Kapil Ohri

Profile: "Any internet company requires anchors"- Rishi Khiani

afaqs! explores Khiani's journey from being a fine arts graduate to an entrepreneur to chief executive officer of Times Internet

There was one compelling reason why a geek like Rishi Khiani, who studied fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and entrepreneurship from Babson College in Boston (US), started a web design and development firm in 1998.

"In the dotcom rush phase of late 1990s, there was a need for someone who could offer professional knowledge and provide user-interface designs that would understand and address the consumers' demographics better," says Khiani, who named his Mumbai-based venture, Urban Eye Media.

Profile: "Any internet company requires anchors"- Rishi Khiani
Within a few years, Urban Eye Media grew from three to 38 employees and started working on prominent web-related projects such as TringTring.com (Aptech Internet's horizontal portal), Shaadi.com, the Aditya Birla Group and Mahindra & Mahindra.

There were others who set up web firms, too, but the interesting thing about Urban Eye is that it never had a marketing team. Khiani used his customers as 'evangelists' to grow his business. By 2004, Urban Eye Media had built up a portfolio of 500 websites, of which 100 were Fortune 500 companies.

So, how did he manage to keep his venture afloat during the dotcom bust? Khiani decided to follow the outsourcing model and created satellite offices across various parts of the world to manage and get global clients on board. He wrote to various American companies to convince them to get their web-related work done from India through Urban Eye. For instance, the firm had conceptualised and executed the design of the global site of Nike, developed a website for the US Navy and the National Football League (NFL).

But why and how did the businessman decide to become an employee? Exactly three years ago, Urban Eye Media was acquired by the Network18 Group which offered him an employee stock option (ESOP) scheme in the company.

Prior to the acquisition, Khiani's firm was roped in by Network18 to design and develop the technology portal Tech2.com and an online travel agency portal named Yatra.com, partly owned by Network18. That was the first time that Network18 was venturing out in the web space beyond its financial site - Moneycontrol.com - which contributed nearly 80 per cent of its internet revenue and was managed by its interactive division, E18.

Khiani recalls his conversation with Haresh Chawla, group CEO of Network18. "We have got so much work, that we might buy your firm," he said. Khiani laughed and replied, "I am happy as an entrepreneur and being my own boss." To which Chawla responded, "What if you become your own boss here? We have a plan to build many verticals and since you have conceptualised and developed sites across various industries, you are the right person for us." Network18 offered to buy out Urban Eye along with its team members. Khiani accepted.

Initially, he was assigned to work on the transition of his Urban Eye team into Web18, the digital arm Network18. Later, he was designated as chief operating officer of all the content portals minus financial verticals such as moneycontrol.com and power-yourtrade.com.

At Web18, Khiani managed a team of about 250 members and was responsible for the profit and loss, apart from conceptualisation, ideation, creating affiliations and business planning of online properties of Web18.

Other than Tech2.com and Yatra.com, his team ideated and developed a bunch of portals such as Josh18.com, a Hindi language portal, Buzz18.com, an entertainment site, Indiwo.com, a women centric website and a micro-blogging portal named Blish.com.

Khiani is considered a key architect of the launch of In.com, the horizontal portal based on the concept of aggregation of videos, games, music and news. How did the idea of a horizontal portal originate? "At that time, when you talked about any big internet company in India, the names that came to mind were Rediff, Yahoo!, Google and MSN. From the consumers' perspective, Web18 was not a brand that people would have recognised." We realised that our vertical-led strategy was great from the sales perspective, but we needed an umbrella brand as well.

Khiani also points out that any internet company requires anchors like e-mail and social networking applications that will bring back the audience to the site again and again. In.com offers e-mail facility.

In August, Khiani joined Times Internet because the opportunity was there. Any conflict with Web 18? Khiani doesn't think so. "My stake there is purely monetary and not a controlling one."

As CEO of Times Internet, Khiani will be responsible for managing sites such as Indiatimes.com, TimesofIndia.com and Economic-Times.com. The gadgets and sports car (he owns a Mazda RX-8) lover is ready to take off.

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