Covid19 is almost equivalent to world war 2 in terms of economic impact. Inflation adjusted to the economic cost of world war 2 is close to $4tn and it wiped out almost 4% of the world population. While we all hope that Covid19 is not as close to world war 2 in terms of population lost, the sheer economic loss of labour because of Covid19 is currently estimated to be $3.4tn alone with close to 24.7mn jobs lost. Governments around the world have doled out $8tn + worth of economic stimulus packages. Covid19 is also challenging because it is affecting the whole world at the same time, slowing the global economy across the board.
The impact is deep and across the sectors (see the image below) not only impacting retail, travel, transport, utilities and hospitality, but also stretching and changing the financial services as well.
This is not only threatening to wipe out small and medium businesses with uncertain cash flows, but also is going to weaken and over a period of time take down bigger businesses as well that don’t have a data core to rapidly respond to changes with changed offerings. Infact covid impact can be modelled after the KT extinction seen post the asteroid hit, when non avian dinosaurs vanished. After the asteroid hit, non avian dinosaurs’ stable food supply chain got hit, which had played a part in supporting such huge mass got disrupted, forcing mass extinction. In place of dinosaurs, mammals came out of the ground and quickly grew into the niches left by dinosaurs. This sudden expansion of species diversity into new ways of life is known as adaptive radiation. One way it occurs is in response to events that free up previously occupied environmental zones and roles, making way for many new species that adapt to these vacant living spaces. The extinction of the dinosaurs was one such major event, triggered by a black swan event, eliminating a once-dominant group of competitors while some mammals survived. But the mammals did not simply step into ecological roles vacated by the dinosaurs.
There were new environmental habitats and new food resources to exploit. By the end of the Cretaceous period, flowering plants had become dominant, providing food for insects, which in turn became another high-quality food source for the mammals, along with fruits and berries. New kinds of forests appeared, offering novel habitats for what would become tree-dwelling mammals — primates, which first appeared about 50 million years ago, and eventually, some 45 million years later, upright-walking hominids, including us. So basically we owe our existence to this massive KT extinction event.
We expect something similar to happen as well in the post covid world in the area of businesses. Covid19’s massive and widespread impact has disrupted a very stable money supply chain and behaviours which allowed companies to grow massively and dominate their verticals. It has also fundamentally altered the consumer habits across the board with social distancing becoming the norm. While the growth of AI was starting to change multiple verticals by mimicking human behaviour by combining a multitude of data sets via deep learning, Covid19 has accelerated this change. AI is expected to close to $15.7tn of new economic value (PWC research) by 2030 and because of Covid19, its adoption is getting fast tracked. Early signs are adoption of autonomous technologies in auto, healthcare, retail and manufacturing because of isolation requirements of Covid19.
We expect 4 major impact areas to emerge post covid 19, not just in India, but globally as well, specially favoring small and nimble startups which can exploit them by riding the data and AI wave, given that bigger companies will be slow to react and might have existing workflows and legacy that will weight them down,
- Online everything – From buying groceries to education to entertainment & gaming, everything is going to be consumed online. Even after covid 19, expect a substantial portion of consumption to remain online. This has massive disadvantages for companies, which don’t have rails to go online or are stuck in an offline world. Either they would mutate quickly to adapt to the online shift or they will die, however big they might be right now.
- Global actions are digital – Global nomads are a key trend that is going to change the way we live and work. This is going to result in accelerated rollouts of 5G and consequently a more connected digital world, generating more data about our physical actions and driving more digital actions especially remotely. This is going to impact all sectors, even something like financial services, which we normally don’t associate with remote actions. More AI will be used remotely with no human touch for banking and insurance, driving the costs down and increasing penetration with reduced cost of transaction. Further telepresence and teleworking is going to increase with penetration into more verticals. Expect to see people managing farms remotely, monitoring factory output from far and driving trucks sitting across continents in the next 6-24 months. This will give rise to completely new kinds of startups.
- Physical and digital world coming together – With cheap sensors and on the edge AI computing, we would know and tag physical objects with even more accuracy, leading to coming together of our physical and digital world in a way, where the map would become the new browser. Next generation of services would come up on top of this map. Like browsers, which led to a massive explosion in online commerce with an impact of $3T+. We expect map being the new browser would lead to a massive economic impact which will be 3 to 4 times of the ecommerce wave.
- Reducing cost by automation and data – Cost reduction by automation is going to be a major differentiating factor for businesses going forward. New enterprise is going to be fast, nimble and driven by data. Intelligent cash flow mapping and management is going to be key and will give rise to the next generation of enterprise planning and execution engines driven by data insights with dynamic response to changing environments.
Startups exploiting these 4 trends by leveraging AI and intelligent automation are doing to drive the next generation of frontier technology “mammals”, which are well adapted to the new environment. Some of them will go on to dominate and become a major player. Given the disruptive nature of covid being strong in Asia and data to disrupt being rich and diverse, these startups are going to find a fertile ground in countries like India to grow and quickly find their niche to dominate. These fast growing Indian unicorns can then go global. If one looks deeply, Indian startup ecosystem is now having 5 major things in their favor,
- “Supermarket” of problems – India is a supermarket of problems, from air pollution to traffic congestion to healthcare asymmetry. That means, India has data about almost every single problem from traffic to air pollution to lack of healthcare access. This data about problems is critical as you need data to model and build robust AI systems. India has the fertile ground to convert this problem data into AI. That is why India along with China could be the major source of AI solutions. If autonomous cars can work in the crazy traffic of Bangalore, they can work everywhere.
- Massive volumes and variety of data – Unlike the EU, which has GDPR nipping its AI ambition in the bud, India has massive volumes of data and variety as well. For example, Aadhar, the world’s largest authentication system has 1.236 billion people enrolled in India. Just the sheer number of authentication requests of these users has meant that it is driving the standards for biometric authentication.
- Big early adopter population – India has a young early adopter population which has 1.38 bn mobile phone connections, out of which 500mn+ are mobile phone users, which is also very tuned to digital workflows now. They can rapidly adopt new behaviour specially digital.
- Self taught programming pool – India has clocked the highest number of coursera users, close to 22.3%, ahead of the USA. This programming pool is highly adaptive and is focused on learning about Data and AI, as it is financially rewarding now. This pool can not only power global IT companies, but is also now ready to start companies.
- Supportive government focused on Atmanirbhar bharat- After a long time, India has realized the need to build an ecosystem that is focused on solving problems in India by technology. With widespread reforms pushed in during Covid19 in sectors such as agriculture to defence, this is a game changer. The key is the financial and policy commitment behind rebuilding the new global level AI ecosystem with close to $0.5bn with “NM- ICPS, National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber Physical Systems”. These investments are creating the next generation of technology led startups with AI research parks focused on translating cutting edge research. This commitment coupled with sectoral reforms and low capital yield globally is going to funnel global money in building out this massive change opportunity.
Just in 2021 we have seen 26 unicorns being created, we believe that is just the beginning of the capital inflows. These capital flows will accelerate as India seeks to build the economy towards the $10tn size and would be the best place for growth for next 10 years. Out of $7tn that it might add to $3tn in next 10-15 years, 90% value addition is going to be in the digital domain. This value addition is going to be critically driven by frontier technologies. If India plays the cards right, by combining its massive entrepreneurial talent with frontier technologies, it will be able to emerge as a world leader in the foreseeable future.