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60 MINUTES: RAKESH MATHUR, SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR
"After A Certain Stage, Money Is Incidental"

Rakesh Mathur, Serial EntrepreneurHe creates successful companies, only to sell them. At least, that's what the 43-year-old serial entrepreneur Rakesh Mathur has done until now. Today, the companies he founded are part of tech-heavies like Broadcom (Armedia) and Amazon (Junglee). Now Mathur is on his fourth start-up, Purple Yogi, but he insists that building companies at the bleeding edge of technology still gives him a high. The man who once appeared in drag (SFX, a black cocktail dress) in an ad for Junglee (a take-off on the Cross Worlds ad featuring its CEO Katrina Garnett) was in Bangalore in November to launch a Purple Yogi development centre. BT's Venkatesha Babu caught up with the tech-yogi for some knowledge-bytes. Excerpts

Q. Rakesh, Purple Yogi is your fourth start-up. What drives you to be a serial entrepreneur? Is it the technology itself? Is it money? Or is it something else?

A. Technology is a lot of fun. My hobby is doing new and better things in terms of technology. I work with a bunch of extremely bright people to deliver cutting-edge technologies that will change the world. I am in the happy position of my hobby actually being lucrative. After a certain stage, money is incidental. The challenge to try and solve problems and deliver something new gives me (enough) kicks. I see myself as a person who helps the right kind of technology to see the light of day. Much like a movie producer making movies, I am a technologist who produces technologies through the vehicle of companies. And as shifts keep taking place in the technology space, I keep spotting different opportunities.

This vehicles bit is interesting. Tell us more...

Basically, I like to solve meaningful problems. Sona Computers (the first company founded by Rakesh Mathur in 1983) might not be as well known as my other companies like Armedia and Junglee, but I learnt the most during that period I was running Sona. When, along with a few other friends, I started Sona, we were just engineers with no business background and no business plan. In 1983, colour had just come to PCs, but the panel displays were all based on a type of technology where the pixels were either on or off. This was no way to deal with colour. We just saw opportunity and pioneered colour graphics display capability. We came up with algorithms and solutions to the problem. We were so foolish that we did not even patent many of them. The work that we had done was exploited by others. I sat out on a revenue potential of hundreds of millions of dollars for nearly 10 years. The Sona experience helped us to learn a lot.

Why do you sell companies after they reach a certain stage?

Money is one reason (laughs). Seriously, I am a technologist and I like incubating newer and better technologies. Once they become viable and reach a certain stage, I might not be excited by them. Second, things now are very different from what they were in the 80s. Earlier, you had to grow a company; there were no other options. This is a gross simplification, but Microsoft did not have any option in 1980 except to grow. However, the number of mergers and acquisitions happening right now provides companies an opportunity to take advantage of technologies and develop synergies. The outcome of any business is a merger. Though I love technology, I cannot be just an idea-lab. I have to grow the business on all fronts. In the case of Armedia's merger with Broadcom, there were synergies to be obtained in terms of technology. In case of Amazon and Junglee, I found that Jeff (Bezos, the CEO of Amazon) and I shared a similar vision. ''Discover and find anything you want to buy on-line'' is Jeff's idea, and one with which I completely agree.

So if you find it makes sense to sell Purple Yogi tomorrow, you'll do it...

No, not necessarily. I am building this business as a business. In the case of Junglee, we felt that the technology which we had developed had a better chance of leaving a legacy behind with Amazon. There are three variables involved here. One, each individual needs his own sandbox. I like to work with some people, or with some technology, or just for myself. It is a lifestyle issue. Second, (I want to) create something with (a) legacy. And the third is generating wealth. I need to balance the three.

I've been itching to ask this. Why Purple Yogi?

Today, the name is very important. It reflects the character of the company. It needs to be memorable, easily recallable-especially in the Net age. Names like infotech this or that are passť. And all interesting single-word names have been taken up. Therefore, we arrived at this combination of Yogi-a wise man-and the colour purple, which is the colour of the crown chakra that connects us to the universal consciousness.

Purple Yogi claims its software will provide for intelligent, personalised on-line content and act as a web discovery assistant. But others like Sidetalk, Octopus, and Back Flip have tried similar things with mixed results. How will your effort be different?

The Yogi Internet Discovery System takes a significant leap from user-initiated keyword searches by understanding user interests, and effortlessly connects users to the content most relevant to them. Purple Yogi is the next generation of information management-the network working automatically on behalf of the user to deliver information of interest. We have addressed the core of problem. A network has three nodes: content, application, and people. We have managed to weave a deft combination of the three.

Information collected about the interests of the user will be stored on the hard disk of the user and not the network of Purple Yogi. We license our software to public domain internets or enterprises. We are not in the business of selling user-profiles. We are in the business of selling software.

How do you plan to make money, if not through targeted advertising?

Targeted advertising is not our business model. It is for others to do that. We will generate revenues by selling and licensing our software.

What are the other investments you have made in India?

My VC firm, Sky Blaze Ventures, has invested in Daksh, a Delhi-based start-up, the first company from which Amazon.com has outsourced customer support. And in Right Half, a company born on the IIT-Mumbai campus, which puts together technology platforms for the exchange of ideas. One of the companies in which I have invested, PointCross, has a large development facility in Bangalore.

You have been a Veep at Amazon (and received several lakh Amazon shares through the Junglee Deal). What is your reaction to the concerns being expressed about Amazon?

I have complete confidence in both Jeff (Bezos) and Amazon. This is a model that will only accelerate in the future. Where its stock is today is only of passing interest to me. But the long-term potential is mind-boggling.

 

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