Gatekept

Perhaps you read a few stories and then head off for work. Then come back just after lunch to check on what’s new. Some of the other visitors that day don’t come back at all, while others make three-four visits through the day. Perhaps an average of 1.5 visits per day might be a good number across all 10,000 of you. Meaning 15,000 visits or “sessions” that day.

During each of those visits how many pages would you have viewed? Three? Four? Let’s assume five.

That means 75,000 “page views” by the end of the day between the 10,000 visitors. It’s the Times of India, so, of course, most pages have ads on them. Some have four, others perhaps just one. Let’s say two ads for every page on average.

That’s 150,000 ads that the Times of India’s servers might show to your 10,000-strong visitor group.

The Times of India is one of India’s most sought after, premium sites. So it charges an average of Rs 60 per thousand ads (eCPM, or effective cost per thousand impressions). Which means it earns Rs 9000 from its advertisers for those 150,000 ads it served.

And 90 paisa. That’s what your daily browsing generates for a premier site like the TOI. Or Rs 25-30 per month.

To flip the equation, that’s what you could possibly pay the Times of India to let you read their entire site free of all ads.

#TOIFresh?

On 30 June, print subscribers of the Times of India, India’s leading English newspaper, were greeted with a peel-off sticker on the front page saying, “Dear reader, thank you for being a TOI subscriber. We’re kicking off #TOIFresh today – a sharper, cleaner and more feature-filled website with far fewer ads for discerning readers like you. Visit timesofindia.com/toifresh to unlock your introductory family offer.”

At the same time, all visitors from India to the Times of India’s website were met with a similar message overlaid atop the home page, saying, “Dear reader, thank you for choosing the TOI. We’re kicking off #TOIFresh today – a sharper, cleaner and more feature-filled website with far fewer ads for discerning readers like you. If you’re an existing print subscriber, take a few minutes to create a free user ID on our website and get 6 months of complimentary access to our all-new “ad-lite” website, including for an additional family member. From the fourth month, you just pay Rs 99 extra for unlimited access to our website”

Within hours, thousands of print subscribers had signed up to activate their online subscriptions, by simply entering their names, addresses, and phone numbers. They immediately received confirmation SMSes containing a unique code to validate the identities and subscriptions.

Meanwhile, non-subscribers too were signing up at a brisk rate, albeit at a slightly higher price of Rs 149 monthly for access to the “ad-lite” version of the Times of India’s website. Compared to the 6 months print subscribers were getting free, they were offered three instead. But they too could add another family member to their account.

Both plans came with exclusive subscriber benefit programs linked to Times Internet-related services like Uber, Gaana, Dineout, Timescard etc.

Alternatives

Those who didn’t want to pay were presented with another option: “Yes, you can continue to read our website for free. But we hope you’ll understand and appreciate the fact that hundreds of journalists and other staff who strive tirelessly to bring you the news every day deserve a fair compensation. Please either switch off your ad-blocker while on our website or simply whitelist our site in your ad-blocker’s settings.”

By noon, tens of thousands had signed up as new subscribers. As the new users logged in, they found that not only had the number of ads on the site decreased drastically but that the ones that remained were better designed and unobtrusive.

The same campaign was in play at sister publication Economic Times’ print and online editions too.

Within the fortnight, Times of India and Economic Times had added nearly 250,000 new subscribers, which went up to 350,000 once you included many who had added their family members to their accounts too. There was talk if these figures could be added to the respective newspapers’ readership figures, since these were, after all, additional readers.

Sure, there were some (or many) who grumbled about having to pay for news online, but they were still a minority.

From one stumble to another: The Jugnoo story

Singla’s focus is tier-two cities. In tier-two cities, distances are shorter, the fares are lower, traffic jams aren’t a problem and most people like using their own vehicle. Also, in tier-two cities, if someone isn’t using their own vehicles, there is an aspiration to travel in a car not in an auto.

Add to that the fact that Ola is present in almost all towns that Singla calls his stronghold. Ola’s Micro variant offers fares competitive to autos and snatches passengers away from Jugnoo. Let’s look at all of Jugnoo’s top cities. Jaipur? Ola and Jugnoo fight it out for on-demand transportation. Ola, sources say, does 1.5X times the rides that Jugnoo does. Indore? Same answer. Delhi NCR? Let’s not even go there. Jugnoo’s headquarters, Chandigarh? Uber and Ola dominate the market. Ola is also better funded and regularly blows Jugnoo out of the water on marketing spend.

