Chairman for a nameless Enterprise
On arrival at Bangalore, KK came to see me immediately at home. In his presence, I tried calling Ashok but his line was engaged. I kept the mobile phone down next to me and continued to excitedly discuss plans. I was quite unaware that the auto redial was active and the phone had connected itself to Ashok and he actually overheard KK's voice. The cat was out of the bag. It did not matter any more.
18 March, 1999. I carried my laptop and met Ashok at his residence and gave him a presentation on the proposed company. It was nice to be selling him a business plan. I have done that for many years as Chief
Executive of Wipro's Global R&D. There was a difference though. I was pitching to get ourselves a Chairman. After listening to me with rapt attention, he felt that we have done a lot of thinking through. He felt this was indeed a Dream Team and everything looked good. He did think that we needed to be far more realistic about the size of the investment required. "Before you say Jack Robinson, the money will be gone". He advised that we completely re-look at the investment strategy too. After all, we had planned a building of our own and a campus. "Why should a knowledge company want to own brick and mortar?" he asked. "Invest in knowledge, invest in creating markets, and invest in owning our customers". Having said all this, he wanted time to think about the idea of merging the dreams. He had other options. There were possible entrepreneurial options at Wipro and of course, he could do it all by himself. I had to leave for Paris to attend a Lucent conference and we agreed that by end of March, we would take a decision in the matter. I agreed to leave a detailed financial statement derived from the business plan with him and we closed the meeting.
March 31, 1999- after evaluating his life script carefully, Ashok Soota called in to convey that he would like to merge his dream with ours and agreed to accept Chairmanship of an unnamed, unfunded start up. Before we could start a business, we did a merger. However, Ashok's news had to be handled with extreme confidentiality. Something like this handled poorly would adversely affect Wipro's image and stock market performance. We all agreed that the news must be protected till Wipro identified a replacement and we also thought that ethically, we should let Wipro make the first announcement. Meanwhile, we had work to do. We needed to completely revisit the size of our dream, redo the business plan, rethink the requisite investment strategy and not the least, get ourselves a name.
The subsequent days saw most of us working from 7 PM every evening to past midnight. We revised our first Vision. We agreed to aim for a top line of $123 Million by 2005. We settled for an equity size in the range of $9.5 Million and at Ashok's suggestion, brought forward the commencement date of our European operation. We dropped the idea of constructing our own building - at least, until we went in for an IPO. Meanwhile, a friend suggested that we visit the site of a company called "Name It" in California. Name It, given a brief on the intended nature of a business can generate names for a fee. Once you pay the fee and give them a brief, Name It sends out the same to dozens of people around the world who work as creative retainers, using the Internet. After thinking through, they put in their recommendations in a repository and Name It lets you choose from that. Scott Staples made the briefing to Name It and in a week's time, Name It came back to us with a choice of 729 names. We had a different problem now.
While all this was happening, Economic Times a very understated company bulletin on the subject was issued. A few journalists had wind of my departure from Lucent but in keeping with Lucent's wish - I stayed away from them completely. However, no one could guess that Ashok Soota was also in the picture. The first journalist who picked up his involvement was Asha Rai. She kept calling KK and me and finally just walked up to Ashok and confronted him. Honor bound not to speak, Ashok had to make a straight-faced denial. He was very uncomfortable about it. After all, the Press had to be handled with transparency. But then, there are times when you do not own the truth. Around this time, some analysts got the wind and started making inquiries with Wipro, and Subhanjan Sarkar of InfiniTV who was the anchorperson of IT Hour on CNBC, started contacting us. We kept quiet.