step 1: eliminate paperwork

(step is a series of blogs to document the process of building ez. this is step 1)

Today is the 11th of June, 2023.

I just finished a work session in VR using Horizons Workspace on Meta’s Quest 2. I still have some more things to do (including writing this document), but the headset tends to only work out for about 45 minutes after which it feels suffocating and sweaty. Apple has recently launched its more comfortable $3499 Vision Pro. I’ll wait for another 6 months before deciding on my next headset.

The world outside is reeling with an AI frenzy. ChatGPT & Bard are competing head-on, followed by several other projects in isolation. Mark Z believes it’s not going to be one winner in AI, but different AIs for different use cases, just like consumer apps. The crypto fad has passed, yet the web3 reality remains to unfold. I continue to believe in it. Temasek, Google and Bain continue to believe that the Indian Internet market will grow beyond Tier 1, as they have for the past decade. They suggest it will outgrow India’s tech service companies, and scale to 5-6X of their current size of $175b. I strongly have my apprehensions, given there are barely any unique, disruptive and monetized b2c solutions for India 2 & 3. (Despite being the focus of efforts for the past decade.)

Instead, the majority of growth will come from the expansion and further enrichment of India 1. I am keen to remain focused on what India 1 has to offer. 

But what does it have to offer? Can we go by the gap analysis available from MBB, VC firms and others? Unfortunately, not. Disruptive solutions have rarely culminated from market reports. Market reports & analysis are finite by design, only tending to cover what already exists, at best, with a directional growth trajectory of said areas. This is primarily because they tend to be top-down – starting at a macro level and then storyboarding user-level problems from the identified macroeconomic trends.

Disruption, as we know it, cannot happen like that. It should stem from a unique micro-level solution that addresses a need which spans multiple users. From a business perspective, this need should be important enough to the user for them to pay a premium for it. Many such problems have been the nucleus of successful b2c internet businesses. Reliance Jio has brought more people online and delivered the benefits of scale to its consumers. Flipkart delivers value in engaging in commerce online. Zomato serves the belly at convenience. Paytm & PhonePe help people pay for their purchases, both online and offline. A market report would have dared predicted 350mn users making payments digitally. The government has continued its efforts to bolster (and monopolize) the fundamental adoption of digital mediums through UPI, Aadhaar, ONDC and more. 

During the past 14 years of my extensive exposure to mobile & consumer internet, I have felt that some pain points still remain to be solved. It’s almost shocking to me why someone is yet to successfully crack some of these problems, while others have been partially solved over time.

One such problem is paperwork. DSC adoption remains to see scale and most banks still use a physical signature to authenticate transactions. Visa applications are still on paper, no matter how much VFS try to cover for embassies. Home buying is a nightmare even after Bhulekh. Most of these problems have a common denominator – these were originally offline solutions which have been poorly transitioned to “a somewhat online” journey. Two key reasons why these may have remained suboptimal solutions are (1) there is minimal private intervention given they all deal with compliance which is predominantly a public-sector subject, and (2) there may not have been any incentives in solving these issues. 

I think otherwise for both (1) and (2). Private interventions have dominated the democratisation of digital access and processes in India, often later scaled by the government – both on the supply and demand sides. VFS’s role in Visas (demand side) and Infosys’s role in revamping tax collection (supply side) has been critical and serve as examples, although not fully successful.  Indian users have also clearly shown the ability to pay premiums for making their lives easier – Travel Agencies, ClearTax, NoBroker, and others rely on these premiums. Yet, none of them has their core competence in providing compliance assistance.

As big as this problem sounds, there is definite merit in solving these user journeys one category at a time with an umbrella objective – making regulatory requirements less painful. Or in other words: eliminate paperwork. 

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