You see the challenge here?

The fight for mindshare, let alone market, hasn’t been pretty. And Jugnoo is losing. It could clock just Rs 24 lakh in revenue in FY15 and has losses to the tune of Rs 83 lakh, according to filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA). How much have they raised so far? Almost Rs 110 crore. According to a few former employees, Jugnoo’s average ticket size is Rs 50 and it keeps a 10% commission on each ride. So, it makes Rs 5.

The only way Jugnoo can actually make money is by sheer volume. It doesn’t. On an average, Jugnoo claims it does about 35,000 rides a day through its network of 10,000 autos across 42 cities. The per kilometer rate in almost all of its cities is Rs 5. But Jugnoo reduces it to Rs 3 to get customers, say former and current employees. What about the other Rs 2? Jugnoo pays for it. On every ride, on ever kilometer. So, on an average ride of 10km, Jugnoo burns Rs 20.

Another matter altogether that Singla denies this.

“We lose 76 paise per transaction. It varies from 76 paise to Rs 1.30, depending on the scheme the auto drivers are on. Woh sab include karke, transactional burn per ride is about Re 1 average per transaction,” Singla says.

All hands on deck

In June ‘15, Jugnoo raised $5 million, but Singla realised very early in the game that he wasn’t going to win his fight with Ola on just the presence of his service. He needed to show availability. He had to get auto drivers to register on Jugnoo, so the company decided to waive commission until October ‘15. It increased the number of auto drivers registered on the platforms from 4,000 to 10,000. So, more rides, more money? Not exactly.

Onion. There is another problem. Apart from competition from other aggregators, and customers just hailing autos without the app, drivers are not too fussed.

“In cabs, the equal monthly installment (EMI) is steep and the drivers want to do rides. In autos, the EMI is barely Rs 2,000 a month. The auto drivers would refuse rides if they hit their personal daily target. They would switch off their apps at 8pm and go home,” says another former employee. He explains that sometimes the drivers would not show up to their pick up points in the afternoon because they fell asleep. “It was hilarious,” he says.

Singla decided he needed to amp up the volume so he tried to buy out Mumbai-based on-demand black-and-yellow taxi aggregator BookMyCab. The conversations went well. BookMyCab had the black-and-yellow market cornered in Mumbai. It had made inroads in Kolkata as well. The sale worked for Avinash Gupta, CEO, BookMyCab, who could make an exit. Singla could use it to garner volume and, more importantly, he could lay his hands on their tech. The deal was as good as done. It was announced in the papers and then it fell through.

“The Series B round was supposed to be $20 million. But investor confidence was evaporating quickly in Jugnoo,” says a source close to the deal. The fundraising stumbles continued for a while.

Singla got into a Twitter spat with Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal. Singla claimed he was approached by Bansal to invest in Jugnoo. Bansal refuted the claims.

The next round ultimately closed in April ‘16 at Rs 70 crore, with a majority coming from Paytm.

 

The Great Pharma U-Turn

It’s that time of the year when the chickens are coming home to roost.

The quarterly result season is upon us. The post result analysis has been prescriptive for listed pharma companies, many of whom have had an awful run at the stock market so far. In a quiet disclosure to analysts last month, Lupin said it had added nearly a 1000 people to its field force, taking the total count to 5500. Another large pharma company is going to make a similar hiring announcement in the next quarter, say sources.

Did we not get to understand, just a few years ago, that most Indian pharma companies were cutting down medical representative hiring and “adopting technology to minimize the cost of marketing and promotion”? Whatever happened to that?

I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.

The spotlight is back on India. “Expect more Indian companies to invest in India because they are getting battered in the regulated market where price erosion is likely to reach low double digit from high single digit,” says an analyst with an international brokerage firm in Mumbai.

Too many cooks

Let’s back up a little.

