NET.COLUMNS: The IndiaWorld Story (Part I)

IndiaWorld was launched on March 13, 1995, and in the past two
years, has grown to be India’s largest and most heavily accessed
family of websites, including IndiaLine. In a recent
(as part of an opinion poll on the Most Important Indians of the 20th
century), over half of the people named one of the IndiaWorld sites as
their favourite website.

The company which created IndiaWorld, Ravi Database Consultants Pvt
Ltd, has also grown to be India’s largest web services provider,
managing over 125 websites.

Here is a first-hand account of how IndiaWorld has grown to become
India’s premier website from Rajesh Jain.

The IndiaWorld story begins in September 1994. I was in the US, trying
to figure out a good business to do in an area other than software
exports. It was the time when the Internet and Web were just about
beginning to catch people’s fancies. I spent a few weeks at a friend’s
place, browsing the Web on a 14.4 Kbps dial-up modem with Netcom’s
Netcruiser account. The experience was absolutely amazing. It was
quite evident then that the Web as a medium would have a significant
impact on how information was disseminated. The Web offered a good
business opportunity: attract the NRIs (I was one myself!) with good
intent, and then look at offshoots in electronic commerce.

That was the vision of IndiaWorld: a bridge between Indians
worldwide. To quote from our introductory document:

Our mission is to create an electronic information services
organisation, with a focus on emerging markets. IndiaWorld is the
first step in this direction. We intend to leverage the Internet as a
global distribution medium, and build a platform for electronic
publishing and commerce. In doing so, we hope to bridge the
information gap and enable commerce initially between users in the
developed economies and suppliers in the emerging markets, and later
between the suppliers in the developed countries and users in the
emerging markets.

The changes which have brought India to the forefront of the world
economy are momentous and irreversible. Interest in India is
increasing. And yet, information on India — its business, culture and
people — is not easily available. The Internet is the distribution
medium which makes possible rapid access to information. Anytime. And
from Anywhere. We are riding on this network, with a focus on
digitised content on India.

We see Indians (living inside and outside India) interconnected
together, with each other and with business partners. IndiaWorld is
the bridge. Geography is today increasingly becoming irrelevant in
doing business. We are building upon the rich past of India, and the
vibrant present, and looking forward to a connected future. Connected
via IndiaWorld.

On my return to India in November 1994, I wrote to various publishers
and talked to a number of companies and individuals to participate in
the venture by offering their content. It was tough explaining the
Internet and the Web to people in India then: there was no commercial
Internet access provider (our “shell” account was through
NCST/ERNET). Most thought the Internet to be another variation of a
satellite channel! I would take a notebook with NCSA Mosaic, and show
them the power of hyperlinks. It wasn’t quite clear how it would make
an impact on businesses, but yes, it was going to transform how NRIs
got their information.

Our focus was on IndiaWorld as a news and information service for
NRIs. With help (and content) from Indian Express, India Today,
Dataquest, Reader’s Digest, Kensource, Crisil, CMIE, DSP Financial,
Professional Management Group and Laxman, IndiaWorld was formally
launched from a server in the US on March 13, 1995. Emails were sent
out to friends, postings were made in newsgroups, and we anxiously
waited for people to start accessing the site. As the emails started
pouring in, we knew we were on to a winner here. One smart thing we
had done was to ensure quite a lot of archived content: this way, when
people came in, they had plenty to see. (Imagine suddenly having 30
Laxman cartoons to browse!) This way we knew the people would come back.

Right from the beginning, our focus was on daily updates (it is quite
astonishing how few Indian sites update daily). This simple philosophy
of offering something of value every day ensured very good repeat
traffic. We spent a lot of time creating a daily newspaper (India
Daily, which continues even now), and news headlines from the Indian
media, updated twice daily.

Two days after launch, we covered the Union Budget live. We had a
group of analysts and journalists watch the TV in one room and give
their comments. In another room, we’d type it all up and put on the
website — with a direct dialled ISD call (since the ERNET US link
chose just that moment to go down!). The bill for 2 hours came to
about Rs 8,000 (with umpteen number of disconnects). But, once again,
the feedback received convinced us we had done the right thing.

While we were very keen to charge a subscription fee for sections of
IndiaWorld (we started at USD 49, then dropped it to USD 29, then to
USD 20 for a year, and then in November 1996 dropped it
altogether). This was a flawed model and it probably helped drive some
people away. But we saw it as an extremely useful service (“it works
out to Rs 2 a day, what you would pay for a newspaper in India!”). In
18 months, IndiaWorld had about 5,000 subscribers. More interestingly,
a figure three times larger accessed the top page and the Headlines

In those initial days, IndiaWorld touched off something of a chord
among people. The word-of-mouth was extremely positive, and other than
one ad in India Today International in May 1995, we have never
advertised on any medium. If we could not make a business successful
through the Web, there was no way we could help help others to do the

The first few weeks of IndiaWorld taught us many things, which till
today serve as the core principles on which IndiaWorld runs:

  • Update Daily or more often: ensure that you can get your audience
    every day. Many people worldwide begin their day by first checking out

  • Cover prominent events live. Over the past 30 months, IndiaWorld
    has covered three budgets, the 96 elections and over 100 cricket
    matches live, besides a dozen QA sessions.

  • Answer emails that come in quickly. Email is our only link to
    readers. We do try and reply to every message which comes in (we get
    over a hundred daily). But it is these messages which have served as
    the source for new ideas.

To be continued next week

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.