Buying domains in India has indeed come a long way since a time when only a knowledgeable few knew how to buy one. As the Internet industry grows in India, we have to take a look at the starting step towards making something on the Internet – buying a domain. Those of us who took to the Internet recently will have realized that booking a domain can be easy and quite cheap too (Rs. 99 for a year). But this was not so at least 5 years ago.
The industry has undergone a huge change since then and now there is practically no pain point in India with regards to this. One of the important contributions towards making the domain market strong and accessible has been that of BigRock, one of the more popular services when it comes to buying domains in the country. Taking a leaf out of GoDaddy’s global strategy, the company was also the first one to take to TV in order to advertise their service. BigRock is part of the Directi group of businesses and has been around since 2009. We got in touch with Shashank Mehrotra, Business Head at BigRock to ask him a few questions about BigRock and the Indian Domain selling business in general.
Q. BigRock was one of the first accessible domain registrars in the country. Can you tell us about the journey till now?
We started this business about two and a half years ago. I am going to characterize this journey into 3 broad phases. The first part of this journey was all about sowing the seeds for what we hoped will be the biggest brand in this space in the country. Directi, the parent entity of BigRock has been operating largely in the B2B space here in India and internationally and we understand the domains market very well. During the first few months we spent a lot of time understanding the B2C space and how to best go about building a strong brand. We brought together marketing, technology, and various functional teams and they spent the better part of 9 months setting up processes, technology, product roadmaps, building teams, and much more.
The second part of this journey began with our big launch in January 2011 when we aired our first set of TV commercials. These commercials were a runaway success and gave us the perfect springboard towards becoming a serious player in the India market. During this time we experimented with a number of go-to-market strategies, alliances, marketing programs, and each of these gave us a great degree of insight into the customer purchasing behavior and effectiveness of each media. This phase also saw us acquire another Directi business (Answerable) and start to tune our marketing, sales, and support teams.
In the next phase of the journey we have been rapidly growing our teams and market share. Our team is now at over 130+ across various functions. We manage over 300,000 domains and have 150,000 customers. We are one of the top destinations in the country for domains and hosting and are proud to have achieved this in the past few years. The biggest questions for us today are around scale, efficiency, and delivering top-notch experience to our customers.
Q. How is the domain business doing these days in the country?
The domains business in India continues to be strong. However, as we have been talking about at various fora – we are still one of the most ‘impoverished’ countries where it comes to domain names. By the numbers: with close to 120M internet users we have only 3.5M domains. That’s a penetration of less than 3% of the Internet population. This percentage is anywhere from 20-30% for other countries that are ahead of ours on the Internet adoption curve.
Another statistic we look at closely is how many small businesses in India have websites – and that number is sub 1M. Which means that of the almost 10M small businesses – less than 10% have websites. There is great room for growth here. Amongst the growing economies, outside of China, perhaps there is no other country with the potential that India has in the coming few years in this industry.
A final correlated statistic is the size of the online ad market. In India this number is about $350-400M which is still fairly small – contrast that with China where the leading player, Baidu, has revenues of around $4B+. Until SMBs in India don’t come online and start contributing to significant online ad spends – having websites and domains remains limited to a smaller set.
Q. Can you share some pertinent insights into consumer buying behavior in relation to domains?
A majority of the domain name purchases we see are directly by end customers, either businesses who are looking to get online or individuals who want to blog or publish content. However when it comes to actually having their website constructed, most people look to professionals – aka Web Designers – to help them setup their websites. This is no surprise since building anything but a basic website needs a fair degree of technical expertise. People also care about what TLD (or extension) they pick for their domain. Obviously .com which is the global leader (and comprises over 40% of all the 240M+ domains registered globally) and .in (the TLD for India) are favorites but we do see demand for other extensions like .org, .net, and .biz growing.
