Online services sector has witnessed a spurt in its growth from a nascent stage to one of the buzzing segments in the entrepreneurship domain in little time. Though the hyper-local search start-ups are gaining traction from users and investors in the present market scenario, the early starters (old players), who could tap business potentials of the arena when it was still virgin at the beginning of the dot-com era, have emerged as natural rulers of the market by their own rights.
Starting off as a content-writing portal, Sulekha, one of the oldest online start-ups, later transformed into a platform that allowed clients to open email accounts for free in the later part of 2000. Satya Prabhakar, its founder, shared with the Entrepreneur India how he placed his business on the growth trajectory over the years.
Way back in 1998, Satya Prabhakar chanced upon an idea of floating a platform that will provide an array of local e-services, by bringing several businesses together. Cashing in on the plan, the Indian-American entrepreneur and his wife laid the foundation of the business.
What Keeps Sulekha Ahead In The Race
The meteoric speed with which hordes of online start-ups in the domain are growing has given Sulekha a tough competition. On what makes the company stand out amid good performers like UrbanClap, Renticle, AskLaila Prabhakar said, “I think all start-ups, which have witnessed an early rise, provide a lot of new services like cleaning up cars, houses and even bathrooms. But, we are far more sophisticated technologically and are doing a lot more than other players in the market to fulfill our users’ needs. The range of e-services we offer and the number of users we have keep us much ahead in the race. Our competition is only with Google."
“Portals like Asklaila and Askme are focused mainly on providing e-services, but Sulekha.com uses technology that helps us understand our clients better. We keep technology in the forefront to ensure our visitors have all the ease in browsing our website. I think there are many areas — home décor, rentals and a wide range of classified e-services — in which Sulekha will feature on the top of clients’ preference list,” the entrepreneur asserted.
“Sulekha is a platform which allows its users to write about their needs and feedbacks," he added. Media reports state the company's revenue is nearly $30 million and it is one of the three digital companies in India that is making profits, apart from Info Edge and Just Dial.
Sulekha's Genesis And Expansion
“My wife and I founded the company in 1998,” said the owner. Sulekha, headquartered in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and in the US, runs its 14 offices across India with over 1,300 employees. This venture-funded industry, launched in the era of Internet boom, comes under the category of early start-ups in the e-services provider segment.
Sulekha was launched with an idea to draw the attention of NRIs as their target audience. Later, noticing good opportunities in India, Prabhakar expanded the operations here in 2007.
On how he could identify latent opportunities in the market for online service providers, Prabhakar said, “Expecting a single, virtual platform for several businesses in 1998 was being ambitious. We wanted to create a platform where end-users and owners of various entities could connect with each other and a customer could get multiple e-services under one roof portal.”
“You have to be at the right place at the right time — that’s the key to start a business,” he added.
One of India’s largest and fastest growing digital platforms in the sector, Sulekha raised its third round of funding in April 2015. The services listing company raised INR 175 crore from Singapore’s GIC and venture capital firm Norwest Venture Partners for its expansion plans.
The company redesigned its website in 2005 to allow users to select their locations in different states of the US and Canada. Later, a few Indian cities, including Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai were added along with international ones like Dubai, London and Singapore.