TECH TALK: 15 Years as an Entrepreneur: 1994-99

It was in November 1994 that I made the decision to switch tracks from trying to build a software services company to one which could create content and a marketplace for Indians globally on the Internet. My confidence was low, but I had little to lose. I had to pick up the pieces from a failed past and look ahead to the future. I saw in the Internet an opportunity to do something different. During those rough and tough months, I did not once think of giving up being an entrepreneur. It was that initial period which taught me that one has to be focused on the journey, not just the destination. Things rarely go according to plan, but that doesn’t mean one must stop dreaming and doing.

The IndiaWorld journey lasted five years. During that period, with help from my wife and a committed staff, we built up India’s first and largest Internet portal. The portal was launched in March 1995. This time around, I was careful to ensure that we also had a source of revenue which came from doing websites for various companies. We kept costs low and very soon, we were profitable.

When I look back at those five years now, it was an amazing ride. We did a lot with limited resources. We made more right decisions than wrong ones. We were also lucky on numerous occasions. For small businesses, any decision can be fatal and a bit of luck is needed to ensure that the scales tip on the right side. The learnings from the past definitely helped in the right decisions that I made.

There were two things which I did not succeed in during that period raising external capital for growth, and building an organisation capable of scaling up. In November 1999, when I sold the business to Sify (then Satyam Infoway), we were 20 people with a revenue run rate of about Rs 5 crore ($1 million). It was an organisation still largely driven by me with limited delegation of authority. Getting in new people would have meant raising capital the profits in the business were not enough to scale up. In fact, there is almost a chasm between the ‘seed’ stage of a business and a ‘scaled business.’ It requires capital and organisational bandwidth to cross the chasm. I did not succeed in doing that in IndiaWorld. It is a weakness that persists to this day and one I can hopefully overcome going ahead.

In the end, when I made the decision to sell IndiaWorld in November 1999, it was not an easy one. I had not created the business with an intention to cash out. For five years, IndiaWorld was the only life I ever had. But as I spoke to a few close friends, two things become clear. In business, it is important to know not just when to enter, but also when to exit. Also, by nature, my strength lay in taking new ideas and building new businesses, rather than sustaining existing ones. With this in mind, I decided to sell. That was my first (and to date only) entrepreneurial success.

Tomorrow: 2000-4

TECH TALK 15 Years as an Entrepreneur+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.