Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Digitization To Drive, Survive and Thrive In Crisis: The Journey of Info Edge

Held on July 28, 2021

Published: Sep 16, 2021 05:37:50 PM IST
Updated: Feb 28, 2022 07:43:56 PM IST

Forbes India and AWS have teamed up to bring you visionary leaders' experiences and company secrets from the emerging breed of Digital Native Businesses. Candid talks with digital native executives about their reimagined business strategies, technological capabilities, and future vision will be the focus of this year-long campaign.

Chapter two of "The Mavericks - Founder Conversations" featured Sanjeev Bikchandani, founder of Info Edge and a Pioneer of Indian internet businesses, in conversation with Sachin Chawla, Country Manager & Head-DNB of India & South Asia at Amazon Web Services (AWS), moderated by Forbes India Editor Brian Carvalho. The two mavericks shared their two cents on entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership & mentorship, technology, and the growth of DNBs in India.

Info Edge: Humble Beginnings
Would you ever imagine that a man who quit his job and shifted to his father's garage to pursue his business idea would launch a successful venture like Info Edge? Yes, Sanjeev Bikchandani made it possible. "From the salary, small-time reports to consulting services, I did all to survive, drive and thrive", said Sanjeev.

With the sheer determination to not work for a large corporate house, he explored the many small ideas. The 21st idea gave birth to "Did we have a clear vision? No! The number of users looked small to the world, but looked large to me", he further added.

The bubble and venture capitalists came to India, making us lucky. "Raising money from venture capitalists and ICICI right before the meltdown of the 2000 burst, we knew this was all we had to make it or break it", he added. With two years of losses, they broke even with a higher revenue base. With diversification into different sectors, is still the foundation of the company.

Sanjeev said, "India has progressed substantially by adopting digital, mobile, Aadhaar, UPI, and more when asked about financial inclusion. Digital technology will make financial inclusion more ubiquitous."

On climate for entrepreneurs, sources of capital and pooling in a team

"I had no money. My father was a retired government doctor; my mother a homemaker. I had to make do with all I had", said Sanjeev. It was all about work hard, play hard.

When asked what wealth means, Sanjeev said, "I doubted it, wondering if I deserve it? Second, I had to understand it was not my wealth. I was a custodian of this wealth for which I need institutional stability." He reiterates the importance of giving back through charities.

As for AWS, they follow a unique policy when acquiring talent. Sachin said, "At AWS, we like to invent and hire talent who are 'builders' and solution providers." He also goes on to explain the policy that they follow at AWS for decision-making. "We have a policy called one-way door and two-way door strategy which helps separate high-velocity decisions", he further added.

Technology: An Integral Part of Business Evolution
Some big moments would be when the Internet went on the mobile, Jio and its low data prices, BSNL, and the voice prices. It was not a one-day phenomenon. It happened over 10-15 years. "10 years ago, 93% of our traffic was from desktops. Fast forward to now, 97% of our traffic is from mobile. From videos, local languages to social media, it is a huge transition. You keep trying until you succeed", he said.

AWS's Sachin Chawla also shed light on how technology has gone from an enabler to the core of businesses. He said, "Entry barriers were high in the beginning. But, with cloud computing, the entry has become easier, and the cost of experiments has reduced significantly."

On choosing between Product Innovation vs. Product Awareness, Sachin says, "You need to do both to stay relevant." Sanjeev believes in the same but adds a little twist saying, "You focus on the customer. Innovate relevant to the customer and make them aware."

On start-up valuations
It can be quite a challenge. Sanjeev said, "We don't decide the valuations. The market decides." Their share price rose from 2100 to 5000. Is it justified? If the market says so, it is. Entrepreneurs just run the business.

The Drive to Survive...But what's next?

The mavericks stressed the importance of building a culture of innovation in an organization. Sanjeev said, "To win an investment from Info Edge, you need to have natural traction. Solve customer problems and innovate to create a product that the customers want. Be a pioneer, relevant and different. Investment is a lemon that eventually ripens."

Were you lucky? Sanjeev says, "Yes, I was. But I also worked hard, played smart, and persisted." This is how you get wealthy without being lucky.
Keep an eye out for the next episode of 'The Mavericks' series, which will feature additional insider perspectives on the tech world from those at the centre of the process.