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Business opportunities for the next decade

This is a guide for entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses. If you want to start a business but wondering what to start, here are 20 trends you could learn from.

Over the last decade, we have seen the internet explode in India. Aided by the massive reduction in prices of the internet, thanks to Jio, and the growing number of smartphones, connectivity is on the rise. We are at a point where landline phones and digital cameras have become specialty devices, used by only a few people.

WhatsApp has made sending messages free. Voice messaging is much faster than typing messages on a phone. YouTube has replaced blogging to ‘vlogging’, which is a lot more interactive. You no longer need to go to a restaurant to eat a Rajasthani Thali, but the Thali comes to you. Transferring money to another person needs only a phone number and a bank account.

Our cities are growing at an ever-increasing rate, creating new problems like traffic and pollution which are affecting our health. Growth is slowing down; unemployment is on the rise and inflation is rising. Primary education is still not accessible to the entire country, though the numbers are getting better.

COVID-19, though a temporary problem, can have disastrous effects if not checked in time.

We are at a crossroads. We can either accelerate from here or decelerate and crumble. We need to double down on the benefits of the internet to lead to a developed economy. We need to find ways to foster new businesses and encourage innovation that solves local and global problems.

*figurative, not statistically accurate

This essay provides an outlook into some trends that provide opportunities for new businesses. It will help anyone who is looking to start a new company or invest in companies. I’ve categorized the essay into twenty different trends. Each of these provides us with several opportunities to create businesses.

When I say “build a business,” I don’t necessarily mean starting new companies. New businesses can be built within big companies too – it only takes the right mindset.

Pardon the interruption, but if you would like to receive my analysis in your e-mail, please subscribe to my newsletter here. I've dived into several trends like social commerce, the passion economy and YouTube. You can check all the previous newsletter posts here.

First time internet users

Over the past decade, India has seen an explosion in data usage, with almost 300 million rural internet users coming online.

In a country of more than 1.2 billion, only 450 million users use the internet every month. Also, the female internet user population is half that of male internet users.

Tech is not obvious for first-time internet users.

Looking at the gap in the population vs the internet user base, it is clear that India’s internet user base is going to rise. As tech is evolving, it is important to design apps that handle the first-time internet user problems. This is easier said than done.

For example, think about the most basic things. Passwords, for example. How do you explain to a first-time user what a password is and get them to create a password? How do you explain to them that an email address is required for almost everything? How do you convince people not to share their passwords with anyone? How do you convince them not to save passwords at all?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in alternate forms of authentication. Biometrics based authentication, reducing dependency on passwords by using OTPs for every login, are all very interesting ways to get people to use the internet for the first time.

Teaching people how to use the internet to their advantage itself is a big opportunity too. Take the case of YouTube. It  is one of the most used apps in India – for a very good reason. To use YouTube, you don’t need to know English. If someone assists a person with searching for a video, watching and listening is easy. Users use YouTube to learn about the internet, so creating specific channels to teach users about the internet and its uses is a great way to attract a huge audience, thus creating a business.

Google is dedicating an entire program, called The Next Billion, to an audience who is coming to the Internet for the first time. This primarily focuses on optimizing Google’s current apps to work in multiple languages and at varying data speeds.

Over the past few years, we’ve also seen a rise in the popularity of vernacular apps like Sharechat and Pratilipi, which are built in non-English languages. Sharechat is like Twitter for vernacular languages, while Pratilipi aims to make it easy to write and publish in vernacular languages.

If you can build a business that solves the unique problems of this audience, this is one of the safest long-term bets you can take.

Super apps are only going to grow

WhatsApp globally has about 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, of which about 400 million are in India. Let’s think about that number in depth. 80% of India’s internet-using population uses WhatsApp every month. If you are an internet user in India, chances are high that you started using the Internet because of WhatsApp.

One thing that WhatsApp has done exceptionally well, despite its growth, is that it hasn’t lost its essence. There are only a limited set of features when the company could have spent millions of dollars on testing new features to make the app more attractive.

As a result, Facebook is still struggling to monetize WhatsApp, although they’ve been making moves towards opening up WhatsApp for businesses. Businesses today can send notifications to their customers on WhatsApp, accept orders through the WhatsApp store and will soon also be able to advertise through WhatsApp stories.

PayTM, an app that became the de-facto form of alternate payment towards the end of the last decade, has a huge user population as well. Looking at its features, where you could do everything from booking tickets for almost everything to pay bills to shop online, PayTM’s feature set is close to being a Super-app.

