“We have doubled our customer base every single year since we started”

Shashank MehrotraBigRock has recently joined hands with Neustar, a provider of real-time information and analysis to the Internet, telecommunications, technology, retail, media and advertising industries, to promote .biz as the preferred domain for small businesses in India. As part of this initiative, BigRock and Neustar have outlined an aggressive outreach campaign that includes a series of new television commercials (TVCs), extensive digital outreach, and a complete online presence for businesses. The online presence will include a .biz domain name, Web hosting, hosted email for the .biz domain name and Google Adwords coupons worth Rs 2500, all of which are integrated with an easy-to-use interactive website builder priced at Rs 199. Diksha P Gupta  from Open Source For You  spoke to Shashank Mehrotra, GM and business head, BigRock, about this initiative and the company’s growth in India. Excerpts…

Q: How big is the domain name business in India these days?
Let me first give you the numbers in terms of the overall size of the domain name business in India. There are two types of domain names-one is gTLDs and the other is ccTLDs. When we try to calculate the size of the domain name industry, we try and ascertain the number of all the registrants (an individual who has booked a domain name) who originate from India. We use that proxy to figure out the size of the industry. There are no external agencies that independently audit this but we have a fairly sophisticated analytics team that looks at this aspect. By our estimates, there are around 3.2-3.5 million domain names in use by Indian registrants today.

Q: GoDaddy has set up its Indian arm almost a year back. How has its presence affected BigRock?
Before I specifically answer that question, let me tell you how the industry is actually laid out. This is not a new industry. Domain names have been booked in India much before BigRock started. Historically, Directi, which is the parent entity for BigRock, has been a very strong player in India with over 47 per cent of the market share for over a decade. Directi’s Reseller Club, LogicBoxes and BigRock, combine to hold over 50 per cent of the market for domain name registration.

Now coming back to your question about GoDaddy- it has always been present in India, though the company has physically set up operations in India in the last year. Because it is the largest global brand, consumers are aware of GoDaddy. What has changed is that it has started focusing on the Indian market in the last 12 months or so, but it has always been present. To specifically answer your question on how we look at it we welcome any competition that helps in enhancing the profile of the business and enhances the industry and education levels among customers, in general. If you look at the penetration of domain names amongst Indian users, that number is still ridiculously low. As I said, we have about 3.5 million domain names. The number of domain names as a percentage of Internet users is very low, as we have anywhere between 130-140 million Internet users today. So, only around 2 per cent of the Internet-accessing population has a domain name today.

If you look at the ratio of the Internet-using population vs domain names across other markets like the US, China, Turkey, Germany, etc, those numbers are much higher. Out of 100 people who use the Internet in the US, at least 26 or 27 actively translate into domain names. Whereas, in India, that number is just 2. So, with the growth of the Internet economy and with the need to get more and more businesses online, we feel this market is only going to grow. GoDaddy being physically present here is an affirmation of this growth in some sense. We have been here, and we have done a lot of campaigns in promoting the domain names business. Their being here is an indication that they agree with us.

Q: So does that mean there is enough lunch for everyone to eat and there is no competition, as such?
As far as the competition is concerned, it is clearly based on how you look at it. We are experiencing the same situation as in the early days of the telecom boom, when people weren’t so concerned about the competition and were looking at growing the market with different innovations. We are in that phase of the market’s evolution, and the market could grow faster. I expected the market to have picked up and started growing at a much faster pace than it has right now. I think we have been a little bit delayed. But we predict that the growth will come in the next 18-24 months.

If I can throw some light on the China story, China has the largest Internet population globally. It has 400-500 million people on the Internet, which means around 40 per cent of the population is online. If you look at the growth in domain names in China, it is unprecedented. Their market is growing very, very rapidly. I think they are a couple of years ahead of us and we aim to reach there as well.

Right now, we are trying to build our products and value proposition, our communication strategy and other essentials to establish a strong footing in the market. We are in that phase and we certainly expect that, some years from now, there will be a lot of excitement in this space and in the Internet space as well.

Q: BigRock recently announced joining hands with Neustar to promote .biz as the preferred domain for small businesses in India. Everyone these days is focusing on the SMB business in India. What are the challenges involved in bringing Indian SMBs, particularly from Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns of the country, online?
Let me answer this question in two parts. This is something really important for BigRock and we work on it in a major way. We spend a lot of time analysing and strategising on this segment in the country.
The first part of the answer is the current need. Today, in India, only 10-11 per cent of our population is online. And clearly that number will only go up in the coming years, particularly with the mobile revolution. India is doing over 50,000 smartphone activations every single day. An increasing number of people are accessing the Internet. There are multiple models to fulfill that need, but almost all the economies in the world that are ahead of us in the curve have shown that businesses are trying to get online with a Web presence, which includes a website, a domain name, hosting packages, and a branded email service. Small businesses are trying to embrace all these services to make their businesses more credible.

As far as the ‘need’ factor is concerned, I think we are at a point where many businesses in India don’t feel the need to be online, which is perfectly fine because they have an absolutely good sense of where their markets lie and who is looking for them. But that is what is fundamentally changing, and it will continue to change. As more and more people start looking for goods, services and products online, I think that behaviour will start to change for consumers. As the need grows, the pull factor will start working in the industry of domain names, rather than the push factor.

The second part of the answer is that we need to know the effective way to reach out to the audience. We have chosen the mechanism of creating some branding through television and online advertising to reach out to our consumers.

Q: How much do you expect Big Rock’s domain business to grow in this FY?
We have doubled our customer base every single year since we started, and the order books are getting taller and taller with every passing year. We have been growing pretty rapidly and we hope to continue doing the same this year as well. The basis of the growth is a combination of strong service, innovative products, marketing, et al. We are growing in high double digits and we are looking forward to continue doing the same.

Q: How do you plan to reach out to the IT managers across the country, apart from advertising?
We have, in the past, reached out to a lot of Web designers, the systems integrators, the IT consultants, individually, apart from the advertising that we do. We have over 10,000 people who have signed on our affiliate channels. These channels make commissions every time they sell a BigRock product, of which a significant number constitutes the website designers, IT managers and IT consultants. We also have a sales team that works with IT consultants. Also, we keep launching new products such as virtual private servers, Enterprise class email, etc, which are an attraction for IT managers.

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