Creator India’s first web portals in 1990s aims to take his tech co public
Netcore Cloud today serves over 5,000 clients in 18 countries, delivering 12 bn emails and tracking 100 bn events a month for world’s top marketers. It is now planning an IPO in 15-18 months
Tech entrepreneur Rajesh Jain is a pioneer in Asia’s dotcom revolution, having created India’s first Internet portals in the late 1990s. He then started what is today India’s largest marketing technology company, Netcore Cloud. It offers AI-powered marketing automation and analytics solutions.
Making successful strides for over 20 years, Netcore Cloud today serves over 5,000 clients spread across 18 countries. These include India, the US, Germany, Nigeria, Singapore, Malaysia and UAE. It is delivering over 12 billion emails, and tracking more than 100 billion marketing events every month for the world’s top marketers. The bootstrapped company is now planning an initial public offering (IPO) in the next 15-18 months.
“We want to become India’s first B2B SaaS (company) going for an IPO by 2022,” says Jain.
Some of the leading brands that use Netcore Cloud’s services to power their customer acquisition, engagement, and retention goals include MaxLife Insurance, ICICI Bank, Standard Chartered and Flipkart. The other such brands include Myntra, Miss Amara, Airtel, Disney Hotstar, Canon, Puma, Tobi, Easemytrip, PizzaHut, and McDonalds.
“One of our goals is to double our annual recurring revenue (ARR) in the next two years to $150 million,” says Jain. “We’ve done very well in India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Now our plan is to grow very rapidly in the US and Europe. We are looking at both organic growth, and acquisitions.”
Jain sees that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digitisation and customers need platforms such as Netcore more than before which can help them build relationships with their existing customers. “The trends that we are beginning to see on the digital side is that it has been accelerated by at least 3-4 years in the last 15 months,” he says.
Jain is also seeing the startup ecosystem in India becoming broader and deeper. There are massive opportunities in the area of software-as-a-service. The Indian SaaS (software-as-a-Service) community is maturing and has the potential to become a $1 trillion opportunity over the next 10 years, according to a report by SaaSBoomi, a community of SaaS founders and builders, alongside McKinsey & Co and Nasscom. It highlights that there are nearly 1,000 funded SaaS companies in India, of which 10 have unicorn status and are generating about $2-3 billion in revenues while employing 40,000 people. Entrepreneurs are also looking to solve local problems in areas such as healthcare, education and logistics.
“Indian’s don’t have to go to Silicon Valley to create deep tech,” says Jain who earned his B. Tech (Electrical Engineering) from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1988, followed by M.S. from Columbia University, New York in 1989. He worked at NYNEX, USA, for two years before returning to India to begin his entrepreneurial ventures in 1992.
One of Jain’s early ventures, IndiaWorld Communications, was launched in 1995. The fledgling 20-person company was acquired by Satyam Infoway (later, Sifty) in November 1999 for $115 million in one of Asia’s largest internet deals. IndiaWorld was the largest collection of India-centric websites, comprising Samachar (news), Khel (cricket), Khoj (search) and Bawarchi (food).
“For IndiaWorld, everybody said that I made $100 million, but they don’t realise that during the 5 years of running that business, we had many near to death experiences,” says Jain. “Our goal was, how do you offer good services to customers, so that they keep coming back.”
He calls his ventures IndiaWorld (1995-2000) and Netcore (1998-now) as proficorns.A proficorn is a company that is private, profitable, promoter-bootstrapped and highly valuable ($100 million or more in valuation). Other such examples include broking firm Zerodha and tech firms, Zoho and Wingify.
A lot has changed since then. Jain is of the view that it is a great time to be an entrepreneur in India and he would dream of such a situation in early 2000’s.
“I would look at China and the growth there,” says Jain. “I always wondered when that would happen in India.”
He says now there is substantial risk capital available from multiple sources ranging from few lakh rupees to millions of dollars. “It really creates a virtuous cycle because entrepreneurs are then willing to take the risk,” says Jain.
One such example is the blockbuster listing of online food delivery company Zomato which is expected to set the stage for many technology firms and startups to follow suit. He said there would have been many instances when Zomato came very close to failure. But, either there were pivots or they did not give up and they figured out new business models.
“Now what’s happening is that exits have started to happen,” says Jain. There’s liquidity for entrepreneurs and investors. That is coming in the form of acquisitions and secondary transactions.
Also new ecosystems including supply chains are getting built in areas such as agritech, healthtech and edtech. The way the country leapfrogged in mobile and digital payments, Jain is expecting the same to happen in numerous areas including SaaS, where India can now serve the world. Earlier the country provided IT services. Now it is providing products that work for the global markets.
In between, from 2012-2019, Jain also worked as a political entrepreneur.His previous political venture, Niti Digital, was one of the key organisations that supported the 2014 BJP election campaign for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It had a 100-person team working for two years in the right-of-centre digital media space (NitiCentral.com), elections data and analytics (IndiaVotes), and volunteering platform (India272.com).
Also, Free A Billion (FAB) was started by Jain in 2015 with a focus to bring economic freedom to Indians. Its flagship initiative was Nayi Disha–to create a demand for prosperity, put an end to government interventions that destroy wealth and enable widespread wealth creation. But FAB closed in early 2019 because of lack of traction for its ideas. Jain had also spent a year on the board of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and spent two years as a government nominated director on the board of energy conglomerate NTPC. Jain says now there’s not that much of direct government interaction.
“We serve different government enterprises with our (Netcore) services,” says Jain. “But I’m personally not now directly involved with any (government) initiative.”