Thursday, September 3, 2009

In conversation with Santosh Jain- Nano Ganesh Innovator

I was told me once that the tone of the post is determined by its end. I have to admit as of now, while I might want to keep the tone(s) neutral or objective, I probably will refrain from doing so. Because, no matter the beginning or the end- there are people that you speak with who make you feel fabulous purely as they have this thing about their work.

I finally got to speak with Mr Santosh Jain, who works as a rural innovator*. His firm has created the Nano Ganesh which I wrote about earlier here. While, like a true ‘impact’ student, I kept asking him how ‘well’ the Nano Ganesh has done, especially with the Tata Indicom partnership.  And then, I got a little insight into Nano Ganesh not being a Tata Indicom product, as a random Google search may make you believe. It was infact started in 2003 – the first version- which was hefty. Following this a superior and smaller ‘Nano’ version was made, realeased in 2007 in Pune and around Maharashtra. Till now, about 5000+ units have been sold, and that covers about 15,000 farmers. Amongst other things, it meant- no operator dependency- bonus points for that!

Mr. Jain had an interesting anecdote to share about how the idea came about. He was very convinced that a company/ person can work with the rural populace for two reasons- 1) either you’ve got to be passionate about it 2) or, you’ve got to be from the village to know what works and what doesn’t. I wouldn’t say this was some ‘new’ knowledge, cos internally I think we all know it. But it’s always interesting to hear it from people who’ve been there, done that. Note to self- Key success factor ? Well, yes.

Mr Jain’s ajoba (granfather) as he chatter away in Marathi (mental note: thank COEP for forcing me to learn the language ) was a farmer. And that probably pushed him towards the rural settings. He recollected having spoken to a farmer once who used to travel 3-4kms to a water tank. And on being asked why he does that, the farmer thought a while, and replied,- ‘cos that’s how it is’. And that’s striking, cos as Mr. Jain observed, till one does not understand the real needs, its impossible to create something adoption-worthy.

One question he’s faced with almost everyday is- ‘Why not create something exclusive for an operator’ – to which his simple answer is that no operators can cover the 50million target farmer populace , and thus why should he limit his products to 15-20% of the target?- which is what one operator may be able to cater for at best.  The partnership however is extremely benefitial for the operator on several accounts- 1) Ready to work app targeted at rural segments 2) Ability to sell 2 SIMs – even with lifetime validity and gain a ‘household’ of consumers 3) Free CSR/ good branding opportunity. For Nano Ganesh, there’s gain too- nation wide installation opportunities, for one!

The farmers have been skeptical about things like 1) Maintainence of the Nano Ganesh unit 2) How does it help really- probably even interia. Mr. Jain did quote a place 20kms from Pune, where people had to use a horse to move around! So, places far into the interiors in India and across the world, would probably be worse off.  Mr. Jain thus said one had to justify how much of fuel could be saved by just have a remotely controlled device. It also resonated with my Jhansi visit in 2007, where the guy from Tarahaat said to the villagers it was important to show ‘how you’re making them save’, cos for them 3-4 kms didn’t matter. That’s the way it had been.

Nano Ganesh’s challenge to the world of marketeers and telecom operators thus is, will you keep up your promise and come help us after we buy your unit, and live a fair bit away from your city? Will you travel our horses and reach us? Will you make efforts to listen to our stories?

* Also innovating a remote controlled water tank device, which can potentially be placed in Gram Panchayats and save water wastage


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