Deepak Kapoor Chief Executive Officer and Founder Director Manupatra

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Deepak Kapoor is not a lawyer. His career path starts with a steering wheel manufacturer before moving on to a petrochemical industry and later, a financial services company. Teaming up with Sanjiv Saraf, he started Manupatra, India’s most recognizable online legal precedent database. As of today, he is giving Lexis Nexis and Westlaw a run for their money. Bar & Bench converses with the Chief Executive Director and Founder of Manupatra.
The road to Manupatra
I commenced my career with Sona Steering Systems, an auto ancillary company in 1987. I recall being the first employee of the company and was involved with the promoter in every aspect of the company’s operation ranging from project implementation, financing, accounts, purchases etc. After 2 years with Sona, I moved to India Glycols, another green field venture.
In 1994, I joined 20th Century Finance Corporation and was instrumental in opening the Delhi office and subsequently, another 10 offices across North India. From a one-man show, I took the manpower in the company to over 50 in North India. I also played a key role in raising a $47 million “India Direct Fund”, a private equity fund for investment in start up/mid cap companies and also served on the Investment Committee of the Fund.
These green field ventures proved to be my learning ground on how to create organizations from “ground zero”. I learnt to tackle wide range of issues across various divisions including human resource, accounts, administration, technical, etc. This experience proved beneficial in setting up Manupatra.
The Manupatra idea
In 2000, I joined hands with Sanjiv Saraf (CMD of Polyplex Corporation) to start a BPO. During that time Polyplex was involved in several anti-dumping litigations in the US and had hired several law firms in the US. The legal fee of these US law firms included payments made by these firms to Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw. We noticed that at times, almost 50 percent of the legal fee was for services provided by Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw to these US firms. That is when we realized the potential of Manupatra.
Setting up Manupatra
We spent about 2 years focusing on obtaining past precedents and had a phase wise approach to updating legal judgments and analysis. We faced several logistical issues at the initial stages. We met the Registrar, the Library Committee members of the Supreme Court and various High Courts and started building relationships. We realized that only Supreme Court judgments were numbered, while High Court judgments were not numbered and therefore it was difficult to track judgments.
The Dotcom bust
The Manupatra idea was conceived during the dotcom boom phase and was launched at a time when the dotcom bubble had just burst. Dotcoms were falling like nine-pins. To make matters worse, the media loved to write about ventures that were going down. Manupatra was born amidst this meltdown. However, even in the middle of the weak sentiments for dotcom companies, we realized that we were providing information which was required for business and there was value add to the end customers. There was clear visibility of return on investment for lawyers, whether law firm or a sole practicing advocate.
Around the same time, every second person was either working on a legal portal or was planning to start one. Coming up with a domain name with a quick recall value and clear identity took us 3 months.
Launch
We launched Manupatra in phases. We targeted the Mumbai market in the first phase as we realized that there was huge real estate pressure for law firms to maintain a large library. We targeted smaller subscriptions and gave timelines for adding services in terms of reporting previous judgments. We also sponsored a conference organized by the Society of Indian Law firms (SILF), which was held in Goa in 2001. This event gave us the visibility and every law firm and advocate participating in the conference signed up with Manupatra.
Today, Manupatra has 70 full time employees, 50 freelancers and two independent contractors .The company has offices in 12 locations in addition to the headquarters at Noida. The total user base is estimated at over 45,000 and growing.
Big B and Manupatra
This was during the soft launch way back in August 2001 at Mumbai. Ghoolam E. Vahanavati (the current AG of India) had done the honours at Oberoi’s Ball Room. After the launch when we were packing up, one of the Oberoi’s staff members came up to us and said, “Congrats, your product will be a great success.” We asked him what made him so confident, and his reply made us smile. “Amitabh Bachhan had officially launched ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ a year back in the same room and he sat exactly in the same place and in the same position from where we launched our product.” Nine years on, there are many times when we remember his words.
Talent Management
Many people had left stable jobs and were lured by the big bucks of the dot coms, and after the burst, those very people were without jobs. We ran the risk of someone walking off with our content, which was our investment.
Our staff has a free hand to learn and perform. Individuals who have shown potential have gone ahead to lead the respective teams.  If an individual has not been able to take on the higher responsibilities the same is not held against them. The company promotes a culture of giving every employee a rope and pulls it only if the same is abused. In my experience in most instances the employees have not abused the freedom. However, rare instances where such freedom is abused, we as a company do not take a lenient view.
Strategies…
Some legal websites had collected money from subscribers and later disappeared. Therefore, we knew that it would be difficult for us to convince potential subscribers to pay upfront for one year. We had to come up with a variety of subscription packages in addition to the annual package.