Balijepalli, sold Half.com to eBay for $350 million
Millionaire created the best of Amazon, eBay
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 04:23 IST
Sunny Balijepalli, who sold Half.com to eBay for $350 million, is
back with a photo-sharing service called ZoomIn.com
NEW YORK: All it takes to make an Internet fortune these days is
one brilliant idea. Like many of the best ideas, it began with a
simple question. “Why is it so hard to re-sell a $100 textbook
and get good money for it?”
Sunny Balijepalli, who was working in Infonautics Corp. in the
US wanted to know. He and a friend Josh Kopelman talked about it
and then dreamed up Half.com with the limitless ambition of creating
something that had the best of Amazon and eBay.
“Josh and I joked that our creation would be eBazon —
combine the best of eBay’s prices with Amazon’s one-click
shopping easiness,” Balijepalli told DNA.
In June 1999, Balijepalli and Kopelman started Half.com, a fixed
price online market connecting buyers and sellers of used books,
movies and music. The website was snapped up six months later by
eBay and even Amazon replicated some of its killer apps.
“For six months we were strapped for cash and worked out
of one room which was part of a law office in Philedelphia. We had
a tough time getting anyone to work for us as we had no trackrecord.
But we worked flat-out; built the company and launched Half.com
in January 2000. Soon we closed a deal with with eBay for $350 million,”
Success at the age of 31 is a funny animal. “You get an incredible
adrenaline rush from the entrepreunial effort. Suddenly, you have
more money than you dreamed possible. It has been strange coming
out of that experience for me. The motivation for work can’t
be money anymore. I have struggled to find what excites me.”
Like most US-minted tech millionaires, Balijepalli provides seed
money to Silicon Valley start-ups, but he is now hoping to get a
second rush of adrenaline with his new venture ZoomIn.com which
targets Indian and Non Resident Indian (NRI) customers.
With multiple offices in the US and India, ZoomIn.com allows Indian-Americans
to send glossy prints overnight to friends and family in Indian
“When I was sending photos to my mother when my daughter
was born I felt the need for a service like this. I knew my mother
wanted to show pictures of her grand-daughter to her friends. Having
pictures stored on the computer is different from prints you can
ZoomIn.com’s India headquarters is in Mumbai. “Everyone
asks me why I set up office in expensive real estate. But Mumbai
is my city. I grew up there. If I want to put all my energies behind
one company, and one industry — digital photography is a great
space to be in. The timing is perfect,” said Balijepalli.
“In the US, photos-delivered-to-home is a $7 billion industry,”
said Balijepalli who predicts India will catch up to the US in seven
years. “I am very attracted to disruptive models. Business
models which break the traditional mould and establish new ideas.
With Half.com it was about disrupting the way people bought and
sold books. ZoomIn.com will be a pioneer in the market for online
photo services in India with competitive pricing and innovative
Half.com is a subsidiary of eBay, in which sellers offer items
at fixed prices, usually items that have a UPC, ISBN or other kind
of SKU, rather than rare, old or collectible items. The items available
on half.com are limited to books, textbooks, music, movies, video
games, and video game consoles.
There are no fees to list items on Half.com, but rather the company
takes a commission of every completed sale. As of June 2005[citation
needed], this commission is 15% of the first $50 worth of the fixed
selling price, 12.5% of the next $50, 10% of the next $150, 7.5%
of the next $250, and 5% of the rest.
The seller is responsible for shipping any item within three days
of a sale and paying the actual shipping costs. A reasonable shipping
and handling fee is added to the transaction and is (partially)
credited to the seller as a reimbursement. The buyer can choose
either USPS Media Mail or expedited delivery. Depending on the weight
of the item, the reimbursement amount may often be less than the
actual shipping costs. For example, the current shipping reimbursement
for any DVD sent USPS Media Mail is $2.39. On the other hand, the
reimbursement amount may exceed the actual shipping costs. In this
case, many sellers will offer a "free upgrade" to first
class shipping, which is not much more expensive than media mail
for small items such as CDs.
Half.com was founded in 1999 by American entrepreneur Josh Kopelman
(Infonautics, Turntide, Comcast Interactive Capital) and Sunny Balijepalli
(more recently founded cuts.com). As an advertising gimmick, the
company paid the town of Halfway, Oregon US$100,000 and donated
20 new computers to change its name to Half.com, Oregon.
