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Micromax, once a rising star,struggles in the growing smartphone market


In the final quarter of 2015, Micromax’s shipments fell by 12.1 percent, against growth of 15.4 percent for the sector, according to industry tracker IDC. Micromax’s share of the smartphone market fell to 13 percent in the fourth quarter from 22 percent at its peak in 2014, according to IDC.

A year ago, Micromax vaulted past Samsung Electronics Co Ltd to become India’s leading smartphone brand. 

Today, its market share has nearly halved, several top executives have resigned, and the company is looking for growth outside India.In Micromax’s slide to second place is a tale of the promise and peril of India’s booming but hyper-competitive smartphone industry.
India is the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market. Shipments of smartphones jumped 29 percent to 103 million units last year.

Rapid growth has helped nurture a crop of local brands, led by Micromax, that outsourced production to Chinese manufacturers. Now, as Samsung rolls out more affordable phones, the same Chinese factories are entering the Indian market with their own brands, depressing prices and forcing Indian mobile makers to rethink their strategies.

“What the Indian brands did to the global brands two years ago, Chinese phone makers are doing the same to Indian brands now, and over the next year we see tremendous competition for Micromax and other Indian smartphone makers,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research in New Delhi.

MANAGEMENT TENSIONS


Micromax, which was founded in New Delhi by four partners in 2000 but only began selling mobile phones in 2008, built its market share by working with Chinese manufacturers such as Coolpad, Gionee and Oppo to offer affordable phones quickly. In 2015, it launched more than 40 new models.
In 2014, the founders brought in outside managers to lead the company at a time when Micromax was challenging Samsung to become the largest mobile phone maker in India. 

But tensions arose soon after between founders and the newly hired executives, six former executives told Reuters. These conflicts undermined Micromax’s attempts to raise funds for expansion, say former executives. Last May, Alibaba walked away from a mooted $1.2 billion purchase of a 20 percent stake, citing a lack of clarity on growth plans, according to one executive involved in the discussion. Micromax co-founder Vikas Jain said in an interview with Reuters this week that the company and Alibaba disagreed on a future roadmap.

“THE WHOLE INDUSTRY IS SUFFERING”


Meanwhile, Chinese handset makers, including Coolpad and Oppo, to which Micromax outsources its manufacturing, were sharpening their focus on India. Samsung, too, began to introduce more affordable models there. In 2015, Chinese brands doubled their market share to 18 percent, according to Counterpoint Research, taking away business from Indian budget phone makers such as Micromax, Intex, Lava and Karbonn. Indian brands’ market share fell from 48 to 43 percent last year.

“Right now the whole industry is suffering because of the Chinese phones,” Jain told Reuters. “We have seen large write-downs happening on inventory in China, and that inventory is being passed on to India at a markdown.”Chinese phone makers including LeEco, Xiaomi and Lenovo have also partnered with e-commerce companies including Amazon India and Flipkart to sell phones directly to consumers, saving on distribution and sales and reaching new online shoppers directly.

In the final quarter of 2015, Micromax’s shipments fell by 12.1 percent, against growth of 15.4 percent for the sector, according to industry tracker IDC. Micromax’s share of the smartphone market fell to 13 percent in the fourth quarter from 22 percent at its peak in 2014, according to IDC.
Micromax, which is privately held and does not disclose financial information, maintains it is profitable. Founders Jain, Rahul Sharma, Rajesh Agarwal and Sumeet Arora still control about 80 percent of the company. They have raised nearly $90 million from investors in the last five years.
Facing competition from both Samsung and inexpensive Chinese phones, Micromax plans to increase production in India. Jain said that the company plans to double local manufacturing output from 1.5 million units to about 3 million units a month over the next six to 12 months.

Already a top-10 brand in Russia, Micromax is seeking a partner to help it expand further outside India and diversify into televisions and tablets. “Micromax needs to diversify geographically and also needs to diversify product lines,” said Neil Mawston, executive director of the global wireless practice at London-based research consultancy Strategy Analytics. How well it manages that diversification, Mawston says, will be key.

ABOUT MICROMAX


Micromax is an Indian consumer electronics company headquartered in GurgaonHaryana. The company was established as anIT software company operating in the embedded devices domain; it later entered the mobile handset business. By 2010, it was one of the largest domestic companies making handsets in the low-cost feature phone segment in India. As of Q3 2014, Micromax is the tenth largest smartphone vendor in the world.