This chart explains the super app race in terms of features –

India super app
Source – Inc 42

A super app is an app that people use tens of times every day, to facilitate everything from entertainment, bookings to payments and networking. There are a dozen apps in India running the race to be a super-app, though it is highly unlikely that any other app could come close to WhatsApp or PayTm.

In my opinion, however, YouTube is already a super app. It empowers almost all kinds of businesses, and with the introduction of payments, YouTube allows you to create content and accept money for it.

The interesting thing to note here is that these apps open up the space for developing services on top of them. For example, today a lot of small businesses use WhatsApp to communicate with customers. But small businesses have a hard time keeping track of all of their customers. What if a Customer Relations Management tool, similar to what Salesforce offers, is built as an integration with WhatsApp? You could help people keep track of their customers, send them notifications and reminders about when to interact with customers, help them integrate with payment systems and finally, be able to sell through WhatsApp in the easiest manner?

What email was to the previous generation, WhatsApp is to the new. Hence, you can think of several platform add-on businesses, like sending automated notifications, subscription newsletter businesses, WhatsApp shopping businesses, etc.

Gig economy gets bigger

With technology, employment opportunities are changing. Dunzo, Ola, Uber, Swiggy, and Zomato are leading an organized gig economy, where an individual has total flexibility over their work hours and thus, their earnings. At the same time, freelancing is growing in popularity, with as many as 24% of global gig workers coming from India. Startups like TapChief, FlexingIt, and Upwork are growing to tap this market.

Freelance artists, writers, marketing experts are all available online today, on platforms like Upwork. Upwork is able to maintain trust through the system by ensuring that the freelancers get paid once the work is done. Young people can start moving towards a freelancing economy today, while not waiting for their college degrees to gain formal employment. This trend is currently experienced mostly in the big cities, but as the services expand to smaller cities, the demand is only going to grow.

The passion economy

The best part about all this is that technology has the promise of ensuring a fair exchange of services. Today, you don’t have to worry about getting paid on time. Once a task is completed on sites like Upwork, you are guaranteed payment through an escrow account, unlike an informal exchange where any of the parties can dupe the other party.

Verification of individuals, fair assessment of skills for freelancing, new freelancing platforms to handle the growing demand of vernacular workers, etc. are all problems that haven’t been solved so far. One interesting example here is Student Identify, a site that does student verification for businesses. In India, .edu email addresses are not common for students in smaller colleges, so solving this problem is very important for businesses who seek students for internships.

The future is about independent employment. The gig economy enables individuals to have multiple jobs at the same time to reduce dependency on one job. And this is not new for a lot of individuals. There are countless examples of people working 2-3 odd jobs every day to make ends meet. Where technology plugs in is assuring people that they will be paid, making their work more predictable in proportion to their earnings, and lastly, growing their earnings.

Verification and freelancing platforms for recruiters are going to grow, with a specific focus around verticals. This would also contribute to a strong passion-led economy, where you don’t have to have a job to earn money, as you can earn money by doing what you’re passionate about.

From farm to your plate

As long as humans exist, we will need food to survive. Agriculture is one of the industries where we need huge technological innovation for sustaining the ever-increasing demand. Our land resources are limited, while consumption is on the rise. The global population is growing at 1.05% per annum, which means we need more food.

At the same time, India’s rural population is moving to cities in search for better income opportunities. Agriculture is not for everyone. Farmer incomes are very low, and farmers find it hard to sustain their lives. More than 5000 farmers committed suicide in India in 2018. This is terrible for a growing nation. The need for tech to increase farmers’ income is dire.

Startups have started to show up in the Agri-tech space. For example, Plantix, an app that uses artificial intelligence to detect diseases in crops, has 80% of its 1.1 million monthly active users in India. Farmers have to upload pictures of their crops and they get a detailed diagnosis and treatment plan. Another company, Digital Green, has a YouTube channel that helps farmers by uploading videos on best practices and tips.

“How does this even work?”

A significant portion of the farmers’ low earnings can be attributed to the several layers of middlemen that deplete their earnings. As a result, newer supply chain models that take farm produce as close to a consumer as possible, can increase the farmers’ incomes significantly. This is not going to be easy, considering the huge sociological shift in thinking, but it is certainly possible with technology. We have optimized the supply chain from warehouses to our homes, why not do the same for farms to stores?