In 2012, in the midst of a conversation at Cipla headquarters in Mumbai, Yusuf K Hamied, the affable chairman, blurted: “Most companies have already abandoned India…the government is pushing us out”. That year, Cipla’s revenue from exports was nearly 50%. By 2016, Hamied predicted it would go up to 75%.

Instead, exports only grew to 55% this year.

Cipla under Hamied was conservative in global expansion. But others were not.

Starting mid-1990s, in the first wave of entering regulated markets, Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy’s, Sun Pharma and Lupin entered the US generic market, which until then was dominated by companies like Teva, Mylan, Actavis and Sandoz. By 2006-08, Glenmark and Cadila too joined the generic rush, in the next wave. And by 2009 onwards, the so-called “late entrants” like Torrent, Alembic, Ajanta and Strides had entered the world’s largest drug market.

Two waves were a company, but three had become a crowd.

While the late entrants have benefited from the US regulator granting more approvals, most of these are in the low competition drugs. This means more generic makers per drug which then translates into US buyers extracting better prices. And with the consolidation of pharmacies, insurance companies and wholesalers on the cards in the US, a recent Credit Suisse report predicts an even bigger squeeze for run-of-the-mill generic drugs.

Simply put, while more and more Indian companies managed to benefit from the lucrative US generic market, the best days for milking mediocre generics are behind them. Only hard-to-make generics will now command a premium.

Predictably, market watchers are wary about Indian companies with high exposure to regulated markets.

And such is the irony. Cipla is now considered a “safer” bet because India’s contribution to its revenue is higher.

In search of whitespaces

India is still the fastest growing pharma market in the world at Rs 1,11,022 crore and growing at 12-14%, according to IMS Health.

Experts, like Sujay Shetty, Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers consider India to be a “well-exploited” market, yet concede that there’s room for creativity.

Let me cite two examples, from two ends of the spectrum.

Last week, Sun Pharma, India’s largest pharma company by market cap, made an unusual deal. It bought an exclusive license to a new dengue vaccine candidate developed by Navin Khanna at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in Delhi. Unlike the existing dengue vaccine from Sanofi or others undergoing clinical trials, this vaccine is a recombinant and ‘designer’ molecule that acts against all four strains (serotypes) of dengue. So it will benefit a wider population in comparison to other vaccines. In addition to taking exclusive rights to all the markets, Sun will also fund Khanna’s lab for next five years so that he takes care of any improvement or troubleshooting required.

Now, why is this ‘unusual’?

For Sun, which makes chemistry-based generic drugs, a vaccine is a completely different product if you consider just the manufacturing side. This vaccine will be made in yeast. Add to it the fact that this is a brand new molecule, which means it will involve fresh, and Herculean, efforts, to get all the regulatory approvals globally.

 

At the end of the day, pharmaceuticals is an innovation-driven industry

Since last October when Sun began its ‘due diligence’ on the vaccine candidate, managing director Dilip Shanghvi himself visited ICGEB to hold talks. (Central to such decisions is his adviser Altaf Lal, an American national of Indian origin who has worked at various organizations in the US and was a health attaché at the American Embassy in Delhi.)

Of course, it helped that Sun already had an alliance with ICGEB to co-develop a dengue drug. It was initiated by Ranbaxy but when Sun discovered it during its merger with Ranbaxy, it revived the deal in May. Since it is a botanical product, Sun is likely to manufacture it with assistance from a new botanical drug facility at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine in Jammu.

Sun recognizes that medical science is shifting from chemistry to biology. No one would disclose the size of the dengue vaccine deal but it’s fair to assume it’s gilt-edged for Sun. It is, after all, Indian intellectual property. At ICGEB, Khanna spent Rs 15 crore in external funding on his research which included grants from the Indian government and the world’s largest medical charity Wellcome Trust. (Khanna already has a dengue testing technology in the market—India’s first rapid test kit licensed to J Mitra.)

Enhancement of the attraction

“A vaccine company from Hyderabad was interested in licensing it but we found the Sun offer more attractive. You have to understand that our mandate at ICGEB is also to bring out drugs for developing countries,” says director Dinakar Salunke.

The entire linchpin of the generic business model so far was to exploit chemistry and make copycats. It was cheaper, faster and plenty of innovators’ drugs were around to copy. Not anymore; too many cooks are spoiling the party.

