Editor’s Note: Launched in India in 2008, Zenga Media provides a unique mobile email solution and a one-of-a-kind mobile TV service; it is the only company in the world that provides real-time streaming technology that can stream on 2.5G and above networks on mobile and do seamless live and archival video streaming across networks. Zenga was designated as a “NASSCOM EMERGE 50 League of 10 Leaders” company in November 2011, recognizing Zenga as a company that will shape the industry going forward.
In this article, Zenga’s co-founder and CEO, Shabir Momin, discusses startup funding, employee qualities that can’t be cultivated or taught, and what makes the difference between becoming a winner or a loser.
SandHill.com: You are a successful entrepreneur who created and sold two other companies prior to Zenga Media. What inspired you to create Zenga?
Shabir Momin: I was inspired in 2006 by the possibilities that mobile would have, going forward, and wanted to be a part of the journey in this change. Our goal is to create innovative and cost-effective solutions that will help change the market behavior and adoption towards content consumption, creation and availability.
Based on my inspiration about the possibilities in mobile, we launched ZengaTV (with live TV, shows like Colors and MTV, and movies), Zengamail (a unique mobile pushmail solution) and Cricket Companion a.k.a Crick Zenga (the world’s largest used mobile cricket application with more than eight million users with a global award winning track record).
SandHill.com: What is your market share today and to what do you attribute that success?
Shabir Momin: We do things more for passion then money. Fortunately for us the passion has paid off and we became positive and profitable in less than two years after our launch. We believe that if we can deliver compelling, rich content at affordable rats or free of charge to users, they will be our ambassadors to the world. That strategy has worked. We have not partnered with mobile operators, yet we deliver more than 50 percent of the videos consumed in the market on mobile devices. We are promoted by our partner TV channels, but most of our customers are from word of mouth. This is all possible because we make sure we give good content and rich experiences to the users.
SandHill.com: How did you find your first investor?
Shabir Momin: We don’t have an investor as yet. My friend, Vikramjiet Roy, is a partner in business too; we have a 50:50 partnership. Both of us invested our own money, which we earned from our previous ventures. We do not have any external funding in any form as yet. We wanted to use our own money and get to a stage where we are profitable and have the flexibility to work as per our wish and vision.
We saw from our past experience that whenever an investor comes on board, the process itself eats up about 6-12 months of time to do the presentations, due diligence, funds, fund planning and finally some new policies that an investor puts in. All of this actually slows down the company’s pace of growth.
Also, we were very confident of our venture, and that’s why invested our own money rather than playing with others’ money.
SandHill.com: Please describe a tradeoff you had to make in your time-to-market race and how you decided what to do.
Shabir Momin: Early on, we saw a big resistance from mobile operators when we wanted to work with them. Soon we realized that the business model was too lopsided and we would always lose money. So we decided to go B2C directly and have no operator relationship. This sounded very crazy at that time; a lot of friends and well-wishers advised us to work with operators, and some of our competitions were laughing at us. We decided to go on our hunch and today we are the largest video service provider in India.
SandHill.com: In not working with investors and mobile operators, you took some major risks. Have you always been a risk-taker, even while growing up? What was an early clue that you had an entrepreneurial personality?
Shabir Momin: I was always the school leader; and even when I was not the school leader, still everybody used to come to me with their problems. I was very naughty in school and even school seniors were scared of me.
I remember a time when I was still in school when someone asked me to buy some supplies for his office as a favor. I figured a way to buy it and how to package it so that I could make a margin on it while the cost to the person remained the same.
When I look back, I felt these are things that most people think are not good. Yet they also the same things that gave me strength and confidence to take more risk and also to be more analytical.
I started working when I finished 10th Grade, while I was still continuing my studies. I became a Chief Technology officer at the age of 21 – the youngest in Asia at that time.
Throughout my early years of working, I knew that I would have to do something on my own as I am not happy working with limitations while working for others.
SandHill.com: If you could go back and live another business day over again (good or bad), when would it be? What happened that day?
Shabir Momin: There are many things that happened during the journey so far that are good and bad. I feel both of them contributed to our success so far, so I would not want to go back and change it. The bads are actually more important than the goods as they strengthen you and give you the power to fight better and achieve better.
I am a strong believer in whatever happens, happens for the good. As long as one doesn’t stop putting in their share of effort and dedication, the rest of it will fall in place – sometimes a bit late, but it will for sure fall in place. If you can continue believing in your vision while the rest of the people around you fail to believe in the same, you will achieve things that are beyond normal.
SandHill.com: What challenges have you encountered in recruiting, hiring and retaining the right talent?
Shabir Momin: When I hire someone, there are a few very required ingredients that I look for, which are usually not available at one go – honesty, dedication and hunger to learn. These are things that one cannot cultivate; the rest one can teach/train, but not these.
One of the biggest problems I find in most of the people I hire is that they do not know what they want to do in life and which path to go; rather, their decisions have been influenced by their parents, friends, relatives and also market trends and money. This results in people applying for and starting working in a position for which they lack conviction.
The way I resolve this is by giving them a chance to learn and nurture what they like, and it could be drastically different from their position. Eventually they settle down with what they enjoy doing and thus give a better productivity. I always promote people to do what they feel like doing the most.
SandHill.com: Who is the person you would most like to meet?
Shabir Momin: Most of the people I would like to meet are no longer living, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Subash Ch Boos, Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton and Napoleon.
Among the living I would love to meet Abdul Kalam, India’s president, and the actor, Amitab Bacchan – not just meet them but, rather, spend time with them to understand life from their viewpoint. They interest me not because of what they are but because of their in-depth knowledge about things and there unique approach. These are the things I am a fan of.
Amitab Bacchan lives a new character every day, and he truly lives it while he is acting. I would like to understand how to manage to mentally transform oneself. How does he focus his mind to such an extent that he can actually make himself believe for those momenta that he is actually the character? That is amazing.
Abdul Kalam was a great scientist before becoming president of India. Given a chance, I would sit with him and understand how he views things from his eyes. I have realized that what makes one a winner or a loser is at what level you look at things and how you analyze it logically.
Shabir Momin is a co-founder and the CEO of the Zenga group of companies. He is a successful entrepreneur and a professional with an excellent track record in Mobile VAS, mobile media and telecommunications. Formerly, at age 21, he was the youngest CTO at Siemens. He also was formerly Asia Head for Picsel Technologies (UK), Sentac Inc. (USA), and worked with 1-Connect (U.S.-based MNC) and at Aspect (world’s second largest CRM company after Siebel). He has successfully strategized the entry/launch of new technologies in India and around the world. He specializes in taking a product, technology or concept to a new market in the most innovative way and ensures its success. Contact him at email@example.com.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com.