When a business idea presented by Ashwin Damera, while he was working with an airline in the US, was adjudged one of the best by Harvard, it gave birth to a venture that has gone from strength to strength. Only that the company, Travelguru, is based out of India, as is Damera. Travelguru provides travellers with a guide to domestic and international travel through its portal travelguru.com, which recently acquired a similar online portal, Desiya.
Like Damera, Gaurang Shah, co-founder and CEO of Digital Signage Network (DSN), left a high-flying job with McKinsey when he hit upon a business idea while vacationing in Mumbai. Undeterred by competition from media and retail moguls in the same business, Shah has managed to carve a niche for his company with a presence in over 500 locations across 15 cities in the eight months since he started his venture. DSN now targets covering over 3,000 locations in three-to-six months.
Shah and Damera are examples of a growing breed of Indians who are coming back to take part in India's economic success story. That, combined with a strong sense of innovation and faith in their own ideas have made their business ventures what they are today.
Shah makes no bones about always wanting to come back to India. "I took off for the US in the summer of 1998, promising my parents that I would come back. I followed India's growth story very closely. It's taken 10 long years, but here I am with an idea that's working beyond my imagination." His idea of outdoor and retail digital advertising began as a hobby while he was in India during a break from work.
"I knew the minute I struck upon this venture that I wasn't going back," he says. He began his company in a small area of his father's office. Today, DSN has bagged orders from retail ventures such as Cafe Coffee Day and Lifestyle, as well as real estate majors such as DLF and Unitech. "We're a small team and our biggest achievement is that we have managed to execute big orders well. We also have a $5 million funding from Sequoia."
The only reason, says Shah, that his venture is able to look at competition in the face is commitment to the product and "the lack of arrogance that comes when you become big." With around 75 people in his team right now, he is looking at scaling up to 300 people in the coming months.
Damera's idea of a travel portal that not only did your bookings but also helped you find the right place to stay in and enjoy the city you were visiting, found appeal with Westbridge Capital Partners (now Sequoia Capital, which has also funded Shah), which VC-funded his venture with about Rs 9 crore. Travelguru is modelled after the successful Travelocity, Orbitz and Expedia.
The portal, which started with a motley team of 20 people in 2005, has now scaled up operations to cover Bangalore and Delhi, with a team of over 250 people. An additional funding from Sequoia for $15 million has only reaffirmed Damera's faith in the idea. "We not only book tickets or make reservations, but also have our users reviewing what they liked and what they didn't about the establishments they were put up in," says Damera. "We have contracts with hotels that are listed on our website and these reviews, especially if they are not very good, are shared with them so that they improve their services."
Where do these entrepreneurs go from here? "The business that DSN is in is built into the DNA of every employee. I would like our company to realise the full potential of the digital signages market that India has to offer, while getting our existing customers to book repeat orders with us by giving them unequalled quality service," says Shah.