Let’s talk about the second whitespace – a company that makes branded generics – Eris Life Sciences.

When I first spoke with its founder Amit Bakshi four years ago, he was coy about speaking with a journalist for the first time but was pretty confident about changing the game or at least make a mark, in specialty pharma. He had said, “What ICICI did to banking—treat customers like customers, charge a few basis points higher than the public sector banks and provide quality service—Eris will do to specialty pharma.”

In 2016, Ahmedabad-based Eris has Rs 800 crore in revenue with slightly over Rs 200 crore in net profit.

And zero export income.

Eris wants to raise Rs 2000 crore in an IPO which it believes will value it at Rs 10,000 crore.

In its nine years of existence, Eris has looked for ‘gaps’ in doctor’s prescriptions and tried to fill it, focusing on chronic lifestyle ailments.

Now, some large Indian companies will do this too. Which is why Biocon’s Limaye is “not surprised” that big Indian pharma is adding to its field force.

Executing the plans

“India needs top class execution, more than any other market. It is all about branded generics and how well you can execute in doctor’s chambers. The market is shifting to chronic lifestyle diseases so I think there’s a lot of untapped potential,” says Limaye.

Since India is already a dog eat dog market, it can’t get any more competitive than this. Prices are rock bottom, lower than even the markets in the least developed countries. Successive governments have refused to understand the logic that capped prices do not ‘make’ health care. They continue to add drugs to the National List of Essential Medicines – it has 464 drugs today, up from 376 a year ago.

Speaking from Spain last week, Hamied, 80-year-old Cipla patriarch, still sounded sore. “If we have to invest in India, we should have defined policies. Do we have a drug policy? Or even a pricing policy. Everything is so ad-hoc,” he said. Then added, “Cipla is doing both, [investing in India and overseas].”

On Friday, in a case where Cipla had challenged the ‘ad hoc’ price control, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s stance. Price control is the new reality pharma companies have to live with, even worldwide. It’s the new on-demand thing after the license raj was the thing.

Still, there’s room to grow. “We have not reached every patient in the country, though we all know access is not a function of pricing,” says Limaye.

 

Inside the murky world of Heera Gold and a finance scheme which makes no sense

Here’s a good deal. What if I can finally stop complaining about the size of my portfolio? What if I can kiss goodbye to my plain Jane demat account?

What. If. Allah. Has. Plans. For. Me?

Hence, this deep dive into infinite riches.

Once you are convinced, you get a few brochures and a membership application form. Logo, serial number, applicant details, space for photo, alphabet codes to pick the right investment scheme, T&Cs in fine print legalese, ‘For Office Use Only’. You also provide details of your bank account in which you want your profits to be remitted. On submitting your application you get a signed, stamped receipt. Within a few days your application is processed and Heera’s Hyderabad office sends you a ‘Unit Purchase Receipt’ or ‘Shareholder Agreement’ or similar sounding documents which have many barcodes and membership numbers printed on colourful bond paper with watermarks. In about 30 days, your deposit gets rolled over into the business and your monthly profits start rolling in.

Ka-ching!

A business of the Muslims, by the Muslims, for the Muslims?

Let’s clear this Muslim business first. What is halal and why is it so important for Muslims? Simply put, in Islam most acts neatly fall into two main buckets: Halal (permitted) or Haram (prohibited). This is a guiding philosophy in most matters of life. Marriage, divorce, inheritance, business, contracts, almost everything.

Goat butchered in a specific way? Halal. Pork? Haram. Rooh Afza? Halal. Alcohol? Haram. Alok Nath? Halal. Prem Chopra? Haram.

In finance and investment matters usury, interest or other instrument like debt funds, corporate bonds – anything that promises a fixed rate of return is Haram. An equity investment with an exposure to both profits and losses resulting from such business activity is halal. Of course the business itself should be halal. So, investment in an alcohol manufacturer like United Breweries? Haram. Investment in auto (Maruti Suzuki) or paints (Asian Paints) manufacturers? Halal.

This is germane because many Muslims, even those who are not overly pious, do observe this code. Many Muslims donate interest received in their bank’s savings accounts to charities. That leaves a large slice of the community’s investable-income pie waiting on the sidelines; constantly on the hunt for such ‘halal businesses’ with lucrative returns.

