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January - 2010 - issue > In My Opinion
Re-invent Yourself for a Successful Business
Ajit Balakrishnan
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
With mobile phones experiencing a phenomenal growth in India, I see it as an emerging device for Internet access that will grow in the future. For a country of a billion population, the number of internet subscribers, 35 million of which only 7 million are on broadband, is far too low. At nearly a million new subscribers a month, mobile could be the next big thing.

How will this happen?
I believe that one of the key difference between being an entrepreneur as opposed to being CEO of an established company is the need to re-invent one self every 2-3 years as the business environment changes. With every stage of evolution of technology, an entrepreneur need to ask what should I do next, where do I go next. But one must also remember that if you move too fast the consumer may not be ready for such fast change.

For example look at this picture. This is a picture of a motor car from 1885 and was then called not a “car” but was known as a “horseless carriage”. It was a horse carriage with a petrol engine fitted on it at its rear... This design for a “car” remained a market leader for nearly twenty years because users were not prepared to accept any other design- the preferred a familiar horse carriage look. . It was only in the early 1900’s that Henry Ford and others were able to substitute this design with that of the “car” that we are now familiar with. Today, a 100 years later, the look and feel of a car is almost the same as what was designed by Ford with the exception of engine being in the front rather than back. This shows that how reluctant consumers are to adapt to something new.

Similarly,when a new industry emerges such as today’s Internet, it takes 10 - 15 some times 20 years to for people to leave the old and adapt to the new. Before I started Rediff.com, I was managing a media company, Rediffusion and also making and selling UNIX boxes. Rediff.com was born as a combination of the two — bringing media on to Internet. In the beginning there was only a text based browser available so all we could play around with was ‘text content’ and connecting it to other relevant ‘text content’ by hyper linking with the URLs. A little later came the Mosaic Browser from the University of Illinois which enabled multimedia content like graphics, audio, and video. And we immediately began work shifting the entire website on the new browser so that people could enjoy something more than just text based information. But throughout those years, users pushed us to continue to mimic the format of a daily newspaper with the homepage crammed with multiple boxes and news slots. Just as early motor car users would not accept anything other than a horseless carriage design.

But successful companies are those that have the courage to re-invent themselves, sometimes faster than their users are ready to go. Today after nearly 15 years, we made the change to our home page to get away from the newspaper look.

We have over a million users a month in the U.S. They told us that it is very distracting to them to be bombarded with ads every time they access our home page. Also about 10 percent of U.S. users already access us from their mobile phone. So we have done away with ads on our home page and have prepared ourselves to take a hit on revenue.

It is easier to do this in a recession than in a boom period. Hence, Rediff has re-invented itself.

After mobile for Internet access, mobile for social networking could be the next big opportunity in India. According to Comscore report, Indian social networking sites have seen a big growth.

However, social networking is not just about a boy-meets-girl on the Internet but much more than that. With such a high growth in traffic, it is for entrepreneurs like you to come up with innovative ideas to extend the usage of social networking to other more serious areas. Our MyPage on rediff.com is an attempt to do that.

The author is Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO of Rediff.
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