I still remember that hot summer day i.e. May 11, 1999, Probity Research (that’s how we started) was geared up for its new avatar as India Infoline. The launch of the website www.indiainfoline.com was scheduled for this day and at 6am in the morning we were still struggling with some technical glitches. Our servers were hosted in the US those days, and the home page had disappeared. We wished the clock could stop for a while, as Business Standard was to publish an advertisement to announce the launch of our website. We were all in a fix. Needless to say, the days leading to the launch were chaotic, but Nirmal's never say die attitude kept us all up and moving. I still cannot imagine how during that phase, senior management had enrolled for web design and HTML course at the nearby training center, which had to be 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. The journey no doubt had so many roadblocks and internet slowdown but it was a fast and exciting journey indeed!
In those days, there were two aspects of launching the website, content and technology. Well, content was the relatively easier part given Probity Research's 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 the 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. We somehow managed with our current resources and finally arrived on this day of the launch.
It was Nirmal, who had immense faith in the power of content and he used to keep us motivated by saying “Content is king in media business and nobody can match us in breadth or depth of content”. His vision has always been and will continue to be the perennial driving factor for us, as we complete 20 long years of indiainfoline.com.
Continuing down memory lane, I remember, we had a huge library of balance sheets and one incident is still fresh in my mind. A fund manager had come 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 less than 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 it. All this was managed when neither stock quotes nor company data were available on other websites.
We had to grow, and hence, required efficient manpower; our 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”, which meant, 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.
Coming back to the day of launch, I cannot stop smiling on the fact that the programmer had hidden the homepage in order to protect it and had dozed off at the reception without informing anyone. Over the years, IIFL has metamorphosed into a leading financial services firm while continuing to devote millions of pages on the websites to keep investors updated about all that matters in the investment world. IIFL Markets app has leapfrogged in terms of technology, content and reach. Twenty years ago and now, some things have thankfully remained the same. Then and now – Knowledge is the Edge.