India's Internet billionaires

Two decades ago, Bhavin and Divyank Turakhia borrowed Rs 25,000 from their dad for their startup. Last month, they sold their seventh business for Rs 6,020 crores. And they are not even 40. Bhavin spoke to Prasun Chaudhuri and Manasi Shah about how starting early was one of his best decisions. Here are some excerpts from the exclusive interview:

  • Published 12.09.16
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Divyank (extreme left) and Bhavin Turakhia love water sports

Q: Is it true that you started with just Rs 25,000 when you were teenagers?

Yes. We borrowed the money from my father [an accountant] when I was 17 and my brother Divyank was 15. I was studying BCom; in first year. We made around Rs 5 lakh in the first year and paid back the loan to our father in a few months. It was 1998. We started our company Directi in Mumbai. Initially, we did web hosting.

Q: How did you grow such a keen interest in technology, especially coding, so early in life?

Well, I started coding when I was 10. We had a computer room in school, where I would spend all of my lunch breaks and also several hours after regular school time. We were kind of self-learners, picking up our skills from a lot of books on programming, visual basics and so on.

Q: Where did you both study?

Divyank was in Narsee Monjee Institute (NMIMS). I studied first in DG Ruparel College for two years and then transferred to Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics for my Bachelors.

Q: Even though you were interested in technology, why didn't you join the IIT Joint Entrance Examination bandwagon?

After my Plus Two, I sat for the IIT entrance exam and bagged a seat at an engineering college. But I realised that whatever they teach at engineering colleges, I'd already learned it on my own when I was in school. Hence it did not make sense to study engineering all over again. I decided to drop out of college but then my parents implored me to have a basic degree. I went for BCom because that would give me ample time for my startup.

Q: Are you still a hacker at heart?

I don't code anymore but I am truly involved in technology at the ground level. I am involved in all of the functional design [of a product or service] but don't have time to write the software.

Q: How big is your company Directi?

I run four companies, Ringo, Flock, Zeta and Radix under the Directi umbrella. These have around 600-700 people working. Divyank runs Media.net [an advertising technology company] abroad. We have people working in America and the management is done from Dubai. The support or backend job is done in India.

Q: How do you manage your time across so many different ventures?

Right now it's a bit hectic. But normally I set up a company, focus on it for 2 to 3 years until it matures and doesn't need my day-to-day involvement. Then I go for the next venture.

Q: You seem to be a workaholic. Don't you chill out?

Usually I work for about 16 hours a day. But I do chill out often. I like playing squash, adventure sports, snowboarding, skateboarding, beach surfing, water sports (such as scuba diving) and a bunch of other activities.

Q: Before taking up a venture, how do you assess the risk involved?

I venture into an area I'm passionate about; an area in which there's a gap of innovation and there hasn't been any change for a long time. After I identify this, I do a thorough research for 9-12 months for about 3-4 hours everyday. I measure the market potential of the product, study the regulation norms, competition and make market analysis. After complete evaluation, I plunge into the new venture.

Q: What is the best time to try out your hand in a startup?

College time is probably the best time to begin a startup. I am actually very lucky that I started early. It was one of the best decisions I've made because that's the time when you can take a lot of risk. You don't have a family, not much responsibility and you've your parents' support. The longer you wait, the worse it gets. Moreover, you are strong enough to accept failures. You learn something even if you fail.

Q: Where should an aspiring entrepreneur focus on - raising money or solving problems?

I always say focus on creating value and not valuation. If you create value, money will automatically follow. In fact, money is a side-effect of the value you create.

Q: Do you think the mindset of Indians is changing? Are young people getting attracted towards entrepreneurship, rather than landing a job?

Indians are indeed getting attracted to the startup culture. But the media is focusing too much on tech startups. There are many areas that are drawing entrepreneurs, such as the biotech and healthcare sectors. We have over a billion people and so many afflictions-cardiac disorders, cancer, gene disorders. You have so many new therapies (such as gene therapies) in the pipeline. There are tremendous opportunities in this area and I have been doing a lot of reading on biotech.

Q: What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?

The first one is focus on creating value and not valuation, as mentioned earlier. The second is that you should hire the best and then build the best possible product so that your customers turn into advocates; they do word-of-mouth publicity on your behalf.

 

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