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Sanjeev Bikhchandani

Founder & CEO | 01 Feb 2006

Our core proposition is simple. We offer two things to both job seekers and employers. First is the greatest aggregation – to the job seekers we offer the greatest aggregation of jobs and to recruiters we offer the greatest aggregation of job seekers. The searching capability of our site on the job side as well as on the resume side is superior.

Launched in March 1997 when Internet was at its infancy in India, Naukri.com has today become India’s leading career portal. It is estimated that over seven lakh people have found jobs through Naukri.com and over 15,000 organisations have used the site for recruitment.

Naukri.com has attained a remarkable position under the able leadership of Sanjeev Bikhchandani. An economics graduate from St Stephens College, Delhi, Bikhchandani quit a corporate career in 1990 to set up Info Edge (the company that owns Naukri.com) and has since been instrumental in taking the career portal to the zenith.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Sumita Patra, Bikhchandani shares his vision for the portal. Excerpts:

Q. You were instrumental in setting up InfoEdge, which was not an online recruitment service. What led you to start career portal Naukri.com, especially at a time when Internet was at its infancy?

In 1990, when I used to work in HMM, which is now called Glaxo Smithkline, as the brand manager of Horlicks, I noticed whenever the office copy of ‘Business India’ came in everybody would read it back to front. ‘Business India’ was the number one medium for appointment ads in those days. I figured that jobs were very high interest information category, even if people are not looking for jobs they will look at the ads once. I figured that there was a huge fragmented database of jobs out there and if someone were to make it live and current it would be a very valuable resource.

The idea was there at the back of my mind. I quit my job and started the business. We did salary surveys, reports, trademarks, database. Meanwhile, the Department of Telecom (DoT) advertised for something called the Videotex service in Delhi. The plan was to host a number of databases on a server in one of the telephone exchanges in Delhi. These databases would be accessible to anyone from several public access terminals on payment of a fee. They advertised for private information providers, people who would own and maintain these databases. DoT would pay the information provider a share of the revenue earned from the public. As luck would have it, the DoT project never took off, however, we had a product concept ready with nowhere to deploy it.

In October 1996, I visited IT Asia in Pragati Maidan (Delhi) and saw the word Internet for the first time at one of the smaller stalls there. I found out more about it and realised that this could be a potential medium on which we could deploy the jobs database idea.

Over the next few weeks I read up about the Internet and by December 1996 I had decided to launch a job site. That’s how the idea came and that’s how we launched.

Q. What were the teething problems that you faced at that time?

Number one was that there was not enough money, number two, the quality of bandwidth was very poor, number three, for the first six months we ran the site but we ourselves didn’t have Internet access, we didn’t even have a modem. I also knew that most clients were not Internet enabled, the HR departments did not put their email IDs on ads so the response was that much lower. Then there were stuffs like generally poor Internet penetration in India. So, the amount of traffic was not as high as it is today. These were some of the issues that we had to face then.

Q. Internet has undoubtedly come a long way since then and the medium has enormous potential today. What fuels the growth of online recruitment in India?

One is the demand. Two is Internet in itself has clearly 2-3 benefits, firstly, it costs less, secondly it is much faster than any other medium, you put an ad today, you get the response tomorrow, so generally the time that you realise you need a person and till the person joins, that time has come down. So you get your people maybe a month or a month and a half earlier and that makes a huge impact to business.

Q. Which sectors have contributed to the growth of online job recruitment business?

The largest sector is IT because almost every IT company or every IT product uses job sites. Having said that, half our revenue is non IT. Other sectors like financial services, banking, insurance are also big.

Q. How would you assess the performance of Naukri.com? What are your core propositions and what kind of strategies have you adopted to counter competition?

Our core proposition is simple. We offer two things to both job seekers and employers. First is the greatest aggregation – to the job seekers we offer the greatest aggregation of jobs and to recruiters we offer the greatest aggregation of job seekers. Secondly, we offer the best way to find the right person or right job on our site. The search capability of our site, on the job side as well as on the resume side, is superior.

