A proficient leader and expert in the industry, Sanjay is a technology entrepreneur. His vast exposure and experience in building international businesses, start-ups and his love for tech-innovation were instrumental in the inception of ACL Mobile in 2000. He graduated with honours in mechanical engineering in 1992 from the University of Texas, Austin, USA. Having found his first company in 1993, Sanjay is also a prominent angel investor. He enjoys exploring new gadgets, cars and is a yoga enthusiast.
It was a rather warm afternoon (if not decidedly hot!) when we reached the ACL Mobile office in Noida and struck up an interesting conversation with its Founder & CEO, Mr Sanjay Krishna Goyal & the Head of Marketing & Communications, Ms Anjali Srivastava.
ACL Mobile, a NASSCOM member company, has been around for more than 16 years, and is a pioneer of sorts in the mobile content and application space. The telecom revolution that we see today had its early moorings in 1995, which was also the time that a new breed of companies sprung up. The storied success of the Naukris and Rediffs would go on to make history of course. The startup craze in tech that is so palpable today – similar to a gold rush – had its early rumblings in the years ’97 – 98. Around that time, a whole lot of companies (startups?) had made a beeline to grab the internet and mobile space. Very few, perhaps not more than a handful of those, survive today, Sanjay proudly explained; which is also what makes his journey so creditworthy.
It was way back in 2000, when the company saw it coming. The harbinger of massive change. That, the future of internet lay in mobile, and disproportionately more than what PC could bring about, even though the latter was the preferred medium at that time. Popular media too was agog with predictions and painted a rosy picture (which is fairly normal even today!). It was believed in some circles and prophesized, that by 2003, this shift was inevitable. ACL’s tryst with destiny would have to wait, as this avowed “shift” would come much later. Nevertheless, ACL saw it coming early and geared up accordingly in hot pursuit. Those early years when spent in wait, were optimised through SMS / voice applications, till enterprise messaging came in vogue and gained wider acceptance. To put things in perspective: in India today, 10 billion messages are sent out to consumers every month, i.e. enterprise to consumer space. It’s (E2C) a 1000 Crore INR market (India) and global figures are as high as 40 billion USD. This market is on a very high growth trajectory and boastful of a CAGR of 25 – 30%.
Internet-based messaging systems (like Whatsapp) have taken away the sheen from P2P messaging. Certainly. However, it has had little effect on enterprise messaging, which continues unabated on a high growth trajectory. The phenomenal growth, repeatedly being referred here, has been fuelled by, if not actually paired with other growth stories. E-commerce being one for instance, where E2C provides a support service at the time of purchase. The other areas being banking, or even at the time of downloading applications. Growth of the banking sector has been one of the primary drivers which has had a steady trickle-down effect to other sectors like logistics, academic institutions, hospitals and government as well, which incidentally commands a lion’s share today. 900 million people have mobile phones in India, out of which only 100 million use internet through phones, which effectively means the market size is 800 million which still depend on SMS, to put things differently, avers Sanjay.
Working with Telcos:
The backdrop to this line of discussion being, telcos are mired in challenges themselves, and how has been the experience while working within the ecosystem. “Unarguably, telcos are core to our business” says Sanjay, with a lot of positivity. Telcos are “infrastructure players” and certainly the future focus for them would be to provide stable networks for the subscribers. In addition, a certain transition is also being witnessed. Increasingly, they are seen to be enablers of content and applications. He cited the example of Carrier Billing Services, where telcos provide authentication & security services to facilitate consumers’ access varied content.
The Digital Landscape:
He feels that it should have happened a decade earlier, in India. A tad disappointed he was, to see inadequate PC penetration in an earlier era, but certainly, the future bodes well in the digital sphere. The eco-system is vibrant, replete with handset availability, data interchange and the sheer consumption pattern that is driving this engine. Sounding nostalgic he goes back to the years 97-98 once again, when perhaps the number of tech startups were merely a few hundreds (a figure that has catapulted to 4000 today). Stark as it may seem today, in those years, this option was mostly exercised by people who had studied abroad. “Today, it’s almost akin to a mass market”, he ruminates. There is much wider acceptance including that of failure. All this has led to a spurt in funding options. Angels, seed funders, VCs were non-existent back then, which made scaling up a very difficult proposition which very few could deliver on. He also opines that the digital economy needs less of government interventions, and more of clarity for its smooth passage.
- 25 – 30% growth in India in the next 5 years.
- In the last three years, ACL Mobile had invested heavily on technologies driving Toll Free Data, and the recent TRAI ruling has been a setback for him. From that angle, it has been disappointing. Jokingly, he says that there were two people who were deeply impacted by this. One, was Mark Zuckerberg, and the other, but lesser known Sanjay Goyal.
- New growth areas in internet-based messaging, is seen to be a game-changer and may prove to be disruptive.
Threat From Startups:
While not really discounting this very real threat, Sanjay feels that startups do NOT really pose a major threat in Enterprise Messaging immediately, because of certain entry barriers which will make it difficult for them to challenge the incumbents. Unless of course, it is an altogether new technology that is brandished, and a new market is created. IP based messaging, and its perceived threat is real and cannot simply be wished away, views Sanjay rather philosophically. He cites the example of threat to banks, posed by the concept of mobile wallets, a completely non-existent market even a few years back. He underscores the commonly used adage of not resting on one’s laurels.
He voiced some of the common enough positives, a sine qua non of sorts: open culture, transparency, a sense of ownership, goal-oriented, mutual respect, fairness, equal opportunities and similar qualities that encapsulate the work-environment. Interestingly, the leadership team is in their 40s and the developers slightly younger in their 30s, so typically the conflict arising out of generational diversity is almost non-existent. It is a company of 200 people, with a gender diversity of 1:4 (Women: Men).
Top Three Bets for Future:
- Direct Carrier Billing. As the app economy rages on, network mobile operators will increasingly claim their share as they go on to offer frictionless one-click user experience. They will not just enhance user’s experience but drive sales as well.
- Toll free data in international markets.
- IP based messaging. Say for instance, the same SMS gets delivered ubiquitously to internet based platforms in real-time like WA, VChat, Skype Viber etc. as well.