Author: Leela Jacinto
A motley mix of technologists, architects, marketing professionals, bass-players, digital designers, filmmakers, programmers, DJs, photographers, editors and sculptors inhabit the office space at 36 Pragati Industrial Estate in Bombay's fast developing Lower Parel area. This is the unlikely dream team behind CyberAds Studio, an Internet web-site designing and hosting company that boasts a deliriously happy marriage between technical expertise and artistic flair.
Founded in 1995 by Rohit Bafna, the company has grown from an initial five computers, $14,000 start-up capital operation to a high-profile company posting a turnover of over $83,000 - a substantial figure considering the relatively nascent Indian Web market and the fact that the company is only two years old. Today, the CyberAds Studio client listing includes Skypak, India's largest courier service, Kent cigarettes, Biocore (UK), The Taj group, The Patil - Garware group, etc.
If it's a somewhat heterodox client list, it mirrors 25 year old Bafna's vision of the Internet and his role in it. Back in 1995, after graduating in Computer Science from UCLA, Bafna faced the prospect of the either earning $ 30,000 to $ 40, 000 a year working for a US firm, or getting back home to start a new business.
He chose the latter for what calls, " Love of the motherland," and has not regretted the decision to date.
For one, the timing was perfect. Around the time CyberAds was setting up operations, the country was preparing to haul itself on to the net platform. Multinationals were beginning to establish their presence. With this international competition, Indian companies had the dual task of strengthening their brand identity locally, while at the same time presenting a global image.
Into this market, Bafna staged his entry with a message that was simple and strategic. "Your corporate image needs to be displayed via a web-site on the need for global awareness." In other words Rohit Bafna set about selling the concept of the Internet to prospective clients before selling them his company's services.
But it was an uphill task. For one, he found himself offering a service that a large number of Indians did not understand. " Indians were just about to be exposed to the mobile telephone and the net was seen as something of the future. I had to literally employ an army of marketing personnel to drive home my message."
A small sub-section of the company was carved out to help deliver new programming and development techniques. " We allow people in this section to simply surf the frontiers on the World Wide Web, and play with all the latest codes, browsers and plug-ins."
Next came the spate of bureaucratic downers that tend to grip most NRIs returning home to set up operations. " Apart from the initial hardships regarding things like land and business registration, we were selling a service which a large number of people did not understand. Indian businessmen would often consider a web-site some sort of classified advertisement on the World Wide Web." Says Bafna. "To them, spending more than $ 2,500 on a web-site was simply too much. Then the issue of connecting to the net posed a severe problem. Initially, VSNL had very few lines supporting the TCP/IP protocol, making it nearly impossible to get connected. I can remember times when I was awake till four in the morning trying to get connected."
Mercifully, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), the country's sole service provider, has since improved its service. And as the number of subscribers increase, CyberAds Studio finds its Web-selling mantra more easily accepted than in the early days. A CyberAds' booklet titled, "Reasons Why An Indian Business Should Be On The Net " has gone into several reprints.
The secret behind CyberAds' success is the Studio's focus on Eye-catching web-sites and multimedia that attract surfers to the site, and sophisticated multi-linked locations.
Unlike large tracts of the Web, content is king at CyberAds. The locus operandi, as Bafna puts it, is, " Visual appeal coupled with interactivity to make visiting the web site an addictive experience."
For this, the company uses the latest techniques in HTML programming, CGI scripting, shockwave, Quick time VR, Real Audio, CyberCash, secure Transactions and Java. The Studio also produces all types of artistic requirements including 2D and 3D animations, as well as banners and image maps.
The trick reveals Bafna, Lies in being selective about the clients he picks. "We focus our efforts on Fortune 100 companies. I've turned away more business than I've taken in. I only want to do really cool projects. We want to take the medium to another level. We think that through strong, dynamic digital design, we can blow peoples' minds."
But beneath the technological pyrotechnics, lies the CyberAds' commitment to the feasibility of working a web-site "Indian subscribers to the net still face a maximum data collection speed of only 33.6 kbps," says Bafna. "This makes it of prime importance for us to keep all graphics crisp and small in order to provide an ideal download for all Indian surfer."
As the Indian Web market widens, and the links between feasibility and technological wizardry smoothens, Bafna sees a great future for web-site designing in the country. " I feel that just as India was buzz word for quality offshore programming in the 1980s and 1990s, web-site designing companies like ours will be looked at by many international web-masters for creativity at a lower cost."