From dropping out of IIT to running a mediatech startup – the journey of Baskar Subramanian of Amagi Corp
In this week’s 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder of Amagi Corporation, talks about his journey as an entrepreneur.
The journey of Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder ofCorporation, is a classic product-driven tech entrepreneur’s story. Over the last 16 years, the IIT dropout has built several tech solutions, and founded a fast-paced startup.
Baskar, along with Srinivasan KA and Srividhya Srinivasan, founded Amagi Corporation in 2008. The co-founders wanted to revolutionise global content delivery and monetise the media industry. The Bengaluru-based mediatech startup facilitates geographic targeting of television advertisements.
Amagi is backed by Emerald Media, Mayfield Fund, PremjiInvest, and Nadathur Investment. It is one of the few startups that generated constant growth even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the recent episode of 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, a series featuring founders, venture capitalists, and angel investors, Baskar spoke to Siddharth Ahluwalia about quitting IIT and starting up Amagi Corporation.
Tune in to listen to Kitty in conversation with Siddhartha:
Quitting IIT and starting up
Back in the days, during the early 1990s, Baskar says Bill Gates was his hero. In fact, Baskar loved software and started his first company while he was still in school. Coming from a middle-class family, his parents could not afford a computer, and he used to spend most of his time in school labs, building software.
Baskar then struck a deal with a Chartered Accountant. For four days a week, he was building software for the CA in his computer, and in return, Baskar would get the computer to himself to build his own software. Thus, Baskar would spend most of the time after school writing software. He then started selling software while he was in Class 11. Later, Baskar did his graduation from GCT Coimbatore, specialising in Computer Science.
“I’ve been a self-learner and it was fairly clear that I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of any other career or dreamt of anything else outside of this,” he says.
After graduation, he went on to work for Texas Instruments as a software engineer, before joining IIT Bombay for his MTech.
During his master’s, Baskar found most of the course to be academic. “Most people were looking for a good job, which was not my intention. I did not find the environment great,” he says. And Baskar dropped out of IIT Bombay mid-way.
Around 1999, he started planning his next move, and by 2000 he built his company -- Impulsesoft Pvt Ltd. It was a wireless streaming solution provider. By 2002, it launched its first music headsets and Logitech and Panasonic were its first customers.
In 2004, Impulsesoft built its first Bluetooth watch. “The watch could take your phone calls and show you messages, it was at least 10 years ahead of its time,” Baskar says.
The team wanted to sell the product to Fossil, Timex, and Casio, and travelled across the globe, trying to licence the technology. By 2005, the company was acquired by SiRF Technology Holdings. Baskar and his team spent around 18 months transitioning from Impulsesoft to SiRF.
In 2008, he started wondering about what to do next. Baskar, Srinivasan, and Srividhya were sitting down in Bengaluru’s JP Nagar on a Monday morning, discussing and debating on what next. Since the trio were sure they would eventually build software, markets or domain were not a constraint for them.
“We were talking about television…and started thinking we will go and disrupt the television space by splitting the whole satellite. Why should the same advertising content go across the country? And why don’t we split that so that local and small businesses can actually target their consumers in their locality using television,” Baskar says.
After building the technology for a couple of years, Amagi launched its first service in 2010. By 2012, Zee Television and Viacom 18 had all signed up for the services. “Thus, we became the largest buyer of advertising inventory in the country and sold it to different advertisers in different parts of the country,” Baskar adds.
After functioning in an ad sales model, in around 2016, Amagi changed its business model to transform into a tech platform. Broadcasters had to now pay royalty to Amagi to get to use the technology.
“Prior to just that, we started building a cloud environment. We understood the broadcast media business and we had already started going international,” he says.
Monetising the media industry
Amagi is now a cloud-managed media technology company. It manages content delivery and monetisation for broadcasters and digital-first media companies across the globe. The startup runs a managed tech platform that enables content owners and broadcasters to visualise their content management, pay out, delivery, and monetisation needs.
Baskar explains, for any market that has moved from a traditional on-premise infrastructure to a virtualised infrastructure, the transformations have been touched by software and cloud technology to move their operations to a public cloud or a private cloud infrastructure.
