When IPL-3 was broadcast earlier this year on Youtube, the Internet behemoth Google got a couple of things wrong. For one, it grossly underestimated how cricket-crazy this nation is, as was evident when the service was bogged down by the large number of people trying to watch the matches online simultaneously. For another, even those who managed to to reach the IPL page, the experience was stuttering.For Hardik Sanghvi, this was least surprising. According to the co-founder of Vmukti, an online video streaming solutions provider based out of Ahmedabad, Google committed the cardinal sin of importing an infrastructure model from the west that was far removed from Indian reality. ”To watch IPL screened live over youtube, every user was required to have 512 kbps. But the reality in India is that most users have about 100-200 kbps. In such a scenario, how can everyone watch these matches?”
Sanghvi should know; Vmukti, who have been working in this domain for the past four years, specialises in video streaming solutions involving thousands of participants. Last year, Vmukti was entrusted with providing live video streaming for the Vibrant Gujarat enclave to a staggering 60,000 participants. Yourstory catches up with Sanghvi to give you the story behind this company
The inspiration for Vmukti
In 2005, I was attending the annual leadership event organized by NASCCOM at Mumbai. All the gurus of the IT industry were there and they had invited then President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam to deliver a keynote session. In the address, he challenged the attending delegates to build a knowledge platform where you can leverage voice, video, and content over the internet. And he gave two examples of where this could be used: tele-healthcare and tele-education. That is how the idea of Vmukti germinated in my head.
How Vmukti embarked on large scale video-streaming
After coming back from the US, I had setup a custom software servicing company out of Ahmedabad. We were serving a lot of our customers for Voice-over-IP solutions based on open source technologies. And increasingly more and more customers started asking, around that time, if we could add video-like capabilities over our voice based systems for things like video conferencing, PBX voice calling etc.
However, we realized that the market was already dominated by Cisco’s Webex which was doing pretty well anyway. After rigorous analysis we found that though this particular solution were very popular, there were a few problems with call quality and scalability. They were good when the number of participants were limited to 50. But when the numbers became larger -- 100, 200, 1000, or 5000, there were no solutions in the market. That was where we saw an opportunity to build a solution which could touch thousands of lives at the same time.
Why most video streaming fails in India
Video streaming solutions have been developed by many vendors, but the main issue was that they were all developed or built by folks sitting in developed countries like US. The developers building solutions would assume that every node in the US has 8 Mbps connectivity. Why would they care about how the solution would work on a 100 or 200 kbps line, which is what is available in most parts of countries like India
Our main solution provides a one to many interactive video communication model. For example, Vibrant Guajart 2009, for which we provided video streaming, had 60,000 participants in a single session at the same time. The focus was on making a video communication system that actually solves the bandwidth and infrastructure solution in countries like India.. So we worked towards this for the last 4 years to build advanced motion estimation algorithm. Through our patented algorithms, we can save at least 2.5 times bandwidth, which enables full screen video communication at as low as 100 kbps of bandwidth.
Even with 100 kbps, we can broadcast full screen video on projector or LCD TV. And the entire technology is a cloud-based technology, so there’s no proprietary hardware requirement at the customers end. The entire technology sits in the cloud -- it is immensely scalable to up-to 50,000 participants in a single session. We also allow interaction through audio, video, and chat-screen sharing. This makes it ideal for web-casting a seminar or an event , or a virtual classroom for educational purpose.
Motilal Oswal, a leading stockbroker, use our product as a private channel for their network of sub-brokers and customers, who can tune in from across the country. This is especially suitable for those tuning in from small towns and rural areas where the Internet infrastructure is weak. And the biggest advantage to deploy this technology is that they do not have to deploy engineers to a single location.
Other major clients include Monarch Investments, IMS education -- one of the largest PMT coaching institutes in the country --, Naukar Institute -- one of the largest CA coaching institute in the country --, IIM Ahmedabad itself. Some of the other big names we have managed to add to our portfolio are NSE, Fidelity investments, ICICI prudential, Canara bank etc.Education sector
We’ve also been focusing on the education sector in particular. There is an education institute here in Ahmedabad that uses our technology to serve rural areas. While they have multiple classrooms where teachers broadcast classes, the students are located in 18 remote centres in rural parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan. This guy has avoided all the competition of the city area -- he has multiplied his revenue nine times with the same content and same infrastructure and even the students in the rural areas are extremely happy.
After Vmukti was incorporated in 2007, we received invaluable incubation support from IIM Ahmedabad. They also helped us with funding through the central government. We also received angel investment in the beginning of December 2007 from a UK based angel group. Meeru Mehta, who was the Vice-Chairman and CEO of Avias, has also invested in our company and joined Vmukti as Chairman of the company. And as recent as a few months back we closed a deal with a leading merchant banking group.
We have around 20 large organizations that have signed a contract with us, with our partner network, to avoid doing direct sales. We have also set up regional offices in Mumbai and Delhi, and one in Bangalore is opening next month. And we have some of the very senior people from IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad alumni to head it.
Our future plans involve setting up a Vmukti partner network across India with at least 500 partners to sell our virtual classrooms and event web-cast packages. The idea is that in both these segments, we are going to continue to focus on education and events segment, and over the next 2-3 years we become no 1 in interactive video streaming solution in this market.
Internationally, we’ve been active only recently. We have just concluded partnerships in seven African countries. We’re also in the process of finalizing the partnerships in US as well.
We keep facing challenges in the area of HR particularly. Here, people don’t get extremely motivated with stock options like in the west. Hard cash is considered to be one of the most motivating factors for any employee. We’ve tried to address this by hiring people from across the world. This has reduced our HR issues significantly. We have 30 employees from across 7 countries -- from Russia, China, Ukraine, Egypt, Cameroon, Germany, and Israel. The idea was that rather than hiring average people in-house, we would hire the best skills in their respective geographical location