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'The world is moving to online big time'

Last updated on: June 25, 2012 11:59 IST

'The world is moving to online big time'

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If he had a mulligan at life, Sanjeev Aggarwal of Helion probably would have not sold Daksh in the mid-2000s but kept it alive till now to cash out in a bigger and better deal. But then he may not have had all the reflected glory today for being a successful BPO man and may never have followed his dream to become an entrepreneur. As golf teaches you, things don't turn out the way you'd like them all the time. And so the story of Sanjeev's various shots at work, in hindsight, might just have been right for the time and place. He chats with ETNOW's Shaili Chopra as they tee off for a game of golf.

How do you plan to grow the business?

At Helion, we try to go beyond being just investors in the new business. We aim at being   partners and mentors too, leveraging our experience of building successful companies. Partnerships are very important as two heads around the table can add more value to the entrepreneur. We continue to invest in early to mid-stage companies in the technology and consumer services sectors.

What are the key challenges for a business like yours which has to gauge potential and take bets on future interest of consumers?

To be able to see what's coming next and bet on the right people --- both of which are very hard to gauge.

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Image: Sanjeev Aggarwal.


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You have been a mentor-investor for a few years now with your big ticket buy being Makemytrip.com. How did you become a venture capitalist?

We are still part invested for the long term although we have partly divested in our investment. We believe there is lot more to come in the online travel world.

I think my professional career evolved in four phases. First phase involved working for Indian companies, mostly in the new projects area. The second phase was all about working for multinational corporations. In the third phase I turned an entrepreneur and my current role is that of a Venture Capitalist.

In the first two phases, I made money for others. As an entrepreneur I made money for myself and as a VC others make money for me! It took me a while to figure this out.

What's your take on the new rush towards e-commerce?

E-commerce is going through a second coming in India. In 2000, most of it flamed out as it was driven by investor frenzy. Everybody thought it would succeed in India just because it grew in America. But today we have 5-10 million shoppers and nearly 100 million internet subscribers.

E-commerce generally starts with services. I think any anchor in the ecommerce space is travel but that's beginning to crossover to apparel, books and consumer electronics. It's a question of how much it can scale up.

Can the slowdown hurt online business too?

Not really. Lot of people have the option of paying cash on delivery or even card on delivery. Lot of demand is coming from tier-1 and tier-2 cities where people may not have credit cards or just don't want to use them.

What also helps is that most successful businesses have a store and an online play model.

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Is mobile commerce the next phase?

Of course, because we have over 700-800 million people on the mobiles and even though we are awaiting the commerce interface to become more friendly. The user interface is not so convenient. To be able to book a whole ticket on a phone is still hard though it's simple to get notifications across. But I am guessing that's the next space to watch.

Are valuations on the higher side?

The world is moving to online big time undoubtedly. Valuations are a function of the future. May be we will have 300 million subscribers on the net soon.

I feel eventually many ecommerce businesses will be profitable and will do well. Nobody can say whether you have paid a huge price for a company but the future is indeed embedded there. We too are investing in such businesses.

What was the one turning point of your career?

It was at Digital Corporation where I got the opportunity of turning around an underperforming business. This is where my signature style of leadership evolved - which is setting strategy, hiring great people, empowering them and creating a strong review mechanism.

When did you start golfing and who introduced you to the game?

I started in the late 80s. For many years I was a regular golfer, but of late I played the game on and off. I started out in Chandigarh, the city where the iconic golfer Jeev Milkha Singh played. The credit of introducing me to this game goes to a very close friend at Chandigarh, Binky Khurana.

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To date, what is your proudest golf accomplishment?

While I was at Daksh, I had gone to Chandigarh for a holiday and decided to play the Chandigarh Golf course. It was an impromptu decision and I was playing with rented clubs. The whole experience was nostalgic and I think the sheer exhilaration of playing on the course where I started, got me a hole in one on the course. I have never had one before or after. That I think has been the golf accomplishment I cherish the most.

How has golf improved your leadership capabilities?

Golf is a very humbling game as one has no idea what's coming next. It teaches you the art of dealing with unforeseen circumstances. It is also a game where you learn to focus on the process (your swing) rather than on the result (the score).

If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?

Demonstrate the same work ethic at home as the one at the office. Work wise, I am a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde– two different persons rolled into one.

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Tags: Jekyll , Hyde , Daksh

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