AMIT AGGARWAL, 26
Aggarwal has sunk in Rs 40 lakh
in family money to run his youth portal. There are no profits,
but from his one-room office, he and two part timers refuse
to let the dream die.
S. Narasimhan ruefully says his portal, tnagar.com, is like the
legendary chatak bird, which according to legend waits, endlessly,
for the heavens to pour to quench its thirst. Narasimhan, 50, knows
he isn't going to quench his thirst-for money and glory-any time
soon. A small-time property dealer in Chennai's bustling commercial
centre, T. Nagar (after which his site is named), he jumped onto
the dotcom bandwagon hoping to target bands of home-sick US techies,
to whose ranks T. Nagar contributed generously every year. The site
worked, but it could not answer that fundamental dotcom question:
can you show me the money?
''We wanted to keep the content very local,
but maintaining its regular supply was a proving to be too expensive,''
says Narasimhan. Today, the site has mostly national and international
news lifted from other sites and paltry local content, like mainly
putting the board and university exam results online. Talking about
revenues almost brings him to tears. ''It's a hand-to-mouth existence,"
says Narasimhan, the lump in his throat evident. It's been this
way for five years. The advertising revenue that does come in goes
to paying the three-member team-web developer, marketing executive,
and reporter-of part timers.
Across the length of the subcontinent, in Delhi,
Ajay Jaiman, 34, has a similar story. His portal for children (it
was once considered promising enough by no less an entity than ICICI,
which took a stake), pitara.com, stays afloat by providing content
for Newsjoy, a publication for children. His staff strength is down
from 37 to 10 and they all divide their time between the portal
and other work. "Today, the internet does not provide sustainable
revenues to produce good-quality stuff," says a rueful Jaiman,
who left an advertising job to launch his dream.
What earthly reason makes the Narasimhans and
Jaimans hang on? These CEOs of whimsically named sites-purushetra.com,
p4punjab.com, pitara.com, cpmall.com, buckleyourshoes.com-who refuse
to fade out as their era did in the great dotcom crash of 2001?
Well, human nature, really-just tenacity, garnished
with the hope that one day, they will take their place in the sun.
These dotcoms on drips have seen their teams shrink, revenues dwindle,
the laughter die. But like modern knights, they revel in the fact
they have survived the first bloodbath. And their penchant for outrageous
quotes remains undiminished.
AJAY JAIMAN, 34
Jaiman's portal for children--once
considered promising enough by ICICI, which took a stake--stays
afloat by providing content to a publication for children
"I want to be a media tycoon of the internet
and run a site of the future," boasts Amit Aggarwal, CEO of
coolbuddy.com. At his one-room "office" in Delhi's New
Friends Colony, he and his two-man staff run the servers and-like
the others of their ilk-divide their work between bravado and bare
necessities. Living on life support isn't easy. Like Kumar Gaurav
of p4punjab who put in Rs 5 lakh in savings and family contributions
into his dream-most surviving dotcommers have day jobs to make ends
"We also run a dotcom," is the credo
of allindia.com, a web-consulting firm from Calcutta. Hemant Amin
will explain to you how he's learned the new business model of getting
by. Amin, director at allindia, also runs the popular cyber-alumni
site, batchmates.com, but does so without incurring additional costs.
As for revenues, what's that?
The Many Ways To Stayin' Alive
What Amin does is to use allindia.com to display
the company's tech expertise. The site's been up since 1995, but
last year most processes were automated, so that one costly input-human
intervention-wasn't needed. That's allowed batchmates.com to continue
sending out its popular alerts to various college alumni as new
members sign in. "The infrastructure is in place, and there
is no incremental cost of running the portal," says Amin. A
four-member team, which works for allindia.com, monitors the processes
and allow Amin to keep his dream of an online globe-girdling network
of alumni alive.
