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Meet Chirag Mehta, the Icenet man

Meghdoot Sharon | August 27, 2003

Till 1997, the last thing on Chirag Mehta's mind was an Internet-related business.

That year, Mehta, along with a childhood friend Hemal Patel, visited Bangalore. There they learnt that the government was considering privatising the Internet service provider business.

Excited by what he thought was a great business opportunity, Mehta flew to the United States to study how ISPs functioned there. He came back a year later, and started Icenet in late 1998 with just five people on rolls.

Today, with dedicated fibre optic cable networks, digital modems, a fully automated helpdesk and a user-to-lines ratio conforming to global standards, Icenet, India's first private sector Internet service provider, stands out in a pool of 25 ISPs in Gujarat.

It was not easy at all. Mehta went back to being a student, researching and learning the fundamentals of information technology and internetworking.

He went into the intricacies of wide area networking design, spending as much as 19 hours a day.

This, combined with his electronics engineering background, helped him imbibe the nuances of the ISP business well. He said he became adept in six months.

It was a major switch in life, for the family business -- the Elemech Group -- was manufacturing electric and electronic control panels.

Adopting aggressive customer acquisition strategies and devising unique marketing concepts such as 'IcePack'.

IcePack, a value added Internet package kit, was launched in May 2000, the first anniversary of Icenet.

Along with the 30-hour and 100-hour Internet connections that the package offered, several freebies were added, which were worth almost double the amount paid for the pack.

Icenet tied up with Intel, Samsung, IBM and local snack foods maker Samrat Namkeen to offer several sops to subscribers.

The concept became so successful that Icenet sold around 80 packs a day during that month compared with around eight to ten packs a day before the scheme was launched.

Soon, Icenet managed to have a strong customer base even as the ISP business steadily declined in other parts of the country.

The challenge to lead the market prompted Mehta to launch Internet-on-cable on its metropolitan area network technology developed in-house. Under MAN, a modem is not required.

Instead, a digital card is used, which is one-fourth of the cost of a modem and is included in the 100-hour package for subscribers.

Today, Icenet has a strong customer base of over 20,000 netizens and the Icenet team itself has grown to 115.

The company has a presence in nine cities of Gujarat and has its own gateway, which was launched on November 11, 2000.

40-year old Mehta claims he has the most loyal subscriber population among all ISPs in the country, and that they are determined to take that journey along with Icenet.

How is that? Through personal mails that the company receives, most of which are addressed to Mehta himself.

But it's not just Icenet that Mehta has concentrated on. During his decade-long tenure at Elmech in Ahmedabad, he totally restructured the company.

Introducing value-based marketing, recasting and strengthening the brand value, Mehta has positioned the company as a competitor to international giants such as Larsen & Toubro, Siemens and ABB.

So, what does a man who is so deeply involved in the World Wide Web business do with his spare time?

Chirag has developed a deep interest in Indian classical music and attends all concerts of leading Indian classical musicians. He says this is the country's biggest treasure.

The Icenet helmsman seeks peace by playing the tabla -- if he's not working, travelling for leisure, or pandering to his gastronomic proclivities, that is.

He has taken training at the Punjab gharana, to which belongs the legendary Ustaad Zakir Hussain.

His wife Nandini is a Kathak dancer and son Parth too plays the tabla.

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