Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Uniqueness Argument

A lot of people have been writing about us today, and have been vocal that we are inspired from Amazon.

Let's look back on InfiBeam's history, thanks to The Wayback Machine:

As we can clearly see, InfiBeam has had its own unique evolution with many challenges and sacrifices, and is certainly not an Amazon clone.

But, yes, we ARE inspired by Amazon. We wish to bring the kind of convenience, wide selection, and customer obsession, that they are famous for, to India. For that, we are definitely guilty of being inspired by them and many other great companies like Apple, Google, Sony and many more.

And, yes, the Pi is inspired by the Amazon Kindle. But can we consider Amazon Kindle to have taken inspiration from the Sony Reader which was launched a whole year earlier? How do you say yes and how do you say no?

To be very clear, we have moved on from inspiration and are focused on creating an ebook reader for India at an Indian price.

For example, the InfiBeam Pi supports most Indian languages like Hindi and Sanskrit. Ask yourself: Does any other popular ebook reader do this?

We have made more than one lakh ebooks available for download in India from big publishers and authors, and the customer can pay by cheque or even mobile payments. Ask yourself: Does any other online ecommerce store in India do this?

We are also working on adding more Indian local language books to the ebook store. Ask yourself: Does any other online ecommerce store do this?

These are the kinds of innovations that we need in India. And that is what we are focusing on. got it right when they reviewed the Pi:

So it this a good enough formula for India? Yes IMO. I don’t see anyone buying a $250 or $500 Kindle in India, but throw in a MP3 player and some basic gaming along with local language, well we might well have a success story here. The need only tech concept rules India big time. We don’t want polished hardware, colourscreens with multi-touch. We want cheap, we want multi usable products. Thats what the Pi is. I would surely give this a thumbs up with over 1 lac books on sale with Infibeam. What now I hope is that Infibeam does to books, what moserbaer did to movies!

Our innovation is focused on what the common Indian customer needs and looks for. Take, for example, our Mobile Phone store that gives you a great way to filter and drill down to the phone that you want. Note, specifically, that we give you the facility to filter by color, something that Indians take seriously! Do other ecommerce sites have such a facility?

Similarly, you can filter choices in the Automobile store to find a car or bike for you. But even more interesting is that we give you the estimated on-road price that is different for each city in India! Ask yourself: Does any other online ecommerce store do this?

We hope we have convinced you to look at the real value of Pi and InfiBeam. Please do wait until you experience the Pi and we would love to hear your feedback on our reading device and content library which we are very excited about!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Spark that lead to

The story begins with Vishal Mehta. Vishal was born in a traditional big joint family in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. And "big joint family" in India, as we know, means 20 people under the same roof, with open unlocked doors and uninvited guests at home all the time.

”I was an average guy with a very happy go lucky attitude” says Vishal and sometime around high school, he got the bug of "got to make something, build something in life".  While there are no stats to prove but perhaps it has something to do with the Gujarat that breeds the most number of entrepreneurs in India. Once the bug hit him, he topped all academic exams and studied science and engineering in college.

Like many Indian students, he wanted to go abroad to pursue college studies and ended up with admissions at Cornell University where he studied Operations Research & Management.  He remembers fondly trying to catch free pizza in late evenings and thinking twice before having a cup of coffee in frigid cold, like any Indian student going to the US with aspirations to make it in life and living on a budget.

So why Cornell? Vishal says "Because I wanted to study Operations Research & Management, and Cornell is such a fantastic place to study Applied Mathematics and Computers". This was a great way of learning the principles of running an organization. After graduating with honours, Vishal toyed with the idea of starting a company and even talked to a couple of friends about starting a company. But, like any cautious Indian, decided it is better to make some money first, and equally important, get some real world experience about the industry first.

He worked for more than a year at Dell which is a leading direct-to-consumer ecommerce company with the industry’s leading supply chain practice and worked at the intersection of computers and finance. He was still thinking about his dream of building a company, so decided to further his skills. To solidify his management skills, he pursued graduate studies in management at MIT. Once you know your dreams, you will work on learning everything there is to make that dream come true.

Coincidentally, by the time he graduated, the Internet bubble had burst! So it was difficult to raise capital and the future of ecommerce was doubtful. Then he looked at Amazon, the best of the breed, and found that there were some terrific smart people at all levels.  “I felt ethically right to work in a company that is so obsessed with their customers”.  Vishal worked at for several years in technology, finance and corporate development roles.

In 2007, he wanted to move back to India to pursue his dream of starting and building a technology company.  For more than ten years of his life in the US, he had some savings accumulated but mostly invested in assets.  “I told my wife that we will need to sell our house, car and all long term investments and place the funds behind this startup, plus move back to India”.  She was hesitant at first and making this commitment was not easy but she was super supportive and the startup was a “GO”. 

“Just the week after we made this exciting decision, we found out that we were expecting our first kid!  We got worried about the timing of the big move to India in this condition.  I had given my resignation to the company, our house was on the sale block and we had booked our airline tickets.  Expecting parent + Moving to India + startup was going to be very intense.  But we had made a decision and a commitment, and we were going to stand by it.“

“The initial momentum in any startup is crucial and the first thing to do is build a solid team.  I had 4 partners join me in building the company.  They were friends and colleagues who are known to me from college and work.  We started in the good old fashioned bootstrapped way - working in someone's garage, writing up a business plan, grinding out the product, and so on.”

As a testament to Vishal’s and the team’s vision and commitment, today, InfiBeam caters to 40 lakh visits per month by Indians online  who buy everything from books to pressure cookers to instant dosa mix to mobile phones to feng shui products to chocolates to motorcycles and kids' laptops!

There are also quite a few Indians who live outside India, in fact, in more than 50 countries, who prefer to buy familiar chappals and books from And all this has happened in just one and a half years.

“The journey has been a big challenge, especially because something of this scale hadn't been done before and there were countless long nights and hard work. But it was approached by enjoying to face the odds and converting problems into opportunities.”

We will be sharing more of the past journey and the road ahead with you in future entries on this company blog. We will be discussing the challenges, the opportunities, the struggles, our thought process, and the effort we are putting into our dream, and, in the process, hopefully help other entrepreneurs make informed decisions about their startup aspirations as well.