Sramana: Why would the National Stock Exchange commission ask you to build a mission critical transaction system? Did you have credentials to gain their confidence?
Manish Sharma: They were not our first customer. We were able to build a good portfolio before we started working on those high profile projects. Our first customer was Indian Oil Corporation. We did a small project for them.
Sramana: How did you sell to your early clients?
Manish Sharma: Nobody knew anything about the Internet when we started our company. Our approach did not focus on building an Internet site because there really was nothing for our clients to do on the Internet at that time.
Sramana: In 1996 the Internet in India was pretty minimal.
Manish Sharma: It was all about getting a dial-up connection. We did not have a web design team in place. We had the ability to create websites but nobody was interested in those sites. We talked to CTOs of various companies and found that their problem was getting the legacy systems to talk to each other.
Indian Oil was our first customer. The EDP, which was their version of a CTO at that time, explained that every time his crew members needed to take out a boat, they had to use data from three different systems and the only way they could get access to that data was in a hard format. They had a Windows system and some legacy Unix systems. We took on a project for them where we pulled the data from the three different systems and displayed it in a single web browser.
We did 90% of the work just for the demo. Once we got the contract, we just had to wait out the appropriate time frame and polish up the display aspects. We were able to close out that project with a good deal of success and established a lot of credibility with the technical department. Within two years, we had gained a lot of attention in Bombay.
We shared office space with Informix. We were in a business center together and their Indian business manager wanted to understand what we were doing. They were selling databases and he brought the opportunity with the Indian Stock Exchange to our attention. They did not have a clue about the web so we were able to establish a partnership. They provided the database component and we provided the front end web interface. We were competing against companies like IBM, Lotus Notes, and Microsoft partners for that project. We ended up winning that deal, which was a tremendous opportunity.