The hand-to-mouth existence is a saga of nerves,
rapidly changing business models-if you can call it that-and sheer
There's Gaurav in dusty Faridabad, Haryana,
where he was once promoter of p4punjab.com, a financial portal targeting
Punjabi nris. Gaurav, 24, has outsourced many content functions
and reduced his technical staff from four to one. P4punjab.com manages
to garner a measly Rs 10,000 every month through advertisements
but expenses are around Rs 14,000. A one-time sale of NRI databases
and the odd sponsorship keeps Gaurav going.
Aggarwal of coolbuddy.com just about manages
to scrape together money through advertisements to cover the Rs
30,000 monthly cost of running his servers in the US and paying
his two employees. "Every rupee counts," explains Aggarwal,
stating what is quite obvious.
Then there are those that live-and that's about
all they do. Like purushetra.com, a men's portal, whose owner isn't
even in India any longer. Deepak Khanna, a software professional,
left for the US in 2000. His wife, who used to run it after he left,
has now joined him in the land of opportunity. Purushetra.com is
live, and though it isn't updated, the Khanna clan says it can be
revived at any time. "Are many people visiting the site?"
is the hopeful counter-inquiry Khanna's father makes when BT calls
him at his home in New Delhi. "We can start it again if that
It is the way of the e-entrepreneur. To be
the eternal optimist, to be in the game-even if the game itself
doesn't have place for them. "If we see the chance, we will
grab it," exclaims Hemant Sharma, promoter of cpmall.com, a
shopping site centred around Delhi's colonial shopping district
of Connaught Place. Cpmall.com, once funded by tech giant Intel
and television production house NDTV, is inactive after two years
of life in cyberspace. Stay alive, somehow. That's the mantra. "We
are not losing money in these times, so there is no point in closing
down," reasons coolbuddy.com's Aggarwal.
Hope Must Spring Eternal
Inactive or active, those who hang around,
do so for the ephemeral promise of a new connected, cyber tomorrow.
It could, of course, happen. Remember that
the internet today, according to tech visionaries, is much like
the railways were when Robert Louis Stevenson's Rocket launched
the world's first great revolution in 1829. They talk of the foundation
being laid, as you read this, of the second internet, a globe-girdling
ubiquitous network that will be all pervasive in the new intelligent
devices of tomorrow-both wireless and fixed. If that happens, the
dotcoms on drip could so easily get the elixir that they seek.
India has some 3.7 million internet connections.
If that doesn't seem like much, take a step back to 1991 when the
concept of the net seemed like so much ether. Despite the passing
of the dotcoms, more Indians are getting connected than ever before.
That's evident in the growth that some of the
comatose dotcoms display. It's a different matter that they are
still some time off from converting increased traffic into revenues.
Coolbuddy.com generates five million page views per month. Pitara.com,
which was once updated every day, is now updated infrequently. But
it still manages four million page views per month and has a list
of committed users. Gaurav of p4punjab.com, who works as the head
of the e-commerce division of a company, says he is now planning
to quit his job and return full time to his beloved portal from
Batchmates.com may find it hard to generate
revenues, but it has witnessed an upsurge in registrations. With
more than 6.2 lakh members today, Amin mulls over the thought of
introducing a small fee that will earn him some revenues, launch
expansions-maybe get him off that wretched drip. Would people pay?
Amin isn't betting his future on it. Indian surfers, as is well
known by now, are notoriously tightfisted when it comes to paying
anything for a medium that they regard as free.
Still, that doesn't deter newbies from joining
the ranks of the drips. There may be no funding available today
for dotcoms, but that doesn't stop the one-person shows from rolling
in. Many are unseen, unheard, deprived of the oxygen of publicity,
unlike their predecessors who once commanded column inches through
sheer outrageousness. Nevertheless, the outrageous attempts are
Meet Tej Karan Singh, a 12th standard student
of Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. Singh, 17, runs mobileaddicted.com,
a site from where you can download picture messages, logos and tunes
for your mobile phone. He and his friend, Vijit Kanaktala design
and maintain the site and upload it through ftp (file transfer protocol)
through a server somewhere in Gurgaon, Haryana. Hosting costs are
all of Rs 1,500. The site, and the duo's business plans, will be
launched soon-once their board exams are done.