“Do you like cricket?”, Micromax co-founder, Rahul Sharma, asks me as I settle with my coffee in his meeting room at the Micromax headquarters in Gurgaon. “Well, of course,” I replied, and for the next ten minutes we talked about different batting strategies.
It wasn’t out of context. In cricket, you are either a pinch-hitting batsman who comes to the pitch, hits few out of the park and be done with it or you are one who’s there for a longer innings. You hit a few to settle yourself and show your intent, then bat steadily in the middle overs taking stock of the opposition, and then get to a big score.
Rahul says that 2016 was the company’s middle overs. It was scoring few runs here and there, but was letting the opposition flash their brilliance (or imprudence) as Micromax took stock of the situation. It was taking a step back. “We didn’t get out, mind you,” he asserts.
Micromax was amongst the top five smartphone brands in India in 2016, and in the year’s last quarter, it had a 8.8% share of the smartphone market – behind Samsung and Lenovo. However, the decline that started in the last few quarters continued in 2017, and right now, Micromax does not even feature in the list of top five smartphone players in the country.
But according to Rahul, Micromax took a step back to observe how the market plays out – how the consumer and retail is evolving and what the competition is doing.
I think the move to step back has paid off because we have not burned out ourselves. As an organization, we’re still profitable, and it’s very important for us.
The cautious comeback
The company’s comeback of sorts in 2017 wasn’t earth-shattering. Micromax launched Evok, an online-exclusive series in partnership with Flipkart, but the first two phones in the series didn’t make any mark. There was Dual 5, which wasn’t a bad device but didn’t make it big. It was also surprising that Micromax launched a premium mid-range device while being on a weak footing in the market. Micromax’s sub-brand YU Mobiles also made a quiet comeback.
Micromax launches two smartphones as part of the new Evok series in partnership with Flipkart
But it’s moving ahead slowly but surely. According to the company, the budget Bharat series is a great success with over 1 million devices sold within three months. In July this year, the company sold more than 2.83 million devices in just one month. That’s pretty good for a company that was ‘done and dusted’ according to a few reports at the start of this year.
Coming full circle
Rahul reminds me – with a sense of pride – that Micromax was known for its innovation. The company is now aligning its product roadmap as per the industry trends, and Rahul promises that going ahead we’ll see a lot of new things from Micromax instead of playing catch-up.
The strength of Micromax was that we were the first ones to come up with something. We want to bring back our innovation and be the first ones to do a lot of things going ahead.
Micromax was known for democratizing innovations in technology and taking it to masses. With the new Canvas Infinity for example, it’s doing exactly that, bringing an 18:9 display to a $150 smartphone. Rahul shared that we’ll see more Snapdragon-powered smartphones from Micromax; the company will though continue with MediaTek processors on its low-end portfolio.
The company is now planning to take its volume leadership back and recapture its market share in the next two quarters.
At a press conference last year, one of the executives of an Indian handset maker – after launching their new smartphone – announced the end of the event with “Let’s have Chinese for lunch” to inform that the buffet lunch has been served, while taking a taking a dig at the competition. It was more cringeworthy than clever.
Thankfully, Rahul doesn’t sound too bitter against the ‘Chinese’ and neither attempts to sell me the ‘Indian’ card (quite popular in the hyper-nationalist times we live in). He does pump his fist… “We’re a fighter, yaar. We’ll not let ‘them’ just get away and shut shop. “That’s what we’ve always done.”
He mentions that Chinese brands had flooded the market with hoardings all over and offered high margins to retailers, but the dust is settling now. He points out that sales for brands like Oppo and Vivo are declining, and the market is wide open once again.
While Micromax will launch several devices only online, or online-first, the company will continue to focus on the offline market. 70% of the smartphones sold in India are still sold at offline retail stores, and while online retail market grew very fast, it has now reached a plateau of sorts at 30%.
The online vs offline debate is over, as smartphone brands in India are crossing over
“We’ll not disappoint you,” Rahul avows as we end the meeting. As Micromax aims to garner market-share as well as mind-share over the next six months, it is getting back to the basics – after observing the competition over the last few quarters, in products, marketing, as well as retail.