At first sight Deepak Ravindran could pass off for one of those typical upwardly mobile youngsters hanging out at Café Coffee Day. It's hard to believe then that is the guy who has created a buzz in the mobile world with SMSGyan, a SMS-based information delivery system, which went viral in March 2011. Deepak, who was recently named as one of the ‘Top 35 Innovators under 35' by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review magazine, was selected as a fellow at this year's prestigious InK (Innovation and Knowledge) Conference to be held in Jaipur, next week. Deepak, who just turned 23, is one of India's leading technology entrepreneurs, co-founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Innoz Technologies, a mobile start-up firm dealing with value-added products for the mobile industry.
Innoz, co-founded by Deepak along with college-mates and “fellow backbenchers” Abhinav Sree, Aswin Nath, and Mohammad Hisamuddin, was the first virtually incubated company in India, incubated by Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram under its Technological Business Incubator initiative; a firm begun in 2008 with a capital of Rs. 50 lakh (“on loan from the three Fs: Family, Friends, and Fools”) and now valued at a whooping Rs. 100 crore!
“For the foreseeable future at least, the mobile industry will continue to flourish in India. And that's simply because internet penetration is still comparatively quite low when compared to the number of mobile users – 100 million to the 700 million mobile users. That's why we decided that Innoz would concentrate on the mobile market,” says Deepak.
Not too bad for a kid from Thrissur who “dreamed big,” sitting in his dorm room at LBS College of Engineering, Kasaragod. “I've always had that fire in my belly to succeed. My father, Ravindran, a government employee with the Police Department, introduced me to computers at a young age, and when I was high school I started freelancing, designing websites for corporates under the logo of Swades Solutions, from which I used to earn quite a bit of pocket money,” recalls the youngster, who is now based in Gurgaon, Haryana the hub of the mobile industry in India.
He says he was inspired by success stories of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sabeer Bhatia, and India's own Suhas Gopinath, to name a few, to strike out on his own. “I realised that college was the right place to bring my dreams to fruition. Lucky for me, I found likeminded individuals in my batchmates Aswin and Abhinav and our senior, Hisham. SMSGyan was actually Hisham's final year project. Together, using our complementary skills, we developed on the idea. And despite the fact that we were all but scraping through college, it helped immensely that the college authorities gave us all the freedom to bring to fruition what was potentially a viable, but essentially, a madcap scheme!” says Deepak, with a laugh.
The quartet's big break came in 2008 when R.C. Dutt, expert advisor and consultant for incubation activities at Technopark, who was on the lookout for student start-ups, asked them to send in a business plan. Deepak and Co. were offered the virtual incubation solution while they were in their fifth semester at college.
“There we were living in a hostel in Kasaragod, and we had this fancy office address far away in Technopark! We received all the mentoring and support that comes with virtual incubation and were able to focus on our product,” says Deepak. Innoz were also part of renowned iAccelerator'09 programme by the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship at IIM Ahmedabad. From then on it's been SMS by SMS into the big leagues.
Success, says Deepak, has not gone to his head. “I'm still the person I was when I started out. Of course, I enjoy the perks that success brought (he recently gifted his parents, Ravindran and Vimala, and sister, Deepti, a Volkswagen). All the good things that have happened to me, whether it was meeting up with my friends or chancing upon Nithin Misra of Airtel in a coffee shop, happened in a flash. I was in the right place at the right time. Carpe diem !” says Deepak, as he signs off.
“S MSGyan is kind of like Google's ‘I'm Feeling Lucky' option, ideal for mobile customers on the go. Customers just need to send a query to SMSGyan (to 55444) and it will provide the optimal answer based on verticals such as encyclopedias, acronyms, weather information, dictionaries, cricket scores, stock market, lyrics, movie reviews, and so on,” explains Deepak. Innoz tied up with telecom giant Airtel some time back, and now SMSGyan has some 10 million users across India, answering around 1, 00,000 questions daily. It is soon set to expand to other networks in India and abroad.
W hen not dreaming up new ideas for Innoz, Deepak likes to travel and meet people. He recently went on a dream trip to Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, where he met actor and angel investor Ashton Kutcher! He's also a big time foodie and a self-proclaimed ladies man. And he's also made a list of 30 things to do before he is 30. Here's some of them:
Run a marathon
Watch an EPL match and cheer for Manchester United
Win the Global Social Venture Competition
Go to Russia or Ukraine and fly my dream machine – Sukhois and MiG
Take at least one of my start-ups to the stock market
Spend a week of wildlife photography in the Nilgiris
Go on a month-long Caribbean cruise
Learn to play guitar and jazz on stage
Meet the Google Guys
Become a billionaire
Invest in and mentor two college start-ups