The ”Innovator Spotlight” for this month tells the story of one of the most successful startups in the telecommunications industry – MobMe. Sanjay Vijayakumar belongs to the new breed of Indian Entrepreneurs who are unheard but fearless. Starting an entrepreneurial journey at the age of 22 while in third of engineering, Sanjay lead and created a team of engineering graduates who were passionate about technology to build up MobME, one of India’s most exciting and innovative mobile value added service companies answers our questions on MobME success.
1. Tell us something about your background and your current company?
I hail from the beautiful state of Kerala – GOD’s own country and studied at the Loyola school, Sreekaryam Trivandrum. I was actively involved in the extracurricular activities conducted there and also captained the school basketball team. After that I joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum to pursue my Bachelors degree in Industrial Engineering with a one year stint in the Indian Navy in between. My first exposure to business was at college when my friends and I started retailing mobile recharge coupons to raise extra pocket money. Soon serious money started flowing in – thus started our entrepreneurial journey.
MobMe is now one of India’s biggest telecom success stories today. Founded by a passionate group of engineering students, MobMe has grown in a span of four years from a DST (Department of Science and Technology, Govt. Of India) funded start-up in Trivandrum, Kerala to a team of 150 people across Trivandrum, Cochin, Mumbai and Delhi.
MobMe is a young and vibrant Mobile Media & Entertainment company focused on Value Added Services for Mobile Phone users and Carrier Grade Solutions for Network Operators.
In 2006, MobMe was rated by NASSCOM as one of India’s 100 Innovative Startups. In 2007, MobMe made it as the youngest company in the NASSCOM 100 IT Innovators alongside Infosys, Texas Instruments, Reuters and HP. 2008 saw MobMe being rated as amongst the Wall Street Journal 10 startups to watch for in India and the winner of the India’s Most Innovative Startup for the year 2009. In 2010 – MobMe is rated as amongst the 50 Emerging IT companies in India by NASSCOM.
President Kalam is one of the strong supporters of the young company which he personally invited to Rashtrapathi Bhavan as a front running company whose young founders turned down lucrative jobs at Microsoft and Yahoo to create jobs supporting several families.
MobMe’s partners and clientele include major Indian Telecom Operators like Vodafone, Airtel, Aircel, Idea, Tata Indicom, BSNL and MTNL, Media Companies like NDTV, Network 18, Dainik Bhaskar, Mid-day, and Mathrubhumi, as well as Enterprises like Kolkata Knight Riders, Kingfisher, A1 Team India and Café Coffee Day. MobMe also works closely with the State Governments of Kerala, Goa, Nagaland and Central Government departments like the Department of Science and Technology (Govt. of India).
2. How big is your R&D team?
MobMe has a DSIR (Govt. of India) recognized in house R&D unit. MobMe’s R&D unit is committed to and has successfully developed indigenous state of the art network technologies and solutions for the Indian telecommunications market including several telecom operators.
Also MobMe’s R&D team specializes in M-Governance SDP development and delivery. MobMe’s M-Governance solutions have been rated as having the best in the world practices by World Bank. This is a testimonial of the quality of work being done in our labs.
Our R&D team currently comprises of 30 highly skilled and dedicated personnel and expanding rapidly. This is due to the varied and dynamic nature of the problems we work on – with the right manpower being assigned to each project. Our R&D is headed by the versatile and immensely accomplished Mr. Vishnu Gopal – our CTO (Chief Technical Officer).
3. When did the idea of filing for a patent strike you?
The idea of applying for a patent was necessitated by the need to protect the ideas developed by our personnel. The need only increased due to the cut throat competitiveness of the telecommunications sector. So when we hit upon developing unique solutions for our clients, naturally we were worried about technical plagiarism by someone with deeper pockets and better connections. So the best safe guards were patents.
4. What business reasons encouraged you to file for a patent?
Technological plagiarism is a big threat today. Take the case of Apple – they have patented everything that they have developed, right down to the “slide to unlock” feature in the iPhone. At the end of the day, businesses run on profits. Patenting gives growing companies like ours the freedom to develop innovative and profitable technologies to their full potential taking sufficient time, without having to worry about someone else running away with the pie
5. Is your business landscape IP populated?
In the type of business that we are involved in, i.e. development and implementation of customized solutions for clients, the need for patents does arise. The innovative solutions and technologies developed by companies like us form the core IP of our R&D team and the company as a whole. So in a sense yes, our business landscape is IP populated. Hence adequate protection in the form of patents is required.
6. Do you think it helps to acquire investors or customers in your type of business if you have a strong IP for your products?
Yes, it does. Because when prospective customers see our commitment to original research and development, and the fact that we have an in house unit that’s committed to innovation, it enhances their belief in us. This results not only in us getting new customers, but also encourages loyalty of our current customers. Already the network solutions developed by us like ZULO and SMSC have a strong customer base among the TELCOs.
7. In your business, how does IP add value other than ‘protection of your invention’?
Having ideas and processes that are patented shows our commitment to coming up with ideas that are likely to bring a change in the telecommunications industry. It enhances our standing as a thought leader in the industry. It also brings more visibility to our technologies and company brand as a whole, but primarily establishing us as thought leaders.
8. Any thoughts you wish to share with other fellow startup entrepreneurs and product companies on the importance of IP/Patents?
If you think you have hit upon an innovation that you feel will change the way things are done, then it’s critical that you secure the rights to that idea immediately. No one wants to see others take credit or enjoy the fruits of your labour. Patenting ultimately gives you the freedom to work and develop on the idea or innovation until you are satisfied and also enjoy the returns from its commercialization, to which you are entitled to.