Along with this, mapping farming markets online, easier microfinancing for crops with the benefits of UPI, better preparation for weather anomalies, etc. are all relevant areas to build businesses in. Finding ways to monetize agri-tech companies would be challenging, but I am sure someone will crack the formula.

EVs are coming India’s way

Last year, the Indian government announced massive subsidies for electric vehicles (EV). Companies are taking up the challenge by announcing new EV platforms. During Auto Expo 2020 in Delhi, 18 EV startups showcased their EV products. Several foreign entrants, like Morrison Garages, are also joining in the party, by bringing their electric SUVs to the country.

Tata Motors revealed its Nexon EV late in 2019, which boasts a range of more than 300 km, and can be charged using any 15A plug point available in the homes and garages of people. The Nexon EV is also capable of replenishing 80% of its capacity in under an hour. Then there are startups like Ather Energy, which are expanding their electric scooters across Indian cities. Ather intends to expand its supply network to 30 Indian cities by the end of 2023. The Ather S450 is a classy scooter which has achieved much fanfare from the Indian working class already.

Indian cities are also procuring electric buses for public transit, rather than going with the conventional diesel or CNG powered buses. The government is giving a massive boost to the electric bus infrastructure across the country.

EVs bring all kinds of challenges

As an entrepreneur, these are all signals indicating a need for services to be built around EVs. Better charging infrastructure, interchangeable charging ports, manufacturing parts for EVs locally, etc. are all very relevant areas to venture into. While it seems like a complex industry because of all the technological knowhow involved, the reality remains that companies selling EVs will need help with scaling their efforts.

Whoever is able to assist in helping set up the infrastructure for EVs is going to gain a massive advantage here. A lot of companies have figured out the technology and need help with distribution – thus it might be easy to license their technologies and brand them differently to create new businesses.

Companies like Ola and Uber are developing new programs dedicated to EVs. Amazon also announced that it would launch 10000 electric delivery vehicles in the country. This is also a space you could play in. What if you had a fleet of EVs ready to rent? Though the initial investment is high, this can be a good passive investment opportunity where you can reap the rewards for a long time.

Food tech

Technology is already affecting how we eat. Today, in cities, people are as likely to order food on their phones rather than go to a restaurant to eat. To cash in on the opportunity, many chefs are setting up what are known as ‘cloud kitchens’ – massive warehouses that host several chefs under one roof. Today, food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato accept orders from people and get the food delivered right to a person’s door. For restaurateurs, cloud kitchens help reduce the risk of failure. Chefs can focus on improving their menus, as they no longer need to invest in real estate risk while setting up a restaurant.

There are plenty of examples in the market. Swiggy has already established 1000+ cloud kitchens. FoodPanda, owned by Ola, in 2019 pivoted to focus only on Cloud Kitchens. It is focusing on creating in-house food brands and curated food offerings through cloud kitchens. The company launched a brand called The Khichdi Experiment which offers Khichdi in multiple flavours.

In fact, Uber founder, Travis Kalanick, has set up his own Cloud Kitchens firm, tritely called Cloud Kitchens.

Time to ‘cloudify’ kitchens?

The Cloud Kitchens disruption could be as large as the YouTube disruption. Instead of depending on a few restaurants in an area, we could take a look at food from hundreds of chefs, a lot of them hobbyists. Cooks will have an opportunity to earn money doing what they love as a part-time or a full-time job. Similar to an Uber driver, you can go in and cook at a time that is convenient to you, while someone sitting many kilometres away can find your food on their app.

You could create your own food brands, like Rebel Foods has done. They’ve launched multiple food products which are based on the same technology stack. Once you have a lot of demand for your products, you could focus on moving to your own kitchen or continuing with an existing cloud kitchens business.

Cloud kitchens can be thought of as the ultimate ‘food platform’, thus enabling a suite of food businesses.

Independent creators are ruling the internet

With the internet, it is becoming easier than ever before to create businesses. Today, within a few hours, you can set up a storefront to sell products online, at a minimal cost to you. This has led to the proliferation of several small businesses in art, music, film, apartment rentals, etc.

Earning money from your customers directly rather than going to a large platform (eg. Amazon, Facebook, etc.) is becoming easier every year.

Tomorrow’s businesses will be more personal and smaller. Take the case of journalism. Previously, the only choice for journalists to get started was to apply to big news outlets who were only so many in number. Today, tools like Substack are enabling journalists to start their own publications and earn money for what they write. The top-earning writer on Substack earns more than $500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. If you’re a creator, the time is right for putting stuff online and generating revenue directly by asking people to pay you, rather than depending on ads. There are multiple platforms depending on industries ready to help you monetize your passion.

