ISB Updates

A conversation with Neeraj Arora, alum from the class of ‘06 and VP at Whatsapp

At 6:30pm on November 4 at the the Khemka Auditorium on ISB’s Hyderabad campus, a conversation took place between one of ISB’s ‘star alumni’, Neeraj Arora, and Reema Gupta, the Associate Director of the Srini Raju Centre for Information Technology and the Networked Economy (SRITNE) at ISB.

Neeraj Arora, Vice President, Whatsapp, is an ISB alumnus from the class of 2006 - the man behind the billion dollar facebook – whatsapp deal. From Times Internet to Google to WhatsApp, Neeraj has had an uncanny ability to identify opportunities. He gave up a high profile job that involved managing global M&As at Google to join one of Silicon Valley’s hottest starts-ups.

When asked what in his life contributed to his success, Neeraj says that in 2000, early in his career, when he had an opportunity to work with Infosys he chose a start up in Singapore instead. “This taught me how I make decisions”. Working with Whatsapp, too, “came out of a love for calling something my own” he said. “I was intrigued by the mission, to connect everyone in the world.”

Neeraj described how he was impressed with the audacious goal of connecting 1 billion people by 5 people in a garage. He pursued WhatsApp to hire him. “My pitch” to this group of engineers, he says, was “all the things you don’t want to do in a day, give to me”.  The CEO asked what he wanted to be referred to as, and Neeraj suggested ‘the Business Guy’- a title that stuck. Actually, Neeraj said, “I love it.” Neeraj, the Business Guy at WhatsApp, played a key role in closing the $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook earlier this year.

Neeraj and Reema discussed everything from Neeraj’s entrepreneurial journey, to the details of WhatsApp’s revenue model and acquisition by Facebook, to the larger ecosystem required for the success of enterprises like WhatsApp.

In terms of the kind of ecosystem that enables innovation and nurtures entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley has a lot of lessons to offer, though India now possesses all the ingredients.  The building blocks include a conglomeration of talent, capital availability (because 90% of ideas will fail) and the right risk appetite, a large consumer base, and the right role models, says Neeraj.

“We are at a very exciting stage right now” in India, says Neeraj, because the country now has the kind of nascent consumer base that would allow for the launch of an application intended for domestic consumption only. Discussing East Asian markets, Neeraj says, there is always the challenge and “cultural nuance of offering something that suits the culture of that country” balanced with creating a global product.