TECH TALK: Dotcom Nostalgia: Business World Story

A few weeks ago, Radhika Dhawan from Business World came and interviewed me for a story they were doing on five years of the dotcom bust. The article was published this week. There are five first-person accounts (based on the interviews). Here is the introduction:

The dotcom euphoria burst exactly five years ago in India. During the giddy days of the Net boom, hope, excitement, greed and world-changing ideas jostled with each other, and changed the lives of the participants of the Net economy forever. It was a time “when the world went a little bit mad”. BW’s Radhika Dhawan asked five people, who were in the thick of things then, what they think of it all in hindsight.

My story is reproduced below. While Radhika has captured very well the essence of what I told her, I thought that I should elaborate on some of the points mentioned to provide a better context, as well as add other thoughts about that period and the time since then.

Let us start with my first-person account as written by Radhika. The text with my photo in the article introduces me thus: He is the original poster boy of the dotcom era, who struck it big by selling his portal to Sify for Rs 499 crore. As always, we found Rajesh Jain still believing that every idea must aim to change the world. Else, whats the point?

With luck on his side
Rajesh Jain
CEO, Netcore Solutions

There is a book, Lucky or Smart?, by a man called Bo Peabody, who ran a company called Tripod. My answer is you have to be smart to be in a situation where you get lucky. A friend once gave me a piece of advice: More than knowing when to enter a business, it is also important to know when to exit a business. You can’t begin a business with the objective of selling it one day. But if an offer comes along, you need to be smart about it.

I launched Indiaworld a week after Yahoo! was formally launched on 13 March 1995. With any new technology, we tend to overestimate what it can do in the short term and underestimate what it can do in the long term. But for anything to work, the ecosystem has to fall into place. Thomas Friedman in The World Is Flat talks about the telecom boom and how some of the same mistakes were made there.

The second point I want to make is about entrepreneurs. You have to distinguish between those who go in there motivated only by money and those who go in to change the world. An entrepreneur has to have a little bit of the ‘change the world’ thing in him. If I have to get my passion across, I have to believe that what I am doing is the next big thing. If I don’t believe in it how will I convince others? So you have to paint that picture of tomorrow.

Looking back, I think the most positive aspect of the dotcom boom is that it gave people a flavour of entrepreneurship. People quit well-paying jobs to see what the other side is all about. I wish it had lasted a little longer. Then we would have had a lot of money invested in the Internet business in India. That’s what has happened in China. At least four portals managed to raise $100 million-plus on the IPO offerings. So when the dotcom boom went bust, they had the cash to discover mobile and gaming businesses. Businesses and markets may vanish but these companies had the cash to morph into something different. From these situations emerge the next big ideas. That culture of entrepreneurship would have lasted if we had a lot more ideas.

My focus has really been on how to use technology as a platform and as a tool for change. How can we create solutions for the next billion people in emerging markets? We need disruptive innovations in such markets.

For instance, how do you deliver education differently? You need to leapfrog in the delivery of services. How can we build technology-enabled solutions which can be used in India first? How can you envision tomorrow’s world and go out and create it? Indiaworld was a vindication of that belief.

Tomorrow: IndiaWorlds Early Days

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.