Microsoft has offered tech support by phone for decades, from guiding business customers through a tricky Windows installation to making sure grandmas successfully locate Solitaire on the Start menu. But this month, the company launched a new kind of hotline in India to help entrepreneurs navigate the minefield of starting their own business.
In a novel move, Microsoft Ventures, the company's startup investment and accelerator arm, opened JumpStart, a toll-free number where support specialists will field calls from Indian entrepreneurs. Microsoft insists there are no restrictions on the type of questions an entrepreneur can ask, but expects its dedicated call center staff to be mostly advising customers on legal, funding or marketing issues. Microsoft says workers will walk callers through the processes of registering a company, preparing taxes, tracking down an accountant and finding a good lawyer. They're also happy to suggest technology solutions. (Microsoft Azure, perhaps?)
These days, dial-in tech support seems old-fashioned to say the least, but Indians could use whatever help they can get. It’s one of the toughest countries to start a business in, according to the World Bank. Part of that can be attributed to the 2012 "startup tax" that treats Indian investments as income, essentially penalizing companies that raise money locally. Amid complaints of over-regulation, last year was also the worst for Indian technology IPOs in more than a decade.
But investors there are optimistic, pointing to the increase in the number of startups and the growing interest from Silicon Valley giants, such as Facebook's acquisition of Bangalore, India-based Little Eye Labs in January. Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO and a native of Hyderabad, India, is searching for ways to align the company with startups in his home country that could one day be big-budget customers.
The JumpStart 800-number is staffed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in India. Microsoft Ventures, which has six accelerators worldwide, plans to use feedback gathered from the program to fine-tune its various Indian startup-centric efforts.
Microsoft is currently the dominant software provider for companies in India, with 31 percent of the market, according to research firm IDC. The overall value of corporate software in India is expected to swell to almost $45 billion this year, the researcher said. If data gathered as part of JumpStart's free hotline helps the company stay ahead of the competition, answering some phone calls won't seem like such a big effort.