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Talking To The Naukri Founder (Part 1) – The Seasoned Entrepreneur

Media sources estimate Sanjeev Bikhchandani’s net worth at 4285 crores as at January 2016 and is touted as one of the top 100 richest in India.

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The sun sheds its first rays on the plush top most floor of the Info Edge office in Noida. But it’s empty. The actual work happens in the floor below and that’s where we find the founder and present vice chairman of Info Edge (India) Limited – or simply put the one who built, Sanjeev Bikhchandani.

The company has been doing quite well. With increased sales and spend restructuring, the second quarter ending September saw net sales go to rupees 200 crores from rupees 174 crores in the corresponding quarter last year.

Why did you want WWW explained and not email at the IT Asia exhibition in 1996? Was there any strategic reason behind this? Or was it just a whim?

"It wasn’t exactly like that, I asked what both email and WWW meant. I was at the end of the exhibition with stalls that were smaller, less conspicuous. Those always have the interesting ideas. The big, flashy, prominent stalls were taken up by printers, computers and hardware that everyone already knew a lot about.

When I got to one stall it had WWW on it." No one living in a city would think to ask what it means, in a digital era post 2010. But back in 1996 it was a fair question.

"There were only 14,000 accounts in India." So nascent was the usage of the World Wide Web. But still.

"What I heard about email didn’t really interest me much. There weren’t enough people using internet in India for it to have been of much value. But when the stall rep started explaining WWW, something clicked. My business partner and I had already submitted proposals to the DoT for operating job advertisements on public terminals so imagine this on a larger scale – setting up a website on the WWW that any person or company can access with an internet connection."

That sounds like a potential gold mine.

Mr. Bikhchandani still believes Naukri will be what’ll continue to be the biggest and most successful even in years to come. It was what started things and it will continue to be a big driver of success. Although the Q2 FY ’17 report shows revenue growth from the key revenue-generating IT hiring sector has slowed down.

Was this The Aha! moment?

"This wasn’t The Aha! moment. It was one small Aha! moment in a sequence of great Aha! moments that led up to Info Edge. I knew I was on to something interesting when I heard what WWW meant. So it wasn’t just dumb luck."

What do you think of today’s set of startups? (Starting 2010)

"It’s a lot more acceptable to be an entrepreneur. It’s less likely that you will be looked down upon or your choice of job will be frowned upon by parents, family, and in-laws.

Also funding is much easier to find. You will be able to find some sort of funding from one place or another. It was much difficult for just about any one back in the day, especially for novice newbie entrepreneurs with no connections to investors to access capital.

Another would be that you have many different types of people and personalities starting up. You have the cool ones, the ex-chairmen and chairwomen, managers, executives, and the technocrats all looking to start a company of their own. Back in the day, it was mostly the oddballs who decided to quit their steady paying jobs, let go of the corporate ladder and the promise of fixed bonuses to go and take an enormous risk of striking out on your own."

Starting up from scratch in the 90s vs. now - what has changed according to you?

"Living costs would obviously be higher now. So you would need more money to support your basic needs. In my case my family had enough money to keep things running; my father was a doctor and my wife was also working. I had quit my job at GlaxoSmithKline to go full time into making Info Edge happen.

The capital needed to start a business now would be much higher. We started with just 2000 rupees."

Moving on, “Educational requirements”, he thinks for a while and says, “well there really haven’t been any definite set of educational standards to be met to be an entrepreneur. So that hasn’t changed much.

Funding, like I said before, is easier to find now. What has really changed is the policy environment. It feels like it used to be easier to start a business. We set up our first office in my home garage. You can’t set up offices even of budding companies out of houses due to zoning laws. Opening bank accounts for new business is a difficult and painstaking process.

It’s much difficult to find good, talented board members because there are many liabilities and government policies to satisfy that it scares off the best candidates.

While there has been a lot of promotion of startup culture with campaigns like Startup India, the nuts and bolts, that is the policies for setting up new businesses and running business could be further simplified and made more fair and efficient."

In previous interviews you say you “struggled for 10. . . no, 13 years.” And you’re still in this very competitive market, building, investing; aren’t you tired of the race?

"I would say the struggle for survival is over. It was a struggle for about ten years and after we got funded things were a little easier. But I suppose it did take a few years more to clear the woods. Those days of struggle are long behind us, though. We can pay our people on time and that’s one of the biggest responsibilities. At least for now we are safe.

About being tired of the race, well, there are other, competent leaders in charge of Info Edge who take direct care of the day-to-day operations and business targets of the company. I do not head these operations personally any more. The aspect of running the company on such a level doesn’t take too much of my time anymore, so I can’t say I’m tired of it."

Is it that you have been doing it for so long that you’re now used to the stress of being corporate leader? Or is it that you like the grind?

Pause with wry smile. "I suppose it’s a bit of both."

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