MandE: Good Evening Amar, thank you for accepting to come on to this interview.
Amar is the founder and CEO of Brizz TV. Brizz TV is an innovative platform that delivers internet content directly to the television using set top box technology.
Without further adieu I would like to ask Amar to briefly tell us about his background and then about the idea?
Thank you. My name is Amarendra Sahoo, I am a 2004 Computer Science Graduate from NITK Suratkal. After graduation from Suratkal in 2004 I worked across various companies like - Cisco, Juniper, and Lucent for about 5 year. Then I joined IIM Bangalore in 2009, and that is when I started the company – 2009 December.
Clearing the CAT I would say was an accident, and I joined IIMB – also to fulfil the dream of my parents, wife etc – not many could get a selection to IIMB and not join it. In all this, I was still a “Techie” at heart. Neither the work as an IT professional nor the MBA knowledge was able to satisfy the void I felt. There was a period of self introspection and the meaning of the MBA and the work that would be of interest to me while at IIMB.
I was also reading some very interesting technology and entrepreneurship blogs at the time, - the achievements of people seems to push me to believe I could do something too. I felt I had quite some time at my hand and I should consider starting off.
I come from an embedded system, networks background and that probably fed me to believe I could do something more challenging than a e-commerce site. At the point I was thinking of all the idea I consciously stayed away from it even though ecommerce sites were getting a lot of funding.
While all these questions were popping up at the back of my mind, one day while sitting in a case discussion on Reliance Big TV – as part of the Marketing Course; It struck me that I could be very interesting if we could show Wikipedia on the television without any complex internet stuff in it! A regular TV but with Internet content in it – That is how BrizzTV began.
At BrizzTV, we show selected Internet content directly on your TV – Example, if we are pushing facebook on your TV you could watch it, unlike internet where you can pull the content. Just like you cannot watch a cricket match on ESPN unless it has been broadcasted, you wouldn’t be able to watch unless we broadcast it. So the data that we transmit will be available on the TV just like any normal channel.
Our focus is to keep this medium affordable, accessible and easy to use. The problem that we are solving is pretty interesting – in a country with a large rural population, an investment into a PC wouldn’t be economical. Added to this would be the cost of internet. Internet is also not all pervasive, and also costly for a rural consumer.
In addition to the cost of purchasing the PC, the other barrier for people to adopt to PCs is lies with the additional learning of the usage of the operating systems, brower etc that are a sort of barrier for adoption. Also the rural person could run his life without an internet connection!
Given these thoughts, I wanted to give an affordable, accessible and simple solution – that would have to be the TV. There is not much complexity to using the TV too!
Facebook which I used as an example earlier is just to make a mention – our focus is on providing quality content that would be mass consumed like; say Wikipedia, or Exam preparation etc. The facebook example was primarily to relate with the present generation J.
Simply put, Brizz TV enables you put selected internet content on TV, available on a channel interface – say channel 931, 971 etc.
MandE: Could you tell us how you managed to put your first team together, and how you managed your finances?
I never thought I was heading this company, and hence there was no thought of putting up the team as such. I discussed the idea with my friends, and whoever felt that the idea was good I believed we could form a team.
The first friend I found this way was my batch mate from Surathkal – Jeetu. He was working with Cisco at that time. So we both came together to start this venture off. None of us were from the broadcast domain, and our limited understanding wouldn’t give us a real picture of the technical constraints we might face. We approached an expert – Krishnan who at that point was working at Philips and understood the set-top box pretty well. He encouraged us, and after some calculations and suggested this could be possible if a broadcaster like Airtel or Tata could agree. This was how we formed the first team.
Coming to the point of Funding part – Both Jeetu and I were basically programmer, and hence we believed we didn’t need any funds to start off. We had a product bent of mind and hence finance was something that we didn’t bother much about. We began working on the product in December 2009 and by April 2010 we had built the prototype. We next had to move towards meeting a broadcaster.
We approached NSRCEL with the thinking that they could help us connect with the broadcast companies. At NSRCEL we met Guhesh who thought the idea was cool enough to try – he had a friend at Airtel and we were able to get the traction. With this prototype demonstrated, Airtel was willing to work with us. Other things began to move ahead – we were funded by NSRCEL in December 2010. 6 months post the VC round of investment from NSRCEL, we got our next round of investment from Ojas.
MandE: Could you tell us how the discussion with Airtel happened, how was the experience?
Airtel is a very partner friendly company, most of their activities are outsourced. They weren’t very aggressive in the negotiation too.
I wasn’t looking for a negotiation too; I always thought that the product I was building had to see the light of the day. I approached it with an open mind.
