March 13, 2003

Rediff's Ajit Balakrishnan dismisses the competition



Ajit Balakrishnan, Founder & CEO of Indian Internet portal, rediff.com, has made some pretty blunt remarks about the company's competition in his latest interview to Business Standard.

Here's what he has to say about:

indiainfo.com & 123india

"indiainfo.com overspent without having the capital. 123india which did not have enough internal management strengths. Everything for them was bought out. They didn’t have enough internal resources to craft products. Plus they didn’t have any legitimate funding--they were funded by Bombay stock brokers who are not known for far-sighted investments."

IndiaWorld & Sify

"Indiaworld was the original portal but Rajesh Jain sold out. Sify has a killer, but they’ve been schizophrenic about whether they want to be-- in the services business or the consumer business. So they lurched from one end to the other. At this moment they seem to be going after corporate business."

The best however is reserved for IndiaTimes

"Indiatimes is one tenth our size. We are roughly at 22 million and they are at 2 million, though their nuisance value is a lot because they advertise in the newspapers. Our reach--if 100 people are on the internet, what percentage comes to you--is close to 65 per cent, they are at 20 per cent. They’re at the same level as hangama.com (sic). Hangama (sic) is as big as them."...

"They’ve thrown resources enough to deplete even their full coffers. That’s an indicator of how they were late. They’ve thrown everything possible into it--money, advertising, people, deals. We are at 65 per cent and it’s impossible for them to bridge it. Their advertising in The Times of India brought them to 20 per cent."

Of course, Balakrishnan does also speak about other interesting issues--apart from his competition--in this remarkably candid interview.

Here is why he is still bullish about the portal business:

"The difference between now and last year is that the number of participants in this game has been reduced. There were 50 people competing then; now it’s down to two or three in most markets.

Secondly, online user bases in some countries have come to a critical mass. China is a case in point. All three Chinese portals have become profitable, and that’s a function of bigger user bases. The Chinese have got to 60 million. We are still around 15 million. What is stopping us from profitability is the growth of the user base."....

"The user base is normally increased by telecom investment. In the last 12 months a tremendous amount has gone into telecom in India. The second difference is the mobile connection convergence with the internet. Eighty per cent of the revenue of Chinese portals is from mobile phone users."

On the hassles of being a publicly-listed company

"One of the things about becoming a public company is that the CEO and one or two others at the top spend more than 60 per cent of their time on things that they ought not to be doing. When you’re doing it for the first time like I was, you waste too much time on investor relations. Ultimately that whole system where you have analysts--it’s all a waste of time.

Essentially there is the consumer and you. You do a good job with the consumer, he rewards you with profits and Wall Street loves you. I have told everyone (in the company) to stop looking at things from the stock price point of view. Let us go back to where we were before all this hype started."

Click Here to read the full interview to Business Standard.