Feature

Flywheel Effect

Times Internet has grown by transforming into a company with multiple digital products, all drawing power from a dynamic centre

Vishal Koul

When Thanos destroyed half of the universe, an armoured Hulk did not stride into the villain’s swampy pit alone to exact revenge. He went as one of the Avengers. When you have a big task at hand, you need a group of highly skilled friends, maybe one who knows how to swing a hammer like a Norse god or a raccoon who is a weapons specialist. So you can understand why the Gurugram-headquartered Times Internet (TIL) has bought over several start-ups, taking the total count of their businesses to 40. The person at the helm, Gautam Sinha, says that it is a group of small machines working towards a common end — to expand user base and, of course, monetise it.

The company CEO says, “I am not running them, it is the individual (start-up founder) who is running it.” All of them are CEOs of their businesses, which include the digital properties of The Times of India, The Economic Times and Navbharat Times; music streaming leader Gaana; video platform MX Player; cricket news generator Cricbuzz and classifieds portal Magicbricks. The combined base adds up to a massive 450 million monthly users, which puts it ahead of Facebook (350 million) and Google (300 million) in India (See: Head-to-head).

So why race for regular users? With cheap data, nearly everyone and their 90-year-old grandparents are on internet using digital products such as booking apps, streaming apps, dating apps and you-name-it-and-we-have-it app. The faster you get consumers familiar with your service, the higher the chances of you keeping them. The best way to do it, TIL has figured out, is gather a strong group of apps and digital services, and nudge users from one to the other. The company has come a long way from 54 million monthly users in 2012 (when the transformation began) to nearly 9x times that now.

Like TIL’s, there have been successful attempts in other countries, such as by internet conglomerates Tencent in China and Naspers in South Africa. Naspers, which started as a publishing and media company, transformed into a mega tech investor, running hundreds of internet businesses such as classifieds, home delivery, fintech, e-commerce and so on, across 130 countries. In 2007, Naspers’ online businesses accounted for barely 11% of

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