New Delhi: The much-hyped visit of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was eventful on Wednesday with the CEO getting a roaring welcome from his colleagues and MSME players present at the auditorium in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, followed by his announcement of $1 billion investment in small and medium businesses in India.
Although everything was not hunky dory, as traders across the country staged protests as scheduled against his visit under the aegis of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT). Few traders along with the CAIT leadership even reached the venue.
As Amazon India head Amit Agarwal called upon Bezos for an on-stage chat during the first day of Amazon 'Smbhav' programme, several people, including his Amazon colleagues and MSME players present in the auditorium, welcomed him with roars and loud claps.
The presence of Bezos at the event on Wednesday was a hard-kept secret by the company. However, the information or rather apprehensions were in the air that the world's richest person would make an appearance at the event.
Speaking to Agarwal, he spoke about his experiments in life and how he dared to start his own venture of online selling and delivering books.
He said that people should take challenges and should not be afraid of failures. "When you're trying to figure out something new, maybe that nobody in the world has ever done before. That is high-quality failure because when you're experimenting, you don't know if it's going to work. You have to organise to be able to experiment and you have to have a culture that supports failure," he said.
"Amazon is the best place to fail," Bezos added.
He further said that, along with Agarwal, he had failed in their two-decade long journey together and added that such failures may end up with a new innovation.
The Amazon CEO made a major announcement during the interaction, saying that the company would invest $1 billion in digitising small and medium businesses (SMBs) on its platform in the country.
Bezos also announced that the e-commerce major, through its global footprint, will help SMBs export products worth $10 billion by 2025.
"We're committed to being a long-term partner of India. And actions speak louder than words," said Bezos.
"Over the next five years, Amazon will invest an incremental $1 billion to digitise micro and small businesses in cities, towns and villages across India, helping them reach more customers than ever before. This initiative will use Amazon's global footprint to create $10 billion in India exports by 2025," he said.
Under the initiative, Amazon would establish 'Digital Haats' in 100 cities and villages to help businesses integrate into the digital economy. 'Digital Haats' would be in local neighbourhoods and available to MSMEs irrespective of their association with Amazon, a company statement said.
Bezos said the rationale behind the support is that business with SMBs in the country is doing well. "Because its working, and when its working, you should double down on it," he said.
On the prospects of the Indian market and entrepreneurs, Bezos said that 21st century will be the century of India.
"I predict that 21st century is going to be the Indian century," he said, adding that apart from the dynamism, India is a democracy which is a major characteristic of the country.
He also observed that in terms of alliances, the 21st century would be about bilateral relations between the US and India.
The Amazon CEO's India visit comes at a crucial time as the Competition Commission of India (CCI) on Monday ordered an enquiry into the business practices of e-commerce majors Amazon and Flipkart.
Meanwhile, traders staged protests against his visit across over 300 cities under the aegis of CAIT. CAIT has been protesting for the past few months against what it calls "deep" discounts offered by the e-commerce platforms.
According to CAIT, more than five lakh traders were present at the the country-wide protests.
CAIT Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal compared Amazon to the colonialism of the East India Company.
"We are not afraid of competition. But, companies like Amazon and Flipkart are selling products below there market rates because of which samll traders are losing out on business," he said, adding that the e-commerce players have taken away 40 per cent of the business of offline retailers.
"Jeff Bezos Go Back, Amazon Go Back" slogans were raised by traders at the Jantar Mantar in the national capital. Few traders, including Khandelwal and the CAIT leadership, also landed up near the venue of Amazon Smbhav, though after Bezos had left the venue.
However, no major demonstration was held there as they left after speaking to a few reporters.
Bezos will head to Mumbai on Thursday where he is likely to meet top Indian businessmen and Bollywood celebrities.