Netcore is an unusual survivor; most companies don’t get to be 24 years old and still go strong.
I started it in 1997-98. IndiaWorld was my primary focus at that time. But I had to separate the fledgling Linux mail servers business because it made for distracting conversations when I was trying to raise capital for IndiaWorld. For the first 10 years, Netcore stayed small. After I sold IndiaWorld in late 1999, I spent a couple years at Sify. When I came back to Netcore, I worked through many interesting ideas but none clicked. Netcore’s growth started in mid-2005 when I professionalised the management to get past my inability to convert products into revenue. Our growth was led first by SMS and then email – both sold to enterprises looking to communicate with their customers. They created the early profits for Netcore which were reinvested into growth. The management team laid the foundation for a successful B2B business. From 2009 onward for about 10 years, I was peripherally involved in Netcore, focusing instead on initiatives to transform India: Niti Digital, Free A Billion and Nayi Disha. I eventually ended these efforts because I realised that changing minds and channelling votes for freedom and prosperity was going to be much harder than I had imagined. Ideas that seemed obvious to me were alien to most others.
Until 2019, my approach to Netcore was that of a majority shareholder involved only in key strategic decisions. The thinking was tactical – what needs to be done in the near-term. I did not have an intuitive and deep understanding of the spaces we operated in, and hence I made many mistakes on our expansion decisions. The business was profitable and growing, and I was happy. But I did not fully grasp the emerging world of B2B SaaS, CPaaS and martech, and how big the global market was. For too long, I was happy addressing just the Indian company. We stayed small for far too long – and it was my narrow view of the world that limited our investments into new growth areas. I said no to most acquisitions and funding opportunities. I was too cautious and focused excessively on profits rather than growth. I did have the outside in view. Netcore was a side project to my (futile) efforts to make Indians free and rich.
It was only after I decided to shut Nayi Disha in early 2019 that I started focusing more on Netcore. It took me many months to understand the new world of tech and the changed landscape that we operated in. In 2019, I attended many conferences in the US, and got a better and deeper sense of how the B2C communications and marketing worlds were coming together. Even then, I wasn’t sure of how Netcore fit in. The ambitions were narrow and short-term. Only through repeated conversations with Kalpit, Netcore’s CEO, did I start grasping the opportunity that lay ahead.