The tale of a FOURpreneur


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Doing what it takes to pursue, not just one or two, but all of your dreams and ideas with zeal and succeeding at them involves lot of effort, time, a bit of luck and may be loads of money :). Vivek Pahwa, a born entrepreneur has all of these and is driven to succeed.

Learn more about this go-getter and his interesting ventures below.



1. As of now, you are managing 4 ventures concurrently which is quite amazing from our perspective. Could you please elaborate a bit more on your ventures?

That is correct. Currently, Pahwa KBS (Knowledge Based Services) has 4 different websites, catering to different consumer needs. All four are in the consumer Internet space. The 4 websites have been developed in a short span of 5 months. There are no plans to add any more at this time, and the focus would now be more on promotion, rather than development.

To give you a background, Pahwa KBS is a self funded division of a larger organization in the manufacturing area, which is a family run business. I am the one responsible for setting up Pahwa KBS, which I did right out of business school at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. I am actually a mechanical engineer by background.

We employ a team of 3 out of which 2 are developers and 1 is a designer. All our development work is done in PHP. The first website we developed was DesiMartini.com - it is a dating website, we felt there was a need to develop an easy to use dating site with a cleaner and more intuitive interface. Online dating in India is still in its nascent stages and we are betting on the market taking off in some time. Currently, the site is a 100% free in all respects as the focus is on building the user base, rather than revenue generation. To drive traffic, we are currently using Google AdWords as an advertising medium.

The second website we launched was IndiaListed.com - it is a free online classifieds listing website like craigslist with most of the major cities covered. The revenue model currently is through advertising (google ads). With a lot of such free sites out there, it is a challenge building up the brand, and we expect this to happen slowly and are hoping to drive traffic to the site through out other associated sites, till the site features prominently on search engine results.

The third website that we launched was IndianRadar.com - it is an aggregated news + social bookmarking site in the style of Digg - however, it is the only site that we know of that lets users vote on auto-generated news items thus sorting news by popularity. It also has other features such as audio playlists, cricket updates and sensex and nifty feeds.

The fourth and the latest website, and one we are quite excited about, is Zohho.com - Zohho has its inspiration in Twitter an international mobile blogging / mobile updates website - however, we have gone beyond that and added several social networking concepts to the site, and it is actually a mobile blogging as well as a mobile social networking site with a clean and fast interface. We feel that the ability to stay in touch with what your friends are doing whether you are online or offline will be a hit with the Indian community.

2. What is the motivation and the story behind your ventures?

The motivation is to build interesting websites which cater to users needs and above all is to build brands, drive a lot of traffic and eventually to make money from them. Have personally always been interested in the potential of the web and thought that the time was right to get into this industry in India.

3. How well does each of your site differentiate from the crowd/competition, if there is any?

There is significant competition for all 4 sites.

DesiMartini.com is currently a 100% Free dating site, which differentiates it from competition such as Fropper relationships and ekcupcoffee etc. It is also probably the only dating site in the world to be developed a 100% in AJAX, making the interface cleaner and faster.

IndiaListed.com really has no differentiation except its clean and easy to use interface.

IndianRadar.com is the only site to offer aggregated news (through RSS feeds) plus user submitted content (like digg) and to allow users to vote and comment on both of them. We are hoping this and other features and an AJAX interface will help make IndianRadar the choice for social bookmarking and for aggregated news. In the coming weeks, we will be adding new features such as a page for top stories with pictures to make the site more attractive and fun.

Zohho.com is probably the only mobile blogging website currently in India which offers so many features. Recently launched, it is still evolving. Actually, it is a fully functional mobile social networking website. Kind of like Orkut + mobile features + mobile blogging. We see good potential for this site and are ready to scale up the user base as on date. Where it differentiates from Yaari.com is that it has mobile blogging features and a cleaner and quicker interface, however it is a lot less on the side of social sharing features though that might change.

4. When did each of your sites launch? How well is it being received? Any significant achievements?

All have been launched in the last couple of months, with the first in August, then in September, then in October and finally the last in November of 2006.

Traffic and user base is currently being built up. On DesiMartini we have a 33% sign-up rate, which means that 1 out of every 3 visitors to the site register an account, which we think is significant. Zohho has an even higher sign-up rate, although it still is in its early stages.

5. Could you tell us more about yourself, your position & other key players/stake holders, if any? What were you all doing before starting this company & also your previous work experiences?

I did my undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, worked for a year in the US and for a year in India in the HVAC industry in the family business, then did a 1 year MBA from ISB, Hyderabad. Currently I am spending about half my time on Pahwa KBS and the other half in the family business. I am 25 years of age.

6. Are you all based in India?

We are based in Gurgaon, India.

7. How is your startup being funded so far? Did you receive any other external funding? If not, do you plan on seeking external funding?

Currently it is all internally funded. We would be looking at external funding if it makes sense at some point in time to scale up any one or all of the sites. We might also explore other investment and exit options as a package somewhere down the road.

