“The idea that moving up the value chain means coming out with some products is flawed. Moving up the value chain means the ability to capitalize intellectual property.”
Mr. Pradeep Gupta,
“ India needs to work on IT consumption”
Promoter as well as Chairman and Managing
Director of Cyber Media ( India) Ltd.
India has travelled a long way on the information technology highway. But 25 years earlier, the situation was not the same. There were only about 20,000 PCs in Indian households when Mr. Pradeep Gupta decided to venture into infotech publishing and launched Cyber Media Group in 1982. The Group is now a formidable force in the technology magazines genre in India with 12 publications under its banner and a readership of more than a million.
Mr. Gupta, a first generation entrepreneur, is the main promoter as well as Chairman and Managing Director of Cyber Media ( India) Ltd. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Delhi (1975) and PGDBM from IIM Calcutta (1977). Bhuwan Sharma and Himanshu Kumar Singh of Amity EduMedia get a peek into the mind of Mr. Gupta who is an industry veteran of 27 years and an entrepreneur par excellence.
You started infotech publishing at a time when Information Technology (IT) was in its infancy. What gave you the confidence to delve into a niche and untouched area when launching something more generic would have been a safer bet?
Today it might look like an audacious move as the industry was less than 100 crores then. But you cannot be called an entrepreneur if you don’t have the confidence to take risks.
I had been associated with the entire industry since sometime and somewhere along the line I felt that there was very little information about the IT industry. There were a lot of new companies coming up then. All the seeds of today’s computer industry were being planted then. Around the same time when I launched CyberMedia, a whole lot of companies were coming up. CyberMedia actually started as an idea for a newsletter. The idea was to share information about what was going on in the IT industry across different parts of the country and across the borders but by the time we worked out the details, we decided to launch it as a magazine (Dataquest).
Did business pick up immediately?
Within about a-year-and-a-half we reached break-even. The IT community was small but a lot of interesting things were happening because, as I said, the seeds were being planted then. Basically, we took up the role of taking up the industry issues with policy makers and the industry itself. Essentially we went into the community-building process. And that worked out very well and therefore we kept on getting readers and advertisement.
In 1987, we started PCQuest. Then, the total units of PCs in Indian homes were less than 20, 000 as against two crores now. Also in 87, we started doing market research. So, we were experiencing growth but, of course, from the 90s, once the relaxation happened, things started looking even rosier. We also made Dataquest a fortnightly and launched a number of other publications. Today we have twelve publications.
CyberMedia is a brand primarily known for infotech publishing but lately you have been widening your focus by launching magazines such as BioSpectrum (biotechnology business magazine). What is the reason behind this shift in focus?
In and around 1999, we decided to look at other knowledge areas also and not just limit ourselves to IT. We were sure that we would never come out with a film or a political magazine. But, at the same time, we also decided that we should not restrict ourselves only to IT.
Hence, we launched BioSpectrum (biotechnology business magazine) and Living Digital (which is on consumer electronics) in 2003.
What kind of competition are you facing in the international market?
Right now, the areas that we are going into are green-field areas. Let’s take BioSpectrum as a case in point. There are a very few biotechnology publications in Asia. But I am sure that as we go along we will have to face competition. But, it’s not that we have never had competition. When we were two years old, India Today came up with Computers Today. Then, Indian Express came up with an IT publication. We had foreign publications competing against us. We are very strong and dominating this market but we are not without competition.
For the benefit of our student readers, can you tell us more about the School of Convergence that you established in 2001?
About four years back, we thought about education. The idea arose out of a practical problem that we were facing. We would very often find technical people who were not writers or writers who had to be taught technology. Also, a lot of people who were coming out from the various media institutes had very little managing skills.
Also, a lot of convergence was taking place. You had people moving from one field to another. People from the print media were moving to internet, television and vice-versa. This is why we set up the School of Convergence. The idea was to impart the students’ skills across the media and, at the same time, teach them management skills.
Now, let’s shift our focus to something more general. Sir, it’s said that while the total output of the education system is numerically impressive, not enough IT graduates have the skill-sets that match the industry’s need. What is your take on this?
The education system definitely needs a lot of focus. You need to ensure that the industry and the academia are in sync with one another. When we say that people are not ready for the job market, essentially the reason is that the skills that are required for the job are not being taught. What is required for that? Most important is a closer interaction between different sectors in addition to making efforts at upgrading the faculty, curricula and materials.
One of the biggest problems faced by the education sector today is the lack of faculty. A lot of people have actually moved to the industry because of attractive salary and perks. Once you start talking about a large number of students, you also need a large faculty.
It’s also a known fact that though we have a good share of the services business, in manufacturing and products business, India needs to go a long way to become a leading player. How do we bring about a change in the existing system and see product innovations coming up from India?
First and foremost, the idea that moving up the value chain means coming out with some products is flawed. That is not correct at all. Moving up the value chain means the ability to capitalize intellectual property. You can do this either by manufacturing something or providing services. Look at McKinsey and IBM Global Services; all these companies are in the services area and they are of immense value.
Having said so, I agree that we should also develop in other areas. You cannot only be in the services sector; you should also look at manufacturing. In terms of manufacturing, in the last four or five years, there has been a revolution. And, I think, today in terms of manufacturing we are becoming competitive, word-class, and, I am sure, we are going to see a different phase of manufacturing in the next five years. I mean, five years back, could we have imagined that we would be exporting cars? Today we are exporting more than 100,000 units. So, a sea change is definitely taking place.
Manufacturing products is a riskier proposition as compared to providing services and that is the reason why a lot of companies first decided to get into the less risky business. When you are going international you would like to get into something less risky. But there are going to be big products that are going to come out of India. But what we should do away is the misconception that products are better than services. You can be world class and you can be a local player and you can be in the services sector.
Where would you rank India in the IT sector? When do you think will it emerge as an IT superpower?
We are a very important part of the entire IT industry. See, it’s hard to answer when it’s going to emerge as an IT superpower. In fact, you cannot place one country above the other. For example, you can never say that the US is an IT superpower because there are a lot of innovations coming out of Japan. You can talk about a set of countries and India, yes, will always be a part of that set as far as IT is concerned.
But there is something fundamental that needs to happen for IT to grow in leaps and bounds here in India. The US, if I am not mistaken, accounts for about 30 per cent of the IT market (I am talking in terms of consumption). On the other hand, India accounts for just about one per cent. So, unless our consumption grows, it would be very difficult for us to take that giant leap. Having said so, let me add that there are a huge number of IT applications that are going to come up, which are developing-world oriented. And India can definitely take a tremendous leap because that kind of market is here and not there. As an example, take the typical STD, ISD booths that are possible only in a developing world like ours.