Localization Insights on the Indian Market with GALA Champion Biraj Rath
In this series of interviews, GALA members share their insights on the pursuit of globalization & localization brilliance.
Biraj Rath, CEO of Braahmam International
I started quite by accident. We were originally an e-learning development company. Most of our clientele was in India, generally multinational companies (MNCs). Way back in 2000, when we established ourselves as a company, we started with multimedia e-Learning projects in Hindi and some other Indian languages. Some of our MNC customers approached us to also make the same English e-learning content available in international languages for their office employees in global locations. We mostly had exposure to South East Asian, Asian, Middle East and Indian languages, but sometimes EU languages as well. Our major break came when in 2002 we started working for a major European LSP in several Indian Languages. This later enabled us to formally enter the Translation and Localization industry.
What would you recommend to an enterprise that wants to enter the Indian market?
When entering the Indian market, it all depends on what the product or the service is. And honestly, I don’t have all the answers, because India is really a complex country, and it's a market within a market.
India has officially 23 languages, just to start with. But there are, of course, some general recommendations. So, if a company is trying to cover all of India, then one of the things to know is that Hindi as a language is spoken by a large majority of the people, almost 35-40% of the people. And the top eight languages cover almost 75% of the speaking population. So, that would be Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Punjabi.
If you're only going to focus on certain products and services, which are predominantly agriculture in nature, then you will only have to be talking about certain regions in India. For example, we have a customer that builds elevators and escalators, and they were planning to put up a factory in a southern region in India called Tamil Nadu. In this place people speak a language called Tamil. So all the quality manuals, all the local manuals, safety manuals, and all of the documentation required by law would need to be in Tamil.
So, it actually all depends on a case to case basis. What is the product? What is the service? Is it required during manufacturing?
And then, there is advertising. A lot of the advertising in India is visual in nature. So, you may not need text-based translation. You may need to localize the jingles or maybe the TV advertisements and stuff like that. It really depends on the target audience.
What are the main reasons for a company to decide to localize its services or products for the Indian market?
For the last 15 odd years, I have been going around all over the world, telling people about the misconceptions. So one of the misconceptions that people have outside of India is most of the Indians know, English. And if I were to ask you a question, how many percentage of Indians do you think speak English or know English? What would be your guess?
Probably a very low one. 20%?
That's pretty high, the percentage is below 10%. And even within that, the people who actually use English as the first language are something like 5-6% only.
People are using English as the second language or as a third language. So, if you go to any of the data sites that actually crunch these numbers, you will see that English as a first language, it’s less than 10%. And although it's growing on a day-to-day basis, it's still well below what you would expect.
Now, think about a population of 1.3+ billion. And consider the age demographics: 65% of the Indian population is below 35 years of age, that's working population. That's a consumer population. And that's a big market. Now, decide whether you want to address the 10% who speak English or the 90%, who don't speak English. One has to just understand what their product or services are. In the case of B2C, they need to reach out to the masses. I don’t think they need any more data.
Can you give us your 5 year outlook for the Indian market and other emerging market opportunities?
I'll take you back a little bit into history to bring some perspectives here. When we started our company, Indian languages were called exotic languages. We used to always get projects from customer with a subject line saying, “exotic languages required”.
Times have changed. We saw this change actively after 2007-2008, when Hindi started slowly to become one of the main languages. The message that we have been trying to send out into the market is that you simply can't ignore this market and think that it’s all in English.
If you look at content available on the internet in in the Indian languages, it's an extremely low percentage. In a sense, COVID helped a little bit because when people start going online and seeing what other markets are they could enter digitally. That's when they came across India being also a market which could potentially bring additional revenue.
In the next five years, there are huge opportunities, and I think the ball has started rolling. The word is out that India is an untapped market.
I foresee two changes. One is that a lot of multinational companies coming into India will invest more and more into making content available in local languages. The major OTT platforms have already embraced content in local languages. But it's not only about the text part.
In the next five years, I think there is going to be an increase in visual and audio content. In India, it's going to be more important because about 30% of the Indian population doesn’t read write. But they can listen, they can see.
Visual and audio content is actually going to be more important, including the fact that e-commerce companies will have voice-based searches and things like that.
When I look at the Southeast Asian market, I think Indonesia is already very hot. One of our top languages is Indonesian, followed by Thai, Malay, Vietnamese, sometimes Filipino, or Tagalog. These are also quite prominent business givers for us.
Where GALA Fits In
Being a significant Translation and Localization company, we need to provide confidence to all industry stakeholders, specially customers and suppliers. Being a member of a well recognized industry association provides that confidence and legitimacy. Apart from that, GALA is a great association to network with like-minded companies, find customers, technology vendors and much more.
My favorite is the GALA Annual conference in physical form. I always look forward to it. It is always at a good location and a nice hotel. It gives me an opportunity to meet old friends, new contacts, share ideas and discuss challenges, and learn from other industry colleagues. It's a lot of fun as well, and plenty of networking opportunities. The group informal local tours and dinner at an off location are also much awaited events.
I was a member of the Program Committee in the GALA Annual Conference in Istanbul, Turkey (2014), it was a great learning and professionally satisfying experience to be among industry well-known figures and to be part of a professionally managed large event. We were a team of 5 in the committee, apart from work and organizing the topics for the conference we had a lot of fun together. The camaraderie among us was great and that made the job much easier and ultimately ended with good results.
One of my career highs was with GALA when I was selected an Ambassador for a 3-year period in 2015. I was approached by GALA after my role as part of the Program Committee for the Annual Conference in Istanbul. Originally, the assignment was for a period of 2 years and later on it was extended by another year. The main roles of the ambassadors was to spread the Objectives of GALA as the main industry association, and secondly to work on one major project of your own choice that supported the language industry in any significant way. I had chosen to make GALA more recognizable in India and to spread the word about how GALA can help members with various challenges and why for others it would be helpful to consider a GALA membership. I really liked the concept of this program and since GALA had other ambassadors, it was good to interact and learn from other ambassadors and their projects. Overall, it was professionally, a great way to contribute to the industry through GALA.
Getting a Service Excellent Award from SAP AG, Germany for the company was also one of the stand-out accomplishments. Growing Braahmam to be a prominent and reputed LSP in the global arena is my biggest accomplishment.
As entrepreneurs, we have a natural tendency to hold onto many activities that we like to do, or we are very good at, without delegating them. It is generally because we feel “I can do it better”. Many times that may be correct, but this is where we go wrong. Our job as entrepreneurs is to find the right person for certain jobs and delegate them to these people who we can trust.
Networking Tips & Techniques
Be relaxed, be yourself. Try to be a good listener and pick conversations that you feel confident and comfortable about and where either you can learn or make a valuable contribution.
What I Learned Last Year...
Invest in your own personal development and growth each and every day. Any investment, in the form of money, time or other resources that we utilize in our personal growth will help us grow our business and also grow our employees or people we work with.
My parents, my mentors, my family are the biggest inspirations. Sometimes, I read self-help books and watch videos to get inspiration in specific areas of life and work.
My Brilliant Second Career
I have a hidden passion to teach students of all ages about what I know. I like to interact with young students and share my experience and knowledge.
What does Life Beyond Localization look like?My favorite comic books are Tintin and Asterix.
I like to read about homeopathy and its case applications in the real world.
GALA Content: What’s In It for You?
Why invest your time in reading GALA’s webinars, articles and blog posts, and checking out the webinars? Because they’re food for thought as you evolve your business strategy