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August 17, 1999
Classes are useless. If the company receives any resume and we find the guy has attended classes we throw the resume out," declares Bhavin Turakhia.
Bhavin is the 19-year-old director of Web hosting and applications development company Direct Information Private Limited. The company has built a turnover of Rs 400,000 over the last six months of its existence.
Bhavin has just graduated from Bombay University with a bachelor's degree in commerce. But he founded Direct Information when he was still at college.
Web Promotion Executive Divyank Turakhia is 17 and the second founder. He is Bhavin's younger brother. Divyank is also studying to graduate in commerce and is currently in the first year of the programme.
Systems Analyst and Project Leader Hitesh Makhijani is 20. Hitesh joined the venture only two months ago. He too is going to graduate with a degree in commerce. Hitesh is in the final year.
Technical Support Executive Rahul Monga is the oldest man in the start-up. He is 23. Out of college for two years now... And considered over the hill by his colleagues.
"Yeah! He's the buddah out here..." chorus the others.
Divyank leans over and whispers conspiratorially "The designations are being created right now." Bhavin, Hitesh and Rahul burst into laughter. "Yeah... We are making it up right now," they grin.
Bhavin, whose brainchild the company is, explains: "A friend started a Web hosting company. But it folded up within three months. Then a month later I started my company as I have always wanted to do something related to Web services."
DirectI, as he likes to call Direct Information, already boasts of about 250 clients for the hosting service and has nearly 450 domain names running on its server. Having had a turnover of about Rs 400,000 in six the months of operation, Bhavin projects a turnover of Rs 3 million by the end of the financial year.
I am sitting at DirectI's office in Andheri, a suburb of Bombay, just a day after being tipped off about the company by a friend during a late-night ICQ chat.
"Are you interested in a story on a Web hosting company with clients like National Association of Software and Service Companies, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Vijay Mukhi, M F Husain and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party?"
I would have ignored the offer because yet another Web hosting start-up doesn't make news anymore.
But then the next message got all my attention:
"The average age of the employees there is 20. And remember, the company has already made Rs 400,000 in six months of operation!"
I was hooked.
So, on a rainy Friday evening, not very sure of what to expect, I found myself at DirectI's 630-square-foot office.
A bunch of four noisy guys troop in and I realise that this is not going to be my usual Q&A session.
"Dudes, let's begin?" says Bhavin impatiently.
Direct Information? "It's a random name for the company. Actually I took a real long time to decide on a name. I couldn't think of anything so I went to a chat room and asked the people there to suggest something. Fifteen guys responded and I chose DirectI," explains Bhavin.
The four are really hooked to the Net. One reason for their complete disrespect to formal education is that none of them believe that they learnt anything at school or college. Most of the skills they need to run their business have been learnt online including lessons in programming.
Hitesh who does most of the programming learnt all the languages he currently uses while surfing the Net. These include PERL, Java script, PHP and ASP script.
"I learnt all the programming myself. I did join classes to learn C and C++. But then I realised that the teachers there didn't know much. I used to ask them questions and they wouldn't be able to answer. So, now I go online whenever I want to learn something," Hitesh reveals.
Others agree in unison.
I am not sure how serious Bhavin is about throwing out all resumes that mention classroom experience as an asset. But his scorn for formal education goes back to school days:
"All my teachers used to hate me. I once got half a mark deducted in my chemistry paper because my teacher said that some compound was blue when while I had written it as green. The next day I took twelve books, dumped it on her desk and proved that it was green. She hated me after that. Most of my teachers except my computer teacher thought that I was kind of arrogant and brash. Not to mention that I hardly studied and even nearly flunked my prelims," Bhavin recollects.
"Yeah. Look at Rahul here. He was teaching for a few months at a computer institute. Imagine! If this is the kind of guy who is teaching..." teases Bhavin.
Before Bhavin can finish, the four are entangled in a mock scuffle. There is a lot of kicking and punching among Hitesh, Rahul and Bhavin.
A few minutes later it is peace again. And I try to steer the conversation back to DirectI. "Tell me more about DirectI..."
Bhavin says "Currently we do Web hosting and develop applications like search engines, ad rotators and stuff like that. I started it this way because it brings in a constant stream of revenue."
DirectI provides bandwidth-on-demand connection from a company in the US whose network operations centre in Baltimore, United States, is "OnNet" with Frontier Global Center.
This means that they have a direct optical fibre connection between their Cisco 7200 router and FGC's. Being OnNet with a Tier-1 provider means that DirectI doesn't have to link to a backbone. It is a part of the backbone.
The digital distribution architecture of FGC comprises over 25 high-speed private peering connections to major Internet carriers such as MCI Sprint, UUNET, AT&T, AOL, Best and Erols.
DirectI claims that this arrangement would give super fast connectivity to Indian providers. They host the sites Linux-Apache servers.
Divyank, who is in charge of marketing, says, "We have seven international clients. And this is only through the marketing that I have done through the Web. I know how search engines work. I have studied them and I can usually get our page right up front when someone searches for certain keywords. Do you know that search engines don't recognise frames?" he says suddenly turning towards me.