Creators can monetize their brand in many ways

In the case of content creation, with the growth of large platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok, creators are having an excellent time. Barriers to entry to the media industry have gone down to almost zero dollars, leading to a rise in content and thus, choice, for users. This has enabled hundreds of niche content possibilities, while also changing the existing industries.

For example, education has changed with YouTube. Today, anyone can teach by uploading a few videos on YouTube. One noteworthy company, WifiStudy, started as a YouTube channel, where they mapped the entire day of a student preparing for entrance tests in India. This channel was created on July 26th, 2014. In 6 years, it has grown to amass 10 million subscribers and is rapidly growing.

If you’re thinking about being a creator online, think about what existing thing is not already replaced with an online alternative. Watch YouTube videos, learn more about what people want to look for in videos, and start making your own.

If you want to be a creator online and are wondering where to begin, read this post.

Everyone needs to conduct events

As the Indian middle-aged group rises, so does the spending capacity. We still don’t have enough concerts, stand-up shows, stage performances, etc. in our country. They are still restricted to the big cities. There are not enough big spaces in other parts of the country, even though demand might exist.

Managing events for creators of all kinds – comedians, YouTubers, Instagram influencers, etc. are already in high demand. YouTube has found tremendous success by taking its creators to an actual space in the form of YouTube FanFest. More than 21000 people showed up for the YouTube Fanfest in 2018.

In 2015, the number of YouTube channels in India with a million subscribers was 16. In 2019, that number was past 1200. There’s a huge opportunity to conduct events with these individuals. This is considering only YouTube at the moment. If you expand the stats to include all online creators, you come up with incredible possibilities.

Some people want to meet in person, some don’t

YouTube Fanfest is a once a year event. Why not expand it to a series of events that happens across India? Why not conduct a formal tour where you take a few internet celebrities along? None of this is new- live events are an essential part of a creator’s journey. But the hard part for creators is organizing one themselves. It takes a lot of effort and monetary investment to come up with the right kind of structure for an event. Not to mention excellent event management skills that are required to handle such events.

People who have an interest in this area should start working with existing event management companies and find out what goes on behind organizing events, before breaking into their own.

A business in this space will be about putting the creator at the centre, understanding their needs and enabling them to interact with their audiences. A notable example of an events-driven business is Kommune, which brings back the power of the spoken word. It conducts Spoken Fest, which today’s youth looks up to. The young generation is looking for ways to express their creativity, and events are a great way to encourage that. Another example is the India Film Project, which brings togethers film makers from across the country every year.

Natural products for everyone

In India, there’s a huge demand for organic products. Consumers are willing to buy products for a higher value if they are natural. For example, in March 2018, the sales of natural products grew at an impressive 17.8% as compared with non-natural products (7.6%), even though prices were higher.

Local Indian companies, like Patanjali and Dabur, have already proven what the Indian consumers care about. “Ayurvedic” is a term that is associated with healthy and sustainable products. With the consumer mindset towards personal care products changing, there is definitely an opportunity here to create more products.

Sustainability is also a great way to break into making products for the entire world. Nielsen data says that 73% of consumers globally state they would buy sustainable products over non-sustainable products. People are more conscious about their impact on the environment, in the form of their carbon footprint or otherwise. People in developed nations are showing an increasing adoption of sustainable products from food to shoes to clothes to furniture.

The world needs more green-friendly products

Because this category is so large, it can feel vague. Finding out where to begin and where not to is hard. To look for inspiration, finding out what products people are currently using and where sustainable products could step in is the way forward. To do this research, you’ll have to learn more about sustainable materials, but it could be well worth the research.

A simple approach towards finding new opportunities is looking at people’s food intake and changing that into something more healthy. Examples are in packaging natural foods, like juices. Though there are players in the market, the market is big enough to absorb multiple players. For such a business, think about your supply chain thoroughly and focus only on filling the gaps that are not served by other products.

Public transportation

With an ever-growing urban population, India is seeing a tectonic shift in patterns of residence and livelihood. The UN says that by 2050, India will have more urban residents than rural residents. Today, about 34% of our population is urban. All of our cities are all facing an increasing burden due to the rising population. They need to drastically change in order to sustain in the long run.