“Essentially, the same thing is happening in media businesses,” he adds.
Amagi works with anybody who touches content in their businesses -- content owners, studios, production houses, TV channels, OTT platforms, etc.
It is a software-rich platform and provides its customers an end-to-end infrastructure. It runs on public cloud infrastructure, and provides them the ability to run operations in a virtualised fashion. These enterprises need not have any real estate or on-premise infrastructure across their whole ecosystem.
Emerging media trends
From a platform standpoint, Amagi does multiple things. Baskar says there are two large emerging trends in the broadcast and OTT industry.
With the emergence of OTT, not everybody is using cable and satellite. “The frontend of the business has changed dramatically,” Baskar says. The economics of the business, overall way of working, and operational elements have changed as well. “This is transforming very fast into a complete IP-based approach,” he adds.
Amagi was quick to notice these changes. The fundamental change was that the broadcast industry realised that in the front-end they needed infrastructure that could be flexible and future-proof. “We are pioneering that trend,” Baskar says.
The second major trend in the broadcast industry is the concept of streaming TV. “The change has been very dramatic in the last three years and we have seen a fundamental change,” Baskar adds.
The first trend in the US, which is Amagi’s largest market, was that people were starting to find TV sets expensive and were constantly indulging in cost-cutting. Secondly, the digital millennials were starting to create good content. “They did not have any mechanism to get it out to the customers, except going into YouTube,” Baskar says.
However, YouTube, because of its revenue share deals and agreements, was not much effective for beginners. And thirdly, an important trend was noticed in the subscription front.
At present, Amagi is focussed more on the US and European markets, and generates almost 95 percent of its revenue from these markets.
The company has about 225 employees, and has a centre in Delhi and does its monitoring from Bengaluru. It also has offices across LA, New York, and London.
“Bengaluru is our biggest centre where all our engineering and operations run out of,” Baskar says.
Starting with zero, the geography-targeted ad business of Amagi grew to hundreds of crores in revenue between 2012 and 2016. “And then we crashed the business completely and moved into a complete tech model,” he says.
In 2016 Amagi started with its SaaS model, selling royalties to broadcast companies, and the company has today crossed millions of dollars. “We are kind of getting into the larger spectrum right now,” Baskar says.
In the last three years, the company has grown by 500 percent. In fact, Baskar reveals that Amagi is now on the “other side of the COVID-19 acceleration”. And in the last three months, the company has grown by almost 25 percent.
Roughly, 70 percent of Amagi’s revenue comes from the US, another 20 to 22 percent from Europe, and another five to six percent from Asia.
What’s in store?
“SaaS businesses grow like a break...It’s just the way the business model works,” Baskar says.
Going ahead, Amagi has three options in front of it. First, it is actively looking at whether it should acquire other companies. “It can help us to either bring new customers or bring in complementary technology options, which can further fortify the platform,” he says.
However, Amagi’s mission remains the same -- to fundamentally change the mediatech business and bring them onto a cloud platform.
Secondly, Amagi will explore growing and accelerating from $100 million ARR to $200 - $300 million ARR. “Maybe there’s an acquisition in the angle that could help us as well,” Baskar says.
For the next 24 months, Amagi has a clear-cut execution plan in place. “Right now, we are hunkering down and focusing on growth. I think once we hit a scale where it makes sense that it could be an IPO or acquisition,” Baskar adds.
Speaking about the traits and habits he has personally developed to evolve as a leader, Baskar says it is very important to let go.
“Initially there was a lot of stress in terms of feeling the weight or baggage of carrying the whole organisation. In the early days as an entrepreneur, when you are sitting in a garage with two or three people...You’re building technology, going to the market, talking to the investors, and hiring employees, it is a large responsibility...At some point, you need to start letting go of those aspects and look at more strategically where the company is going,” Baskar says.
He says that at some point, entrepreneurs have to check if they are the right CEO and building the right organisation. If not, they should bring in the right people in leadership roles, “Without being emotional about it,” Baskar explains.
At every stage, Baskar says that entrepreneurs should transform themselves to be relevant for the company.
Edited by Megha Reddy