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Astrology biz booms! GaneshaSpeaks to go global

Last updated on: July 14, 2010 20:36 IST

Astrology biz booms! GaneshaSpeaks to go global

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Puja Banta in Mumbai


In early 2001, when 24-year-old Hemang Arun Pandeet accompanied his friend to an astrologer, he was shocked at the shabby and unreliable service his friend received at a very high cost.

Pandeet, who had been toying with the idea of starting his own business for quite some time, saw here an opportunity to bring some order into the highly unorganised astrology sector in India.

But to create a professional astrology company, he needed a brand. The ambitious Pandeet approached arguably the biggest brand name in India astrology -- Bejan Daruwala. To his surprise, Daruwala readily agreed to a meeting.

"Maybe the time at which I called indicated to him that this is a beginning for something significant. His first reaction was positive and he was open to a meeting to take it forward," says Pandeet.

The meeting was successful and this is how India's first integrated astrology services company was born.

Today, nine years later, GaneshaSpeaks employs 300 astrologers and has call centres across India. They get 1 million calls per day and the revenues have crossed Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million).

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Image: Hemang Arun Pandeet.
Photographs: Courtesy, GaneshaSpeaks.com
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But the journey has not been a smooth one for Pandeet. A BE in Electronics and Communications from Gujarat University, Pandeet belongs to a middle-class family. At the time of taking the decision to start GaneshaSpeaks, he was working as a senior executive with a large telecom company.

Understandably, his parents were worried and did not approve of his decision to give up his well-paying job for an uncertain future. Friends also voiced their concern.

But Pandeet strongly believed in the idea and the entrepreneurial bug had already bitten him. So he managed to convince everyone and started looking for the initial capital required to start the venture.

"It took a lot of convincing for me to have an angel investor commit Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) to the project. Since we were always short of money, the initial two years were pretty much hand-to-mouth. It was only in the third year that we started making significant profits," he says.

However, Pandeet had been pragmatic in his planning and had put some money aside. "I did have a reserve amount to sustain my lifestyle for one year. I had decided that if I am not able to run the business during that period I would get back to doing a job. However, six months down the line, I was convinced that the concept will work and then there was no looking back."

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Image: Bejan Daruwala

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GaneshaSpeaks today offers astrological predictions across media like the Internet and mobile phone. The astrologers are specially trained for delivering instant service.

"They are required to begin analyzing and forecasting within 30 seconds of picking up the call," says Pandeet. Interestingly, as far as the nature of problems is concerned, according to the company, there's a 50:50 split between love life or relationships, and professional issues.

Not limiting itself to predicting the future of individuals, the company has also ventured into areas like sports and stock market predictions. They also provide personalized financial astrology services where the individual client's horoscope is studied to indicate the conduciveness of the current time for taking positions in the stock market, mainly inclined towards speculation.

According to a guesstimate, the Indian astrology market is pegged at Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) annually. But a large part of this is spent on remedies and rituals. The online and telecom astrology markets are significantly smaller in comparison at Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million).

"In India, the astrologer is the default psychiatrist However, we are not ready to pay him equivalent consultancy fees and hence the market is skewed towards remedies like gemstones, rings, puja, et cetera which yield high margins," says Pandeet.

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Image: The GaneshaSpeaks team

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GaneshaSpeaks is now planning to go international.

They are building an international web site incorporating various languages like French and Spanish. And they are also looking to tap the lucrative American and British telecom astrology markets. The American online astrology market is worth $200 million, while the telecom astrology markets in the United States and the United Kingdom are said to be worth $1 billion each!

Currently though, GaneshaSpeaks.com is No. 5 in the world in terms of traffic in the horoscopes category and a majority of the traffic on the site is from the Indian subcontinent. The traffic coming on to the site from other countries like the US, the UK and Canada is also most likely to be from Indians settled there, according to Pandeet.

The company is looking at changing this now .When asked about the fundamental differences between the Indian and international astrology markets, Pandeet says that the main difference lies in perception, "For Indians it is sacred, whereas in countries like the US and the UK it is just one more tool for self-exploration. Also the nature of issues can be different. Astrology has the width and the depth to address most of the problems that arise in the life of an individual anywhere in the world. The context may change but the fundamentals remain the same. We hope to understand the specific requirements of the American and British markets and offer services in accordance with the demand."

He is also looking at other English-speaking markets like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

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Image: A GaneshaSpeaks call centre.

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The company also hopes to ride the broadband wave in India and sees that as a factor for growth in the Indian market in future.

It's no surprise that Pandeet himself relies on astrology while taking business decisions. "Major decisions are a mix of logic, practical understanding and forecasts done by astrology," he says.

In November 2009, it was a proud moment for Pandeet when Bejan Daruwala formally anointed GaneshaSpeaks as the successor to his astrological legacy.

Obviously, this first generation entrepreneur has come a long way in the last nine years.

His practical advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is: "Ensure that the business that you wish to do will be able to pay for itself as soon as possible. Eventually it will have to, so the earlier the better."


Image: Hemang Pandeet.

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