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He became an entrepreneur while at high school

Last updated on: October 29, 2009 19:30 IST

Image: Sanjiv Gupta.
Photographs: Shobha Warrier Shobha Warrier in Hyderabad

Yes! He started his first successful venture when he was in class XI.

A serial entrepreneur -- having created successful businesses in IT services, data management, education and media space -- Sanjiv Gupta is the chairman, founder and chief executive officer of Pressmart Media Ltd which is venture-funded by Draper Fischer Jurvetson and NEA-Indo US Ventures.

Headquartered in Hyderabad, Pressmart makes digital editions of publications in 49 countries and have contracts with 700 publications in 22 languages and is on the web, mobile, eReader, RSS, podcast and other digital channels.

All these are either funded by reputed VC firms and large business conglomerates or are having thriving business with Fortune 500 organisations.

It also has presence in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Gupta is the recipient of HYSEA Best Product Innovation Award for Pressmart, and Deloitte APAC Fast 500 Company Award for Bodhtree Consulting, the parent company.

Here is the story of a successful businessman who did not want to do anything in life but be an entrepreneur.

He became an entrepreneur while at high school

An entrepreneur as a school kid

I became an entrepreneur when in school. Those were the seventies and the pre-touch phone days. Onida was about to launch touch phones in Delhi that they imported from the Far East.

The newness of the venture attracted me. I and a friend of mine met a guy there and told him that we would market it in Delhi. Remember I was a Class 11 student then!

We were asked to sell 300 phones a month but we could sell only 50-60 in the first month. However, in the third month, we had a booking of about 2,000! We went to them and said, either you supply or we will go to somebody else. That is how it all started. I had been an entrepreneur always; a die-hard entrepreneur from a family of businessmen.

Even if you are a student, when you are well dressed, English speaking and confident, people listen to you, and you can sell whatever you want. That is what I have learnt from my experience.

He became an entrepreneur while at high school

Image: A bronze statue of Lord Budhha.

Starting Bodhtree Consulting

In 1999, along with my brother, an Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur alumnus, I started Bodhtree Consulting, the parent firm of what we are doing now. I am the non-technical CEO. Our initial capital was Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) and we had four employees.

Since we were very impressed with the philosophy of Lord Buddha, we decided to name the company Bodhtree (Bodhi is the 'tree of learning' under which Buddha attained enlightenment), even though it has nothing to do with religion. We wanted to name the company that gives the impression that it cared for the people.

We decided that the sole aim to start a company should not only be to make money, it should help the people in general. Our prime motive was to use technology to benefit people.

My brother evangelised the word 'Web services', and we worked in the software web services space. Soon we started supporting Hewlett-Packard in building their Web services. With HP as our customer, more customers joined our list. And thus began the journey.

He became an entrepreneur while at high school

Image: Toilets for girls in a school in South India.
Photographs: Courtesy,


We got an interesting contract from a subsidiary of the World Bank. We built an application for which is a philanthropy marketplace where as little as $1 can be donated.

When someone requires funds, he is authenticated and his requirement is put up on the site and he gets the funds directly from Globalgiving. We launched it in 2001 and the next year, a newspaper in Canada said that Globalgiving was taking World Bank to the common man.

Around this time an interesting thing happened and World Bank quoted the incident in its annals. A requirement came for $5000 from Coimbatore. Remember all this was happening in the Internet space.

A school principal had put up this request with an authentication from an NGO (non-government organisation) that he needed the fund to build a toilet block. He noticed that adolescent girls opted out of his school as there were no separate toilets for them.

In less than 13 minutes, he got the fund from 15 individuals across the world who did not even know him. He came back on the site after four years with photographs to say that there were more girls in his school than boys after the toilet block was built. This was quoted by World Bank as one of the biggest achievements of Globalgiving.

He became an entrepreneur while at high school

World integrated services marketplace

Next in line was World ISM, a marketplace created by HP, Intel, Sun, Microsoft, etc, in Amstrerdam. The idea was created to bridge the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. All these big companies would give technology to the World ISM and countries like India, Africa benefitted. This was developed by Bodhtree in partnership with these tech giants.

We are not an NGO, we are a profit-making company but our aim is to use technology to benefit a larger section of people.

Another philanthropy market

In 2003, we got involved with a company called Perigon in the US that was working with a hospital there. Many times medicines get wasted because there is no common naming convention. That is a major worry of the healthcare industry.

Another partnership was with Owens and Minor, a Fortune 200 company that takes care of healthcare supplies and consulting. Bodhtree is a technology partner with them.

We are now doing data normalisation of 150 hospitals in the US.  Bodhtree has developed a capability to digitise other information like contracts for all these hospitals, which is a kind of document managing.

He became an entrepreneur while at high school

Image: The 'Purple Wall'.
Photographs: Courtesy, Artflute

Artflute for artists

Artflute is another subsidiary we started to help budding artists. It is an online creative community where you can buy and sell original art. It''s an ideal place to discover new artistic talent.

I felt there was no need to start an art market place for well known artists but to make this young man or woman continue his/her passion as a painter, he has to sustain himself.

Pressmart and digitising newspapers

It was after digitising contracts for hospitals that I got the idea of digitisng newspapers. That was how Pressmart was formed as a separate subsidiary company of Bodhtree in 2006.

The first paper we digitised was the last 70 years of Deccan Chronicle. We then did the last 85 years of Hindustan Times. After that we got contracts to do the same for Australian and German newspapers.

Then, we started creating e-papers for all these papers. Today, Pressmart is in 49 countries and has contracts with 700 publications in 22 languages.

Till recently, Bodhtree was funding Pressmart. Then we thought we needed more money and looked for VC funding. Two years ago, we spoke about Pressmart at the TiE-ISB connect and we got Rs 60 lakh (Rs 6 million) funding from a few VCs.

He became an entrepreneur while at high school

Photographs: Shobha Warrier.

Future of the e-publishing industry

News will never go out of fashion. Demand for news will only increase. The publishing industry will continue to be the news creators but consuming pattern will change. Electronics will take over and also mobile and e-readers are going to dominate the future.

Our future plan is to stay ahead in the electronic curve, see what new development are taking place and re-purpose the content to suit the new media devices. News will be more customised and focused. We will start profiling people to give focused news. There will be commerce offerings too to cater to every segment.

The journey so far

From four people, we have 700 people working for us today. Whatever profits we have made so far, we have been putting back to the company. Though the direct valuation of Pressmart is Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million), indirectly, it is much higher because of the incubating of other companies. I will continue building more brands.

To future entrepreneurs

There is no end to ideas or opportunities to be an entrepreneur. You have to only keep your ears and eyes open.