Q. What is the resume base at present and how much increase do you anticipate this fiscal?

Right now our resume base is 42 lakh and is growing at 10,000 a day. Twelve months from now our resume database should be between 80 lakh to a crore.

Q. What led you to foray into the matrimonial site Jeevansaathi.com? What was the reason behind revamping its look? What kinds of changes have been done?

We launched Jeevansaathi in 1998, it was a part of our company Info Edge. There wasn’t very high workload on the tech guy at that time, so I told him to start a matrimonial site, and he did it. We gave it a link from the Naukri home page and everything was provided free – free to register, free to contact. It was a completely free site and it started getting some traffic and we became India’s No. 1 matrimonial site.

Currently, we are at No. 3 behind Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com, but the gap is very narrow now. We decided that we have to do things differently, so we continuously focused on the product and kept on enhancing and adding more and more products and features as well as changing the look and feel of the site. Today, Jeevansaathi probably delivers more value than any other matrimonial site in the country.

Q. Can you elaborate on the kind of changes that have been done?

We have changed the user interface completely. We have added some new fields in the database when you register. We are doing a couple of other things in the product, which should see the light of the day in the next couple of months. I don’t want to reveal them right now.

Q. Tentatively, what kind of plans do you have in mind?

A lot of it has to do with product modification and of course, there is smart marketing. We will keep on enhancing the product using technology to add more features on Jeevansaathi and Naukri sites and we see technological innovations as clearly differentiating us from the competition. We see technology as the way forward.

Q. You had been associated with the print media. How was that experience?

Excellent. I was the Consulting Editor of Avenues, the career supplement of Pioneer newspaper, from 1996-2000 and in the last two years, I was also assisting Chandan Mitra in managing the Pioneer as he had a management buyout. So, I got tremendous exposure to how the media runs, from the journalism side as well as the management side. It was a great experience for me.

Q. Recently you started a real estate portal, what was the rationale behind it? How has the response been so far?

Firstly, it is the opportunity, there is no good real estate portal in India and the print advertising market for real estate is over Rs 450 crore. We believe that there is a lot of efficiency that can drive this market through the same things that have worked for Naukri, like aggregation, technology, better search function as well as better selling. We believe that this property opportunity is good and big. So far, we have got 11,000 listings on the site.

Q. Which are the other sectors that you are eyeing?

Within the next three to six months, we should launch a local jobsite for the Middle East.

Q. Do you have any plans to tap the financial market?

No, we are not raising private equity right now. It could take a year or a year and a half before we do anything of that sort.

Q. What is the revenue model for online job sites?

It is largely a subscription-based market.

Q. How did you build the brand over the years, television seems to be the preferred medium for advertising. Is there any specific reason behind that?

Initially we had no money, but the good thing was that we were the only ones, so we didn’t need that much marketing because all traffic came to us. The other thing that happened was that there were only two sites that were older than us and both were largely targeting NRIs at that stage. We were the only website targeting Indians in India. Around that time, the print media began to write about the Internet in India, and whenever they had to give an Indian example they would invariably talk about us because we were the only significant site targeting Indians in India.

Q. Television seems to be the preferred medium of advertising for dotcoms. Is there any specific reason behind that?

Not true. We are spending as much on online advertising as we are on television.

Q. What sort of advertising revenues are you targeting in the coming years?

We are targeting Rs 100 crore top line, Rs 24 crore bottom line this year.

Q. When do you plan to venture into the Gulf countries? How do you see the market over there?

Six months from now, we would be opening office in Dubai. It’s a growing market, it’s a good market and we feel that it’s the right time to enter there.

Q. Any plans to foray into countries other than the Gulf?

Possibly in other South Asian countries, but that would be a year. We are planning to enter the South Asia market towards the end of 2006.

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