Public transportation is one of the most essential tenets of sustainable cities. A better transportation system will not just have a positive impact towards a greener planet, but also in productivity and happiness. Even though this is well-known, the fact remains that a lot is to be done. The world is grappling with traffic issues, from Bangkok to Los Angeles.

In India, the central and state governments have put emphasis on metro rail projects in recent years. Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Jaipur are all getting new metro rail systems. The effects of the wide network coverage, however, will only be seen after several years.

While these giant projects are being executed, we should also think about fixing the easier transportation systems already prevalent across India. Buses make up 90% of public transport in Indian cities. But 80% of the 35000 operational buses in India are in the big cities. Only 63 of 458 Indian cities with a population of 100,000+ have city buses.

If the government allows private companies to run bus services in cities, this could solve the problem much faster. At the same time, if enough players enter the market, healthy competition would ensure a drop in fares and a better quality of services. Startups today are built on the basis of rapid experimentation and innovation. As a result, entirely new business models could come up. What about a bus service which is free for passengers, while the operator earns money through ads? Sounds familiar to online businesses?

What if transit was free?

If a decent service is established, startups have a chance of a high-retention user cohort travelling through their buses each day, something that most startup founders would envy. Though the growth in user base might seem slow, with the right funding, this can be a lasting business.

Check out my article about opportunities in public transportation for more details.

Luxury brands – more income, more spending

As the Indian middle-class increases, so does the upper-class. The upper-class population is poised to grow from 10 million people today to 26 million people by the end of 2025. This brings with itself a huge opportunity to sell top-class products. Even if you’re not a creator, you can act as an efficient broker of ultra-rich products, thus making money in the process.

Building a brand is one of the hardest things in the world. It takes a long time to establish a brand in the market. Several foreign brands are still struggling to capture a pie in the market.

However, focusing on the urban middle class might be worthwhile. For this population, luxury products that provide value for money can still work. Think about products that are out of reach of the current audience, and find out ways to make them available cheaply. Rather than copying products from the west, focus on localizing the experience to the Indian market. For example, this is currently happening with headsets, where the best in class Bose headphones can cost well above Rs. 20000. Cutting down a few features and launching similar designs            at lower prices has worked for some brands. Similarly, cheap fitness trackers have flooded the Indian market, emulating the features that Fitbit and Apple Watch revolutionized, but are priced aggressively to attract heavy sales.

Premium products are in demand.

Local handicrafts and art can gain massive growth from the growing population too. Handicraft exports from India have been on the rise, increasing by 6.44% year-over-year during 2018-19. This is one of the most fragmented markets. Helping people find good handicrafts and buy them in a trustworthy manner has potential for a new business.

With tools like Shopify and Magento, you can now run quick experiments around selling products online. This also allows you to take your products to the world without having to set up supply chains upfront.

Online education & home schooling

When I say home schooling, I don’t mean not sending children to school at all. While school is important for a lot of reasons apart from education, we know very well that different students have different learning times. Some students are slow learners, while others are fast learners. Education needs to be personalized to each student.

Education will see a big movement with customized learning plans for children, which would be happening primarily through online education. We are already seeing a huge revolution in online education with companies like Byju’s, Unacademy, etc. ruling the roost. But still, there is an opportunity to make education reach the remotest corners of the country, while helping customize it along the way. So far, we have only seen customization of learning in one way – “self-paced learning.” Other experiences like adaptive learning, where your levels are auto-adjusted based on how you are proceeding, are still not popular.

Can the VR technology change education?

The best example of this is Duolingo, an app that helps people learn a different language. They level-up or level-down your next set of tasks depending on where you are on your learning journey. With a similar approach, we can help kids learn everything from Math to Science to History in a way that they can understand and use, rather than rote learning from a book.

Not just online education, the market for STEM toys is also growing. Companies like Smartivity are building toys that help your kids learn the core technological subjects, thus leading them towards a better future. Smartivity’s toys are available across India in 800 stores. The market for STEM toys is worth $500 million.

As we move towards a technology-first world, learning the basics of STEM is essential for every individual in the world. STEM toys and tech products on phones and tablets can enable kids to learn better and live a better life in the future.

A growing senior population

India’s elderly population is expected to grow to 173 million by 2026. Some states in India will start transitioning to an ageing population by 2030s.

