Technology has to be simple as well as beautiful

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Aug 11 2014, 06:50am hrs
Few entrepreneurs have been as successful across so many fields as John Sculley, one of Americas best-known business leaders. Best known today as the former CEO of Apple Computer, Sculleys corporate career began in 1967 when, armed with a Wharton MBA, he was hired by Pepsi-Cola Company as a trainee. By 1977, Sculley was Pepsis youngest president & CEO. In 1983, Apple founder Steve Jobs persuaded Sculley to transfer his consumer marketing talent to personal computers with the now famous question, Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world

In April, l983 Sculley joined Steve Jobs and became CEO and president of Apple. His decade-long stay at Apple also saw Jobs being ousted from his job after a power struggle. Sculley was forced to resign in 1993 because he refused to license the Macintosh technology.

Cut to present. Sculley is aggressively promoting Obi Mobiles, which aims to be Indias fastest growing smartphone brand. He is doing this via Inflexionpoint, an IT distribution company owned by him, which is investing in setting up a design centre, supply chain, sales and marketing network to lay a robust foundation for Obi Mobiles, in the country. India is the companys first stop for investments, marketing and sales, before spreading the handset brand and business to growing markets in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Latin America. The focus is to build an international mobile brand in India with an aim to provide the best quality technology and become a great global mobile company, he told Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:

Indian smartphone market is superhot these days with numerous players fighting for market share. Arent you a bit late in entering the market

I think we are entering at a pretty good time because India has just moved to 3G and it did not make much sense to try and launch a smartphone at 2G phase. India has been developing its own regional brands. It has got Micromax, Lava, Karbonn Mobiles among others and they have done quite well. But we are at a point where commoditisation of hardware has come down so rapidly, that it is now totally practical to make highest quality of devices that could be sold at reasonable price point in India.

It is estimated that in India over 300 million mobile devices are sold a year, but majority of them are feature phones. Out of the total, may be 20-30% smartphones are sold in a year, but if India has to fall parallel to rest of the world then it has to be 70-80% smartphones very quickly. So, clearly there are going to be opportunities for success for several companies. It doesnt require one company to dominate the market to have that success.

When it comes to Obi Mobiles in India, we already have an existing robust foundation of Inflexionpoint that looks into distribution channels. In the past, we have acquired some regional distributors in Asia as well. So, there is already some kind of experience in the Indian market that we will be leveraging. If we have had an expat coming to India to sell smartphones, with no prior experience into Indian market then you will have to believe in the ability to sell through the channels where the majority of the product are being sold already.

So, if you are in China where online is huge, Xiaomi had an incredible success. But can you do the same to be successful in India. May be some can, but many people cant. So we will be leveraging our existing experience and our goal is to maximise our distribution channels, which means we will be touching upon even small retailers in the country. Currently, we have over 95 service centres here.

What will be your strategy to grow Obi Mobiles market share in India

Our strategy is to bring an international brand in India, we are bringing top Silicon Valley designers to design our products. When I was in Shenzhen a few days ago, I looked at many different smartphone devices, they all were designed beautifully but they all look exactly the same. If you think about sunglasses, it is more than to just cut out the sun, sunglasses are fashion statement. They are only sold by the name of the designer. It is the design that becomes the signature of the product. We believe the same goes for mobile devicesif you have a signature design or styling to it, you got to be an international brand, you got to be able to sell through traditional channels, then your success chances are very much there. And if the market is based India, where more than 300 million phones are sold a year and over 30 million phones sold a month, then it will not take much time for a good smartphone brand to be successful. We are building a robust team. We have got very experienced executives like Ajay Sharma, who know Indian market in and out.

How important is India for Obi Mobiles from a global perspective

If you look at what is happening in China, the companies are buying international brands as they want to be more than just a worlds factory, they want to an international brand. There were few developments on acquisition or partnering of a regional mobile player with that of an international brand quite recently.

With Obi, we can build an international brand in India. We can do it in just a few years and then we can see what the other opportunities arewhether we want to keep it as just an independent company, go ahead with some partnership or even selling the company is an option in future. But, right now the focus is to build an international mobile brand in India with an aim to provide the best quality technology and become a great global mobile company.

How has the market responded to Obi Mobiles devices Who are adopting these devices

Well, we have just started. But the aim is to provide the consumers with fully featured phone, at the best available price. We are trying to build Obi as fast as we can. Some products that we will offer will have more features and will be sold at higher prices while others will be sold on aggressive price points. The products are basically designed keeping in mind the youth of India. We are focussing on the user interface as well as the styling of the phone. Our initial products are Kitkat based phones, with the base level quality, style, appeal which could possibly generate a positive response in the market.

What according to you is the key to succeed with the Indian consumer

Key to success is to culturally connect with the young people of India and bundle the offerings as per their usage. Obi Mobiles is primarily targeting the age group of 16- 28 years. So, services around cricket, Bollywood songs among others are very important. It is equally important to be very specific in terms of product designing as well. We have spent good amount of time in researching about the Indian market, and our target audience.

How have you tried to differentiate yourself from other mobile handset players globally

Currently, Obi Mobiles will differentiate itself by styling as well as the user experience. All our products will be running on latest platform. We aim to capture a good mindshare for our products, build loyal customers and that will help us garner targeted market share. The rules to sell any products in market are basically thatfirst, you should have a decent quality product; second, you must get styling in place that is appealing and third is to get the on deck services that the young market wants.

What are the factors that are driving consumer preferences in smartphones

In my mind, the factor that is driving the consumer preference towards the smartphones is fashion; it is not technology because the technology is all similar now. As long as you have a base level of expectation, that is, there should not be any compromises on basic technology offerings, then it comes down to styling and packaging. Today, phones are not only used to make calls, its more about the applications, camera, messaging as well as user interface. From my Apple days, I have learnt that technology has to be simple and at the same time, beautiful as well.