The start-up culture is growing at a healthy pace in Chennai, thanks to ambitious men and women with diverse ideas. Armed with a sound business plan, some of them have even expanded to other cities. Here are six young hotshots who intend to stand out in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Book Your Ticket
Competing with Bookmyshow.com and Indianstage.in, Chennai’s Eventjini is slowly making an impact. “What differentiates us is that we handle ticketing both online and offline. Only 20-30 per cent of tickets are usually sold through online platforms. We manage end-to-end marketing, which includes cash collection and ticket delivery to make sure tickets are sold out,” says CEO Sandilya Venkatesh, 39, who gets a percentage from ticketing and value-added services like social media marketing. They are handling Farhan Akhtar’s concert in the city scheduled for December 14. Details: eventjini.com
MAGZTER, the world’s largest digital magazine store
1.He has offices in New York, London, Singapore and South Africa among others, but it all began in good old Chennai for this online magazine mogul. Don Bosco alumnus Girish Ramdas is the proud owner and co-founder of Magzter.com – the world’s largest and fastest growing cross platform global digital magazine store and news-stand. “I started a software company in 2000 and in 2007, I set up Galatta.com, an entertainment website,” begins Ramdas. Since the online world wasn’t as thriving then, he and his team worked backwards and went into printing. “By 2009, we had made several apps, including the official IPL one. Magzter was soon introduced, though it was officially launched in 2011.
Love to read
Currently, Magzter is the only self-service news-stand that offers publishers a host of special tools that simplify the digital publishing process. Publishers can upload content for free while you can pay a fee to download the app and access over 2,500 magazines such as Top Gear, Maxim, Vogue, Forbes and Sports Illustrated that are neatly categorised. “What YouTube is to videos and Google is to search, we want Magzter to be for reading,” Ramdas shares. They also have a books section now, with over one million books on offer. “The new generation of young people want to see the world through a screen and control things with a touch pad,’’ says the entrepreneur who does all his reading online.
Already on the digital device of over 15 million users, Magzter is only set to get bigger. “We are working on extending the app for BlackBerry, Symbian, and BADA,” Ramdas reveals, while plans to add text books for the dotcom generation is underway. “Kids are always on one device or the other, so we’re hoping to add online schooling,” shares the fan of Maxim magazine who works 18 to 20 hours most days. He hopes to make Magzter a ‘one-stop reading destination.’ With two downloads from Antarctica, they are on the right track.
Gokul Nath Sridhar
Likewyss, news as you like it
2. Sridhar loves design and occasionally indulges in amateur and minimalist graphic design. A huge fan of business thinkers Clayton Christensen, Malcolm Gladwell and Jim Collins, he dabbled in a couple of startup ideas before Likewyss.
Sridhar, 21, is an enthusiastic final year student at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad, who wants to change the way people read news. Likewyss, inspired by a college prank gone awry, is a content discovery platform, where users can follow particular topics of interests and get relevant news on the same. Likewyss aims to be different from other leading social networking platforms by being interest-centric rather than people-centric. Sridhar calls it the filtering of noise in a world inundated with information.
Sridhar viewed Chennai as the ideal place for his venture—the start-up ecosystem is developing fast here and he aspired to be a part of this momentum. Also looking to avoid the possibility of being drowned in the “Bangalore noise,” Sridhar admires the tightly knit entrepreneurial group found in Chennai.
While appreciative of the overall atmosphere for budding businessmen such as himself, he admits to challenges faced personally, namely, the disproportionate amount of actual programmers to develop new platforms (with most choosing to work in large companies), and a perceived lower societal acceptance of the “E” word. However, with his website now in private beta, he has gone on to build a team of five members, and enjoys the attention of over 1,500 people waiting to get invites to use his application.
Sridhar mentions Vijay Anand of The Startup Centre for guiding him, as well as his friends. Aiming to cater to a tech-savvy audience who are spread out spatially, he hopes to steer Likewyss to become that online newspaper that people look at every day.
Twenty19, largest online internship platform
3. A vacation in Turkey doesn’t stop Karthikeyan Vijayakumar, 30, from ensuring all is well back home on the work front. ‘‘I start early to catch up on work, before Istanbul wakes up,’’ he says, before narrating what inspired him to start a venture that involved working closely with young people. In late 2009, when Vijayakumar was active in the start-up culture in Chennai, he interacted with college students who were eager to do internships in companies to supplement their classroom learning. Relying on his own experiences as a student in BITS, Pilani, Vijayakumar founded Twenty19, an online portal that connects students to companies. Twenty19 is now India’s largest online internship platform (with over two lakh students and 5,000 participating companies), creating chances for students to find interesting roles in companies they like.
Twenty19 started work in Chennai, with Vijayakumar and team hanging out at college canteens to understand students’ expectations. He underlines Chennai’s balanced culture — being rooted in tradition as well as embracing new ideas — as an important player in his vision. Other advantages include access to talented students, companies, and encouraging mentors. It is now among the top three cities using Twenty19’s website. Vijayakumar also highlights other trends he’s happy to notice with internships here: a majority of companies now willingly pay stipends to students, and colleges are encouraging internships. Vijayakumar admits this didn’t happen immediately. Understanding the needs of companies, convincing them of his venture’s value, and mapping suitable candidates to roles were his early challenges.
