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Millionaire created the best of Amazon, eBay

Wednesday, 10 October 2007 - 4:23am IST

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..

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,” said Balijepalli.                    

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 cities.

“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 show around.”

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 features.”

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