Airtel wanted the technology evaluation and proof of concept – all this happened extremely quickly. The approach seemed to be that we (Brizz TV) could do a lot of value add if the young team was taken care off. Airtel has been a fantastic organization to work with. Given their long term vision with Brizz TV, they offered what they generally offer to anyone else without much negotiation.
There was some bit of luck and the remaining worked with the technical strength the team had.
MandE: You have been funded at a very early stage – it would be interesting to understand the experience?
Amar: We are a pre-revenue product company – any VC who would invest in us wouldn’t be looking at any revenue for at least one year. It was pretty interesting if we look back at the instance. None of the factors seemed to be favoring us – I was studying, and there were 2 other members in the team. The product was just taking shape, and the company we were working with – Airtel was thought to be as someone whom a start up should be scared off. The technology that we were building was however a very interesting one.
We went about looking at many VCs in search of funding. The IIMB – NSRCEL connection helped us get a ear from the people we met. Though the technology was interesting, it want something that was tested – they weren’t sure about the monetization prospects of the company.
I was again luck that I came across to the Ojas investments – Mr Rajest. He was also an NITK alumnus, which helped connect better with him. The team seemed to have struck chords as well. The perspective of looking at Airtel being interested in us also seems to have worked for us. And I think he was willing to take the bet on us.
Though initially we went about just meeting folks, we began to feel the pinch towards May 2011. We required the money for supporting the operator lab that was crucial for the testing of the final product. Again I believe it was luck that pulled us through.
MandE: Out of curiosity, did Airtel help you? Did they co-develop the product or did you get an infrastructure support ?
Airtel provided free access to their labs, but given their schedules etc they couldn’t co-develop the product with us. We suggested that we would take care of the technology, and Airtel could help test the product in the lab.
I should say they facilitated everything around technology development and that help for us.
MandE: Most of your team is from NITK. What do you think excited people to work with you??
Amar: At college we were always perceived as being friendly guys, we were not considered geeks. People knew us as these are cool chaps and straight from heart. They do things right and they don’t lie. When they say something they mean it. I think this reputation seems to have paid off. So our friends are always willing to work with us.
The open approach we have followed has helped us all through.
MandE: How do you envision yourself in the next 4 or 5 years?
Amar: I think I should be still be rocking. Doing something that excites me something in the tech space. Hopefully Brizz tv, will be a much bigger company – more than just in terms of revenue. We intend to create something meaningful out of India that world finds useful.
MandE: If I could mention, you represented India at the Intel UC Berkeley Challenge. Could you tell us how that experience was? How did it help?
The trip gave me a free trip to Berkeley – I saw a parking space “Reserved at all times for Nobel Laureates” – that excited me as I had never seen a Nobel laureate. I felt extremely excited about the concept.
The competition was good too, we didn’t win the competition but the experience was pretty good. The exposure was pretty useful for us.
Some of the competitors from China were doing a bio-oil business – this got me to think of the Indian context where we do 90% business and 10% technology. The kind of innovations from these countries seems to be more technology focused than us. It was a feeling like we could see the future being built here.
MandE: You are an MBA and an Entrepreneur – It is generally felt that this combination doesn’t work best. What do you have say about it?
It is like telling people who have pistol are dangerous because they can fire!!
MBA to me is a tool; it is good to have that. It tells you something beyond technology that you could use - you could value add.
To me personally I have seen If I am not having MBA, things would have been little slower.
It gives you a market focus, structures your thought.
If there is a question is “Does the MBA make a better entrepreneur?” I cannot answer that question. But I am going to say it never going to be a harm it only helps as long as you know how to use it like a tool and it works in some person’s hand and does not work some else.
Besides the large network that an MBA provides if you have graduated from a top institute, it gives you a different way of looking at things you know. I am personally excited of doing an MBA.
It definitely adds value to my team, my company – but I am still a techie at heart. If you consider MBA to be a tool it would be a good perspective. - It never harms, it helps
MandE: What message would you like to send across to all the readers?
Amar: Since I am a techie at heart, I would talk about technology. If you are a technology person, build your technology product first. Build it so well that world just cannot ignore it. People just cannot take their eyes off it.
If you look at Indian web companies, there is lot of things as an engineer I never liked. The scope to improve is vast. You can make it 50% or 100% better than what it is today.
Keep your eyes open. Don’t listen to the markets. The market’s foresight is pretty short – a quarter of a year.
Do not believe when any one says you need leadership and all of that. All these are secondary. If you are good person given a chance, you can be a good leader.
Build your character and just keep building a good product.
MandE: Thank you Amar, taking your time to this interview. Thank you once again.