Alok Kejriwal is an entrepreneur who believes that a problem is an opportunity to build business around it. He joined his joint-family business of socks manufacturing at the age of 18, while he was still in college. However, in 10 years, he rebelled to move out of the joint-family business, and start a business which was not into manufacturing.
In 1998, Kejriwal founded an online contests portal company named Contests2win.com (C2W) with a borrowed laptop in 1998, and only Rs 5,000. At that time, the Internet was in its nascent stage in India. The portal has already build and carried out contests for 500 brands and received seven rounds of funding of about $ 10 million.
Kejriwal got the idea of starting a contest website is quite interesting. While working in family run socks manufacturing business, Kejriwal dealt with lot of problems related to the spare parts of machines. During this time, he used the internet for information on spare parts on company websites.
"I got fascinated with the power of Internet to distribute knowledge and thought of building business around it." Apart from working in the family business, he was also an avid stock market investor and searched for balance sheets of companies, which was not easily available on the net.
In 1997, he wanted to start a portal which will aggregate balance sheets of various companies online. Somehow that idea never got executed as it was not scalable and sustainable.
This gave birth to an idea of using internet as an alternative to post-cards. He wanted to start an electronic post-office. Finally this lead to the launch of Contest2Win (C2W).
C2W started off without a revenue model. There are various reasons for it. First, brand owners were not aware about the online medium, and it was very difficult to convince them to invest in the internet medium. In fact, even big companies such as Hindustan Unilever (HUL) did not have an internet connection those days.
On the other side, even people were not ready to work for such companies, as they were suspicious about the financial health of the dot-com company.
After visiting and calling lot of brand owners for three months, Kejriwal's perseverance paid off and he got his first break with Gunendar Kapur at HUL. He agreed to do a 'Bright Kids' contest on C2W for its Kissan Annapurna salt brand.
C2W opted for media barter model to get free promotion across various mediums. It developed and hosted branded contests for companies such as HUL, McDonald's and MTV for free on its site and in return, asked these companies to put the URL of C2W in all forms of communication-print ads, television commercials and MTV VJ's telling viewers to "visit us at Contests2Win.com" to participate in the contests. Kejriwal says, "This helped me to build C2W brand based on the credibility of these bigger brands."
Free promotion helped C2W to build traffic on its site, which reached around one lakh users in 1999 and as a result, C2W decided to monetise its traffic and started charging its clients, even before the dot-com bust happened in 2001.
Kejriwal says, "We never went out and approached any venture capital fund to invest in C2W. Instead, we got our first-round of funding from ICICI Venture, which approached us in 1999." Venture funding led to strengthen our credibility, which in turn helped us to easily find employees to work with us.
When the bust happened, and the brands started to cut their advertising spends on the internet in India. Kejriwal decided to beat the bust by expanding outside India. He zeroed in on China, which was not much affected by dotcom bust and launched c2w in a joint venture with internet investor, Softbank China Venture Capital.
Kejriwal is a serial entrepreneur and the overwhelming success of Contests2win in India and China prompted Kejriwal to launch more ventures. In 2001, he founded a mobile marketing solution provider company named Mobile2win in China, as a 50-50 joint venture between C2W India and Softbank. He later brought Mobile2Win to India in 2003.
In 2004, he figured out that typical advertising agencies were not proficient enough to provide internet marketing solutions, so he started his interactive agency named Media2Win in association with Krishna Kumar, who is co-founder and chief executive officer of Medai2Win.com. He figured out the rising trend and fascination of youth towards of online games and started an online gaming company titled Games2win.com in 2007.
Kejriwal believes that the success of C2W lies in finding the right people to work with. "I always looked for people who are interested in the internet business and comfortable to work with."
He co-founded Mobile2win with Rajiv Hiranandani and Gopala Krishnan. Krishna Kumar and Kejriwal started Media2win. Kejriwal also roped in Cyrus Oshidhar, who was senior vice-president, creative and content at MTV in 2006 as creative co-founder of Contests2win.
Some other factors that Kejriwal thinks helped him to succeed are the ability to remain emotionally unattached to the business and eagerness to meet more and more clients and brand owners. "You should have the courage to sell the business when it is the right time to do so," says Kejriwal. He sold his stake in Mobile2Win in 2006 to Walt Disney Internet.