Home E-City Seattle’s Online Passage to India

Seattle’s Online Passage to India

by the editorial staff of Seattle24x7.com

Mention Seattle as an international gateway, and the Pacific Rim is the global outpost most think of first. But for those who wish to connect with the Indian culture of South Asia in their home communities, Seattle is also the primary point of origin. What began here as a single Website called SeattleGuru.com has since radiated like a crown jewel into a string of culture-laden city sites nationwide, from Toronto to Tampa Bay, and from L.A. to Vancouver. In the process, Seattle has also become the home of the only South Asian Yellow Pages provider in the nation.

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The story behind Seattleguru.com commenced inside a university in the India capitol of New Delhi, where Anjali Sikka began studying marketing on her way to graduating with an MBA. Working in the Indian travel industry, Anjali observed how the computerized online travel reservation system owned by the airlines helped the companies effectively manage their global business. The airlines were using the Internet, if not the World Wide Web, to make the world a lot smaller, and Anjali was an enthusiastic early adapter.

By the end of ’96, when she fist discovered Yahoo! and Hotmail, the then 24-year-old was about to become closer to Web publishing than she might have ever realized. Her husband, Ajay, was a part of Vermeer, the company that developed Web authoring software Frontpage, and which was about to be acquired by Microsoft. When Ajay accepted an invitation to join the Redmond campus, Anjali settled the couple in Bellevue. “Ajay gave me a book and the software and said, ‘Why don’t you create a site?’ I did a site for us, about our home life. Then I started building sites for everybody, especially the non-profit organizations I was working with at the time.”

It was 1997, and, in the Northwest, Anjali felt a world apart from the traditional culture of her homeland, not knowing where she could find authentic Indian products or services in the Indian community. SeattleGuru.com came together as a true community networking effort.

SeattleGuru.com contains a wide variety of content, ranging from special events, news and sports (especially Cricket), to movie reviews (the India film industry is purportedly the biggest in the world) and much more. A popular department is Home Remedies. Those simple solutions to everyday problems like the common cold and how to build up your immunity. “When we grew up in India, our parents would practice traditional medicine at home,” explains Anjali. “Everybody relates to that and so we have a large database of home remedies on the Website. We also have local news, profiles of local celebrities, and travel tips. We have a festival coming up so we have a little craft activity tied into it. We also talk about the local wineries in the region. We localize the travel experience so people can feel more at home.”

The success of the online network is a lesson in online community marketing. First there is recognition and awards. “We recognize the top end restaurants based on user ratings,” says Anjali. “We’ll have the top ten restaurants and their user ratings will go up and down. We do that with other services as well, such as grocery stores, for example.”

Although the Web site came first, the core of SeattleGuru.com soon became the offline Indian Yellow Pages. The first edition was printed in 1999, and today the Northwest listings include about 500 companies in the Seattle area with another 300 in Portland. The Yellow Pages has become indispensable. People like having it on hand for those ocassions when they’re not on the Internet. It’s handy to have the print edition right next to their phone.

The third part of the publishing triangle is a newspaper called the Northwest South Asian, begun in December of last year. It comes out once every fortnight carrying local stories, local news, and of course, advertising. “We are doing 5,000 copies, between 8-12 pages. A lot of fun content as well as a lot of advertising. Since we’re supported by advertising, people can subscribe and receive the paper for free. Although some people have said they wouldn’t mind paying a $5 or $10 subscription. I think it would probably be a good idea to have a subscription [at some point]. It’s hard to grow a business. At every point, you have to ask what’s next? Free personal (non-commercial) classified ads are another popular feature with readers.”

With only a few full-time staffers at their NE 8th Bellevue offices, there is another part of the equation — India HQ which has an office in India. “We have about 50 employees there,” advises Anjlai. “All of the technology for the Websites is done in India. We also have two content editors there, although I’m the lead in content, and I will decide what we’re going to be doing based on seasonality and current events.” Future “call center” ad sales may originate from the Indian continent.

In her “spare” time, Anjali is the Seattle Chapter organizer for TIE – The Indus Entrepreneurs organization where she stages special interest group events for the Seattle high-tech community. “I use the Internet for everything, but the print side has made a lot of sense for Seattleguru.com as well. It’s going to continue to make sense until our cell phones become more evolved. It’s not the computer that will replace print,” she products. “Another gadget like a cell phone or a PDA.” Rest assured, Anjali will be publishing there, too. [24×7]

The Political Climate in “New Oroville”

A small number of Puget Sound technology firms, including Microsoft, have established operations in India because of the country’s highly skilled technical work force, lower labor costs and the pervasive use of English. Microsoft has approximately 280 employees spread throughout India, with its regional headquarters for that nation located in New Delhi, the nation’s capitol. The vast majority of Microsoft’s employees in that country are Indian nationals.

One company with close Indian ties is Catalytic Software Inc., which has 40 employees situated in a village it is building to house workers near the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

The village has been named New Oroville after Oroville, Wash., which is also the hometown of the company’s CEO, Swain Porter, now living in India. Seven of Catalytic’s employees in India are Westerners.
Bellevue-based AskMe Corp. contracts with an Indian company near Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to provide users of its management software with customized software services. The company has taken no specific actions in response to the increased tension, according to a company source.

The data centers for SeattleGuru.com and IndiaHQ are in Bellevue and in Noida, India, a city near New Delhi. Although a recent threat of war in India has been abated, Anjali still faces concerns about members of her family who live in India. Her brother is an Indian army major who has been deployed somewhere in Kashmir, the disputed region that already has been the focus of two wars between India and Pakistan. Anjali’s father, a retired army colonel, also lives in India. Anjali believes that a long-term standoff between the two countries is more likely than a war.