8. Few of our readers indicated interest in learning how to go about taking an idea from concept to inception. So, could you please share with us your experiences? For example, did you encounter any initial hiccups while pitching the idea? Could you please explain the process you followed that might help other future entrepreneurs planning to startup?

Well since there was no pitching involved, it was a lot easier. I could basically do what I wanted to. But for someone starting out, it is very important to have a well documented idea and plan. Patience is another key ingredient. Currently, my friend is working on a Internet venture but unlike me he is focusing on one big idea which involves a lot of off-line data collection. For this project, he has detailed out the technical specifications down to the last detail and has thought through various aspects of the site. This is a good way of going about things. It would be a lot easier to convince someone that you are serious about a plan if it is well researched and documented. Another option available is to outsource the development if you have detailed technical specs and find a good partner to outsource to.

9. What are the key technologies you use to develop your sites and why did you opt for them?

We are basically using PHP. It is easy to program in, fast and is scalable. It has a large online community for support and updates so that helps too.

10. What are the future goals for each of your sites?

The goal for DesiMartini.com is for it to reach a critical mass as soon as possible, i.e. have enough registered users to a point where the site would actually serve the purpose for which it was started.

The goal for IndiaListed.com is for it to be one of the top online classifieds sites in India as this is bound to take off as a free medium of exchanging goods and services.

The goal for IndianRadar.com would be to see that it is amongst the top two social bookmarking sites in India and along with this, a preferred destination for getting the latest and the most popular news about India and the World. Some ways to go yet.

The goal for Zohho.com is to make it one of the leading social networking, mobile blogging sites in India as both these areas are growing very fast.

11. What is your business/revenue model? Any exit strategy on mind?

Revenue model is mainly advertising revenue. However, we are in no hurry and do not wish to compromise the user experience and hence we will slowly increase advertising exposure when the traffic picks up and there is greater traction. We are not closed to talking to investors or looking at an exit to an organization that sees a synergistic fit with our sites.

12. What are some of the challenges in your business and how do you plan on tackling them?

Low barriers to entry, Advertising and Promotion, Differentiation are the key challenges in the Internet industry according to me.

To be successful, you have to have the right product at the right time, packaged in the right way. Users are very sensitive to good products, you turn them off once, and they may not return for a while. Also, it is only when you can build up a brand, or reach that critical mass, that things become interesting. It is very interesting that you can judge the response to a change or addition to the site almost immediately based on traffic statistics - so there are several sources for feedback - the challenge is to be able to accept the feedback in a positive way.

To tackle these challenges, the quest would be to continue to make better products than the competition, and also to differentiate or carve out a niche in order to make the competition irrelevant. Also, coming up with better ways of promotion and buzz marketing campaigns would be key to the success of these ventures.

Integration of the sites together in some manner would also help a great deal in overcoming some of these challenges, as this could produce a highly differentiated offering.

13. In your experience, what has been the most effective way to market a service? Also, what do you think would act as a catalyst to drive startups(especially in India) towards success?

Marketing an Internet service is not easy. Driving targeted traffic to your site is relatively easy through Google AdWords if you are wiling to spend to advertise. But the best start-ups succeed purely on word of mouth and user links. It is important to create a buzz for the site online and offline, which is something we are still working towards.

14. What is your take on increasing number of startups in India?

The increasing number of startups in India in the Internet space is not surprising. For one, the Internet use in India is poised to take off soon, with the increasing penetration of Broadband and new technologies such as Wi-Max. Two, all over the world, there has been a surge in the number of Internet startups in the Web 2.0 arena, boosted by easy access to advertising revenue streams through channel advertising partners such as Google, Yahoo and others.

Some will survive, others will die out - key to survival is innovation, constant up-gradation, and good marketing.

15. Do you have any personal advice/suggestions for current/future entrepreneurs?

Yes, think through your idea well. Explore it from all angles and try to get as many opinions on it as possible. As an entrepreneur it is easy to get carried away with an idea, often ignoring potential pitfalls. Another thing which is really hard is being open to criticism - this is something every entrepreneur should learn to do. Also, it is not easy setting something up and so it is often the passion which sees the entrepreneur through the initial challenges.

So, it is very important to be passionate about your start-up. Of course, luck is a very important ingredient as well.

16. On a personal front, who is your role model? Also, which websites do you read often?

I like reading contentsutra.com, startups.in, watblog.com, webyantra.net, and others. I do not have any role models.

17. You are involved with 4 sites and we are really wondering how do you get to do justice to all of them? How did being an entrepreneur affect your lifestyle? Do you get enough time for yourself/family?

It is hard to do justice to all 4 at the same time, so have to apportion time to each on a sequential basis, based on the requirement. As mentioned before, we've no more new sites in development and the sole focus would be on improving and promoting the current ones. On the personal front, I do get enough time to spend with family and friends.

All that has set this fiery FOURpreneur ablaze is a spark. Don't let your's die down. Use it to set your entrepreneurial passion on fire.

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