With technology finding its way to everything from grocery to shopping to payments, this population needs special attention for their needs. Even today, a lot of people struggle with onboarding on a new app. Simple tasks like creating an email account, checking your email account every day, etc. have a high level of friction. Constant updates on apps are frustrating – when a UI element moves from one place to another, it is very difficult to adapt to such a small change for this population.

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Technology can be challenging

These challenges need a specific kind of onboarding, which is not handled by most products today. In the hyper-connected online world, seniors still need someone to handhold them through the process of using a new tool for the first time.

In fact, every product launching into the market should think about accessibility by this senior population. Yet, the chances are high that the population remains ignored, since it is not someone’s primary population. In the initial phases of a company, a founder would dedicate all of their resources to helping solve problems of their primary users, often ignoring the senior population, which is often a smaller subset of the entire population.

There is an opportunity to create a service that takes care of optimizing a product to meet accessibility standards. Making this a plug-and-play service, similar to UPI can be a great startup to test out. This phenomenon is not only restricted to India, but globally too, the population above 65 is growing faster than any other age group.

There are multiple approaches to this problem – simplifying current experiences is the easiest one, but there is also an opportunity to think about designing new interfaces altogether. Think about audio interfaces, video only interfaces, etc. Here’s an article describing some design considerations for this population.

Tourism needs more work

By 2028, India is expected to add 10 million jobs in the tourism sector. South Asia is going to be the fastest growing world region in terms of tourism. With a rising middle-class, domestic tourism is expected to grow. India is diverse, not just in language and cultural terms, but also in income groups.

Different income groups require different kinds of travel experiences. Though it may seem like the industry is overly crowded with so many services online, the growth in this industry says that there might be ample opportunity for more companies to fill gaps. But the need to think innovatively in this space is higher than others. Instead of thinking about tech products, the need could be to create new tourist experiences – imagine new kinds of tourism destinations – theme parks, excursions, guided tours to places that are currently not visited, cruises, etc.

Everyone needs holidays

Though the investment involved in such ventures is higher than starting an online app, such investments can pay off in the long run. Think about Disneyland, adventure parks, etc.

India is also a hotbed for medical tourism – where patients come into the country to get treated since it’s often cheaper than the more advanced countries in the west. India is a favourable destination because of the fairly advanced medical facilities, the access of English as a worldwide language and the relaxed visa regulations for medical purposes.

Agencies for medical tourism exist, but it is not as simple as logging onto an app on your phone and researching hospitals. Finding the right hospitals, estimating costs and integrating this with the travel experience can be a sweet spot for a vertically integrated medical tourism experience. An example of a medical tourism company is Vaidam Health. Their website gives an instant estimate depending on the type of treatment intended and the country where you seek treatment.

Financial inclusion is here, what’s next?

Over the past decade, India has seen a tectonic shift in financial inclusion and digital enablement of transactions. Partly aided by the UPI project, over 1300 new fintech startups were formed in India between 2015-18. Consumers are becoming more open to buying financial products online and investment opportunities have opened up. India’s banks are also stepping up, launching their own UPI services. The recently announced Account Aggregator is another powerful innovation, giving the control over their accounts back to the consumer. The AA is also going to make credit rating easier and reduce the paperwork required in getting credit.

We went cashless. What now?

In India’s tier-2 and tier-3 cities, there is going to be an increased demand to increase credit facilitation and money management. Technology is already helping people with their transactions and lending, and in the near future, focusing on the user groups that are not currently banking online but are looking for assistance with such a service are the ones that a new business should focus on.

Micro-lending is another area – personal loans and credit cards are gaining popularity. Small businesses are transitioning to be more digital, which means there is demand for creating businesses in helping people with this transition. The current credit coverage of MSMEs is fairly low – only 16% of the MSMEs get credit from a formal bank. While the banking system is resource-crunched, new systems of allotting credit digitally by verifying credentials through services like Account Aggregator are opportunities.

Citing the fintech revolution by UPI as an example, regtech(regulation tech) is being talked about now. It is a subset of fintech that aims to solve regulatory and compliance issues more effectively. With the efficient use of technology, we can detect and avoid regulatory fraud from happening.

In fact, if a company solves the paperwork problem itself, that could be a huge business. For any kind of approval today, the same ten documents are required. If this is made easier and standardized, getting applications processed would be hassle-free.

Gaming – new games will always be needed

Video games have always been popular with the younger generations. In recent years, mobile gaming has exploded, partly aided by better technology and connectivity. E-sports are also growing in the country, evidenced by the rise of leagues such as U-Cypher, which was launched in 2017. The league was telecast on national television, thus taking it to the mainstream households in India.

