Meet the dynamo behind the world’s largest offline search engine

By , 27 May 2015 at 10:18
Meet the dynamo behind the world’s largest offline search engine

Meet the dynamo behind the world’s largest offline search engine

By , 27 May 2015 at 10:18

Turns out us Gen Y-ers (16-34 year olds, a.k.a Millennials) will account for a whopping 75% of the workforce in less than a decade. And that’s just in the U.S.

Report after report finds that this is the most diverse and educated generation to date. We’re also deeply spirited, proactive and enterprising. This despite – even owing to – having inherited an uncertain economy rife with unemployment and inequality.

It upsets me then that Millennials get a bad rap and relentless stream of criticism for being ‘self-obsessed’, ‘apathetic’ or ‘entitled’.


Selfie sticks obsessions aside (not a fan, sorry), I see the moral fibre and generosity of Gen Y first-hand. We refuse to work for brands that aren’t ethical or inspiring (we won’t buy from them either), rally support for community causes and have a decidedly ‘global-local’ mindset.

And we desperately need more role models! Relatable, accessible examples to hold up. Peer success stories.

That’s precisely the aim behind ‘Millennial Mover’. I want to celebrate and champion the trailblazing millennials whose eclectic ideas have the potential to create meaningful impact

OK, enough talk. Meet my first achiever – Deepak Ravindran.


Six years ago, he co-founded the world’s largest offline search engine Innoz, empowering Indians without a smartphone with instant access to the Internet. Within a year, it saw uptake of… 120 million!

This landed him onto MIT’s ‘top innovators under 35’ list and he’s since gone on to help set up Startup Village in India and launch Lookup (more below).

Here’s an excerpt from my recent deep dive with Deepak…

SJ: What should we know about you as a kid? What makes you tick?

DR: I was born and raised in a small town called Thrissur in Kerala. I’d been fascinated by electronics from a young age but it wasn’t until I turned 12 that I saw a computer in a science exhibition!

Affording this at the time was close to impossible. My father posed a challenge – if I scored over 80% in my forthcoming exams, he would buy me one.

India is in one of the lowest positions on the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index, making it one of the pariahs in the startups industry.

Academia was not one of my strong suits, but this was a tremendous incentive and I managed to score a distinction. I was hooked! I started creating websites for local stores and was hungry to learn and create. That was my driving spirit.

SJ: How did Innoz come about?

DR: The idea SmsGYAN (Internet over SMS) arose out of necessity. We were in college, unable to find information easily and thought it would be great if we could get instant access. Really, the only way to make it happen was through a mobile phone… and SMS was the only feature that was affordable at that point.

Convincing big telecom operators across the country to offer SMSGyan was far from easy. Nobody would take me seriously when I turned up for meetings. All they would see was this 19-year-old with a business card proclaiming him to be the CEO of a company.

I was sitting in a coffee shop when I first bumped into a guy with an Airtel (India’s leading telco) tag on his shirt. Although I didn’t know his title, I pitched him anyway. I later found out that he was the Head of New Products. That’s how we ended up securing the first telco partnership for Innoz!

SJ: Talk to us about Lookup and Startup Village. Why now?

DR: Despite the surge in e-commerce in India, everyday consumers still prefer to shop for their essentials in person. It’s also the country with one of the largest masses of unorganized retail stores globally and the highest shop density.

From a technology perspective however, local commerce is almost unexplored.

Living in India makes certain problems apparent to the otherwise blind eye. Instead of every search for a product turning into a mini-marathon, what if there was a way to instantly know product availability, or get information, service or support?

Lookup does just that, replacing calls with chatting!

On Startup Village … this eco-system is set in sprawling campuses in Kerala. We’re determined to boost the number of successful entrepreneurs coming out of the country, impact governmental policy on entrepreneurship and create a sustainable startups culture.

We’ve brought 10,000 Raspberry PI computers to school children, involved FAB Labs from MIT and set up bootcamps in over 1000 colleges.

Since inception, we’ve received over 5000 applications, incubated 1000+ startups, and 31 startups have raised venture funding. We’re now gearing up to expand with 150,000 sq ft currently under construction… that makes this the largest incubation effort in India. And we’ll keep growing.

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