To Micromax, with love

PE investors exit Micromax and its valuation crashed a whopping 93%. An ode to the Micromax and a look back at its glory days

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My memory of the very first Micromax press conference is a little sketchy at the moment. All I do remember is the very perplexed PR had called and requested to come for press conference at a really short notice. Since he was a good acquaintance, I thought of dropping in for a while and that is when I met Rahul Sharma, the co-founder of Micromax for the first time. What struck me at the very first meet was the confidence that he had. Back then, Nokia was at the top of the game, Samsung was constantly looking at making a mark and BlackBerry through its popular messaging app – BBM and range of couple of “affordable” devices was enjoying a sweet spot.

In that scenario, it looked very difficult for any new entrant to secure entry and Micromax was looking at getting a 10-15% of the market pie through its budget offering. To my surprise, they started to thrive very soon and with that came the slew of other Indian brands – Karbonn, Lava, Intex and Spice. In about a year after the launch of Micromax, I had a cover story (for the magazine that I worked at that time for) on the emergence of these brands, how they have managed to make their marks in some small pockets. For example, Spice was really strong in Punjab, Micromax had established itself in the Uttar Pradesh, Bihar market and then there was a Pune-based brand Byond that was grabbing market share in Maharashtra.

The reason why Micromax was such a rage in these markets was because it offered a phone that would last almost 30 days on a single charge! Since electricity or having one was a big challenge in these pockets, the phone was a big success in these markets.

The second cover story was on Micromax specifically and talked about the four founders and their marketing plan in the times to come. For this story, I had met Vikas Jain for the first time. They had recently launched a device at that time which had a vanity mirror, came in a pink pouch (no kidding) and had even roped in Twinkle Khanna to promote that model. By this juncture, they had beefed up their product portfolio to have more of the big battery phones and also looking at catering the youth.

During my conversation with Vikas, he told me how the company was working on a phone that might work on kinetic energy. He was really honest when he told me that while the company has managed to grab a spot in the top five phone makers but they are still not a top recall or high on aspiration list for people or feature even in the top three. He shared that their aim as a company was to enable the Micromax brand to get to this point where people would want to buy Micromax for its own merit and not because it was the cheaper alternative to a Nokia or a Samsung.

Fortunately for Micromax, that time came. Nokia started losing its sheen and Samsung was not quite there and there was a large population of youth that wanted to own a phone but not invest too much as they wanted to upgrade to the next model in the six months and Micromax became their top choice.

Unfortunately, this time did not last long for them. In the year 2010, the Chinese smartphone brand Xiaomi entered the Indian market and started wooing the price-conscious customers. In a short time, many Chinese makers made a beeline for India. The online shopping platforms had just picked up at that time and these players cut down on distribution margins and started offering the benefit of the same to the end consumers.

To counter this, Micromax launched another sub-brand called Yu, which would sell just online. Another distinguishing point for Yu was also the phones were powered by Cyanogen. While a couple of devices from these managed to make a mark but on the overall did not help Micromax in reviving its fortunes and market positioning.

Today, as I read about PE investors exiting Micromax and its valuation crashed a whopping 93% in roughly four years from a peak of Rs 21,000 crore in 2015, made me feel nostalgic of all the old times. What is ironic that this has happened exactly a day after Rahul Sharma, showcased his new start-up and launched two electric bikes.

While things are not looking positive for Micromax at the moment but this was long overdue. They have not had a big product announcement in almost the last two years. While the optimistic in me wants to see it continue to put on another fight and be like one of the resilient mobile brand that keep coming back from the dead like Motorola, it is indeed time to say goodbye!

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