JustDial story in Founder Mani’s words

ManiJustDial story in Founder Mani’s words

V.S.S. Mani of JustDial was one of the keynote speakers at TechSparks 2011 Round Table Pune. Here are some key pointers from his speech

  • I am a TamBram, so probably there has not been a entrepreneur in my family for 100 generations.”
  • He first started “AskMe” in 1989. Ran out of money in the first two years – too many meetings in 5-star hotels, and too many high-quality, high-salary employees. And since he was the sole breadwinner of his family, he had to go do something else to earn money. So, JustDial really started in 1996.
  • This incarnation of JustDial did not repeat the mistakes of AskMe – so the first office was tiny – 300 sq. ft., and did not move to a bigger place unless absolutely necessary. Rented everything possible, including chairs, tables, computers, and even LAN network cables.
  • Focused on many small customers (instead of a few large customers). And took money in advance. Helped with cash-flow (because there was little VC money in India at that time, and none at all for a new business model.)
  • When the dotcom bust of 2000 happened, most internet based companies collapsed, but JustDial was only minimally affected, because they had been conservative about betting on the internet.
  • Decided to bet big on voice enable local search and marketing around 2002.
  • Met a VC, who told them that he wasn’t interested in their existing business, but would fund them if they converted to a BPO. This convinced them to not pursue VCs any more. This remained true until 2006, at which point a VC approached them, heard their story and signed a term sheet the next day.
  • They finally launched the web-based version in 2007. Lost of internal conflicts about whether to do this – because of the fear that the internet business would cannibalize the voice based business. Interestingly, their internet business grew like a hockey stick, and at the same time the voice-based business continued to grow at the same rate as before.
  • Rode the telecom penetration and internet penetration wave on the way to fantastic growth.
  • It appears that further growth in metros is not possible because the market is already saturated. But, India is not just a metro-based market. JustDial will go to all the small cities.
  • The JustDial WAP site is growing at a tremendous pace.
  • Apps (Android/iPhone/Blackberry) are being launched next month
  • Throughout the journey, there have been naysayers. The second time he re-started JustDial, everyone told him that it was a bad idea to re-start a failed business. When they launched the web-based version, people told them that they were not a tech company, and would fail in this segment. Now the same story is repeating with their app-based business that they’re launching in the US market. (What they’re seeing that “human assisted search” is finding a lot of takers in that market – where talking to actual humans is rare.)
  • JustDial.com has the largest number of reviews and ratings in the world – 2.5 million. The secret sauce? Most people don’t actually go online and give reviews. Most online review sites have paid staff generating “reviews”. JustDial calls their voice customers back for ratings/reviews and then uploads them to their site.
  • It’s difficult to give one-line advice to entrepreneurs. But here’s an attempt: Remember, entrepreneurship is different. It’s not like a regular job. It’s a calling. So don’t do it unless you have it in you. It has to come from inside. Not because someone told you. Or copying someone else. And remember, there will be lots of failures. And learn from them. Don’t do minor, incremental things that copy someone else’s idea. Do something disruptive. Don’t do coupons.

JustDial is a great India success story! We at YourStory.in hope Entrepreneurs like Mani inspire many such stories coming out of India in the next few years.

Update by TechSparks Pune Outreach Partner, Navin Kabra, Founder of Pune Tech