Mr. Kohli, when did you first come to Russia? What was your first impression?
I can call Russia my second homeland, since I spent the majority of my youth here. I came to Russia after winning a competition - the main prize was the opportunity to study abroad. I first studied Russian in Voronezh, then moved to Moscow in September of 1997 and continued to study marketing at the State University of Management. I graduated in 2002 and enrolled in a post graduate program immediately after. In 2006, I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis in bank marketing in India. When I was planning to move to Russia, some of my close friends and relatives were worried because things were really unstable here back then. I was prepared for everything, but when I got here I felt totally comfortable in Russia. None of my fears or the fears of my friends and family came true, thankfully.
As a foreigner, I had the unique opportunity to watch how Moscow changed. For example, my first impression of the capital in the late 90s was that there were no signs in English. But this changed very quickly! I have lived through three crises in Russia and have seen how this country has changed. I can say that a lot of these changes have been for the best.
Did you leave Russia afterward?
Yes, after getting my degree I came back home and worked for Indian branches of the Russian companies VTB and MTS-India. I came back to Moscow in 2013 to implement Micromax projects in Russia. I was happy to see that the city has become comfortable and safe for foreigners. Moreover, doing business in Moscow, making new products, and launching new projects has become easier as well.
Ramnik, as a foreigner you are familiar with the qualities of Russian businessmen.
In my experience, Russian businessmen are some of the strongest businessmen I’ve had to work with. I respect them for their perseverance and ability to work and grow their business during economic downturns. In my opinion, nobody is better at managing risks. Of course the Russian market is going through a tough period right now, but I am sure that the country has a lot of resources to help overcome this difficult time. I also have to say that my Russian team does superb work. The Micromax office in Russia mostly employs Russians. They are like a second family to me, I spend a lot of time with them. We work closely together and achieve great results.
What are the market conditions in Russia like for your business right now?
The general state of affairs on the Russian market has not had a serious negative impact on Micromax. I consider the current crisis to be a window of opportunity for us. Micromax specializes in mobile phones in the budget segment, which is currently expanding because demand for products in the budget segment is growing. Micromax offers affordable mobile phones that aren’t limited in terms of functionality.
In your opinion, what are some distinguishing features of the Russian mobile phone market?
There are 5-6 major retailers in Russia, which make up the majority of the market. They have a thorough approach when it comes to selecting suppliers and go for brands that help them grow, especially the high-margin brands. Micromax has established a great reputation for itself, since for the past three years we have worked closely with Russian retailers and did everything possible to establish mutually beneficial partnerships. You can find our products at Beeline, Megafon, Svyaznoy, and independent retail stores throughout the country. I’d also like to point out that Micromax is the top-selling brand in terms of phone quantity and in the top three brands in terms of sales in the independent retail segment.
Where in Russia have you seen the most growth?
We have the most sales in the central part of Russia, as well as in the south. These regions have the highest population density, as well as major wholesale companies operating in mobile phone sales. Customer loyalty to our products points to high demand for our phones, along with the low percentage of returns, which speaks to the quality of our products.
What are your company’s goals in Russia?
Our goal is to switch button phone users to Micromax smartphones. I want to point out that we have a big share of the button phone market as well. Our budget smartphones have features that used to only be available for premium products, like fingerprint security scanners. Our goal is to democratize technology. We are able to make solutions like this available in the budget segment thanks to our optimization of production expenses. The phones are developed and manufactured in India and China, and we also have low marketing and promotion costs.
What do you like most about Russia? What kind of advice would you give to someone else who wants to come here from India to work and live?
If I have to leave Russia some day, I will definitely miss it, especially my friends and acquaintances, whom I love, as well as Russian weather and cuisine. I really like Russian cuisine and am pretty good at making Russian food. An Indian person who wants to live and work in Russia needs to at least speak some Russian. It’s important to spend some time studying Russian culture, and it’s also very interesting. Understanding the Russian mentality and learning about Russian history is very important for successfully doing business in Russia, since these things affect the behavior of both consumers and potential partners. It’s also important to study the structure of the market and find out who the top players are.
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