Everyone knows about the big bad dotcom boom and bash; how it all grew so phenomenally across the world and cyberspace through the 1980s & '90s, making millionaires almost by the million it sometimes seemed,.. till the whole ethereal edifice came crashing down like the proverbial ton of bricks it crucially never was, in just the space of one short year.
That year was 2000, the fabled 'Y2K' whose impending arrival contributed so many of those millions to the boom (e.g. remember the Y2K 'bug'?),.. and whose eventual arrival was therefore marked mistakenly as the first year of a new millennium by such heady carousing all over the world, almost precisely at the same point in time marked forever also as pretty much the crest of the boom, before the final crushing return to rationality.
There were years behind it all, and years must certainly lie ahead too with this whole story, but in that millennium melee of the dotcom rush, many a dotcom's existence traced just the period of the most spectacular Peak and Crash of the entire history,.. and one such was "Indya.com".
The Business Today (BT) edition of December 9, 2001, put together a piquant report of the whole Indya.com story under the title "Death of a Shooting Star", from which the following story emerges.
The genesis of the Indya story is credited to Pradeep Kar, the 37 year old networking mogul heading up Microland Group out of Bangalore, who'd originally made his millions at the nuts'n'bolts end of the computing revolution and was just dying to launch a "killer portal" to ride the high wave of the new 'virtual' boom in cyberspace.
This was a man with contacts in high places, and with big-big bucks to boot. First item on the agenda was therefore to pick up young Sunil Lulla, who'd spectacularly just turned around the MTV India operation as head honcho over a couple of years. And so Lulla was in the bag as Indya's new CEO within just a couple of hours of chatting up by the ebullient Kar.
Within weeks, other investors who came aboard to back the new venture included John Sculley (ex-CEO, Apple Computers), Vinod Khosla (the "super VC from Kleiner Perkins"), Rajat Gupta (CEO, McKinsey), Pavan Nigam (co-founder and CTO, Healtheon), Sanjay Parthasarthy (VP, Microsoft), ICICI Venture, Chase Capital, UTI, SBI Mutual Fund, Birla Mutual, and others,.. to the sweet tune of millions of dollars.
Preliminary launch of the portal was achieved by February 2000, with a plush formal launch held right after that in April. As BT quoted an insider as saying- "Indya tried to do in four months what Rediff did in four years." Rediff.com was in turn the most visible and "successful" Indian web-portal of the day (and perhaps still is in some ways), mainly on the strength of millions spent upon saturation-level real-world advertising, which even reached cloth banners and billboards right into the back alleys of villages that'd never seen computers beyond calculators, and collectively knew precisely nothing about the internet. As the flavour of the day, this was the quite the same mechanism used by Indya.com to establish itself, but let it be said here that their advertising was often brilliant, hilarious,.. and always ubiquitous.
Indya.com "cornered every worthwhile Indian billboard, filled full-pages with smart advertisements and convinced The Times of India to forgo its 163-year editorial traditions and make its front page available for an Indya ad ~all part of a big-bang launch that cost a cool 4.5 crore." (that's Indian rupees, and a crore represents a unit of ten million)
Meanwhile, Indya's headquarters operation in Bangalore (with up to 150 employees at one time) was built up into a "swank office, big salaries (some earning 50 lakhs annually), the big team, occasional indulgences like male strippers called in once upon a time for a women's day party."
In September 2000, Rupert Murdoch's Star Network paid a humungous $50 million for a 33 per cent stake in the whole party.
And then, within months, people all over the world began to wake up to the whole balloon effect they'd built up from something as mundane as data-traffic, and the reality-checks came on particularly quickly thereafter. As with thousands of dotcoms around the world, that enthusiastic but foundationless focus upon future 'business' suddenly shifted to re-evaluations and 'cost-cutting' n-o-w. Investors were desperate to salvage whatever they could from the entire stinking, sinking sector.
In the end, with about $30 million of Indya's war chest still unused, Star invested $10 million to buy out the other partners and salvage what it could of it's own substantial (earlier) contribution to the kitty.
Today, less than 25 people remain employed at Indya.com, and the loud and splashy portal is to be scaled down to a simple adjunct to the Star's television business. Only 2.5 per cent of shareholding is now not with Star (it's with the Pearl group out of Mumbai, who disagree with the valuation).
Sunil Lulla put in his papers along with his entire top-management in September 2001, just under two years after the whole Indya,com party first begun.
Sunil Lulla joins Microland Group as president of its new global internet venture
URL indya.com launched showing an unfinished picture
Indya.com launched formally
News Corp. takes 33 per cent stake for Rs. 200 crore
Indya buys Net2travel in a swap deal
Indya kicks off initiatives to promote chat services
News Corp. hikes stake in Indya by 10 per cent
Hyundai ties up with Indya.com to promote Santro
Indya winds up Hindi channel
First downsizing at Indya. Sixty people sacked
Star acquires 98 per cent of Indya, pays Rs. 48 crore
Offline ticketing company Bigtree Interactive acquired and launched as Indyatickets
Second round of downsizing in Indya. Net2travel closed
Sunil Lulla puts in his papers, top management follows
Star refocuses Indya, announces third downsizing. Only 25 people retained. Pink-slip party follows.