Rediff.com is a news, information, entertainment, and shopping portal. It was founded in 1996 as “Rediff On The NeT” and is headquartered in Mumbai, India.
Ajit Balakrishnan’s father and grandfather were doctors. A 1971 alumnus of IIM-Calcutta , Ajit is a first-generation entrepreneur. In fact, he did not know the word entrepreneurial till much later, but he was always into starting college magazines and things like that. When he graduated in 1971, it was a grim period in India’s history. The Naxals were bombing, Nehru had died six or seven years ago, there was inflation, the China war. His friends at the time were joining the Levers and the Tatas. But when he asked himself, is that what he wanted to be, he couldn’t say yes. He did not want to be a cog in a big wheel. He wanted to do something with media, communication, technology. He joined an ad agency. The technology companies had not started at that time.
He worked for about ten months there and then Arun Nanda and he left to start their own creative ad agency. He also co-founded Rediffusion, one of India’s largest advertising agencies, at the age of 22. Arun was his senior and had been in Levers before joining the agency. They were partners for six or seven months and understood each other. At that time, there was very little creativity in ads and people used to imitate ads from abroad. They thought they could do better, start a ‘creative’ ad agency, and do original things. By the 12th month, they had won all the awards at that time.
Balakrishnan caught the tech bug in the mid-1980s, when the first Apple Macs appeared. At that point he had already spent more than a decade building up his first business – Rediffusion. Yet he decided to leave to help two other friends make India’s first micro-computer. The friends eventually concluded that opportunities in the hardware business were limited and sold their enterprise to Groupe Bull, the French computer company. That left Balakrishnan with the time and money to follow an executive education programme at Harvard. Here, while studying the early tech leader CompuServe, he hit on the idea of creating an Indian “information services” company. Once the technology for a browser had emerged, this seed eventually bloomed into Rediff.
Rediff.com was started in 1995, when he was 42. He was always in the technology, media and communication space. He had been associated with technology companies, so it made easy for him. So he told Arun to run it Rediffusion and he would start something else. He invested lots of money in Rediff and had Zero revenue for three years. But after that dot-bubble com period starts in India also and Rediff became one of the most powerful portal in India.
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