18:32 May 10, 2010
It was 6 AM in the morning and people were frantically searching for the home page. Business Standard was carrying an advertisement to announce the launch of www.indiainfoline.com and the landing page had disappeared. Needless to say, it was found as the programmer had hidden it to protect it and had dozed off without informing. On May 11, 1999, Probity Research became India Infoline.
The days, leading to the launch were chaotic, to say the least. It is to Nirmal’s credit and never say die attitude that such a journey was even planned. Senior management went to attend a web design and HTML course at the nearby training center. That was abandoned in double quick time when we realized that the trainer herself did not know how to use a mouse properly. HTML for dummies was our bible.
In those days, there were two aspects of launching the website, Content and technology. Content was the relatively easier part given Probity Research in house equities content which ran into millions of pages. The challenge was to add everything you want to know about Indian business and economy, for which we needed to add law, personal finance, education and so on. There was a team generating pages of word documents.
The key challenge confronting management was how to convert this to HTML documents and upload. For this, like all good managers, we approached technology companies for a solution. The most economical quote, since we were going to upload millions of pages, was Rs500 per HTML page. Given our financials, this meant that all we had, plus humungous debt would be simply used to pay the solution provider.
A trespasser, who wanted to be an analyst was recruited as a programmer and he was the architect of our HTML factory. At night, when the world was sleeping, we had people pressing a button and generating millions of HTML pages. The other challenge was charting. No website on stock markets could be launched without charts. That was another challenge which took time to solve. My junior from college, took charge as technology head and organized server hosting.
Before we could launch, walletwatch.com was launched by Satyam and I remember going to office and seeing crest fallen faces. Nirmal addressed everyone in our cramped meeting room and used the magic phrase – content is king in media business and nobody can match us in breadth or depth of content.
We had a huge library of balance sheets and one incident is still etched in my mind. A fund manager came to our Gokhale Road office and after the meeting, was talking about some regional media companies and casually asked if we had the balance sheet of Sandesh Ltd. To his amazement, we gave him the balance sheet in 2 minutes. The other factory we ran was the balance sheet and quarterly results factory.
People fed in data in a specified format and then at a press of a button the HTML exe used to convert.
Recruitment process was shortened to a 3 minute exercise. We had parallel interviews in a small meeting room. Some of our best recruits happened in those times. In fact, one person was recruited on the basis of a 2 minute standing interview in the corridor because of lack of space. ‘Do you drink?’ was our standard question and this used to confuse the candidate because he did not know to respond.
Strategy meetings were held in a place called “Mailoo” which unfortunately has converted itself to a more respectable bakery.
Our key mantra was “123 Laga Dal”. Expanded, this stood for, Ek chotta sa problem hai, Do line ka code hai, Teen minute ka kaam hai…laga dal.
It was this laga dal spirit which enabled us to launch a website with minimal technology resources, withstand the crisis of 2001 and emerge stronger. I fondly remember all the laga dal team members of the summer of 99 and wish them all the very best, in whatever they are doing and wherever they are.