December 7, 2009 § Leave a comment
HAILING from a non-business family, VSS Mani is a born entrepreneur. He undertook his first business venture when he was in his tweens. “I had organised a paid video show of Bruce Lee’s ‘Fist of Fury’ for family and friends,” fondly recollects Mani, Founder & Managing Director of India’s biggest search engine, JustDial. The likes of JRD Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani and Verghese Kurien have inspired him to his grand vision to touch the lives of millions of people with an enterprise. And thus was born JustDial
When asked what made him choose this field, he replies, “While working for a yellow pages company in 1989, in a casual discussion with a customer, I conceived this idea of a 24×7 telephonic product and service search engine.” The first version of this concept saw an early demise as it was way ahead of its times. But he was determined to restart the service and transform it into a successful enterprise. In 1996 he launched the current version of JustDial, subsequently adding other avatars–web, WAP and print, which achieved huge success.
Mr Mani tried different ideas (including the concept of a wedding planner) to survive and save money so that he could start JustDial. Started with some borrowed furniture and rented PCs in a small (10×30 feet) hired garage, today JustDial has over 86,000 customers across the nation and employs over 3500 people with offices in major cities across India. In a very short time, justdial.com has become probably the most frequented local search website in the country. Recalling the 20 years of his journey, Mr Mani says, “So far it has been wonderful; I loved every bit of challenge the market threw from time to time. This exciting journey had no dearth of tests and trials, problems and solutions.” Moreover, he enjoyed proving all the naysayers wrong, those who kept discarding all his efforts by branding them trash.
“We believe in a philosophy of small and continuous improvement on a daily basis; so it is difficult to pinpoint the milestones of this journey. Every day, every decision we took and every effort we put in were milestones,” he asserts. However, if he has to identify a few, he considers the trust and faith shown by international investors in JustDial, the wide acceptance of its pan-India service on the single national number ‘69999999’ and the phenomenal success of Justdial.com as the highlights of his journey.
It wasn’t a cakewalk. He encountered challenges at every step. But he had evolved a game plan to overcome these challenges, which proved successful. “The major issues were raising capital and convincing the advertisers about the feasibility of our idea. We surmounted them through intelligent pricing strategies and innovative ideas,” he affirms. Mr Mani’s success mantra is conviction and passion. “Of course, a good measure of common sense and simple thinking also helps,” he adds.
His ambition is to take the company to new heights in the next five years. Leaving a global footprint, and becoming a world leader in local search services, is his ultimate aim.
As a concluding note, his advice to entrepreneurs is, “First ask yourself why you want to become an entrepreneur? If you have the fire in your belly, and a bright new idea, please go ahead, or else revisit your decision. Being an entrepreneur is all about belief, passion, perseverance and hard work. There is no substitute to passionate desire, will-power and sustained hard work.”