Raj Narula's business is holding hands.
The co-founder of TaraSpan Inc., based in Ottawa, spouts wisdom on doing business in India, mainly for small and medium-sized enterprises that want to tap its potential and his sage words range from big-picture issues right down to the basics of traffic.
If a one-billion-people strong economy with up to 300 million English speakers is an alluring market, the flip side is the congestion and chaos that marks the urban environment in the world's fifth largest economy. Mr. Narula and his partner Mike Manson, who has worked with companies such as Indian IT service giant Wipro, thrive on the complexity.
"Don't worry about the traffic you encounter on your first visit," says Mr. Narula, the engineer-entrepreneur son of an Indian diplomat who is now Canadian after living a globe-trotting childhood. "Six lanes of traffic operates in three lanes. I suggest you do not sit in the front seat of your car as you arrive if you are faint of heart."
Aided by funding from technology tycoon Terence Mathews, TaraSpan in India goes by the name Wesley Clover Communications Solutions (Mr. Mathews has a holding company in Canada called Wesley Clover). WCCS supports a large portfolio of technology products such as voice and data applications, video surveillance, personalization of mobile content and e-learning.
India's hot telecom market, which adds more than 10 million new cellphone subscribers a month, offers the company opportunities that niche technology players love. WCCS has aided in bringing to the Indian market technologies from Canadian firms such as Bridgewater Systems Corp., Mitel Networks Corp., and neuroLanguage, mixing their innovations with local expertise and services.
The problem is that the landscape is varied, and finding the right opportunity can involve costs or other resources that make it daunting for a Canadian SME. This is where TaraSpan uses its own clever combination of on-the-ground knowledge and flexibility to custom-tailor advice or pathways for firms. It assesses market potential and it also does early digging in the form of pre-sales, post-sales and representation services and backs it up with help in areas such as recruitment.
WCCS can do a "build-operate-transfer" service, combining fees with revenue share.
"You must first understand whether your product is needed in the market and then assess the overall cost metrics of doing business in India," says Mr. Narula, adding that measuring infrastructure needs after closing the first sale is critical for long-term growth.
He says marketing in India is "not a line item of the budget" because local company executives do it through social links in their communities.
"On the Canada front, no expense is spared in this activity to ensure branding and visibility to kick start," Mr. Narula observes.
WCCS asks the tough questions that might not occur to Canadian firms with less exposure.
Mr. Narula's firm, which has 60 employees, has connections in eight Indian cities and a technology division in Pune, not far from the financial centre, Mumbai. He says the company, now based at Gurgaon in the National Capital Region around Delhi, plans to grow by 50 per cent this year.
Mr. Narula says the continuing availability of cost-effective software engineers at reasonable wages is a key upside in India, while different taxation and regulatory rules in various Indian states can be quite daunting. But he goes on to add that opportunities lurk everywhere.
"We believe that over the next five to eight years with the infrastructure growth, many Canadian companies will make their way here first to sell their products and secondly to engineer support services."
Special to the Globe and Mail
Narayanan Madhavan is associate editor of the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper. He has previously worked for Reuters, the international news agency, as well as The Economic Times and Business Standard, India's leading business dailies. Though focused mainly on business and economic journalism with a strong focus on information technology and the Internet, he has also covered or written about issues including politics, diplomacy, cinema, culture, cricket and social issues. He has an honours degree in economics and a master's degree in political science from the University of Delhi.