He derives inspiration from his father, an entrepreneur himself, who encouraged independence. Armed with a young team (average age 25), Vijayakumar wants every student to become a part of his success story. He finds it advantageous to work with students while they are still in college instead of after graduation.
Bank Bazaar, simplifying loans and insurance products
4. Shetty’s strong connection to Chennai comes up often when he talks about Bank Bazaar. A proud alumnus of College of Engineering, Guindy, he says currently four out of eight members in his team are from here. Calm and confident, Shetty, 34, is working to ensure that his Bank Bazaar will be the name that pops into the head of anyone looking to procure loans and insurance products. The five-year-old company is instrumental in taking the tediousness out of loan research by providing the best deals for loans and insurance products from its partners. Shetty says Bank Bazaar simplifies their search and helps them get their money faster. It has its largest office in Chennai (with branches in Bangalore and Mumbai). The ready availability of required talent—quality engineers, customer services and operations – in Chennai was a plus point and the website now gets over a million visitors a month.Shetty, who admires Nandan Nilekani for his professional accomplishments, and Jeff Bezos, for creating a superior online marketplace, says he relies on the power of the internet to take his business places.
The Startup Centre, helping entrepreneurs
5.Vijay Anand is a name every aspiring tech entrepreneur in Chennai is familiar with. And why not, as his company, The Startup Centre, invests in accelerators to help start-ups. Its products are entrepreneurs themselves and he summarises it as the “startup of startups.” After returning to India in 2004 (he was the founder of a company in Canada that provided wireless solutions), Anand,31, has mentored and been a part of many success stories in Chennai’s entrepreneurial space. He looks at entrepreneurship objectively. He says he doesn’t attach prefixes or adjectives to it as it’s not about the type of entrepreneurship. What he does is mentor those who have an idea for a start-up. His considerable experience in this field is evident as he reviews the entrepreneurial environment in India. Basic ecosystem challenges range from the deceivingly simple question of how to make people start companies to the perception outside of this space. “What do you tell your bride’s father when you are an entrepreneur?” he laughs.
Challenges apart, Anand appreciates the ambience and advantages provided by Chennai for his work. Chennai houses a fusion of industries, its people enjoy a variety of interests, and the local entrepreneurial groups maintain active connections. He remarks that the city has old business blood and draws attention to the number of NRIs now returning home to work. Anand’s work is clearly in demand; he meets about 1,500 start-ups a year, and witnesses participation from various cities and towns. He hopes to replicate his model in other cities and advises entrepreneurs to make their solutions more accessible. For instance, given higher smartphone sales, why not plan solutions around mobiles, he asks?
Frilp, personal feedback on all services
6. Shyam Anandaraman, 29, is passionate about ensuring “trust-based information” for services. His Frilp (Friend’s Help) is an online tool that capitalises the inherent nature of people to seek recommendations from others within their community, from suggestions for places to eat to names of trusted doctors. It was one of the top start-ups to be incubated and seed funded by CIIE, IIM Ahmedabad.
An ex-developer at Goldman Sachs in New York, Anandaraman returned to Chennai to do something meaningful. This was quite a move, considering he had his wife and infant accompanying him. He faced issues which the average returning or even local Chennai denizen would have —finding a suitable rental house, hiring a cook and maid, finding a paediatrician for his child. He then aspired to create a platform to resolve these issues. Anandaraman highlights the advantages of our city—abundance of talent and connections, reputation as an IT hub, proximity to Bangalore, and the opportunity to stand out in a budding entrepreneurial space. Frilp has witnessed great growth since its inception—over 800 local businesses (including doctors, music teachers and wedding designers) are now part of the Frilp pool. He is grateful for the good will expressed by Chennai entrepreneurs and the founding team’s families. He also hopes to see more participation and funding from investors for ventures like his that cater to consumers instead of enterprises.
ChennaiHalls, helps you choose from 1,000 halls for any occasion
7. For Venkat, 35, the idea for the portal was born out of his own requirements. “I was scouting for a hall for my son’s first birthday. It turned out to be a tedious task,” says the entrepreneur who launched the site in June. He has tied up with all the major mandapams, banquets, party and mini halls, including those at hotels and restaurants like Zara and Ente Keralam. Other than finding the right venue for your event with the site’s consultants, there are additional features. “If you want, we can give you a tour of the halls. Plus, we can get you good mandapams at great rates on ‘non-muhurtham’ days,” he offers. Some of the big halls like Rani Meyammai Hall and MRC hall are available on an offline mode. “Someone from the hall needs to update the days constantly on the site. That’s the challenge. But they are available on call,” assures the Cardiff University alumnus, who offers this service for free and charges the halls a subscription fee.
— Aswini Sivaraman with inputs from Madhuwanti Saha