Monday, October 4, 1999
Half.com gets $2.5M in fundingPhiladelphia
Conshohocken Internet start-up Half.com said it has received $2.5
million in a second round of venture financing. Venture fund participants
include Comcast Interactive Capital Group Inc., which is owned by
Comcast Corp., the Philadelphia-based operator of cable TV systems,
and New York-based Woodland Partners. Individual participants include
Howard Morgan, general partner of idealab!, an Internet incubator
located in Old Town Pasadena, Calif., and David Schlessinger, founder
of Zany Brainy Inc. Half.com is developing a Web site that will
allow users to conduct what it calls "the next generation of
person-to-person" electronic commerce on the Internet.
“We are committed to fueling the Digital Photography Revolution
in India”, averred Sunny Balijepalli, an Indian born American
innovator and entrepreneur. Sunny and Phiroze Havaldar, a veteran
of the photography industry, have united to launch www.ZoomIn.com,
the country’s first single source website that enables consumers
around the world to store, share and print digital photos.
ZoomIn is the first world-class provider of photographic prints
and merchandise to serve the Indian market. Sunny Balijepalli, Chief
Executive Officer, ZoomIn, says, “ZoomIn will be primarily
aimed at Internet and digital camera users in the country. The growth
of the Internet population in India indicates demand for innovative
online services, thereby justifying our approach to the market.
We are committed to leading the online photo sharing market through
innovation, intuitive design, fair prices, spectacular service,
and exceptional quality.” According to available industry
data, e-commerce in India is set to reach $2.3bn by 2009.
ZoomIn provides top-quality prints delivered to all major cities
in India within the next business day, and the kind of sophisticated
photo-sharing features users would expect of a social-networking
site in the United States. Upon launch, ZoomIn.com is now the industry’s
premiere service catering to Non-Resident Indians in the US to send
photos to friends and family in India.
According to comScore, India has the fastest growing Internet population
in the world. India’s digital boom is further endorsed by
the fact that the country has emerged as one of the fastest growing
digital product and mobile phone markets in the world. Industry
reports predict that 900,000 digital cameras will be sold in India
in 2007, representing 199% CAGR. According to Gartner, the number
of mobile users in the country will more than double in the next
five years, growing from 185 million to 462 million by 2011.
Phiroze Havaldar, co-founder of ZoomIn, says, “India is on
the threshold of a digital revolution and the Internet is playing
a growing role in people’s lives around the globe. Digital
photo printing is a booming market in India, and with over 30-40
million Internet users and a digital camera market clocking in unprecedented
growth, there is tremendous potential for a world class offering
like ZoomIn. We are confident that the company will raise the bar
of photo sharing and merchandising services in India and become
the leader in this space.”
In the Indian market, ZoomIn will adopt a phased approach in acquiring
new users and generating revenue. Indian expats living in the U.S.
will help expose ZoomIn to the target market in India, and act as
early adopters who introduce the service to friends and family.
ZoomIn has a comprehensive back-office and fulfillment set-up in
India to print photos locally. This includes multiple, state of
the art printing facilities and trained personnel. The company provides
professional-grade color correction to photos when required, giving
ZoomIn’s customers the highest-quality prints available online.
ZoomIn has also partnered with local shipment providers to provide
low-cost overnight shipping with tracking. The company’s Customer
Service and software development teams will be located in Mumbai
to ensure a tight feedback loop between customer needs and site
ZoomIn has a diverse management team with a track record of founding
and leading successful and innovative startups. The co-founder and
CTO of Half.com, Sunny Balijepalli, founded ZoomIn with Phiroze
Havaldar, one of India’s most renowned photography experts
and pioneer of the “1-hour photo” concept in India,
representing a new chapter in the Indian-US business collaboration
Commenting on the company’s future plans, Sunny adds, “In
addition to providing photographic prints, we plan to add a wide
range of printed merchandise like photo books, greeting cards, and
other innovative gift items to our product portfolio. We expect
the first production expansion to be available to our customers
before Diwali. Given the concentration of Internet usage, we will
target top metros in India in the first phase of customer acquisition.
Once we have expanded and established our brand and services in
India, we may consider targeting Southeast Asia and Central and
South America by 2008. ”
“With millions of mobile users adding up every month, the
mobile commerce (m-commerce) market is set to witness a parallel
boom. We expect to offer services through this channel too in the
near future”, says Sunny. According to IAMAI, the m-commerce
market in India is estimated around Rs. 9500 crores in 2007.