VSS Mani started Just Dial 25 years ago, in 1996 (File image)
The controlling stake in Just Dial, India’s top B2B search engine, has been acquired by Reliance Retail Venture Limited (RRVL). The Mukesh Ambani-backed RRVL would hold 40.95 percent stakes, and would make an open offer to acquire another 26 percent, said a statement issued on July 16.
Although the majority stake would be taken over by RRVL, the two companies have agreed that Just Dial Founder VSS Mani would continue to lead as the managing director and chief executive officer.
Here’s how VSS Mani built Just Dial – the ‘Indian Google’:
Mani launched Just Dial in 1996 with a seed capital of Rs 50,000. With just six employees and a few rented computers in a pokey garage, the 29-year-old entrepreneur was determined to revolutionise information search media.
Next, the company created software that could search for extremely relevant information in the database – within seconds. “You can see the parallel between Justdial and Google but we were born before Google was,” Mani once said.
Just Dial, over the years, emerged as one of the prime sources of advertising for millions of small and medium businesses in the country.
How It All Began
Mani was working with a yellow pages company, United Database India (UDI), when he thought it would be great to have a database like his company’s over the telephone. So in 1989, he and a few friends launched AskMe.
The venture, however, nosedived within a couple of years as a small proportion of Indians had telephone back then and the economy was also considered to be in a downturn.
“We also got the number wrong. People had ‘Ask Me’ on their lips but when you asked them the number, none of them could recall it,” Mani had said in an earlier conversation with Moneycontrol.
In 1996, Mani decided to rework on his idea revolving Ask Me. He had learnt from his mistakes. “We focused a lot more on the phone number than the brand name and got the number 7 times 8,” he revealed.
Justdial then put together a sizeable database of businesses in Mumbai by literally going door-to-door. The next step was getting people to use the database.
“We couldn’t afford to advertise. So we convinced our initial set of clients to ask their employees to use our service. We had a wonderful product and so word-of-mouth worked. As for revenue, the tenth client we spoke to agreed to a sponsored listing and that set the ball rolling,” Mani had stated.
Justdial priced its product low and still managed to end up with a surplus every month. The money was ploughed back into increasing the sales staff.
Just Dial also kept evolving – from a phone-based directory to an Internet-based model and now a mobile service.
When people found it difficult to note down telephone numbers, the company devised a way to send an SMS and an email responding to the search request.
Enormous Database, Unique Users
According to Just Dial, its existing database is of an estimated 30.4 million listings and its existing consumer traffic was stated to be around 129.1 million quarterly unique users (as on March 31, 2021).
The role and expertise of Mani in building the business was acknowledged by RRVL Director Isha Ambani. While commenting on her company’s partnership with Just Dial, she described Mani as “a first-generation entrepreneur, who has created a strong business through his business acumen and perseverance.”
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