You Can’t Do Business in India

Challenges of Doing Business in India
India is a country intent on carving a place for itself in the global market. Economically, there’s no question that India is on the rise. In fact, it is thought that by 2050, India will be the world’s largest economy, giving rise to tremendous business opportunities. However, according to the World Bank’s 2012 report “Doing Business,” India ranked a disheartening 132nd in terms of ease of conducting business. Among the reasons for this are issues of culture, language, and time. Understanding these is crucial to embarking on a business venture there.

Breaking the Cultural Barrier
To begin with, Indian culture is unlike any other. It is a society with deep roots in a caste system. In terms of doing business, it means that Westerners, who may be used to more informal relationships with colleagues and supervisors, may be in for an eye-opening surprise. They won’t see, nor should they expect, a low-level employee engaged in a casual chat over a chai latte with a member of the management team.

Breaking Through the Language Barrier
Secondly, communication is an important part of all business relationships. In India, language can also pose a whole other set of challenges. India officially has 22 languages and over 4000 dialects. Though English is widely spoken in India, it’s a heavily accented English with numerous variances in dialects and connotations. Communicating ideas from Hindi, for example, to English may not work perfectly and misunderstandings can arise.

Differences in Body Language
Non-verbal communication also plays a large role in business dealings. Unfortunately, people tend to evaluate the body language of others based upon their own cultural references. This is a mistake, as many cultures have body language that conveys messages exclusive to them. India is no exception. For example, Indians have a head gesture that is a cross between a nod and a roll. To them, it signifies an acknowledgement or affirmative response. However, it could easily be misinterpreted as a negative response. It is therefore always wise to clarify the intention before making assumptions.

India Time versus Western Time
Finally, time is a relative concept in India. Western companies, used to strict adherence to deadlines may find it difficult to cope with constant delays. Time is cyclical in India, not linear. That means that it is very difficult to adhere to a specific time for any one event, because other events occur along the way. Rather than completing one task before moving on to the next, Indians may be engaged in several tasks at once, each being completed in due course.

Indian society can be difficult to navigate from a business standpoint. However, for those budding enterprisers willing to invest a little time and effort in some cultural awareness training, it can be highly rewarding. What about you? what’s been your experience?

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Ricky Ahuja

A serial entrepreneur, Ricky Ahuja has been known and well respected for his strong acumen as an online marketer and social media expert. . His previous agency was ranked in the Top 10 on 2012 list of the “Top 10 Networks” and was most recently nominated as a Top 20 Ad Network on Blue Book survey by Revenue Performance. He is now the Director at Nutryst and working closely with John Crestani and Steve Lowry to build the leading Nutra only network.

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  1. You’ve forgotten these unique features of doing business with Indian companies:

    – the seemingly dozens of religious festivals in extraordinarily obscure and remote locations per year one’s business contacts seem to be obliged to attend;
    – the unpredictable nature of electricity supply causing interruptions to communications (especially as deadlines near);
    – the unpredictable weather which seems to target one’s business contacts’ location with localised flooding etc. (especially as deadlines near);
    – the innumerable medical emergencies which afflict one’s business contacts’ relatives requiring their lengthy attendance (especially as deadlines near);
    – the perfidious nature and general unreliability of the banking system.

    1. Alphonso – well thought out for sure. I was born there and still have difficulty with many of these – but if one can learn to over come these – a great opportunity to be had.

  2. About Ricky Ahuja , I already know about my Marketing guru , Who Supports me a lot in Every Step, His Blog is Awesome and and About His Affiliate Group that is really dam good payout

  3. I don’t think that Can’t Do Business in India. This country have high technology. That quality software is good and cheap. If startup bussiness at this country. You are success

  4. I am doing my business in india only.. I have faced all the factor mention here..but there are ways to over come the problems..India is the best market place i still believe.

    1. Vinay – I agree with you 100%, this is why we opened up a local Indian office. Doesn’t change the fact that many of these points are still present.

  5. I bet you are correct Ricky I bet Peter is not Peter as you are probably not Ricky. LOL. I believe there are many opportunities in India. There are bad seeds in any industry and when we work with the right companies in India we have successful relationships and some are continued today.

  6. LOL..Reminds me of sour grapes story !Every country has barriers to do business !Try doing business in Russia ,Africa or Eastern Europe.You’ll know.India is a mini continent by itself with over 28 states and each of them is unique with different language ,culture and business environment !Some states may be less business friendly
    You should have checked why Microsoft,IBM and over 300 fortune 500 companies are happy doing business in India pumping billions of dollars for expansion !

    1. Thanks Pace.

      Mike – that article is to give the non-Indians an idea of what it is like to do business there. If a business can work with/around those obstacles – there is no market like it.

      We just opened an office there and I am from there – so no sour grapes here at all! That has been our main area of growth for the last 3 years running.

  7. India is very unique in many ways and that’s what makes it a great country. Anyone can learn a lot from one visit in India with its diverse culture and customs. The holidays, religious customs and “body language” play an important role in business. I have been fortunate to have worked in over 50 countries. Every country has its nuances. India has many and one must learn and understand them fully and perhaps talk to a person from India who can guide them. The movie “Outsourced” can be worth watching for someone who has never been to India.


  8. Ricky,
    So true.
    I am living in Dubai, so I can tell you by experience one have to stay open minded and learn to understand and even appreciate different culture and behavior. Once you do, without giving up your core business principles, India and their native inhabitants are a wonderful group of humans to work with.

  9. Ricky,

    Great article. I actually read this and was giggling to myself. We opened up shop here in Bombay in 2012. Been here for two years and I have experienced everything you have said. When you are Indian, you become “ok” with certain things and they also become a part of your every day life. I was born and raised in the states with good exposure to the Indian culture, however it still took me a while to get used to some of the difficulties. Having said that, I wish I would have moved my development business here 5-10 years ago, I would probably be double the size. Once you figure it out and get used to it, things work very well, its the best Market place out there! Here is 1 item that I think could be added to some of the great points you made Ricky.

    Understanding that Yes doesn’t always mean yes – You have to be very specific when dealing with indian employees. It took me a while to understand that saying yes is sometimes a matter of respect for employees. You can give them a task and they will say yes and walk away completely confused with the task. It is very important for employees to know that its ok to “not know” and they should ask questions. Lots of questions go unanswered because they are scared to say “I dont know” as a matter of respect and cause most of us indians think we know everything 😉

  10. Thanks guys. Just saw this movie on Netflix last night – Office Tiger, great movie. Having said all this – there is quite no place like it – I love my India 😉

  11. What i have realized, You may make a lot of money in India IF

    1. You are working for Government
    2. You are a politician
    3. You are a real estate investor and crook
    4. You are government supplier
    5. You sell education
    6. You sell premium clothings
    7. You sell Gold
    8. You outsource ( Quality BPO/ Software Vendor)
    9. You scam (anyhow)

    I dont see a fair business environment in India. Nor i see people having very good attitude towards work. Everything is just casual.


  12. Every country has diversification be it India or America. If you are from a remote country you have to learn about it.

    Just partner up with a right guy who can understand you as well the Indian culture. I bet it would be pretty easy.

  13. I think that nowadays it is not difficult to do business in Indian markets. They are lot of ways and many opportunities to start a business. But the post is also good that reveals some truth facts about the business in India.

What's your opinion?

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