Of Technology Giants

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Phanindra Sama, ‘Phani’, is co-founder and CEO of redBus.in, India’s largest bus ticketing company. Phani was ranked third amongst India’s most promising entrepreneurs by Business World. He has been chosen as a Global Shaper 2011 for the World Economic Forum. He was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year award under IT, ITES category by ET NOW and the BITSAA 30 under-30 award. He is also selected as a high-impact Endeavor Entrepreneur (www. endeavor.org) and TiE Entrepreneur (www.tie.org).
Founded in August 2006, redBus today has operations across 22 states. redBus was amongst Forbes top five startups to watch in 2010 and was ranked first amongst the fastest growing companies in India in a survey done by All World Network. It was awarded India’s best Internet start-up, 2010, by IMAI.

Yi: What do you think of the technology business market in India at the moment?

PS: The world is going through a rapid change. While China went through a manufacturing revolution, we went through a technology revolution. Today, the best technology innovation is happening in India. People are creating products for the world from India. I think it’s a revolution that is happening thanks to the talent ability and the technology available. Indian companies that started up two to three years ago are now famous in Silicon Valley. The mobile is another revolution that is happening right now. The highest mobile commerce is actually in Africa – in Kenya!

Yi: What are the drivers for this technology revolution?

PS: Education to begin with; a lot of people in India have become technology literate in the past two decades. This has created a huge talent pool that has been working for ten years in the service industry and has acquired knowledge of international systems and processes. This is the most important factor. Now this talent pool is driving innovation. Another major driver has been the Internet. The early stage of the revolution was kicked off thanks to the democratisation of knowledge via the Internet. Anything that people are creating and inventing in the world is available to everyone. Our talent pool is now as well informed as someone sitting in Silicon Valley. That creates a lot of confidence that our companies are as good as anywhere else in the world. Another driver is thanks to our freedom of speech. Our media celebrates  entrepreneurship and today we have dedicated magazines for entrepreneurship. That fuels people. This encourages people to make products for the world. In China, for instance, all media is regulated so there are no heroes made out of entrepreneurs.
Finally, there is a lot of venture capital available to start ups as well as mentors and advisors who help them to scale up. All cities have angel funds; the ecosystem for entrepreneurs is building up and there are non-profits that are helping to provide knowledge and funding. When we started five years ago, none of this was available. When we started redBus, it is a small simple application to book bus tickets online – we thought that it was already being done. But nobody else in the world had done it!

Yi: Do you think that being in India offers entrepreneurs any strategic advantages?

PS: A while back, I was touring South-East Asia to find out how the bus industry was really working there. In Malaysia, the entire population is almost the same as a city in Mumbai. Only three people will be working on one product over there, while we have 40 people here given the same amount of capital. Because of their geography and population, their scope is limited. Ours is such a vast country that we have plenty of potential here. Our market is huge, so we are lucky to be here. The market is vast and we have the potential to expand. It’s a great time for technology in India.

Yi: What are your future plans for scaling up redBus?

PS: We are going through a huge growth phase; we are growing to about three times our size. We are aiming for a `4000 crore turnover in a few years. We are looking at managing this growth properly. Also, we are setting up offices across the length and breadth of the country. This will give us a strong holding in the country. We are creating more call centres as we are seeing growth in our offline options. We have launched a mobile app that now contributes to over ten per cent of the traffic we are getting on the web. We think this app will drive immense growth in the coming years. Moreover, we are at early stages of understanding the market in neighbouring countries to start with and we will go international at the appropriate time.

Yi: What do you think are some of the promising technology start-ups in India?

PS: Some of the promising start-ups  in my opinion are Inmobi, which has the second-largest ad network in the world for mobile phones and Mouthstack based in Bangalore, which develops content for iPads and iPhones for international customers. These companies are only a few years old!

Yi: What are some of your recommendations for young technology entrepreneurs in India who would like to follow in your steps?

PS: One of the things that greatly helped me was my initial two years of working. I would recommend that entrepreneurs understand the other side of the table before they start off. They learn many things that are very valuable that one doesn’t learn in college or school. Entrepreneurship is all about growing successfully and fast. For both of these, you need that kind of exposure. It’s all about how valuable your company is and not about how young you are. Out of a hundred companies, about 98 will die after a few years. Be well equipped when you jump into the market and when you do, be successful.

Volume 1 Issue 8