AgTalk | Riding on the tech wave to ensure supremacy: Techzone's Naveen Bhandari
One of the leading players in the value added services domain, Techzone offers a rich portfolio of managed services for telecom operators, media houses and related enterprises. In fact Techzone is one of the largest aggregators, developers, publishers and distributors of entertainment content in the world, having exclusive rights to over a million music and video titles. It powers nearly 80% of all mobile digital entertainment content in India and Internationally. The company has exclusive content rights for top brands such as Universal Music, MTV, Nick, VH1 and Colours. With over 350 employees and headquartered in Chennai, India, Techzone currently provides high performance VAS solutions to mobile operators worldwide.
The company is promoted by Naveen Bhandari whose vision is to make Techzone a company of people captivated with creating loyal customers. He has passion for music & technology in new way to reach end customer. Over the years Bhandari has successfully steered Techzone to create presence across all the operators Pan India and achieved exclusive rights for 2 lakhs plus songs, international online store, technology, products and videos.
Adgully spoke with the managing director, Naveen Bhandari to find out more about the company and his long-term plans. Following are the excerpts of the conversation.
Adgully: What made you start a venture like Techzone and the rationale behind it? Are you satisfied with the way it has shaped up?
Naveen Bhandari: In around 1999 I realised I wanted to do something in latest technology which not related to any one particular domain, but affects the masses at large.
So my partner and I traveled to various places around the world for nearly 6 months to find out what's happening in the world in terms of technology. Yet, we couldn't freeze on an idea. The only thing that we were sure about was that one, we want to get into the business of technology and two, it should be expandable and scalable, unlike a retail outlet or unlike a distribution system or unlike a finishing providing which is again limited to particular area or domain. Digital space was a new then, and it was offering us this feature.
The ring tone and GSMA technology had just started then and the GSMA technology was just ready to deliver ring tones & mono ring tones on mobile phones. That's when we entered this business It was a very different 'non-telco based' model then where the content delivery happened on card type. It picked up instantly and we have never been in a slack since then. It’s a great place to be in. Techzone is going to go places.
AG: Please give us a sense about the nature and size of your operation?
NB: Techzone started way back in 1999 with a team of four people and have come a long way to about 350 plus team members. We work with all the telcos and top labels in the country including Sony and Universal. We run across all the four platforms on telcos which include SMS, WAP, IVR and RBT and now 3G. Techzone today is the best when it comes to extracting value out of any kind of content (be it Bollywood, international music, news, sports or astrology) from the mobile VAS domain. A large part of its strength lies in the well-entrenched distribution network that it has developed in the telecom space over last 12 years.
As everything from content digitization to product development to technology development the entire value chain is taken care internally at Techzone, this has eliminated any kind of dependence on external players. This in turn has resulted in lowest turnaround times, enhanced flexibilities and better synergies in our operations. For the last two years, we have also started exploring international markets and our flagship product ‘Magic Voice' is live in about 33 countries worldwide.
AG: What does VAS industry mean to the layman/ what is the scope for industry growth?
NB: VAS is the additional content and services available for consumption on mobile. It was a big hit right from the start and was a push based model where we packaged the content with the help of some messages and pushed it out to the consumers via SMS, WAP and IVR. However, this was not a qualitative approach, as we could not filter the right target audience. The consumer who was receiving the call or message was not the consumer wanting that particular content. Similarly, if today you dial your network's IVR number and try to listen to the song of your choice, you will have blown all your money off and still wouldn't have got the desired content within 20 minutes. Instead, you will be lost in unwanted content.
Earlier if you wanted an RD Barman song, for namesake you would've been able to reach out to the regular 10-15 songs on the portal. The content then was decided based on what was decided to be promoted rather than the needs and likes of the pan India consumer.
But now, the push based model is slowly changing to pull based model. The VAS industry is completely changing and all our products are made keeping in mind the strategy to allow consumers to come in and discover the content. The developed countries are already following this pattern, and the developing countries too are catching up soon. It will take a little while till the penetration happens, but this is the only way the VAS industry will revamp itself and survive.
AG: What is Techzone’s growth strategy? You are big in Entertainment? Are you planning to focus on any other segment going forward?
NB: We take the artiste's/company's content in about 4-5 fashions on the SMS, WAP, IVR and RBT platforms. So the artiste or the company becomes the source of our content, and we package the product around it. For the south star Namitha, we have created voice blogs on IVR which is not a common product. We have also done one unique app for her where there are some standard 15-20 still images of her in different looks and poses. We realised that people want to get clicked with her, so through this app user on the android and iOS platforms they can enable their camera and click their image, which can be merged with the image of the artiste and made to believe that they got clicked together.
