Ajit Balakrishnan is known to be a man of indomitable spirit with an extraordinary ability of entrepreneurial risk-taking. His strong belief in the potential of web space in the world of media and communication, after his successful advertising agency business Rediffusion, led him to launch Rediff.com. It was his way of doing “different things” differently.
Web space and portal business was a dark territory at the time, when the Internet services were barely launched in India. His extraordinary vision led him to success and prosperity, sooner than expected.
After the completion of his MBA at IIM Kolkata, he preferred to launch his advertising business, whereas most of his colleagues joined Hindustan Lever and L&T, the companies which were considered to be a place for exceptional business leaders at the time. It was not only unthinkable, but also a rebellious step. He did a similar thing by launching Rediff.com later on in1996, when very few people in India actually knew about Internet. There was a huge risk of failure, but he successfully did it and created a history.
Exceptional success in uncharted territories
For the record, his advertising agency Rediffusion is one of the most successful advertising agencies in India and his Internet venture Rediff.com is the most successful social media portal and third party email services provider in India.
The Success Story
Ajit Balakrishnan, the founder of Rediff.com, has an unusual success story. He has no western connection and no Silicon Valley background. He also does not have any resemblance to the likes of Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. He is not known for wearing jeans or asking employees to come to office in shorts and take home as much as they contribute towards profits. He did not start his business in the 80s and was not a computer geek. Yet, he was able to create a huge empire of $220 million (according to NASDAQ value of Rediff) through his ecommerce and social media site Rediff.com. Rediffmail.com is quite popular in India and despite international competition from Gmail, Yahoo mail and hotmail.com, around one third of web surfers in India use Rediffmail at least once a day. Many Internet leaders such as Google and Yahoo are eyeing for Rediff, as far as takeover and merger plans are concerned.
The Best is Yet to Come for Rediff
Balakrishnan is still passionate about the business he founded in 1996, when Internet had just knocked the doors of India. He believes that the business he has nurtured with so much hard work and passion is still far from its zenith. He says that he has waited for 15 long years for the miraculous moment, and the business called Rediff will take off in a few years to come. He says he feels satisfaction, when people call him the most patient man in India.
His positivism is based on the assumption that in the next two to three years, the broadband infrastructure will be strengthened in India and Internet penetration will zoom in next two to three years. The smart phone penetration in India is already increasing at a rapid rate. If 3G services on smart phones get cheaper, businesses like Rediff will instantly boom. Indian government is slow to approve the project to install fiber optic cables throughout the country, but if that happens, India will become the bustling web space with information superhighways. At that time, e-commerce and web based businesses will become household practice.
Balakrishnan was born on JULY 22, 1948 in Kannur in Kerala, in family of doctors, who did private practice. So, to say he did not inherit business instincts from his father and forefathers. He did his schooling from St. Michaels High School in Kannur and completed his bachelor of science in physics from Kerala University. He then did his MBA from IIM Kolkata in 1971.
Honors and memberships
Balakrishnan is the chairman of Ministry of IT Committee on Internet Governance and Proliferation in Indian government. He is also the chairman of ‘Research and Faculty Enhancement at the 7 IIMs', a committee formed by HRD ministry. He is honored with the chairmanship of the Board of Governors in his own MBA School, IIM Kolkata. He is also the former head of Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). He was given the Path Breaker Award by Dataquest magazine in 2000.
Balakrishnan had an entrepreneurial mindset right from the beginning and the launch of his business Rediffusion right after his MBA was the realization of his entrepreneurial dream at a young age of 22. This company is now known as Rediffusion DY&R (Dentsu Young & Rubicam). It was translated into Rediff.com later in 1996, which became an instant hit with Indian email users. The company was listed on NASDAQ in 2001.
According to Balakrishnan, the sheer size of Indian market is incredibly large. If you can reach its population, you are already on top of the world, at least in Indian context. Similar to the other visionaries, Balakrishnan spends most of his time trying to analyze and contemplate market dynamics and changing patterns of buyer behavior, so that Rediff remains unaffected due to these market changes.
Nowadays, most of the content is viewed from mobile devices and therefore sites need to be smart-phone friendly and can be viewed on 4 or 5 inches screens. Email and social media has converged after the arrival of Facebook in India. Informal emails and chats have completely shifted from the regular mail sites to Facebook and other social media. People use regular mail sites only for formal and official purposes. Nowadays, nobody uses a third party mail site’s cc and bcc options to announce weddings and anniversaries. However, social networking sites are frequently being used for that purpose.
Ups and downs and business reconstruction
Rediff’s success was not all roses. It survived the dot com bust of 2000 and failure of portal search engine model introduced by Yahoo, MSN and Google, as many such portals became nonexistent after the advent of Google and people thought Rediff will also become extinct in a couple years. But, he continued to tread the risky path and explore newer business options to survive.
Rediff shopping, Rediff social media (q&a and Zarabol), Rediff money, Rediff books, Rediff blogs, Rediff realtime news, Rediff website and domain services, iShare (Rediff photos and Rediff videos,) Rediff deal site (deal ho jaye!), online games, business mail, and create a fan page (on Facebook pattern) are some of the Internet businesses, Rediff has diversified in order to survive and retain user-interest. Rediff is aggressively working upon to improve Rediff shopping, the online shopping site, which is the next wave in India.
Salary of Ajit Balakrishnan
According to Forbes Magazine, the Salary of Ajit Balakrishnan the founder, Chairman and Managing Director of Rediff.com India, Ltd is 200,000 USD per Year for the financial year of 2013-14.
Last Updated: July 9, 2013