Arun Tadanki has a split personality. By day, he is the jeans-sporting head of an Internet company and by night, he is a disc jockey who spins his tracks in nightclubs. So this edition of Business Lounge required two meetings—one over machine-brewed tea at the Yahoo India office and the other spiked with rum and coke, spent mostly in the smoking room of Gurgaon’s spot for rock music, Turquoise Cottage.
Spin a web: Tadanki swapped a stable job for the rocky world of the Internet soon after the first dot-com crash. Jayachandran / Mint
Perhaps because he works these two professions (he is emphatic that playing music is not just a hobby), 39-year-old Tadanki has to pack a lot into his day. He manages this by talking very fast and sleeping very little. My extensive research (on Wikipedia) showed that the average human speech consists of about 150 words a minute. Tadanki packs in about 270 words (including 15 “you knows”). That’s 80% more than the average.
On the night we met at Turquoise Cottage, he walked me to my car at 1am and then went back upstairs to hang around a little longer. “I can manage four nights a week of going to bed after 2 in the night and getting to work by 9am,” he says. Which is just as well because there is a lot he is trying to change at Yahoo India.
Tadanki joined Yahoo last year, a few months after Microsoft’s deal to acquire it fell apart. “I was following the news and my opinion was that something positive was emerging after the debacle and the company was clearer about where it wants to go. I knew at the back of my mind that there could still be some frustrations and a lot of baggage here, so I wasn’t expecting things to be hunky-dory,” he says.
Before he joined Yahoo, Tadanki was president, Asia-Pacific, of the job search company Monster. He was then an advertiser with Yahoo. “There are so many things about Yahoo that I didn’t know, even though I used to advertise with them. Yahoo is the leading property in categories like mail, messenger, movies, news and sports. But all of that gets hidden by what happens in one little category called search,” he says. Since he brought it up, I ask him about Google and how Yahoo has been left agape as Google seduced us first with search and now mail and messenger. That is the Internet equivalent of waving a red rag at a bull.
Tadanki gets aggressive. “As far as the consumer is concerned, Yahoo is the leading mail service provider in India, the largest in the globe, and significantly, the leading player in markets like the US. The numbers are strongly in favour of Yahoo,” he says. I am not convinced and he mumbles, “Sometimes, I feel the media is predisposed towards Google.”
Tadanki is excited about Yahoo’s plans for India. There are two areas of focus now. One is to build an editorial team and provide a Yahoo voice to the content on the site. Prem Panicker, who was editor at Rediff.com for 14 years, has been hired as an editor and is building a team in Bangalore that will rewrite news for the young, non-newspaper-reading Indian Internet user.
The other area of focus is the mobile phone user. “There are 50 crore mobile phones in India, but only 1.4 crore people use Internet on the mobile. That is only because the cost of accessing the Internet from the mobile is pretty high,” he says. “But we have seen time and again in the telecom category that some price wars get triggered somewhere and somebody slashes it, and it will become Rs50 for unlimited access or something. We just need a trigger for it.”
In the developed markets, Internet applications are made largely for smartphones—the iPhones and BlackBerrys. But in India, Yahoo anticipates that a large number of users will be accessing the Net from handsets that cost Rs5,000-8,000. “Their experience will be important and that will be the most important driver to winning on the mobile space. There are plenty of possibilities about what can be done,” he says. “Some we’ll learn as we go along. But we are very focused on the user we know we are gunning after.”
Tadanki should know what he’s talking about. He has been working in the Internet space since the first dot-com crash. He joined Nestlé in 1992 after graduating from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and assumed he would retire from there. Then the dot-com boom began and he started following the industry closely. In April 2000, he moved to JobsAhead.com even though the Internet bubble had burst. “But by then the excitement had already gone to my head, and I shifted from stable, reliable Nestlé to the rocky dot-com world nevertheless,” he says. After two years, global job search giant Monster set up shop in India and Tadanki moved to head the company here. Monster was looking to buy out a large player and Tadanki recommended his previous employer. At the end of the deal, Tadanki found himself occupying his previous office (as JobsAhead had a larger office, the Monster team shifted in after the acquisition) and working with the same team of people he had left.
Tadanki is serious and methodical about everything. Four years ago, he decided he had to do something about his interest in becoming a DJ. His wife, Sippy, who shares his interest in rock music from the 1970s and 1980s, spurred him on. So he went to Singapore and attended a crash course. When he came back, he spent an enormous amount of time digitizing all his CDs, aggregating music and building a large collection. Then he made a sample CD, attached his resume and the course certificate and went around pubs and discotheques asking for a chance to play. They asked him to “get lost”.
He got his break in Hyderabad. He used to visit the city on work and always stayed at the ITC Kakatiya. “I knew the general manager of the hotel well, so I took a wild shot and asked if I could play at Dublin (the hotel’s pub) sometime. He said if you have your stuff you can start today. I was very, very nervous. I gave my first performance and asked the hotel staff for their opinion. They were positive, said the music was very good. But I knew there were a lot of technical gaps,” he says.
So he came back and meticulously started working on the gaps. He does his deejay gig two evenings a week and on weekends, spends about 15 hours a day working on his music.
Listening and learning seriously, methodically, and, I am assuming, about 80% quicker than the rest of us.