Yet, we do see that there is a general dearth of Indian vernacular games and regional-level competitions. We play games developed by studios in the west, while very few games are developed in India. There is a whitespace for creating new local games, which can be inspired by local stories. A great example of such a company is Nazara Games, whose games include the Motu Patlu series and Ludo.

Gaming is becoming more lucrative for creators

With the increasing focus on building and popularizing leagues for Football, Kabaddi, Hockey, Badminton and other sports, India is also growing as a sporting nation. Viewership and revenue for domestic leagues are growing year over year. Kabaddi has already become the second largest sport in India. In 2018, the Pro Kabaddi League managed to attract a higher India viewership than the soccer world cup, one of the most-watched sporting events in the world. In December 2018, the league was rated higher than the Indian cricket team’s Test match win against Australia in 2018.

With the growth of the bigger leagues like the Indian Premier League and the Pro Kabaddi League, there are opportunities for several new leagues to spawn up at lower, regional levels. In Cricket, apart from IPL, there are several local leagues, which are broadcasted live on YouTube. Tennis Cricket, a channel that exclusively streams local leagues in Maharashtra, has 637k subscribers. With the growth of a bigger league, several smaller leagues popup.

We can expect something similar in other sports too. Thus, one business could be to make it easier to create leagues. By increasing participation at the local levels, we will encourage healthy competition, thus enabling us to become a sporting nation.

India grapples with health issues

A gym training post by the Indian Cricket team captain Virat Kohli gets more than 2.5 million likes on Instagram on average. Other sports stars routinely post photos and videos of them working out. The trend is accentuated by the perfect-body Bollywood folks, which is all trickling down to the public slowly and steadily.

Fitness products are growing and will continue to grow as our lives get busier and more crowded.

The Indian fitness equipment market is expected to grow at 15% every year till 2023. While fitness equipment forms only a piece of the fitness space, it is still indicative of the growth that could be experienced in the fitness market overall. From the simplest apps on fitness to complex at-home equipment that helps people develop a habit of routinely exercising are things people are willing to pay for. Awareness around fitness products has skyrocketed, which has led to the growth of supplements, fitness apps, yoga studios, and, of course, gyms.

While thinking about fitness, there are several cost-heavy solutions. Gyms are still fewer in number than required. When you visit a gym during peak hours, you can almost always expect to either have to wait for the equipment or not exercise at all. Installing equipment at people’s homes is a cost-heavy solution, but not everyone can afford to have that treadmill at home.

This is a great opportunity to innovate, by figuring out what kind of a solution works for the urban middle class who is tired to go to the gym every day, but wants to work out.

Towards a fitter nation is an interesting startup in the fitness space, where they tackle three different aspects of fitness – group workouts for physical fitness, healthier meals, and mental fitness classes. All of these are brought together in one app. Exploring similar options is one way to go about finding startup opportunities in this space, but focusing on one niche fitness space would be a better way to start.

One potential way is by assembling a group of users who perform the same kind of fitness activity (running, for example), and solving their problems, rather than approaching human fitness as a whole.

Another low-hanging fruit is developing a good tech product that helps people optimize their diet. A lot of work has been done for western diets, but for the Indian diet, it is still very hard to estimate what is the right amount of food a person should intake every day.

Going green – can we build a sustainable planet?

Through the rapid inventions in geo-environmental engineering, we are finally at a point where we can reduce our carbon footprint. Scientists across the world are hard at work to ensure that Mother Earth sustains. About 20000 research papers have been published since 2019 alone. Entrepreneurs are coming up with ways to solve the climate crisis using modern technology. Giant corporations like Microsoft are taking drastic steps to go carbon neutral. Rich individuals are reversing their carbon impact on the world.

Today, we have more tools than ever to make an impact on the climate change movement. In fact, I think this is one of the hottest areas for starting a business. Contributing to solving the climate crisis while making money in the process is a business that is going to make a lot of money.

The research and prototypes to solve the problem exist. It is time to execute.

Planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of tackling the climate crisis. Trees inhale Carbon Dioxide, and the more the trees in the world, the more carbon dioxide emissions we can offset.

It is also a solution that doesn’t need a huge effort to get started with. Individuals can get started by planting trees on their own, or donating to the several non-profits around the world that can assist with such initiatives. Corporates can take efforts as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives around planting trees.