Our focus will be to create value for the existing content that we have. We have a vast library of music, lifestyle and other content and we are focusing on monetizing it better rather than investing more money in newer content at large scale. We can keep adding content, but I'd rather justify the existing content first and provide quality products and services to our users rather than just throwing content at them.
We have tried to invest in the application space to expand our product line. It’s at an early stage, yet picking up well. We are looking at investing 10-15 million in application and advertising space. Techzone is all set to ride the technology wave to ensure supremacy in cut throat VAS technology space to emerge as a clear innovation leader in line with the organization philosophy of change leadership through path breaking technology in VAS and this time through application route. Advertising in addition will provide teeth to ensure widespread reach to end users and will render this whole approach a winning combination.
AG: What is your view on the growth prospects of digital platform and the metamorphosis in particular of the mobile platform?
NB: A range of new marketing mediums can be leveraged to keep people tuned in and seamlessly integrate brands into their everyday lives. Accordingly, digital platform adoption by brands will continue to grow along with the diverse set of consumer actions. Digital marketing will be way of life as is evident from the foray of most of the operators into the field which would also help them preempt data revolution. With entire physical commodities available online, sites are setting new benchmarks on a daily basis. With Smartphones occupying both the retail and mind space at a furious pace it can only add fuel to the fire. Even social networking sites are contributing majorly to driving traffic onto digital marketing sites.
AG: What are the challenges you face as a player in this industry?
NB: Dealing with piracy is a challenge. Nonetheless, with rights to so many music and video titles, we are still not getting much affected with digital piracy on the mobile platform at least. This is primarily because a telco has a close-guarded approach. But I did get a message about some pirated content of my own content coming to me. I was quite alarmed when I saw that. Yes piracy is there, but it’s done not by industry people, but by outsiders. Yet, it can be plugged, unlike the open internet model where to catch a pirate is quite difficult.
Additionally, because of the strict TRAI regulations, there could be a slight slump in the revenue for a short period of time, but I am highly positive and optimistic about jumping back to the normal revenues soon with the roll out of new products that we are doing.
AG: Give us a sense of competition in this sector and where does Techzone stand?
NB: According to me there is absolutely zero competition. All the companies functioning in this sector today have got their own space. We are not competing with each other at all. It is a large market out there and the kind of space we are into, we are just not facing any competition. So how much we expand solely depends upon the stretching limits of our own teams. We have to constantly increase our focus, our creativity and our productivity, and there is nothing stopping us. If at all there is competition, it’s with us.
AG: Can you give us an idea about your international operations? What are your plans going forward?
NB: We are the only player in India that has presence in the international music market with rights of over a million music and video titles. About two years back, we wanted to consolidate international music which was very scattered in terms of the content rights and more. The VAS consuming TG in India is gradually migrating towards international music. Hence we decided to consolidated rights from Sony, Universal and more. We ensured that due focus is given to this genre in terms of research, packaging and placement. If you see any telco now, there will be at least five options for the consumers to select international music from practically no options about a year back. As per our expectations and defying certain market prejudices we are experiencing good amount of download from various parts of India. Hence we launched a store named ‘Playground’ aimed at making international music consumption simpler and more interesting. Playground has more than 4 lakhs tracks, videos and wallpapers virtually covering the entire universe of international music. The store can be accessed by simply texting PG to 56060
AG: What do you feel are the five success factors behind Techzone's success?
NB: If you ask me to put in chronological order, I would put as the most important thing on the top there is being optimistic. I have always followed my school of thought - “you put me in the worst situation, and I'll find out some good things and come out of it”. without optimism everything else fails. So even if I have the right team but if I don’t have the right attitude to work, then the team is more or less a zero. Second is the team itself. Without the right team force, you can't do much alone. Three is the intent. Your intention plays a vital role in where it takes you. If your intent is short term gain then there is no way that you can ever play a long game. So think right. And four, the right technology team. Our business is based on technology. I can't imagine Techzone without a strong technology team.
And the one most important factor that I will not put a number to, is the PPL CEO, Vipul Pradhan. He has played a vital role in bringing Techzone to its current position. If he wouldn't have been there, I wouldn’t have learned what is being optimistic. Without him, everything else would’ve fallen back. You rarely find people in the business front who will go out of their way and give the right guidance. So I owe a lot to him.
AG: Are you inspired by any one individual? If so why?
NB: The standing of this company today I would completely attribute to Vipul Pradhan. His knowledge and clarity of thoughts is absolutely mind blowing. It was easy for me to ride on his experience and have the right guidance for years together. My 6-7 years of experience got backed by his firm 20 years of experience and effectively gave me the result of 27 years of experience in the industry.