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He plans to topple Orkut by next year

Last updated on: November 5, 2009 16:37 IST

He plans to topple Orkut by next year

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Shobha Warrier in Hyderabad

Thirty-year-old Kalyan Manyam is the chief executive officer and co-founder of indyarocks, which claims to be India's leading entertainment social network.

His tryst with entrepreneurship started as a college student when he co-founded indyarocks in 2006 with his brother. Now, the site has 3.7 million members and he aims to 'topple Orkut' by next year.

An active member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), Manyam says he benefited a lot from the TiE-ISB Connect, an annual networking event for entrepreneurs and investors.

In an interview with rediff.com, he talks about his journey so far...

Early days

Though my father was working with the State Bank of India, he was always interested in doing something on his own. He used to help other family members start businesses.

In fact, he himself started a business, but unfortunately that did not succeed. At the dining table, the discussion always revolved around business. I think I inherited the entrepreneurial streak from him. He was my inspiration. My father's failed business venture taught me that family support is essential to tide over difficult times.

My first step as an entrepreneur was when I was doing my graduation on international business in Hyderabad. Along with a friend of mine I started my first business, that of creating Web sites. Making money was not my intention at that time. It was more to get a first hand experience of being an entrepreneur.

But we were cheated by a person who took care of the business side of the enterprise. We didn't know that we needed to have a proper business agreement. That was a first-hand learning experience.

Click on NEXT to find how the story unfolds...


Image: Kalyan Manyam, CEO and co-founder of indyarocks.
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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The telemedicine venture also failed

After my graduation, I wanted to go to the United States to pursue my Master's but could not do so because of lack of funds. Then, somebody who knew us very well came forward to fund us with Rs 200,000 and that was how we started Innova Health Systems, a company on telemedicine.

In hindsight, I feel it is not a good idea to start an enterprise with money from friends and relatives. If it fails, it will result in strained relationships. It is dangerous. The pressure does not allow you to focus on the company.

The idea to start a telemedicine company came from my brother, Vishnu, who is a doctor. We decided to work together as he had exposure in the field of medicine, and I, in the technology space.

The product was excellent, but the problem was we were way ahead of time in 2001. Even today, there is no mass market unless you are working with the WHO (World Health Organization) or the UN (United Nations). In India, more than anything, there is a strong need for telemedicine, but not many people are working in that area.

When we started to sell the product, many people felt we were too young to manage such a project. We then understood that there was lot more to business than building a product. We could sell the company as we had a good product. We recovered the investor's money which was a good boost for us.

Although many people say entrepreneurs should not get attached to the product, you do get attached as you work on it day in and day out. Even now, my family complains that I am always with my work. You get obsessed about the product. I know it is dangerous.



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Back to studies

After selling our company, my brother and I sat back and thought, what should we do now? We realised we needed more experience. My brother went to the US to study and also practice. I sat for GMAT and fortunately, I got funding from the university to do my Master's in Information Systems.

Soon after my Master's, I got a job with a huge company with a $70,000 pay packet. At the same time, I got a call from a startup in Silicon Valley for an internship but the pay was much less. What attracted me to the (Valley) job was that it was a startup. I wanted to gain all-round experience, and this can happen only in a startup.

When we first started our enterprise, we found that we didn't have experience in anything, except designing products. That is why I was keen on getting experience in all the areas. I told my boss that I would start something of my own soon. I didn't want him to invest too much in me.

I went to the Valley, deep into the world of entrepreneurs. The company gave me the opportunity to work in multiple areas. I came back to Hyderabad as a part of the company, but was travelling all over the world.

Active member of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs)

Even when I was in the US, I was an active member of TiE as my aim in life was to be an entrepreneur. In India also, I am an active member of TiE, Hyderabad chapter and that is how I got to know about ISB (Indian School of Business).

When I met the Dean of ISB, I told him that I had two options -- either I would do MBA there, or I would start something of my own. He then asked me what I had done till then. He told me that I didn't need to study MBA but start something on my own. He felt I was ready for that.

My brother who was practising in the US and I started to ideate once again.


Image: Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

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Idea to start indyarocks

The year was 2006. We looked at the online space. That was when Orkut was growing rapidly. A lot of people were unhappy then as there was no privacy on Orkut. Only scrapping was available. Still, they were the only big one in that space, and there was no one to challenge them. We felt there was a huge opportunity there. That was when we decided to get into that space and started indyarocks.com.

We borrowed Rs 500,000 from someone we knew in the US, and registered the company as PhoneLinx Communications Ltd with four employees.  First, we thought we would connect those in the special networking only via mobile.

We realised we were repeating the mistakes we made with our telemedicine venture. At that time, it was dangerous to be only on the mobile platform. That was when we decided to start an online machine first and then slowly move to mobile capabilities.

We also decided to change the name to indyarocks -- we wanted to build a site for the Indian audience. We heard many people say, 'India rocks' and we decided to name our venture indyarocks. People did love the name.

Within three and a half months, we built a social networking platform with privacy capabilities, and I think we were the first to do so. The other thing we did was to integrate user-generated content like videos, photos, audio, blog and classified all on a single platform.

The initial marketing became very easy as everybody wanted their blogs to be read and photos to be seen by their friends.

We looked at the portals in the US and China and found that they never advertised. We also decided not to advertise but we kept tools that would help those who use the platform to spread the word.



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Launching 'indyarocks' in 2007

We did a private launch in April 2007 and introduced it to bloggers and it was very well reviewed by international bloggers. Then, Indian bloggers also wrote about us.

After that, there were many requests for accounts in indyarocks. We created 18,000 accounts. For a month and a half, we were ironing out bugs. Those first 18,000 users helped us a lot.

We decided to bring in the Indian flavour by introducing entertainment onto the platform in the form of "360 degrees Bollywood". It has trailers, profiles of the stars, reviews; everything about every movie that gets released. For this, we partnered with various channels for content.

We also started giving movie show timings across India. We also added games which are extremely popular. We have the largest collection of flash games in any social networking site -- 12,500, and we are adding more.



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Attending TiE-ISB Connect

Slowly, traffic started coming in. At TiE-ISB Connect, we raised Rs10 lakh (Rs 1 million) more from J A Chowdhary of TiE, an angel investor. He also introduced us to other people and we went on networking with as many people as possible.

Despite the media coverage we got, we got only 50,000 members in six months and that was not enough. From the feedback, we understood that we were lacking in usability. International bloggers called indyarocks an advanced site. Yes, it was not simple; users had to learn to use it. Nobody likes to learn and use; it has to be intuitive. We made the necessary changes.

From December 2007 onwards, the number of members just jumped. We started adding 200 members everyday and it rose to 500, 1,000, 2,000 and then we went up to 13,000 new accounts everyday. In three months, we added 1 million users. We started getting ads and earned good revenues.

In 2008 alone, we added 2.6 million members. We have 3.7 million users now and all of them are very active on indyarocks. Everyday, consistently 8,000 people join us, and they are from all across India, from the smallest town in Jammu & Kashmir to the north-east to the south.

Then J A Chowdhary brought two more investors whom we met at the TiE-ISB Connect and the investment went up to Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million). We have broken even now.

Plan for the future

Our target is the young crowd and we give colleges visibility on our site, and they give us visibility in college events. We are doing all this without spending any money.

We look at Orkut as our competitor. Facebook is more used by the urban rich and Orkut by the younger crowd. The typical profile of our member is between18-28!

We are planning for a very aggressive growth next year, and by 2010 end, we want to remove Orkut as the leader. We are confident of achieving that.



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