What happened when Flipkart, InMobi and Paytm met on stage?

Deconstructing the Myntra gamble.
Deconstructing the Myntra gamble.
Image: Reuters/Abhishek Chinnappa
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At one of the country’s largest internet conferences in Bengaluru today (Sept. 10), founders of three Indian unicorns—Sachin Bansal of Flipkart, InMobi’s Naveen Tewari and Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm—found themselves embroiled in the startup ecosystem’s big debate: app or website.

For months now, India’s internet businesses can’t seem to decide if they should focus solely on mobile applications, or continue to run desktop websites.

For Bansal, whose company has reportedly been toying with the idea of going app-only, the answer is clear. “If you win the mobile app, you win everything. If you lose the mobile app, you lose everything… And a focus on app will definitely help because focus drives innovation,” he said at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC).

Flipkart has already shown some conviction towards an app-only strategy. Myntra, the online fashion portal that it had bought last year, shut its website and chose the app-only route in May.

But rivals like Snapdeal say they’re actually profiting from Myntra’s move.

“One thing that really helped our fashion business was Myntra’s app-only strategy,” Kunal Bahl, co-founder and CEO of Snapdeal, told The Economic Times newspaper last month. “I think it’s the most consumer-unfriendly idea I have ever heard of. Maybe three years later it’s worth a conversation, when PC (personal computer) contribution is even lesser. Even then, it is a conversation still. It’s not a yes or no situation,”

Back on stage at the GMICPaytm’s Sharma countered Bahl’s remark by arguing that “if someone says it (going app-only) is unfriendly, they must always know that a website is far more unfriendly.” Paytm, which claims to be India’s largest mobile commerce platform, is closely wedded to the smartphone, including for its online wallet service.

The defender of the website, ironically, was InMobi’s Tewari. His company has always focused on mobile devices and competes with the likes of Google in the mobile advertising segment.

“Mobile phones have a limited space and if you can have an average of 40 apps, some 15-20 are pre-decided and cannot be changed,” he countered. “Also, the current app ecosystem is pathetic and user experience is bad and clunky.”

“So while top players may be able to succeed with an app-only strategy, many other companies will need to operate through multiple channels,” Tewari argued.

At the end, expectedly, there was little consensus on stage. Now, it’s for the data to decide the debate.