Geographically, we are seeing strong demand from the Tier 2/Tier 3 towns. In fact more than 60% of our customers come from outside the top 8 metros which is very encouraging. Our consumers are typically Internet savvy, young, quality conscious, and expect a top-notch experience both online and offline.
Q. GoDaddy has recently set up shop in the country. Can you tell us about how much of threat this is to BigRock?
I think the domain name industry in India today is largely in the phase of building awareness and reaching more and more first time consumers. While a small set of sophisticated customers have always traditionally had global options in terms of domain registrars, given the significant numbers of Indian businesses that are yet to come online we have many months of education and growth ahead of us. We welcome all positive attempts to build the market, educate consumers, and grow awareness. Having a strong competitive dynamic in this industry will help focus our efforts better.
Q. Your DesignXchange initiative is something very different. How is it going so far?
It’s interesting to talk about DesignXchange. In fact, it was born out of a failure on our part to capitalize on the market for web design services. A few years we were keenly looking at solutions to develop a website-in-a-box solution that also included consultation, design, construction, maintenance, and other services for our customers. What we quickly realized is that this is something that is very hard to scale. Customers want local designers who can visit their offices, work closely with them, and even help write content. There was no way that we could satisfy our customers across 100s of cities in India in that model.
DesignXchange solves these problems in a much more elegant way. It’s fundamentally a platform where customers can choose designers in their city and their budget. Designers – who are also BigRock affiliates – benefit from quality leads coming from BigRock customers who have purchased domain and/or hosting products.
In a few months, we have setup over 1200 designers and shared 1000s of leads on the platform so far. We are working hard to build liquidity on this platform with new features and enhancements. As far as we know, we’re the only domain registration and hosting company with this sort of a platform that allows us to work closely with the designer community and to enable choice for our customers.
Q. What are the big challenges in running a domain booking and hosting business in India?
Let me break this into 3 kinds of challenges.
The first are the infrastructural challenges that any consumer Internet business faces in India today. Examples are poor completion rates on online payments, or low levels of Internet penetration/data access rates and therefore lower possible growth than the more sophisticated markets out there.
The second are around people, how do we bring on board, train, and create top notch teams across our various functions. We work very hard on this, and want to build a culture of quality and individuality. In this we derive inspiration from a book that is a personal favorite. It’s by the founder of Zappos and is called ‘Delivering Happiness’. It talks about how Zappos built a winning customer centric operation. Our customers are, rightly so, a demanding bunch when it comes to their websites and their uptime so to ensure we are providing them with top-notch quality we need a committed bunch of people at Bigrock.
Finally, we have challenges around continuing to educate, attract, and retain customers much like any young business. We have done well in our time in the Indian market so far, and need to continue to deliver on our promise of being a leading destination for domains and hosting. We do this through our award winning ads, by launching great products, and providing a great experience.
Q. The country is seeing a lot of Internet start-ups coming up with their own web solutions for the consumers. How does BigRock plan to leverage this new trend to its advantage?
It’s so exciting to be in the Indian Internet space right now. If I have one grouse it’s that things are not moving fast enough! BigRock has been proudly supporting the start-up scene since we started. We have been present at and have sponsored multiple start-up themed events like Startup Weekend.
A lot of the people starting online businesses today need domains and hosting and we aim to be the player of choice they look at when they start. Though in overall terms, the number of start-ups is still fairly small compared to the size of the overall SMB market.
Q. Can you tell us about BigRock’s roadmap for the future? What can resellers and customers expect from you guys?
As a business, we will continue to invest in infrastructure, products, marketing, and customer support. We have a couple of exciting innovations planned in the coming few weeks which I can’t talk about just yet .
We are in the process of launching geo-located hosting across multiple-data centers, more sophisticated hosting offerings, and also strengthening our engagement with various constituencies including both our affiliates and customers.
Also expect some really kick-ass new TV ads from us in the coming year. Savitri-bai: our first and most successful commercial has been a hit and we’re waiting anxiously to roll the next set of ads soon.