Trading in gold, silver and other commodities? Halal, of course.

Enter Heera Gold Exim Ltd.

Or Heera Gold Exports & Imports.

Or Heera Gold Exports & Imports Pvt. Ltd.

Or Heera Group of Companies.

There are a whole host of names of companies and it is not quite clear what would be apt to call this shape shifting entity. For narrative simplicity, let’s call it Heera Gold.

What is Heera Gold?

There are no easy answers. It is a maze. Let’s start with the flagship: Heera Gold Exim Pvt Ltd which was incorporated in September, 2010. On 11 August, 2011, it was converted into a public company and its name changed to Heera Gold Exim Ltd, with its headquarters in Hyderabad. This is the entity that exists today.

Heera Gold Exports & Imports (note the missing ‘Ltd’) is a firm registered in Andhra Pradesh, with a Tirupati address. It is most likely a partnership firm. And since it’s not a company, there are no public filings. We don’t know if Shaik is even the owner or partner in this firm. This shroud of mystery is important because at least some investors in 2010, have deposited their cheques in this firm. On paper, nothing connects Heera Exim Ltd to Heera Gold Exports & Imports.

What about Heera Group of Companies and Heera Gold Exports & Imports Pvt Ltd, then? These are not companies or firms as far as we looked up. We care about them because there are receipts and stamps on some documents with these names. Again, there’s no explanation about their formation or any relation to the registered entities.

Let’s just look at FY11. Despite the loss, all investors claim of receiving their monthly profits. Shaik never explained how. Even in subsequent years as the company seems to be making a steady Rs 20 lakh jump in profits, it’s still a fraction of the claims made by agents and Shaik, of thousands of investors with crores of investments. These numbers don’t jive together with the story on the ground.

 

Inside the public policy battle between Ola and Uber

Earlier this year, Ola had slammed Uber for being a foreign company, which was trying to subvert Indian laws when the two slugged it out in the Karnataka high court. Uber’s general manager Bhavik Rathod had, in a long post, asked Ola to rise above the petty differences and work towards solving a larger problem. Rathod was trying to draw attention away from the surge pricing issue, which has been a hot button topic for a while.

Both companies have realised the importance of public policy; not just to operate in India, where the law is vague and grey, but also to explain the business model to stakeholders, the potential cost benefit, and the larger public good they see in “disrupting” transportation. It was also necessary, in the aftermath of the Gurgaon rape case in December 2014, which involved an Uber driver, both Ola and Uber have been scaling efforts to ramp up their public policy activities, in New Delhi and elsewhere.

Both companies understand that transportation is an issue that the government cares about. It affects the lives of millions of people – drivers, customers, state coffers… they cannot afford to not control the outcome. Towards that, the two companies are building a team, and a vertical.

“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes,” said Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and military strategist.

The domestic hero

Ola introduced its public policy vertical over three years ago with a team of seven; four in Bengaluru and three in Delhi. Over time, with departures, the team was whittled down to four. It is headed by Arvind Singhatiya, vice president of corporate affairs at Ola. Singhatiya, joined the company from Metro Cash and Carry India, where he was in a similar role, heading corporate affairs and government relations in the North. Singhatiya comes from a policy background, with previous stints in industry-lobbies such as Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), the Indian Franchise Association and PHD Chamber of Commerce.

According to sources at Ola, who requested not to be named, Singhatiya currently looks after public policy outreach efforts in three zones – South, West and the East. There are two other policy officials in the North, based out of Ola’s office in Gurgaon. Varun Singh Parihar, who first joined the company in Bengaluru after a six-year stint at FICCI, only to move to the capital a few months later.

In Delhi, Parihar is supported by Ganesh Pandey, who has been with the team since it began operations. In 2013. Pandey is regarded as one of the old hands in the transportation industry, especially when it comes to rules and regulations, having previously worked with other radio-taxi companies in the city. Pandey’s role, owing to his knowledge of the Motor Vehicle Act, is considered critical, especially in dealing with the lower-rung transport officials in the ministry.