I nod my head and ask Bhavin "How did you land your first client?"
"My first client was one of my friends, Chirag Purecha, who works for Cyber Managers. He had a couple of domains parked on indialinks.com that he moved to our server. Actually my first 40 clients were my friends," he grins.
Bhavin adds: "On November 5, I formed DirectI. I paid for the server with a Rs 65,000 cheque that I borrowed from my dad. I returned it within the first month itself."
Bhavin is a voracious reader. The office too has shelves full of books ranging from Bill Gates' The Road Ahead to books on SQL Programming. But his heart really lies in biographies. "I think the best way to learn is from knowing what mistakes others have made. You learn more from mistakes than from success," he sums up.
Bhavin balances the books. "I used to manage a few hundreds before. I learnt to manage thousands and now its lakhs (millions). Soon it will be crores (billions). But I am anyway looking out to hire an accountant," he says with a twinkle in his eye.
With a little help from his chartered accountant dad, Bhavin has had his company registered in Bombay. "There could be legal problems later on if the company isn't registered... stuff like a proprietary company can be shut down and things like that. Also I want to form a company in USA. Registering my company here would make me more secure when it comes to liabilities," he points out.
Currently, the Turakhia family owns the company. "My bro, mom and dad are partners. Typical Indian way. I'd rather you not mention it is a closely held company. Doesn't look too good, you know," Bhavin says.
He later proudly points out that he does not draw any salary. "But I pay Hitesh and Rahul. Hitesh gets around Rs 3,500 per month and Rahul Rs 4,000 or so..." he confides.
Bhavin plans to start Web based products in about a month and then move to Web related services. "The next step for me is products. For example, products like Web based email service software that will allow my clients to have an email on their site, something like Rediffmail. Then I am also looking at products like chat servers," he elaborates.
"I have ten to fifteen ideas. I want to implement all this tomorrow but I don't have the money. So I have to take the step ladder approach and start with hosting and then move into other services," Bhavin complains.
"You must think of venture capital or angel investment for your company," I advise.
Bhavin agrees. "I am planning to speak to a few VC guys. Not for funding, but for finding out more about it. I am still not sure about whether I want to do it, which is why I am meeting up with people to talk about this."
"I am not yet sure of my strategy. I know that I want to diversify into Web related services. I am looking at the various options before me," he says.
The conversation is interrupted by telephone calls from friends and Bhavin's father. His mom hangs around the office bringing us some Pepsi.
"She never gets to see us at home. So she comes to office and hangs around. That's the only way she can spend some time with us," Bhavin winks.
Hitesh butts in, "My parents too never get to see me at home. I am hanging out here all the time. I think my mom would kill Bhavin if he ever comes home. Every time he comes home within minutes I am out of the house!"
I notice the huge couch in the office. "We sleep right there most of the days," the four chorus.
DirectI plans to tie up with a company in USA to set up infrastructure to market e-commerce solutions to Web sites in India.
Bhavin explains the reasons behind this move. "I have over 500 clients in such a short time, several of them are already asking for an e-commerce solution. I also have the advantage of knowing all the other Web hosting companies and their promoters personally and thus can make them my resellers."
"But how do you plan to manage growth. Where are you going to get the money from?" I probe.
"If it is a small investment, something up to a lakh, my dad and my friends can handle it. But if it is bigger than that, I don't know. If I get a client who wants me to do a project that requires a lot of investment I would tell him honestly I don't have the money to handle it. If he trusts me enough to give the project he can give me an advance on it," Bhavin shrugs.
DirectI is growing quick and is going to do a lot of hiring soon. Growth brings with it problems and Bhavin realises that maintaining quality of work and sustaining the pace of growth without collapsing under it would be the most challenging task ahead.
"HR is going to be my most difficult task," he sighs. Bhavin elaborates, "Actually the first person I'll be hiring is an HR guy. I will make sure he's very good so that I can leave the task of hiring the other employees to him. Today I can't sit and code even if I want to. I have to do a couple of other things like finance and strategies. But my main task would be recruitment. I have to find 10 very good people to do all those tasks that I am doing now. Then I can move on to other things."
However, if Bhavin is working hard, he is playing harder... Like any other Bombay teenager, he loves English movies. "Usual Suspects is my all-time favourite. Amazing plot man!" he drawls. He goes out to discotheques occasionally. "Once or twice a month," he counts.
Bhavin plays the guitar and thinks Def Leppard and MLTR (Michael Learns to Rock) are cool. "But nothing beats the intro of Hotel California. I am just beginning to get the hang of the lead. But can't get the chords yet," he complains.
"Well, what is your wish list for the year?" I ask him.
"I want to have at least two products of my own. I want a lease line and my own company in the USA. I want DirectI to be known as one of the reputed e-commerce companies in the country. I want to be recognised as one of the best Web hosting companies. I want to have my own server, not a leased one that I share with the company in the US right now. I want... "
Photograph by Jewella Miranda
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