Life has some amazing plans for us and pulls us in even if we have laid entirely different goals. Something similar happened with VSS Mani who had all figured it out, or so did he think. Born in Jamshedpur in 1966, he was raised in Kolkata. He had the clarity of pursuing a bachelors degree in commerce alongside becoming a Chartered Accountant. He came to Delhi University but financial pressure made him opt out from both his plans.
He had to start working at an early age and was employed with a yellow pages company. Getting information in those days was tough as directories were the only source of compiled data which were printed only once a year. It was a very slow process and one of Mani’s client suggested him that it would be revolutionary if people could just dial a number and get information. The idea appealed to Mani but he was not ready to take a plunge into business.
However, after much persuading Mani started Ask Me in 1989 but it couldn’t take off and died a quick death. Getting a telephone connection was next to impossible task and all the promises that Ask Me made in the market fell flat. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, now Mani couldn’t think of going back to the job scenario. He worked on a few ventures but nothing could sustain long enough to become successful.
The calendars kept changing and more telephones were making their way into the country. It was 1995 and VSS Mani found himself thinking about Ask Me again. After making a note of all the mistakes he had made during Ask Me and launched JustDial in a tiny 300 sq ft garage with a modest capital of Rs 50,000. He rented everything from chair, table to even LAN cables to avoid unnecessary expenses.
He managed to get a unique number 8888888888 from a telephone operator in Kandivili, Mumbai. The increasing number of phones brought in several callers to Just Dial and they would read out the information to them. The business was doing well and JustDial did a turnover of Rs 4 crore. Their strategies to collect database of small vendors like carpenters, plumbers, mobile shops, painters instead of listing big brands and companies.
This worked quite well as people found their services very useful and JustDial got free mouth publicity. The low price of the product helped Justdial in capturing the market quickly and each month they ended up with additional revenue. This spare money helped them in hiring more sales staff.
VSS Mani started off in days when landline phones had just entered India. So he has literally seen the technological wave hit the nation. In May 2007, the company launched its website and started persuading its clients to list themselves for the web, too. After initial resistance they were able to sell webs listings to their clients and now have more than 15 million listings on their portal.
This was a time when mobile phones were selling in India like hot cakes and internet too was spreading its tentacles. Despite not coming from a technical background, Mani shut his critics who told him he couldn’t scale his business in the web world or now in the app platform. Bringing in Amitabh Bachchan and Boman Irani to promote his brand was a major step that gave a solid push to his sales.
VSS Mani suffered major setbacks in the first business that he tried but never stopped believing in the idea with which he started off. According to their financial statement, the company did a revenue of Rs 690 crore in the year 2015-16 out of which Rs 141 crore was their profit. Despite challenges and rapidly transforming technological scenario, Mani placed his bets at the right time and on the right stocks bringing in fortune for his company. His entrepreneurial journey is highly inspiring and validates the importance of sticking to core values.