In December 2015, Ola roped in Joy Bandekar as corporate president (new initiatives) from Flipkart, where he held a similar role. Prior to Flipkart, Bandekar was the head of corporate affairs for Medi Healthcare and eBay. Interestingly, he’s also served in government in two short, but consecutive stints, first as an officer on special duty (OSD) in the Ministry of Agriculture, Shipping and Civil Aviation between 2000 and 2003, before joining the Goa Government as an OSD to then chief minister, and now defence minister Manohar Parrikar. As corporate president, Bandekar oversees the functioning of the public policy team at Ola.

The challenger

Uber is anything but new to policy challenges. In its short yet aggressive existence, Uber has cried foul with civic and government authorities across the world. For the San Francisco-based company, public policy (and lobbying) has always been an integral part of its global business approach. Its experience in China, where Uber had to admit defeat and retreat, would’ve only taught it the importance of being in close touch with the Government of India.

Last month, Uber appointed Shweta Rajpal Kohli as its head of public policy. For those unfamiliar with her name, Kohli has been a career political reporter, first with print outlets like the Indian Express, Business Standard and Hindustan Times and later with television channel NDTV, where she worked for 11 years as its economic affairs editor.

To Moon and Mars, again

And that explains why the Indian space agency, Isro, is creating artificial craters. Near the fort town of Chitradurga, 400 km from Bengaluru, Isro has created a dozen of them—10 metres in diametre, 3 metres in depth—to simulate the lunar terrain. It has begun testing equipment, specifically the Lander and associated electronics and avionics, for the second Moon mission. Chandrayaan-2 is scheduled to launch in late 2017 or early 2018.

In 2008, when Isro sent a spacecraft to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, it was the first time India was sending a satellite beyond the geostationary orbit—from the 36,000 km high orbit that Indian rockets were routinely injecting satellites into, it went much farther, to 3.6 lakh km. But the spacecraft was so designed that it could fit the existing rocket’s, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle’s (PSLV), carrying capacity. The XL version of the rocket used had been in use earlier and needed just a tweak. In summary, it was the set of payloads, the 11 instruments on the satellite, that set the mission truly apart.

The manned Apollo missions of Nasa in 1969 and later left behind two notable legacies: that the Moon is a dry, arid place, and that, as humans, we have found all that there is to find on the Moon. Which is why after a flurry of missions in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Nasa turned away from the Moon and directed its resources to Mars and others planets and asteroids.

Various Missions

“Several missions had gone before us, but Chandrayaan-1 gets the credit for discovering water [molecules] on the Moon for the first time and the processes that are responsible for its formation. even though the instruments onboard were from Nasa,” says AS Kiran Kumar, chairman of Isro.

Broadly speaking, Chandrayaan-1 was an exploration mission; a science mission so to say. In comparison, Chandrayaan-2 is a technology mission, one where Isro is building and testing a host of new technologies starting with the soft landing of a spacecraft on the Moon. Or any planetary surface for that matter. (It did, however, crash-land its probe the first time and the site on the Moon has since been named as Jawahar Sthal.)

This time around, Isro is sending an Orbiter, a Lander and a Rover to the Moon. “Unlike the previous crash-landing, we have a controlled descent this time which means much manoeuvring of our normal liquid engines so that you can compensate for the gravitational pull and have a safe touchdown,” says Kiran Kumar. It has built a set of imaging and sensing technologies which would ensure that the Lander identifies a ‘safe’ area to land and doesn’t topple over. “We are currently experimenting this [in Chitradurga]” he says. “Besides these, there are several Rover-to-Lander and Lander-to-Earth communication technologies that we have built for the first time.”

In what could be called an incredible happenstance, TeamIndus, the only Indian participant in Google’s $30 million Lunar XPRIZE, will probably be ahead of Chandrayaan-2 in landing its spacecraft and Rover on the moon. This week it confirmed buying a commercial launch slot for late 2017 on one of the PSLV-XL rockets and it is likely to be the only satellite on that launch. For testing, says Rahul Narayan, co-founder of TeamIndus, “We plan to utilise services of an established ‘lunar terrain simulation’ facility to ensure we truly understand the behaviour and dynamics of operating on the lunar surface.”

Not done with the Moon yet

Only three other countries have managed a soft launch on the Moon—the United States and Russia in the 1960s and 1970s, and China in 2013.

While TeamIndus’ is a private endeavour, a true moonshot as it were, and its Rover is expected to travel a short 500 metres to take images and send them back to the earth, Chandrayaan-2 Rover has bigger tasks cut out. The former’s lunar surface operation is expected to last no more than 320 hours whereas the planned life of Isro’s Rover is one lunar day or 14 earth days or 336 hours. (In other words, the planned maximum life of TeamIndus rover is 320 hours whereas the planned minimum life of Isro’s rover is 336 hours.) Isro wouldn’t disclose much except that “on the surface of the moon, more systematic observations are planned.”

The manned Apollo missions of Nasa in 1969 and later left behind two notable legacies: that the Moon is a dry, arid place, and that, as humans, we have found all that there is to find on the Moon. Which is why after a flurry of missions in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Nasa turned away from the Moon and directed its resources to Mars and others planets and asteroids.

Has Mumbai lost the startup fight to Bengaluru?

We’re back in 2016. Housing is dying, TinyOwl is dead. Ola and Quikr have left for Bengaluru. Porter.in, which came up, just after you left, too, has moved cities. Is Mumbai’s promise as a startup hub over?

Yes, there have been Twitter spats over this, Quora posts and Facebook notes. But we want to have our say, and show it too.

Quikr says when it had to scale, it had to leave. Bangalore gave it a cheaper and deeper talent pool. The real estate costs were lower and its legacy of being home to Infosys and Wipro meant that people were just more entrepreneurial. “Networking is better. It is easier to meet people at short notice once you are in Bengaluru,” says Atul Tewari, COO, Quikr.

Ola mirrors the line and Porter says South India is more receptive to technology.

Damning statements.

But there are a few entrepreneurs in Mumbai who can’t help but disagree. It isn’t hard to find them either. They meet every two weeks, get drunk and talk. Most of them are angel funded and are part of a 256-person WhatsApp group, which was started by Shubham Rai. He is the co-founder of a professional social networking app called Nodd. And a few Thursdays ago, there was one such meet at an upscale Bandra pub.

Let’s get it started

It is 9pm, almost everyone has settled in. The bar is open and pizzas have been ordered. A few of them, who have had some craft beers, are trying to flirt with two attractive women. No, they are not part of the party. One works in advertising, the other in a small startup. On the big screen, a rerun of the Olympics plays and is summarily ignored. The bar is full and so are the tables. The music is loud. Everyone is buzzing.

A simple question is asked: Three of the biggest startups in Mumbai have moved base to Bengaluru. Is Bengaluru the be-all and end-all of startups?

The questions start to make their way across the group. The typical reaction is to roll their eyes and focus on the beer and the work at hand: score a lead for the business.

In Mumbai, it is always dhanda first.

Zainul Abbasi is not drinking. He has to drive. After being coaxed into a beer, he decides to take a stab at the question.

“Why do most startups go to Bengaluru? Easier access to technology? What technology? Most companies that have moved are app-based. Are you telling me they can’t find Java developers in Mumbai to work on your app?” yells Abbasi, co-founder, Phi Robotics. The pint was drained reasonably quickly. He really wants to make the point and insists on stepping out. And, to be fair, very few can beat Sia telling the bar that she loves cheap thrills.

Once outside, he fishes in his pocket for a cigarette. The smoking zone is dominated by others from the group making connections and a few have spent almost the entire evening there. A young couple is smoking weed on another floor. Bins are already overflowing with empty cigarette packets.

Through the haze, Abbasi dismisses the argument that the talent pool isn’t deep enough in Mumbai. Bengaluru has an IIM, an IIT in neighbouring Chennai and ISB in Hyderabad. Mumbai has an IIT, an SP Jain and a flock of engineering and business schools in Goa.

Impact of the experience

Okay, hiring freshers is never a problem, hiring experienced hands at reasonable costs is the issue. Quikr, for example, went from a 70-person tech team in Mumbai to a 400-man army in Bengaluru. “Seasoned hands with a few years of experience are difficult to find in Mumbai,” says Quikr’s Tewari.

