A graduate of rediff.com – my four and half years at India’s best dotcom

My education notwithstanding I am a product of rediff.com. I joined at the age of 21, my first real corporate job. Before that I had several small time entrepreneural ventures such as assembling computers, teaching basic computer courses, writing software and for a short while repairing computers as well. But my defining experience was at rediff. Even after 8 and half years of running my own business a part of rediff remains in my dna. Here’s a look at what I experienced and learnt at rediff (we don’t use the dotcom all the time).

Sitting 5 feet away from the great Ajit Balakrishnan and not knowing who he was.

Back in the crowded Raghavji road office when rediff.com was still ‘Rediff on the net’ my desk was a mere 4-5 feet away from Ajit Balakrishnan’s (AB as we called him) office. Although I knew him as the big boss I had no idea who he was or his amazing accomplishments at Redifusion. He was always polite and quiet, and sometimes he loitered in the office close to my desk, glancing at what I was upto. Never making a comment but always with a smile.  I think of those days and really wonder; today young entrepreneurs would give an arm and a leg to spend time around AB.  

Being the webmaster for India’s largest free website service – Rediff Homepages

I was initially brought in to moderate what was a rapidly growing service – Rediff Homepages. Very much like Geocities or Tripod, we allowed anyone with a rediffmail account to create their own website free of cost using ready to build templates. Nowadays template sites are quite common but in those days it was quite unique. I still remember the flood of webpages from Keralites with the title ‘Gods Own Country’ describing their homeland. I slowly grew my responsibilities till I became full time webmaster of Rediff Homepages. The service is no longer operational, replaced by blogs and personal pages. I guess I was destined to make websites from the start.

Working with one of the pioneers of internet marketing in India – Lyndon Cerejo

Lyndon, my first boss at rediff, was known as one of the pioneers of online marketing in India and was the architect of some of the early branding and cross promotional online campaigns at rediff. He also coauthored a pioneering book on internet marketing with Vijay Mukhi titled ‘marketing.com – marketing adaptations on the internet‘. He wrote about the internet which then was a new phenomenon for various newspapers and magazines and was (and still is) highly regarded for his insights into the potential of the net. As a boss Lyndon was quite serious and straight forward but he appreciated my enthusiasm and granted me ever increasing responsibilites. I learnt a lot from him and will always remember him as my first boss.

Rediff on the net becomes Rediff.com and family becomes corporate.

I joined rediff when it was still relatively small and everyone knew everyone. We had lots of fun and the atmosphere was friendly with some really brilliant people working closely together. I shared a room (and sometimes a computer) with very senior people like Lyndon, Uma Iyer and Jasmeet Singh, who were years ahead of me in terms of career and education but always treated everyone with kindness and informality. But like all good things, that came to an end when rediff started to grow. As investment money poured in, rediff on the net became rediff.com and we shifted to a new bigger office at Mahim. Tons of new faces were added and soon our family became a corporate enterprise with all the coldness and formality that comes with it. Lots of people from the old days quit and were replaced with new ones that had never seen rediff as a family.

Adjusting to the new rediff – being a floater has its advantages

As rediff moved from the old offices to the new I found myself under a new boss Ms. Ambika Malvia. She was young and dynamic and I hit it off with her immediately. Although I was still in charge of rediff homepages I was included into the newly minted Rediff.com branding team under Rohit Varma. Branding a dotcom was quite a new concept then and it was very interesting work. My role at rediff was always that of a bit of a floater i.e. I could go across functions and departments to get things done. Almost everyone knew me and I could reach across and talk to anyone. I was like a multi utility all rounder used by the branding team to get things done across the company. It was a great experience for me and I realized the importance of not being tied to one role for life. This experience came in handy while running my own business in which I had to fulfill many roles.

This was also the time Rediff.com sponsored the IIT Mumbai Mood Indigo festival and as part of the branding team I took  part in it. This was my first experience with big event branding. I remember spending 3 days and nights at the IIT campus putting up banners and organizing cyber cafes for rediffmail signups. It was a crazy fun experience.

The birth of Rediffmail Pro and my destiny changes

I was actively involved in the development and launch of Rediffmail Pro which was one of the first paid services launched by Rediff. During this time I got a truly cross functional experience in branding, product launch, sales and marketing and even customer support. At this time I had  my first pangs of discontent at rediff and a restlessness to do something on my own. Rediff was not the same anymore and I no longer felt I belonged. After Ambika quit I was put under another manager who sidelined me into a customer support role and that was the end of that. A few painful months later I finally quit rediff after 4 and half years.

Finding my better half and starting MiracleworX

Rediff was also where I met my wife Sonali. She was a brilliant designer and although I did not work with her directly on many projects we became friends and later more than that. This more than anything will always keep rediff a part of me and my story.  In the summer of 2002 I quit rediff and officially launched my business MiracleworX Web Design on 1st June 2002. Sonali quit rediff about a year later and joined me fulltime. I beleive rediff has in many ways influenced what MiracleworX has become. By some happy coincidence our logo colours are simliar to rediff’s good old black and red. In some places Sonali and I are still called ‘the rediff couple’.

A tribute to Sitaramji and his wonderful lunches.

The resident cook at rediff Sitaram catered the lunch for the entire office. For four and half years I enjoyed this tasty and homely food. Never in those years did I ever get a stomach upset or any other food related issues. It was like home food. Even today sometimes I miss those lunches served with a smile and warmth. Not everyone in Rediff shared my liking for his food but coming from a boarding school with terrible meals I always appreciate good and healthy food. On my last day at rediff, Sitaramji was the one who walked out with me, shook my hand and bid me farewell. Since he was the one who served me my first cup of tea at rediff four and a half years ago it was only fitting that he saw me off.

Lifelong friends and a great network – a legacy of rediff

At rediff I made a whole bunch of lifelong friends and the network of people from Rediff still helps me in my business to this day. Many people have left rediff to start their own businesses or are at very senior positions at other companies. I am in touch with many of them. Some of them are my closest friends. That network of ex-rediffians still is strong and from time to time throws work my way. I beleive rediff was an important experience for them as it was for me and we shall always have that in common with them.

I will always remember my days at rediff fondly. I could’nt have asked for a better company to start my career with. Thanks rediff for the memories.

Cheers,
Ron

To see what I have created after rediff do visit – http://www.miracleworx.com

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