I recently spent a week in four cities across India. The trip lived up to all my expectations: The Taj Mahal was stunning, Old Delhi chaotic, Jaipur majestic, and Mumbai vibrant.
The highlight, however, was not geographic, but commercial. Our group spent an afternoon with the team at Jio, one of the fastest-growing companies ever. It was launched four years ago as a startup within one of the largest conglomerates in India, Reliance Industries, the country's largest oil company. Five years ago, its chairman had the brilliant insight that data was the new oil and set out on a mission to convert India into one of the most digital nations in the world.
Jio's evolution is breathtaking and can provide lessons to any growth-oriented entrepreneur.
FROM THE DARK AGES TO THE DIGITAL AGE
Four years ago, Jio committed $20 billion to building a fiber optic network that would provide 4G access to over 95% of India. It needed to build over 1,700 storefronts to sign up new subscribers, design phones that were easy to use, attract and hire 45,000 new employees to build and service the platform, and lay 60,000 miles of fiber through 5,000 cities.
After years of building the infrastructure, Jio launched the service 18 months ago and the results have been staggering:
• In the first 170 days, 100 million new subscribers signed up; the most aggressive new user ramp-up in history.
• In 18 months, Jio reached 180 million subscribers; every month since, 9 million new users have joined.
• India has gone from 155th in the world for mobile data consumption to first, in just two years.
• The service includes a unique multifaceted user platform with 500 TV channels and streaming content, over 8,000 magazines, and countless apps and books.
• By slashing subscription costs to $2 per month (95% lower than established players), Jio is eviscerating established phone carriers. All voice calls are free, and pricing includes 1 gigabyte of data per day. All platform products, content and apps are included in the data fee.
This company is completely changing the face of one of the most populated nations in the world. In two years, it has given everyone in India the ability to connect to the world, and because of the data speed and its ubiquity, India will be unrecognizable in the next decade.
LESSONS IN EXPONENTIAL GROWTH
After a presentation and campus tour, our small group had the opportunity to speak with the leadership team and the logistical and technology groups to learn how they got so much done so quickly. Here are some lessons and questions that are valuable to any of us, even if our ambitions aren't quite so lofty.
1. Make the mission big and exciting so everyone serves it passionately. Jio started with a simple statement: What is good for India is good for us. It was quite evident that the employees feel they are doing something far bigger than selling cell phone service; they are on a mission to elevate an entire country. It shows in the ease of recruiting and the passion of the company's young employee base. How many of us have an exciting mission that attracts and excites the best people?
2. Design an end-to-end client experience. The logistics of onboarding clients from all parts of India required not just building a new product and opening new storefronts everywhere, but radically streamlining the onboarding process. Traditionally, getting a new phone subscription takes 72 hours for confirmation of identity, payment processing and so on. Jio cut that time to four hours. It revolutionized the process, the technology and the payment methodology to make it easy to onboard and maintain service. How frequently do we reimagine the client experience to make it easier and more engaging?
3. Own the final mile to the client. Having created the singular data portal to most of India, Jio owns the platform for clients to interact with the rest of the world. Netflix and Apple have to work with Jio for access to India. The terms negotiated are radically different than these two firms have in any other nation because there's no way around Jio. How often do we reflect on whether our offerings are unique and differentiated enough to best serve clients' multifaceted needs?
4. Go so fast no one else can keep up. Jio trains its employees to think about disruptive evolution. Everyone is expected to challenge the status quo and delegate decision-making authority to the last person on the ground. Are we willing to listen to new ideas and empower our people to change how we work?
(Video: Joe Duran: Are we thinking big enough?)
Every industry is subject to quick disruption. Even a country as ancient and sprawling as India is in the midst of massive change, and it is being driven by one company. All it takes is an opportunity and the courage of one firm to commit to be the change agent rather than the victim of change.
Joe Duran is founder and CEO of United Capital. Follow him at @DuranMoney.