Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Don't Search, Just Dial...

VSS Mani
Chasing a dream with Rs 50k in your Pocket

Starting with just Rs 50k, V.S.S. Mani has built a business with an annual turnover of Rs 100 crore and a valuation in excess of Rs 500 crores. Just Dial is a case of getting it right the second time around. Not giving up after having to wind up Ask Me, VSS has taken his phone-based business model to print, online and SMS. He is now busy executing an International rollout.

Where did the Idea Come from?

Ok so going back to the early days, Mani was actually doing CA articleship along with Graduation. But some where down the line, he had to drop his CA exams because he had to contribute to the family income. So he took up a sales job with a yellow pages company called United Database India (UDI) in 1987. He worked with the company for about two years. While working there, he thought – why not to have something like this over the phone? In 1989, he got some like-minded people to join him and started a company called Ask Me.

Mani came from a middle class family, where if there is no (other) family income, one could set back to zero and sometimes even minus. He needed more capital. From 1992 to 1996, he worked on different ideas to survive, and to save some money to start Just Dial. This included a concept called Wedding Planner, which was in tie-up with The Times of India. He just used to dream of numbers and millions of people using his services.

Mani could not start Just Dial because he didn’t had enough capital. In those days, a phone line used to cost Rs 15,000 under OYT or else one had to wait for a few years. He did not have Rs 15,000 for a phone. He applied by paying Rs 3k, and actually came a year later! Finally, he started Just Dial, with number 8888 8888, some borrowed furniture, rented Pcs and with a capital of Rs 50,000!

Call for Information, but share some too.

The next time you call Just Dial for some information and a sweet little voice on the other end of the line makes a plea for your name, phone number and email address, please don’t say: “I’d rather not give it.” Just give it. The tele-information provider, which is present in 42 cities, receives on an average more than three million enquiries per month nationwide. And 11 years after Just Dial was flagged off, more and more callers are beginning to realize the virtues of providing the operator with their own details. As V.S.S. Mani, Founder & MD, Just Dial explains: “ Till date, we have never ever given out our database to telemarketers, but we just don’t have the time to explain it to people over the phone.”

Well, this is how it really works. When you call Just Dial, it is obliged to inform the establishment/service provider about your inquiry. As Mani puts it: “Our revenues come from sponsored customers, and sponsored customers need to see tangible results. Our sole purpose of being is to help people out with information, the end result of which leads to sales for paying clients.

Apart from its core function of just giving numbers and addresses of specific establishments, Just Dial also offers a plethora of services through its vendors; these include offers on electronic products, travel packages, medical services and moving and packing services.

Boasting a turnover of Rs 100 crore, a database of 2 million business records and 10 million regular users, along with 2700 employees across 12 Indian cities, Just Dial has come a long way. In 1996, Mani landed in Mumbai with a princely sum of Rs 50,000 to find a home and an office space. Both weren’t easy to find. What Mani did find were generous relatives, who offered him an empty flat in one of the city’s far-flung suburbs, rent free. Mani soon after succeeded in renting a 25-square feet office in Mumbai’s financial district, Nariman Point, for Rs 5000 a month.

Mani was a part of the trio that started the now all-but-defunct Delhi-based ‘Ask Me’ Service. “We were much ahead of the times. Those were the days when people had to wait years to get phone connections. The idea was good and well-appreciated, but we didn’t see any financial gains from it,” he says.One of the invaluable lessons he was taught during his experience at Ask Me was that the phone number for this service would simply have to be easiest one to remember. Enter 8888888. Today the number is no longer seven eights, but 39999999 – and here’s the best part – irrespective of which city in the country you are calling from, the number remains the same.

In mid-march, Just Dial took an online avatar, somewhat belatedly, one could argue. But Mani say’s he’s already getting page views of 220,000 per day, which he expects to take up to 1 million by the year end. But this seems one business model that work best with Voice.

Business Today
Deepti Khanna Bose

No comments: