The Bay Area or Silicon Valley in the mid-1990s was buzzing with ideas and funds were chasing them. An ideal setting indeed for Suresh Reddy to turn entrepreneur and take risks. Suresh and his school buddy Vijay Kancharla got together and hit upon the idea to start USAgreetings.com.
“We got into design and distribution of greeting cards through the Web. Put our personal money of a crore and got on to the bandwagon of entrepreneurship. By 2000, with the dotcom bust, we also crashed. But we did not lose heart,” recalls Suresh Reddy, now Chief Executive of Ybrant Digital, a rapidly growing company in the Internet technologies space.
A big learning from the first venture was clear. “We need to give people what they want.” The two were shocked when they heard a top entrepreneur in the Valley told them “buddy you are trying to sell greeting cards when people are being laid off in big numbers.” At that time Suresh and his friend’s company employed 15 people in San Francisco and 50 in Hyderabad. “We did not lay off, but gave a gradual exit plan and retention option if we did well,” he says.
In 2001, Suresh returned to India after over 10 years in the US, where he pursued higher studies, worked in several companies and took his baby steps as an entrepreneur. He changed tracks, re-launched the greetings business in a new avatar called Ybrant Technologies in Hyderabad. Till 2004, says Suresh, they ran the company with their own resources and with the revenues they managed to pay up their debts.
The hunger for growth began around 2006 with Ybrant Digital, the digital marketing services provider going in for its initial acquisition – the Isreali firm Oridian and the Serbia-based Seenietix. With $20-million PE fund from Sansar Capital and funds raised through financial institutions, Ybrant bought up around half a dozen more companies in the next few years. In a short time, Ybrant has spread itself into different geographies and is present in 16 countries, with over 500 employees.
“I never thought I will fail. I went with blind faith and belief, both when I started my journey as an entrepreneur in the US and when I came back to India to start Ybrant. I can’t say whether it is self-confidence, but more akin to refusal to give up that has brought me thus far,” says the 46-year-old Suresh.
The journey took another turn in 2012, with Ybrant going in for a merger with LGS Global. The merged entity will emerge as an over Rs 1,000 crore revenue company. It has gone in for a listing on the BSE and is going through the merger pangs.
The company is concentrating on building products internally in the digital advertising and marketing space, even as it looks at buying up companies in India and abroad.
Social media and mobile will be the key focus areas. The markets in Asia and Latin America offer big growth prospects. In other countries too, Ybrant is present and growing. “We do around 30 billion impressions per month. Want to stick to digital media for now.”
Suresh is a first generation entrepreneur. His grandparents were into farming, while his father was in the civilian side of the Defence services. Suresh is a Mechanical Engineer from IIT, Kharagpur and studied MS in Engineering Mechanics from Iowa State. After completing his postgraduation, he worked in a number of companies starting as a project engineer with AM General Corporation, Detroit which makes the Hummer and went on to do a stint with Charles Schwabe.
The longest work experience he had was with the Caterpillar Group. That was for two and half years. Then, he moved to Detroit and worked with Chrysler’s Jeep and Truck Group. The rolling stone that he was gathered quite a good chunk of moss, that today keeps him in good stead while dealing with people, geographies and challenges.
To be a successful entrepreneur one has to have passion and persistence. “I did not give up when our first venture floundered or when my father asked me why are you giving away free greeting cards. I persisted, learnt from failures and improved,” says Suresh.
In areas of innovation there is money today. But to go raise the funds is challenging. Convincing the investor is tough. Around 2000, getting finance from banks and financial institutions was difficult, but it has changed now. The Indian consumer base is large. If you get right ideas, investors are ready. “A good age to take the plunge if you want to be an entrepreneur is early 30s. I started at 32,” is Suresh’s sage advice to aspiring ones.
Vision and goals
Asked about his vision and goals for Ybrant, Suresh says he does not believe in mission statements or targets for growth. The digital space is highly unpredictable.
“I never imagined that the market would grow like this. There could be quantum jumps. I am also not thinking of diversification. Sticking to core strengths is the best strategy now for us.”
Spending time with a close knit group of friends, bonding with family and hectic business travel is Suresh’s typical lifestyle. Suresh believes in Tao’ism.
For him, running large organisations is like cooking fish, perhaps easy. Smaller organisations pose challenges, running multiple companies in different geographies with varying cultures is still tougher. He says he believes in least interference and allowing growth of local leadership to drive the growth.
He has learnt leadership skills hands on, with failures and successes. An entrepreneur should be ready to learn on a continuous basis, he says. Building the brand ‘Ybrant’ is the key motivation for him, he sums up.