When we began IndiaWorld in early 1995, we had little idea what we
would be doing three years later. All we knew was that being early
would open up opportunities would others would not be able to spot
early. And that is exactly what happened.
IndiaWorld began by offering home pages and websites, the first Indian
company to do so. Banks, finance, real estate and publishers were
among the early clients. Setting up home pages did more than offering us a
source of revenue. It got us in direct touch with the domestic market,
and exposed us to requirements much earlier. IndiaWorld has been able
to downstream this advantage into multiple streams of business
(advertising, custom software development, and most recently,
messaging and communications) with the same clients.
The growth of the IndiaWorld website into a network of multiple sites
was also driven by the need to cater to a growing domestic
audience. Capturing mindshare in a segment early enough helps reduce
the investment it takes when there are many players in the business.
While India has been largely ignored by the international players
(there are no Indian flavours of international websites), it proffers
an opportunity for domestic companies to build up a strong
base. Having a strong local base is very important for long-term
success. It is a lesson Indian software majors have by and large
What are some of the things we have learnt in the past three years?
Setting up a business in India is non-trivial. There is little help
from venture capitalists or from banks. Being small is almost a bane.
So, it is very important for a business to be profitable at an early
stage. Being acquired is not a long-term strategy (or for that matter,
even a short-term one). One has to build it and be able to run it for
quite some years to come. This environment makes it difficult for
entrepreneurs. However, it also offers a corollary: since resources
are always limited, it makes one think on optimisation their usage,
and on what one does. For a small business, there is no such thing as
a small mistake.
Because we had little or no access to external funds, we have to
ensure that each activity we took up was profitable. And
over a period of time, this ensured a very good base for the
business. The challenge, of course, is to ensure that short-term
profit motives are balanced by long-term strategic decisions. In our
case, the home pages business generated the short-term revenues, while
the investment in a Network of websites offered a longer-term
opportunity for building up page views to target advertisers.
In the Internet segment, it became quite evident early on that the
market will take time to grow. India was not going to go from 0 to a
million in a year, as we would have liked. In India, everything moves
a little slower! But we also catered to a significant audience which
was outside India. So, we had to keep up with the changes happening
worldwide. The Net itself was an incredible resource — in terms of
software, information and business ideas. It is important to spend
time on the Net and read emails coming in from surfers — they are the
best source of new ideas.
Technology plays an important role. We built our systems mostly from
public domain technology — Linux and Apache. This minimised the
starting cost, and also enabled us to implement projects rapidly. In
our case, the time from start to finish for launching
khoj was 10 days, for
KHEL, it was three weeks.
We find it easier to get support on Linux and Apache than on
some commercial products!
On needs to be almost-evangelical while marketing the Internet in
India. Technology isn’t hot in India, and the Net is still viewed more as a
technology, than a medium for communications, marketing and commerce.
That is why marketing requires more than adequate knowledge of the
technological platforms. One needs to convince companies that this is
the right approach. Its not as much as selling a product or service as
it is selling a vision — of doing things differently, of creating a
Internet Vision, Technology and Traffic — they’ve made IndiaWorld
what it is. Vision helps us see new market opportunities early,
Technology lets us speed projects to market and traffic helps us
generate the numbers which are required for making sites commercially
The opportunities on the Internet are immense. It requires one to
understand the fundamental changes which are being brought about by
computers and communications. Being able to think through the impact
the Net will have on future business will open up significant
opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies. Just think, your
biggest competitor two years down the line may not even be existing yet!