After eight years at Google developing products like Google News and launching new phones while an exec at Motorola, Punit Soni is moving to India to be the chief product officer at e-commerce company Flipkart.
As e-commerce explodes in India, Flipkart is its largest online marketplace in terms of sales.
It has 33,000 employees, and 10 million daily visits.
But, it has some big competitors too. Local startup Snapdeal is close behind it, and another giant company is trying to move in fast, too: Amazon.
Amazon and Flipkart have an interesting history: Flipkart’s founders actually both worked at Amazon before leaving in 2007.
Amazon opened its official India website in June 2014. The next month, Flipkart raised a mammoth $US1 billion funding round. Exactly one day later, Amazon said it planned to pour $US2 billion into its Indian operations.
So, surely Soni must be worried about the threat of this giant company, known for crushing competitors even if it takes hemorrhaging money to gain marketshare, trying to move fast into India?
“You can throw a lot of money at something — and in areas like e-commerce where on-the-ground infrastructure matters, throwing money is absolutely going to help,” he says. “But I’d be more nervous if somebody had assembled a team of 100 world-class people who were building five or six new world-class ideas, that when I heard of, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never thought of that. That’s amazing.'”
He’s not worried about that from Amazon. “That’s the kind of work that I think we do,” he adds.
Soni believes that one of Amazon’s biggest disadvantages in India comes straight from its core. Amazon was built in a “desktop era” where people bought stuff online using their computers. In India, 70-80% of online transactions could come from mobile by 2017.
“The inherent being of the company can’t just change — it’s very hard for it just to suddenly become mobile-centric,” he says. “Of course, I have to understand everything Amazon has done well and then make sure that we are always lapping them. But, more than that, we have to focus on things that Flipkart has that are unique to Flipkart, like understanding what the best mobile experience should be.”
He also believes that Flipkart has a unique view on ways to make shopping a more social experience and plans on building out new ways for buyers and sellers to communicate in real time (Flipkart only sells products through third-parties).
“It’s about understanding where the future is going to be,” Soni says.
Amazon didn’t respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
“The significance of mobile is much higher in India than anywhere else as most of first time internet users will come on the mobile,” Agarwal told India Times last fall. “The mobile will be the first point of contact for customers here.”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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