Secret Diary of Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder, Info Edge | Biography Part- 1 | Outlook Business
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Secret Diary Of An Entrepreneur

"You Only Fail When You Give Up"
Secret Diary of Sanjeev Bikhchandani Part-1

Kripa Mahalingam

Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder, Info Edge

Personal information of Sanjeev BikhchandaniIt was all so futile. Standing in the sweltering heat in Madurai, holding two Horlicks labels in hand – the old red and blue one, and the new with the golden line in between. Which was better? Which sold more? That’s what I was asking shopkeepers…they, in turn, were amused that someone had come all the way from Delhi to ask this! The answer: the lower the price, the more it sells. I deserved that! An economics major from St. Stephens and an IIM graduate, I, with the sales guy, was asking these questions…it’s what the company wanted…

maduraiI was handling Horlicks for HMM…or GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare as it is known now. It was their biggest brand bringing in 90% of the revenue. Tamil Nadu was the largest market. Someone had suggested putting the golden line in the middle. And the senior management had gone with it! What were they thinking? Madurai was where they were test-marketing their brilliant idea. This was 6-8 months before I joined…but I was the one sent out to find the results. By lunchtime, 25-30 shops later, I had enough…I went to the Meenakshi temple.It was breath-taking, I did the parikrama and took the prasad for mom. I didn’t study so much to do this! I went back, wrote ‘test marketing successful and should be extended nationally’…

I could see the natural progression. In a few years, I would be sitting in a cushy cabin, and a few years from then, I would be a marketing head at some fancy multinational. But I didn’t want to be a prisoner of EMIs and visiting cards. I wasn’t going to be judged by the size of my house or my car. I wanted to build something that leaves a legacy behind…I was willing to make sacrifices…six months later, I quit the job.

Jobs were not always kind to me, personally.
Before, in Lintas, it was even worse. Working in client servicing is not good for the ego. When you are a trainee, at the bottom of the chain, you get kicked around because you have zero authority. At 21, I was thrown into a deep pit, I had to plead to get work done…  

I was so far off from my earlier dreams. They kept changing, of course…At 10, I wanted to be Sunil Gavaskar, at 11, Rajesh Khanna. A year later, an entrepreneur – it was a fuzzy kind of a goal, but I kept returning to it. Maybe, because I thought it was easier to become an entrepreneur than India’s best batsman or actor…it wasn’t!

Despite the big words, I couldn’t envision life without a salary; I didn’t have the courage to quit. That strength came only after marriage. Surabhi was doing well at Nestle…that was some consolation; at least one salary would be coming in regularly… 

chalti ka nam gadiGood businesses are built on deep customer insights. If you are able to offer a solution to unsolved problems, nothing can stop the idea from taking off. I had one…a salary survey! Listing what companies were paying fresh graduates – there was bound to be curiosity about that… 

Kapil joined in as a partner. We put in 1,000 each and got the letterhead and visiting cards printed. We reached out to juniors at IIM, the B-school connect helped. We were working out of a single room – the servant’s quarters in Dad’s house. Those were hard days – 800 evaporated every month as rent. I was plodding around in a scooter when my classmates were eyeing their next car. A computer was out of reach…it cost three times more than the average salary of an IIM graduate.  Thank God for Jeyadev. His office had a computer. Even there, you had to stand in line and book your slot but it was free during the night. Jeyadev gave us the duplicate key to his office. We would sneak in at 10 PM and sneak out at 4 AM. After three weeks of doing this, we completed our survey. We went to the JNU library, got our hands on all the back issues of The Times of India, The Economic Times, Business Standard and Business India, and took down the addresses in the appointment ads. We wrote to them about the survey…23 companies responded and wanted to buy a copy! It felt magical…we had asked them to send the money in advance…we couldn’t imagine the money that would pour in – 80,500! We would continue the annual survey till 1998…

Both Kapil and I had decided that we would not take a salary home till we broke even…the first three years, I worked without a salary. We did so many things to keep the fire burning. Kapil was interning with his lawyer uncle when he came up with an idea. It would take years for the government to approve or reject a trademark application. There was a registry to see the pending applications but you had to search manually…We hired some college students to note down all the information filed under pharmaceuticals and built a program. We started calling pharma companies, telling them we could give them a printed search report for 350 – they could figure out their chances!

job searchIn 1993, an advertisement caught my attention. The Department of Telecom wanted to launch a service called Videotex. They would put servers in telephone exchanges. People could access information through public access terminals by paying a fee. They wanted people to provide and manage content and the usage charge would be split 50:50. 

In my HMM days, I noticed that whenever Business India came to office, there was a fight to read the appointments section. It would have about 30-40 pages of listing…Irrespective of whether people were looking for a job or not, they would read and discuss the listings. That was the second inkling – people were always curious about jobs!

The first was at IIM. That year, companies weren’t going for lateral hiring. Three years of eating the humble pie at Lintas…I wasn’t going to let that go to waste. I dropped out of placements and started looking for jobs. I became the marketing manager at HMM. I was happy. The Dean was relieved but had other plans. I was escorting companies to interview halls, ensuring there were no glitches. I felt I was back at Lintas. 

Citibank came with eight interviewers so they were running four panels. HLL came with four, they were running two. HLL was so anxious that Citibank was going to snare all candidates that they started making offers, asking students to sign the letalent k liye kuch bhi karegetters then and there. That was against the norm. Students were allowed two job offers and they could take 48 hours. When Citibank came to know this, there was a huge argument. Day 1 came to an abrupt halt. That’s when I realised companies would go to any length to get the right talent…

I told Kapil we should build a database of all the job listings in the market. We made the proposal, got selected by DoT, were asked to come up with an implementation plan. All that work and the project got cancelled! From thinking we were on to something, so close to the goal,we slipped…it was so disappointing. 

There was enough to keep us busy, but we weren’t making serious headway. Three years after we started, Kapil wanted out…he would keep the trademark business, it was his idea. I kept the survey; it was a fair split. I was back on my own. I moved back to the one-room office at my father’s house. That helped keep costs low and made me some money…

This is the first of a three-part series. You can read the second part here.

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