Largely dominated by handsets from global and regional manufacturers, the Nepali gadget market recently observed the entry of a US-based newcomer. With uniquely designed feature-packed phones at attractive price points, OBI Worldphone, a Silicon Valley smartphone company, announced partnership with Starck Trading, a subsidiary of Jyoti Group, to distribute their phones in Nepal. The company founded in 2014 by former Apple and PepsiCo CEO John Sculley and rebranded as ‘OBI Worldphone’ in 2015, is currently engaged in market expansion across the globe. The company’s foray into the Nepali market was marked by the launch of two handset models—SF1 and SF1.5. Ankush Chatterjee, Vice-President, Product Marketing and Innovations of OBI Worldphone was in Nepal for the launch. In an interview with Sanjeev Sharma of New Business Age, he talks about the company’s market approach, product design and features, future plans and the challenges it is facing as a newcomer. Excerpts:
In a world full of numerous smartphone brands, where does OBI Worldphone stand?
Obi Worldphone is a company originating in San Francisco. It is the brain child of former Apple CEO John Sculley. The board consists of an experienced team including former executives of Motorola, Samsung and other reputed companies. We started off with emerging markets, where there are lots of opportunities. We are focused on markets where smartphone penetration has not reached saturation points. After entering Thailand, Vietnam, Latin American markets and other countries across the world, we are now focusing on the South Asia region.
Nepal is a potential market with high potential for us in terms of penetration. We also feel that there is a gap between premium devices offered by the likes of Samsung and Apple and generic medium-ranged phones that have been fed by the likes of regional producers. Between these two, we felt that there is a design gap which nicely fits in our core value proposition. This is the space we would like to own. We are launching two devices, the flagship SF1, named after San Francisco and another companion device the SF1.5.
What about consumer reception?
We want to fill the design gap with devices that are design-led and consumers will not have to compromise in terms of performance. In the meantime, we want to provide our customers with handsets at very attractive price points. So, we went and really tested it out. In the first year we launched handsets in Middle Eastern markets. Our products were well received in countries such as the UAE. People loved the fact that even if they wanted to spend only about USD 100 on devices, they could still own a well designed descent phone loaded with premium hardware and software features. Then we entered the Indian market and the feedback was overwhelming. Similarly, Vietnam has become a very big market for us. We started small there, but the number of OBI stores has grown to over 500 at present and all the top retail chains are our partners there. We are gradually moving towards the western market. We have recently launched smartphones in Mexico and are about to enter the UK.
Where is the OBI handsets produced?
The manufacturing of OBI smartphones is done in Shenzhen, China. We have teams locally placed there who are re-sponsible for testing, programme management and product management on a daily basis. The ID (industrial design) part is almost done in the US. We have offices globally in more than six places.
How do you expect the competition for OBI Worldphone to be in the Nepali market?
We do not want to go head-to-head with any brand in this matter. There are players who are doing well for the right reasons while there are other players not doing well for other multiple reasons. We are trying to own a different space which is a very design-led proposition, with good performance and very attractive product prices. We are very hopeful that Nepali customers will warmly welcome our offerings.
Who are your target customers?
There is clear demographic chart for us in this regard. We are targeting the 18-34 age group. They aspire to own new designs, have a discerning taste for product aesthetics and look for awesome experiences. That being said, we also target design and produce handsets for customers who are young at heart. People beyond this age group who aspire for a beautifully designed high performance phone will also be our customers.
And brand promotion plans in Nepal?
We are engaged in brand promotion through multiple platforms. Let Abhisekh [Abhisekh Bose, General Manager- Global Marketing, Partnership and Alliances] explain it.
Abhisekh: Nepal is a key market for us when we see it from a strategic point of view. From the marketing standpoint, we will be deploying a 360 degree effort here. Apart from ATL, we will do TV commercials when we are well entrenched in the market. Retail will be our main focus. We will engage customers more at the retail level. Our promotion campaigns will be supported at the store level, through advertisements and social media outputs. Overall, we are trying to give an experiential theme to our whole marketing campaign. The idea is people really need to touch and feel our devices to feel the difference.
Initially, where are you opening stores in Nepal?
Along with the Kathmandu valley, we will be opening outlets all across Nepal. Our stores will be at main cities outside the capital. We are trying to get our footprint all across Nepal.
What USPs can Nepali customers expect from Obi Woprldphone handsets?
Customers can see a fresh industrial design which will be very distinct unlike what they have seen in this price range (Rs 20,000-30,000). They can also see a great aggregation of state of the art technologies. Our flagship product, the SF1, comes with the best camera sensor, superior audio quality, high-performance processor, top performance battery and high-end display. Fatigue has set across many markets by the likes of established brands constantly over serving and increasing price points. This leaves a void for challenger brands like us to own that space and mindset of customers.
How many products are there in your portfolio?
Currently, we are selling three models across the globe. We have the SF1 and SF1.5 along with the latest addition MV1 which is currently being rolled out to multiple markets. We are bringing out two smartphone models in Nepal.
As a newcomer in the gadget market, what challenges are you facing at present?
We are a very young company. So, the resources and budgets are constraints for us. We always have to balance the aspects, especially when we are going to advanced markets such as Europe and US. It is important for us to be able to mange marketing globally, to balance that aspect with the pace as we are trying to reach out to the customers in the world. Our brand is called ‘Worldphone’ for a reason. We really want to reach out to the multiple markets as quickly as we can. Another challenge for us is in the design part. It is not always easy to come up with innovative designs because at times there is market pressure that has to be managed in the quest to build something that is really original.