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How to build for the next billion Indians

How to build for the next billion Indians

With over 700 million active internet users as of December 2022, India is on the brink of a digital revolution that promises to encompass its entire populace within the next decade​​. As industry leaders and visionaries like Rajan Anandan have pointed out, the dual challenge of connecting the next billion users and crafting products that significantly enhance their lives calls for a nuanced understanding of this new user base.

This article will serve as the primary one-pager or pre-read that Indian product managers need to inform them of the considerations necessary to understand the nuances of building for the next billion Indians.

Bridging the Connectivity Divide

The infrastructure to bring the next billion users online is rapidly developing, with initiatives from both government and private sectors aimed at expanding internet access. The significant increase in mobile internet users, from 100 million in 2010 to 1.05 billion by 2023, underscores the mobile-first nature of India’s internet boom​​. Success stories like Reliance Jio’s aggressive rollout of affordable 4G, and more recently 5G services, illustrate the kind of infrastructural advancements that can catalyze widespread internet adoption. However, the journey doesn’t end with connectivity; it begins with it. 

Building Impactful Digital Products

Once connected, the next challenge is to introduce products that not only cater to the needs of this user base but do so in a way that is intuitive and accessible to the particular needs of these next billion Indian users. If we want to build good products that will impact the lives of the next billion Indians then the product landscape must evolve to meet the unique needs of users. Many of these users are not digitally native, many of our users will be experiencing the internet for the first time through mobile devices. 

However, 4 pillars can serve as the foundation to create impactful products for these users. These are not an exhaustive list but a starting point.

Building easy-to-use and mobile first products

Traditional product management frameworks are borrowed from the West. Where desktop usage was traditionally dominant and many applications were primarily built as web apps for the desktop and then transitioned to mobile apps.

However, when it comes to building for the next billion Indian users, we must keep in mind that the mobile-first approach is not just a design philosophy but a necessity.

With 73% of India’s internet traffic generated from mobile devices in 2023​​, products designed for these users must follow a mobile-first approach that focuses on 5 major requirements: 

  • Simplified User Interface (UI): Mobile-first apps focus on simplified nav, larger buttons, and clear CTA elements to accommodate touchscreen usage and smaller display sizes. For example, Indian apps like Paytm offer a clutter-free home screen with prominently displayed payment options, contrasting with more crowded interfaces seen in some Western apps designed with desktop users in mind.
  • Offline Functionality: The GSMA’s 2023 report reveals a 4% coverage gap for India v.s. The 1% coverage gap in the USA. Given the very low coverage gap, the majority of Western applications do not prioritize offline functionality but it is imperative for the products we build for the next billion Indians to have these features allowing users to access content or services without an internet connection. Many big players such as Google have built intentional products such as Google Maps that offer offline maps in India, a crucial feature that isn’t as emphasized in Western versions where constant connectivity is more common.
  • Data Efficiency: Indian consumers are also more cognizant of their data usage and thus optimize for their usage. Mobile-first apps in India must optimize for low data usage features and enable users to manage data consumption.
  • Payment Integration: Mobile-first apps in India integrate a variety of local payment methods, including UPI. An example of this approach can be seen in apps like Paytm and Google Pay, which have simplified digital payments even in low-connectivity settings, making digital finance accessible to millions.

Reaching the next billion Indians like their own 

It is important to reach these users in the right way, in a way where they can best engage with the content. We have learned that the next billion Indians want to interact with products in their native languages thus warranting multilingual support and they prefer audio and video-based features.

Thus, In crafting digital solutions for India’s next billion users, embracing multilingual capabilities and focusing on audio and video content isn’t just advantageous—it’s essential for genuine inclusion and engagement. India’s rich tapestry of languages, with 22 officially recognized and countless dialects, necessitates products that speak in the mother tongues of its diverse populace, not just in English or Hindi. This approach not only breaks down barriers for users with varying literacy levels but also enriches the user experience with cultural familiarity and relevance, fostering trust and deeper engagement. 

Moreover, the preference for voice and video content over text-centric interfaces is a strategic response to linguistic diversity and literacy challenges, offering an intuitive and accessible way for users to consume information and services. These formats cater to the vast number of users in areas with limited internet infrastructure, making digital content more accessible despite connectivity challenges. They also support diverse learning styles and social interaction, enabling users to connect, learn, and create in ways that resonate with their daily lives. In sum, building multilingual and audio-video-oriented products is not just about expanding reach—it’s about creating meaningful, empowering digital experiences that resonate with the lives of the next billion Indians.

For the next billion users, the value proposition of a product must be immediately apparent, requiring a shift away from technical jargon towards simplicity and clarity. 


The journey towards digitally empowering the next billion Indian users is as complex as it is exciting. It demands a departure from conventional product design and marketing strategies, urging us to rethink how we define user experience, accessibility, and utility. By embracing a mobile-first approach, prioritizing voice and video, emphasizing multilingual content, and simplifying the digital experience, we can build a more inclusive digital India. This effort will not only transform the lives of millions but also unlock unprecedented economic and social opportunities across the country.



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