Naukri.com is perhaps the most popular product of Info Edge (India) Ltd, the country’s first public listed internet firm, which has a string of consumer internet properties in its stable including a matrimonial site Jeevansathi.com, real estate portal 99acres.com and education portal Shiksha.com. In a no-holds-barred conversation with VCCircle at Techcircle Startup 2012 event, Sanjeev Bhikhchandani, founder of Info Edge mused about his journey and what lies ahead.
On difference between the startup ecosystem then and now: Naukri.com was founded in April 1997 and to start an internet company then was a challenge in itself. Recounting the early days, Bhikhchandani said, "There were about 14,000 internet accounts when we launched Naukri. It just looked like a large enough customer base for me to launch a new product. Today, when we look at the market, there is a huge transformation."
Highlighting the three major changes in market, he said that the markets have been validated now, which one can judge with the sheer number of internet users as well as companies. "Companies now have a better chance of surviving," he said. The second change he points out is that during that time there was no such thing as risk capital, which has changed now. Lastly, first generation entrepreneurship is now becoming mainstream. "It was not socially acceptable back then," he recalled.
On business in early days: “In terms of revenues, we did Rs 2.5 lakh in our first financial year, which reached Rs 18 lakh in next fiscal. On March 31st 2000, our revenues stood at Rs 36 lakh and in April 2000 we raised our first round of funding," Bhikhchandani recalled. Info Edge raised its first round at a valuation of about Rs 45 crore. Also, that year, the revenues jumped from Rs 36 lakh to Rs 92 lakh and the next year they joined the crore club by doing Rs 3.4 crore, he stated.
On raising funds: Interestingly, Info Edge said no to the first fund that came its way. It wasn't until its competitor, JobsAhead was launched that the company realised it had to raise money to grow. "I was very happy running a small company and didn't want to run a big company. When JobsAhead launched, I realised the game has changed and we have to raise money. JobsAhead was a vastly superior product at that time. We had more jobs and more brand equity, but we needed more work on technology and product," he said. The company finally spoke to four VCs and received two termsheets out of which it chose one.
On LinkedIn: LinkedIn has emerged as a serious player in the online jobs space even though it started as a professional networking platform. "We are keeping an eye on LinkedIn and are concerned. It’s got resumes that jobsites don't have. Also, it has a tough value proposition to beat," he said, adding that LinkedIn is a head hunting site and thus will get its share of the wallet, but it is solving a very different problem. "Nevertheless, we will have to innovate a lot on product in order to compete against LinkedIn. In next 6-12 months, we will have many new products," he said.
On Naukri's growth & other businesses: "Naukri is a Rs 300 crore brand now and clearly 70 per cent of our revenues and 120 per cent of profit come from Naukri," he said. It growth is aligned to India's GDP growth. "As and when the GDP growth comes back, Naukri will grow again,” he added.
Talking about other businesses, he clearly stated that Jeevansaathi is a challenge. Since the company acquired it, it has been in the number 3 position in market. He said 99acres is growing at around 50-60 per cent and the company has great expectations from it. "In 99acres we can make profit anytime we want, but we are investing in it to make it better," he said. Shiksha, he said, is growing at a slower rate.
Reminiscing on old days and having the first mover advantage, Bhikhchandani mused, "The good thing about being early is no matter how wrong you are, you are the best."
(Edited by Prem Udayabhanu)