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Betting on a cloudy future

A founding board member of Google is onto his next big thing.

Print Edition: April 6, 2008

His name should be enough to inspire faith in the hearts of entrepreneurs looking for seed or funding capital; but if that won’t do, Ram Shriram’s credentials as the force behind Google’s success should do the trick—in 2000, Shriram, 52, founded Sherpalo Ventures, which went on to become an early investor in Google. “I guess Google was my ticket to the hall of fame (even though he was initially skeptical of the very idea by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin), but it would be unfair to all my other ventures if we were to focus on only that,” says the affable venture capitalist during an early morning breakfast meeting on a recent visit to India to check on the progress of his existing venture investments and also consider a few new projects.

Right now of course, he’s excited about the prospects of Cloud Computing, which enables users to store and access information and data on internet servers. “Basically, cloud computing enables users to access applications from the net and use it when they need, for as long as they need it,” explains Shriram. So, for instance, he elaborates, if you were to use Microsoft’s Word application, instead of buying costly software, you could simply download it from the internet (the Cloud), use it to do your work and simply log off after finishing your task. It’s obvious, he says, what advantages this concept holds out for the millions of internet users—substantial cost savings in terms of software and hardware, for this sort of application can be accessed from any net-enabled device, be it a laptop or a cell phone. As for how the software developers would recover their cost, Shriram’s solution is to go in for an advertising-based revenue model.

But given the stone-age speeds of broadband connectivity in India, will such an idea gain currency? “Yes, India does pose challenges not just in terms of broadband reach but also in terms of connectivity. So right now, it’s more of an idea for the future, in the hope that more bandwidth will be released for the internet,” he admits. Plus, he adds, India also requires something on the lines of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the US, which ensures that portals aren’t prosecuted for content posted online by users of the portal.

Shriram, who currently has $70 million invested in various companies in India, feels the venture capital industry in India has matured rapidly. “Today, more than ever, there’s a fair amount of capital available and while some start-ups may fail, it certainly won’t be due to paucity of funds,” he observes.

Tejeesh N.S. Behl

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