My First Company – Log(n)

I started my first company serendipitously. After working for others, it became clear to me that, while I was passionate about technology and extremely customer focused, as well as being a hard worker, my personality wasn’t well suited to doing a job for someone else. Here are a few other things I learned about myself:

  • I wasn’t passionate about the problems my employers were solving in domains like social networking, social games, etc.
  • Instead of being limited to doing things that were part of my “job description”, I wanted to understand other business functions like product development, sales, marketing, customer success, and HR. Most of the places I worked at didn’t provide those cross-functional opportunities for me to learn.
  • I was convinced that working at a job would limit the amount of personal growth I could achieve and the amount of money I would ever be able to make.
  • I felt that I didn’t have a say in organizational decisions that were made by others but affected me and my team.

A keen desire to work for myself led me to try out a few things, with the hope that they would turn into a real company some day. Here are a few things I tried that didn’t work out:

  • Built a Facebook app.
  • Helped cofound and build a travel social network.
  • Developed a “Digg” clone.
  • Created a website for high skilled immigrant workers that provided open and easy access to databases of employers and salaries paid (Similar to Glassdoor).

While trying to solve these problems, I landed a contract software development project. One of my previous bosses who was happy with my work performance offered me a contract role in his new company. The idea of contracting sounded fun because it allowed me to immediately become my own boss on my own terms.

My co-founder (who is also my wife) had a lot of experience working for a big consulting company. She worked on the contract project full-time, while I helped part-time and kept my day job. After delivering the initial contracting assignment successfully, we started winning additional work from the same client, as well as from others through word of mouth. The amount of work was more than we could do ourselves. It immediately became clear that we had an opportunity to convert these small contracting gigs into a legitimate consulting business. I left my day job, and we started hiring talent in the U.S., as well as overseas to serve our customer needs. Three years into the business, we had more than 85 customers, 45 employees and millions of dollars in revenue with significant profits. The consulting business we started in 2010 is still around today.

Here are a few key things I would advise from the experience of starting my first company.

  • You need to understand “why” you want to start your own business.
  • You need to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes.
  • You need to look carefully, because the problem you want to solve could be right in front of you.
  • An obsession with keeping your customers happy is the secret sauce for a successful business.
  • Being 100 percent focused on your business, versus running it part-time, will significantly increase your chances of success.

My Second Company – SchoolMint

After successfully running our consulting business for more than three years and after working with over 85 clients (helping them build products for e-commerce, messaging, market places, dating, education, and healthcare), it was clear that both my co-founder and I had a craving to find focus. Out of all the problems we helped solve for our customers, we found the ones in education to be extremely meaningful and impactful. In addition, we immensely enjoyed working with educators. They were very passionate about what they did and were very friendly and easy to work with.

We solved one particular problem for our education customers by building custom student enrollment systems. Coincidentally, this was a problem my wife and I had faced while applying to preschools in Oakland for my daughter. As unbelievable as it sounds, most schools in the U.S., at that time used paper-based manual processes to enroll their students. This process was extremely frustrating for parents and very painstaking for schools.

Around that time, we learned about an education technology incubator: ImagineK12 (which is now part of YCombinator). We applied to this incubator and were immediately accepted. We received funding and advice to work on building a business that would make the student enrollment process delightful and insightful for schools and parents. We named this business SchoolMint.

Here is why we started SchoolMint:

  • We wanted to focus and find meaning in what we were doing. We found that meaning in the field of education.
  • We had faced the problem ourselves when applying to preschools for our daughter, and we had an urgent desire to fix the problem.
  • We understood the problem well, both from a parent’s perspective and from a school perspective, and we had unique insights about possible solutions.
  • We knew that there were customers ready to pay for a solution like this.
  • We joined an incubator (ImagineK12) that significantly increased our commitment towards this new initiative by providing us with funding and by connecting us with other like-minded entrepreneurs solving problems in education.

In short, we faced a problem that we really wanted to solve. We gained support for creating a solution that would help others, while working in a field (education) that we enjoyed and found meaningful. These, I believe, are the best reasons to successfully start your own company.

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