaque wall between the people of India's hinterlands and the numerous conveniences to be enjoyed through the newly available medium is language.
The multitudes in the smaller cities of India often know no other language but their mother tongue, let alone English.
Accessing information and following instructions necessary to use Internet-based services, which is mostly in English, is simply a mission impossible for them.
To make online transactions simpler for the people in tier II & III cities, rural areas, non-English speaking population and middle aged & elderly people, two IITians have developed a software called Jiny - a digital technology adoption assistant, that provides audio and visual navigation through mobile applications of banks and e-commerce stores, in 15 Indian languages.
This application is built into the partnering Apps.
Kushagra Sinha, the 25-year-old CEO of Jiny, who graduated from IIT Guwahati, believes that it is not just the language, even the user interface, can be a challenge for a first-time user to grasp.
"While most of the population in tier II & III cities and even rural areas is using WhatsApp, Facebook and consuming audio-video content, only 200 million people are buying online or conducting any online bank transactions. The other 300 million have not been tapped yet," said Sinha.
He first came across the issue when banks started to ask linking aadhar account numbers to bank accounts.
“When my father wanted to do the same through the mobile app, he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t go pass two or three screens on the application,” said Sinha.
Co-founder Sahil Sachdeva, an IIT Hyderabad passout, also saw the same issue at home when his mother kept touching on the search option on the screen and nothing appeared.
“We know that we have to first type what we are searching for, and then tap search. But she would first tap and search and expect a dialogue box. This is neither her fault nor the application's. It is just guidance that is needed,” said Sachdeva.
Their software, Jiny.io, does what Google does with maps.
As the maps tell you in real time weather to go left or right, similarly Jiny guides the user in real time through every screen that appears on the mobile application while transacting.
The team decided to focus on financial transactions as they did see a lot of people who do get excited after watching TV ads of Amazon or Flipkart and want to buy from there, but are not able to.
“People had the money and the interest to buy, only transaction was an issue. With 300 million users in India who quit the application on reaching the first or the second screen of transaction,” said Sinha.
Throwing some figures, Sachdeva also added that Flipkart has over 100 million users and similar is Amazon India user base. "But in India we have 500 million internet users. They are not trapped (attracted to) on the payment gateways."
They have partnered with one of the major telecom companies in India, that will launch a payments gateway in August.
Jiny will be available for public use for the first time in combination of the soon-to-be-launched payment gateway.
They plan is to go the B2B revenue model way as they have also partnered with a national bank in the country.
According to Shanti Mohan, co-founder and CEO of LetsVenture, “This trend of ‘solving for India' is seen in the emerging startups. While Jiny is solving for India with local languages here, it can also be used globally where similar issue is faced like in Latin America or Africa, by only changing the languages.”
The Jiny team tested their prototype at Lucknow railway station in 2016, where they asked the people who were standing in the ticket line, to book a ticket on IRCTC application.
“Every-one was able to do it in the first instance using the software,” said Sinha.
According to the 'Imagining Trillion Dollar Digital India' report by IBM and Kalaari Research Report published in April 2018, the number of Indian internet users will reach to 850 million by 2022, of which half will be from rural areas. The report also says that 70 percent of Indians consider digital content in local languages is more reliable than English content.
If the report is anything to go by, its suggestion to startups is to, "Focus on creating value for next 400 million or India 2.0 consumers and focus on India specific nuances – vernacular offerings, voice-based interfaces, volume vs price choice etc."
While this may show that Jiny may is on the right track but, Ankur Nigam, partner, deal advisory, KPMG believes that though vernacular is the way ahead, the change in text will also work rather than audio.
“We did a research with Google and realized that going vernacular is surely the way to go ahead in India, but I am not sure if an audio assistant is needed. During online transactions what actually works is the confidence to do them, and for the first time anyone would need guidance, so the software might prove helpful there. If the banks and ecommerce agencies decide to make their visual interface in a way, where text is in local languages, then I think that too will solve the issue,” said Nigam.
The jury may be out against whether text or voice-based assistants like Jiny would ultimately seize the day, what is clear is that vernacular is the way forward to make the most of the rural internet users of India whose strength is expected to grow by 75-80 percent in the next five years.