Plant trees everywhere you can.

But how do you start businesses around this? Organizing and planting trees for others is a business that you can create. For example, is a company that allows individuals to buy subscriptions to plant trees for them, or helps companies with their corporate social responsibility initiatives. They plant trees that belong natively to a region, thus enabling sustainable growth in the region. This makes it extremely easy for customers, as they can just sit behind a computer or a phone and offset their carbon footprint.

Working on similar tactics where the CSR divisions of larger corporations are your customers is a good way to work in the environmental impact space.

Indian cities need an upgrade

With an ever-growing urban population, India is seeing a tectonic shift in patterns of residence and livelihood. The UN says that by 2050, India will have more urban residents than rural residents. Today, about 34% of our population is urban. Migration to cities is a slow process, so even though 2050 may seem like a long time to go, 30 years is nothing in the lifespan of a city.

Our current big cities are all facing an increasing burden by population. They need to drastically change in order to sustain in the long run. We’ve all seen news about how pollution is a massive issue across the Indian metros. Road networks are crumbling, a water crisis-like situation emerged in Bangalore in 2019, while the issue of lack of space seems to be ever-increasing.

Time for a makeover of our cities

This, I think, presents us with a huge opportunity to solve problems and potentially make money in the process. While the governments across India are working on mega plans that can take decades to be implemented, we as citizens can focus on more short-term solutions that solve problems of our cities.

One example I always like to speak about is mIndicator, an app that includes everything around the Mumbai transportation system – fares, timings, rates of autos and taxis, and even movie shows. The app is quite popular among the residents of Mumbai. Started in 2010, the app is already used by millions of people living in Mumbai.

Last mile transportation is still a problem, because of the shortage of buses, taxis and auto rickshaws. Startups like Bounce and Vogo, which can be used as examples to think about solving the problems of transportation.

Not just in transportation, opportunities exist in creating travel experiences across cities – think about local food tours, cultural tours, historical tours, etc. With growing incomes of Indians, domestic and international tourism is going to grow. The differentiator for new companies here would be on focusing on creating itineraries for a niche group of tourists rather than going after the herd.

Indian small businesses are going to be all the rage!

India has traditionally been a country powered by small businesses. Instead of grocery chains, we’ve traditionally been exposed to the smaller, omnipresent Kirana stores. Same for smaller restaurants, streetside food stalls, etc.

With the digitization wave that India is going through, small businesses are increasingly utilizing digital tools. Companies like Khatabook are helping them to do their tasks more efficiently, while WhatsApp is helping them connect with their customers. WhatsApp has, more or less, become the de-facto communication app for most purposes for these users.

But with running a business comes a huge number of responsibilities. You need to market yourself, sell products, create discounts, keep books, manage payroll, hire people, partner with others, manage inventory, etc. Doing these manually makes businesses inefficient. Though the work is managed today by maintaining log books and recruiting people, inefficiencies are plentiful. The opportunity to dive deeper into these problems is big. So far, we’ve only grazed the tip of the iceberg with products like Khatabook.

India has historically been a nation run by small businesses

The SMB market will be worth $25.8 billion this year. It is a market where if you help a small business grow, your business would grow automatically.

One concrete example would be to help small businesses manage their customer relations better through a CRM that integrates with WhatsApp. This concept has been talked about for a while now, and I’m sure someone is already working on this. But if you can identify the kind of user who is having a problem with managing their customer relations and provide them with your tool, you can continue to expand finding the people who have the same problem.

You can also help small businesses get creative with marketing. Creating YouTube videos, Tiktok videos, WhatsApp messages that can be circulated and easily shared by people will be huge levers for growing small businesses.

The best part of building a platform business – helping other businesses grow would mean you would grow yourself automatically with them.


The opportunities are plentiful. This article is intended to be the starting point for an explorer. If you want to start a new business, the general rule prevails – find a problem for a customer, solve it for them and ask for money in return. If you can do this for enough customers (a big enough market) while earning more than you spend, you have a standing business!

If you need help diving deeper into these areas of businesses, I would be happy to chat with you! Please send me an email at

Do reach out with your thoughts or comments.


  • Suhas Motwani, for his valuable suggestions across different sectors. Suhas is one of the most helpful and resourceful persons I’ve met on Twitter. Looking forward to learning more from Suhas.

5 replies on “Business opportunities for the next decade”

Well researched and documented focusing various sectors.
I would love to know your research on the FMCG Sector.


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