Sramana Mitra: What was the first business that you and your brother launched?
Bhavin Turakhia: The first one that we launched together was in late 1998.
Sramana Mitra: You said you and your brother did all your businesses together?
Bhavin Turakhia: Yes. In many ways, that was the genesis. Before that, we were independently doing a bunch of consulting and selling various services. Directi was the genesis. For a bulk of our career from that point till now, we’ve done pretty much everything together. By that, I mean we handle independent businesses and parts of various businesses but have co-invested together and built out this series of companies.
Sramana Mitra: What is Directi? What is the business?
Bhavin Turakhia: Directi is the brand of the first company that we started.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go back to when you started Directi. What was going around you and what was the concept with which you started?
Bhavin Turakhia: Back in 1998, it had been about four years since the Internet had become available in India. We still had very low penetration – a few hundred thousand subscribers across the country. People were starting to use emails and set up websites. The first company that we started, from a concept standpoint, was that the Internet is going to be a massive phenomenon.
Pretty much everyone who needs to get online will get online through an ISP, but they need to have web presence online, they need server space, emails, and other basic infrastructure and services. That was the first set of business that morphed into four businesses over time. That was the idea at that point. We started off by selling hosting and domain names. We bought these servers from a company in the US. We would buy the servers in bulk and break them out into selling small amount of space.
It took off very well because there were very few companies who were offering these services. Anybody who wanted to get online in terms of setting up an online presence was going to need these services. We started getting orders from a large number of services. 1998 to 1999 was also the time when the dot-com boom started. Demand went up substantially. We started with hosting and domain. Then we started selling dedicated servers, co-location, digital certificates, shopping cart software, and various other services.
Sramana Mitra: You were doing this as a self-financed business?
Bhavin Turakhia: To buy the first server, we borrowed 25,000 rupees from our dad and made it back within the first month. We made enough subsequently to continue operations.
Sramana Mitra: How were you selling? How were you acquiring customers during those days?
Bhavin Turakhia: Both of us had built a portfolio of contacts before we started this. We would sell software and consulting. I’ll give you an anecdote here. Back then, because the web was such a hot topic, there were lots of conferences and events. One of the biggest ones used to be organized in New Delhi. There would be hundreds of exhibitors and tens of thousands of people that would come in. I remember we didn’t have money to put up our own booth. I went down there and spent two days going to every exhibitor.
Instead of listening to their pitch, I reverse sold my services. In those two or three days, we had made more money than we had made in the two to three months before. That funded our subsequent expansion. We hired a bunch of salespeople and marketing people that would go out and attend various events. A large chunk of our selling is events, PR, and word-of-mouth publicity. Those were the primary drivers. Slowly but surely, it started becoming SEO and digital.