“In this business, it is volumes that count, not brand stature” – we wish we had a penny for every time we have heard those words (they would make such a massive difference to our revenue stream) from mobile industry experts. And indeed, at the end of the day, even the biggest brand would concede that all the brand equity in the world is of little use if it does not drive adequate sales.
So it is not a little ironical that one of the leading players when it comes to mobile devices in India is treated not just with indifference, but worse, something close to contempt by many members of the tech community. We are talking about Micromax, the company that has emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become the second highest seller of phones in India right behind Samsung (one report even placed it ahead of Samsung).
Sales – yes, Respect – no!
You would have thought that would have been more than enough to accord it rock star status in the tech community. Far from it. Mention the word ‘Micromax’ and the reaction of many people is a negative one. One of our stories on a comment made by its CEO about Xiaomi got reactions that bordered on abuse. And these are just some of the comments we have heard about the company from notable members of the tech community:
“They just rebrand Chinese phones.”
“They have nothing in the name of service.”
“Their phones are of shockingly poor quality. And they don’t care. All they care about is sales.”
“They are a cheap company selling cheap phones.”
And those are just some of the printable ones. For some reason, Micromax, for all its achievements (and they are considerable) just does not seem to count in the eyes of many ‘informed’ users. Many even consider it sacrilege to mention a Micromax phone in the same breath as a similarly priced one from Samsung, Sony or even a relative newcomer like Xiaomi.
I remember mentioning this to Micromax CEO, Vineet Taneja during the launch of the Canvas Nitro, and his reaction was remarkable. Bursting into laughter, the man who had led Samsung and Nokia in the past, remarked: “A lot of people write us off and criticise us. The consumer still buys our products. Need I say more? The negative perception of Micromax is just that – a perception. The reality is that people buy our products and ask for them!”
Myth and reality
The reality also is that for all the criticism about being just a “rebrander of Chinese phones,” Micromax has also been one of the more innovative players in the market. They were among the first to spot the opportunity for low cost phablets with their Canvas and Doodle range, they delivered some very good design at relatively low prices with the Canvas Turbo and Canvas Knight series, tweaked their interface comprehensively for the Canvas Nitro, and well, their take on Android One, the Canvas A1, is considered by many to be the most outstanding so far in terms of design.
Indeed the speed at which the company can adapt is something that Taneja stressed when I met him. “I have worked in other multinationals too,” he said. “Their decision making process is a long drawn one, and that can kill products in an industry that changes so quickly. I remember how long it took to convince a company that dual SIM phones are a must in India. In Micromax, however, the rate of reaction is incredibly fast. Much faster than anything I have seen before.” The man has been at Samsung, Airtel and Nokia – so he has seen quite a bit.
And while some critics stubbornly insist that the company’s products are sub-par in terms of quality, the fact is that they do sell in large numbers in the Indian market. No, you might not seem a Micromax being flaunted in the way an HTC One or an iPhone or a Galaxy Note is, but you will see it being used extensively. Which, at the end of the day, no matter how much critics snort, is what really matters.
Time to take a bow?
It is also why a company like Cyanogen signed a exclusive deal with Micromax in India. And why Micromax devices were shown by Microsoft and Google at the international launches of Windows Phone 8.1 and Android One. And why Intel entered into a collaboration with the company for offering “high-performance mobile devices to the Indian consumer.” (that’s the press release)
“Micromax’s broad reach will enable more consumers from even lower tier cities to empower themselves with the power of technology,” Debjani Ghosh, Intel’s MD South Asia, said about the collaboration. Yes, that too came from the press release, but it highlights one of Micromax’s core strengths – the ability to reach consumers not just in the metros but also the smaller towns. And yes, no matter how much ‘experts’ moan about the quality of Micromax’s products, the fact that the company is able to sell them in large numbers in markets where consumers are far more careful and conservative about spending their money (in small town India, battles are waged over every rupee charged by the seller for a product) seems to indicate that the company is getting a some things right. All right, make that a “lot of things right.”
No, it is not perfect. Service problems persist. And there are complaints about its products, but as one Micromax executive stated bluntly: “Many products have issues these days. Even phones that cost Rs 60,000 start bending, and phones that cost Rs 50,000 are made of plastic!” Vineet Taneja too concedes that service is an issue but points out that in a country of the size of India, getting service right is no easy task. “We are working on it. It is our top priority,” he said, and added with a smile, “Give us time. Not too much, though. As you see, we work fast.”
No matter which way you look at it, Micromax’s achievements have been staggering. The company was unknown a decade ago. Today, it is one of the country’s leading phone manufacturers, has tie-ups with the likes of Cyanogen and Intel, has had its products showcased by Microsoft and Google, and has had Hugh Jackman as a brand ambassador. It has overtaken the likes of Nokia, Motorola, LG and Sony in one of the most competitive cellphone markets in the world and claims to be selling more tablets than Apple does in India.
Not bad, eh?
No, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But we really think that it is about time the tech community started showing Micromax some respect.
The company has certainly earned it.
For, at the end of the day, “In this business, it is volumes that count,” right?