Arnaud Lorie, an Israeli national in Mumbai running a jewelry marketplace called Joolz, who is also at the party, agrees with Quikr. He is nursing a beer. His company raised around $500,000 recently and wanted to hire a CTO but the salaries were twice as expensive as they would be in Bengaluru. He ended up outsourcing the tech functions.

Abbasi is not around to hear any of this. He is now ambushed by a woman who runs a garbage disposal startup. She is trying to explore “synergy”. Both awkwardly smile and nod.

 

MakeMyTrip, Goibibo and Naspers’ India Reset

It was sometime last year that Kalra and Rajesh Magow, MakeMyTrip’s CEO (Kalra is Chairman and Group CEO), first broached the topic of a potential merger with Naspers’ CEO Bob van Dijk. It didn’t lead anywhere as Naspers didn’t appear interested in either a sale or merger.

Why would they? In the space of just a few years Goibibo had gone from being a company that didn’t exist; wasn’t a travel company; and didn’t merit a market share figure of its own (up till 2015 it was clubbed under “Others”, after MakeMyTrip, Yatra and Cleartrip) to becoming the second largest OTA (online travel agency) in India and finally, becoming number one in the lucrative hotels booking space.

Meanwhile, MakeMyTrip, though the pioneer and consistent market leader in the OTA space, was going through the woes of being an internationally listed company and quarter after quarter of losses. From a peak valuation of $1.2 billion (yes, it was a “unicorn” before the term became popular), it had fallen to $500 million.

Taking advantage of MakeMyTrip’s apparent weakness, Goibibo had opened the discount taps to steal further market share.

Using GoCash, its virtual wallet, it was giving discounts of 50%, 60%, 70% and even 80% on hotel bookings. Customers were able to book 3-star hotel rooms in Goa for rates as low as Rs.1000 a night.

The Beginning

“During the first 6 months of 2015 Ibibo took away market share from MakeMyTrip,” says Alok Bajpai, CEO of travel search engine Ixigo (in which MakeMyTrip is incidentally an investor). This was especially true in the budget hotels (zero to three stars) space.

And at an internal town hall meeting in India around the middle of 2015, van Dijk reassured his group employees that neither resources nor money were an issue when it came to making it big and winning in the market.

Having pushed the knife into MakeMyTrip’s leadership, perhaps Naspers felt it had a chance to twist it too.

How quickly things change, though.

In January MakeMyTrip announced that it had raised $180 million from Ctrip, China’s leading OTA via a convertible offering. And with that, the gloves were off.

MakeMyTrip started offering discounts aggressively to match Goibibo, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. It started to claw back some of the market share it had lost.

Then in February Naspers seemingly upped the ante with the announcement of a $250 million funding round into Ibibo.

The very next month MakeMyTrip launched a massive new TV campaign featuring actors Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, targeting the very segment that Goibibo had gained the upper hand in: hotels.

For months, there was intense competition around hotels from both companies, with each one keeping an eye programmatically on the others inventory and prices on a daily basis.

It was in the midst of this that Kalra, ever the pragmatic survivor, once again broached the topic of a ceasefire and merger to his opponent. But this time instead of Bob van Dijk, to Ashish Kashyap, the founder of Ibibo and the person responsible for all of its strategy and execution in India.

“I floated the idea to him and told him he hadn’t been part of the same conversation last year (but he was aware of it),” says Kalra.

Kashyap, uncharacteristically, responded positively to Kalra’s suggestion. He told Kalra that he was particular about safeguarding the Ibibo brand that he had built while seeing the value in the liquidity Kalra’s listed company could provide. The discussions then progressed.

“This time there was far more vigour from their side,” says Kalra.

Naspers and the India Reset

Sometime in the last 12 months, Naspers seems to have made a strategic decision to change the way it operated in India.

Till last year, its playbook was to bring on board smart and experienced executives; incentivize them with salaries and Naspers stock; empower them to make their own decisions, and most importantly – provide a clear and easy line of funding for investing in growth.

“They’re good people, the Naspers folks. They trust local leadership and genuinely believe in them,” says a former senior executive with one of its group companies in India.

None of the group companies had to worry about valuations or fund raising. All executives had to do was communicate their budgets and goals to Naspers and the money to execute it would be wired. Simple.