Be it news, information, entertainment, lifestyle and shopping, Times Internet Limited (TIL) has been evangelizing the digital space with a number of properties. The digital arm of the largest media group in the country has been fostering entrepreneurship and transitioning TIL into a collective of startups, rather than a traditional corporate model under the helm of young and dynamic Satyan Gajwani. Gajwani became the CEO of TIL in July last year and since then the company had acquired lifestyle website MensXp and Gawbl, invested over 15 companies via TLabs (TIL’s accelerator) and partnered with 5 global companies. Besides India, TIL also invested in global startups such as Fab and Skift. To understand TIL’s plan with its existing portfolio and future strategies YourStory spoke to Gajwani. Gajwani spoke on various aspects including his journey as CEO of the company, entrepreneurial ecosystem in India and TIL’s current priorities. Edited excerpts of the interaction:
YS: It’s been almost 2 years since you took the driving seat at TIL. So, in which ways TIL is different from what it was before your arrival.
SG: When I joined, I had three major goals for the company:
1) Convert TIL into a collective of startups, rather than one large company.
2) Operate our companies like entrepreneurs more than professionals.
3) Adopt a model that didn't depend on us building and doing everything ourselves.
On all 3 fronts, we've made good progress, though there's always more to do. Cast a glance at any of our business units, and you'll usually see a leader with an entrepreneur background or bent-of-mind, and that individual has significant ownership over their business unit, to the extent that they would be CEOs in their own right. And in the last two years, we've made 2 acquisitions, 5 global-company partnerships, 15 TLabs investments, and 4 other minority investments, so we're doing OK in terms of working with others. And there's more coming :)
YS: You have enough exposure in tech entrepreneurship as you studied in US and also invested in the companies there. How do you see the Indian startup ecosystem when compared to US and worldwide?
SG: It's different. On the positive side, there's more access to talented technical talent, which is a scarce resource in the US today. On the flip side, we tend to find that technically savvy individuals in the US are more able to work across functions, like product, design, and marketing. In India, we generally find a need for multiple people to contribute towards a holistic solution.
The other challenge is that most Indian consumer startups that can really scale are competing with global players, whether now or in the future, so the benchmark standard for quality of output isn't any lower here, despite the fact that funding is harder to come by. We like that challenge, and frankly it's an opportunity for us to invest into things that most VCs may be too conservative to look at in India.
YS: What led you to invest in startups like Skift?
SG: Every investment has a different reason and purpose. With Skift, Rafat is a rockstar, and we believe in what he's trying to achieve around B2B news. With Skift, he's trying to make a destination around the travel industry. With ETRetail and ETTelecom, we're doing similar things for the Indian Retail and Telecom sectors, respectively, so it's always helpful to have Rafat available to teach us things.
YS: What about growth of Indiatimes shopping?
SG: Indiatimes Shopping continues to grow, but it's been more oriented around profitable growth, rather than growth at all costs. Today, we're operating with a positive operating margin, while continuing to grow top line. To us, this sort of sustainable growth with a path to profitability makes more sense. And, fortunately, if you ask around, most will agree that the level of service and execution at Indiatimes Shopping is far better than it was in the past.
YS: How have Business Insider, Lifehacker and Gizmado been faring up? Is there any plan to bring more international JVs or partnership on content side?
SG: They are doing great! most of them have grown over 100% from where they were when we started working together. We announced another 2 partnerships - Askmen and IGN - recently, and there is definitely more to come.
YS: Any clue on when Fab is launching in India?
SG: Not much to say here yet, there's a lot for them to do globally, on which they are focused.
YS: Give some sense about sectors in which TIL would be looking for investment and acquisition.
SG: To be honest, our scope is pretty large-- if it's relevant to consumers, it's probably relevant to us. Right now, there are about 5 possible acquisitions on our plate, of which probably 2 or 3 will happen in the next couple of months. They usually relate to businesses where they either add a crucial piece to an existing business of ours, or they help us get to a leadership position in a new segment or an existing segment we're in.
YS: Current priorities of Satyan Gajwani as TIL's CEO?
SG: 1) We want to make sure that any of our existing businesses are leaders in their segments, or are on a path towards leadership. That comes from having great leadership, and a solid roadmap and execution plan.
2) There are 4 or 5 new launches, either organic or inorganic, coming from us in the next few months, which take up a meaningful amount of time. And the investments / acquisitions pipeline are a big focus towards making us successful.
YS: Some lessons (to be learnt) and quick words for budding entrepreneurs in India.
SG: Growth in India doesn't happen as quickly or as ideally as you might hear in stories. But with solid hard work and perseverance, and a conscious eye on your costs, you can amass solid scale that can create serious value, in time!