Season 4 - Episode 11:
Tech Evolution with Sanjay Parekh
Tech Evolution with Sanjay Parekh
Sanjay Parekh is one of those multi-hyphenate entrepreneurs that we can barely keep up with: he’s a tech mogul, an event founder, a podcast host, and a board member for several high-profile organizations. He lists “inventor” on his resume, and for good reason: NetAcuity, his patented location targeting technology, has helped companies like IKEA and FedEx serve their customers better. In this week’s episode, we talk to Sanjay about raising capital, how the tech landscape has changed for the better, and how he failed as a pizza entrepreneur.
If your business ideas have ever been more of an airball than a total slam dunk, take heart: you are not alone. Sanjay Parekh is known for being ahead of the game as an entrepreneur, but even he’s had off-days. Take Pizza Impulse, his idea for pizza delivery that relied on random demand, random supply, and push messaging. His sales total on that project was a whopping two pizza pies. “There have been stinkers like that over time, but with the stinkers, you learn a lot,” he laughs.
Of course, you don’t know Sanjay because he’s a failed pizza emperor: you know him as the head of Mirage Data, a start-up that protects your data without sacrificing usability, as well as a founder of TogetherLetters. In his past, he co-founded Digital Envoy and Prototype Prime, and ran events like 2015’s Startup Riot. He’s also a host of Tech Talk Y’All, a biweekly comedy tech podcast. Is there anything this guy can’t do? (Besides running a pizza company…but we’ll forgive him for that.)
Like many entrepreneurs, Sanjay got his start in middle school. He was a candy-bar broker: buying piles of the sweet stuff and then selling to his peers. “If you ask a room of 100 entrepreneurs, more than 50 of them will say they did something like that.” He turned his early earnings into comic books, some of which he still has today.
In 1999, after graduating from Georgia Tech, Sanjay had an idea that would “make the internet better.” He noticed that the FedEx and IKEA websites were still relying on customers to select their countries before they could begin shopping, but suspected there was a tech workout-around that would smooth out that step. At work the next day, his colleague told him, “It’s either impossible to do, or somebody’s already done it,” but nope: Sanjay found that it was possible and he was first. Digital Envoy was born of this idea, and Sanjay left that colleague behind in 2000. Digital Envoy raised 1.5M in 2000, and 10.5M the following year; selling that first company in 2007 has let Sanjay “continue on this crazy entrepreneurial journey ever since then.”
A lot has changed since those heady early-internet days, and Sanjay isn’t nostalgic. For one, “You didn’t have the infrastructure stuff that we have now. You don’t need to buy servers. You don’t need to buy storage space.” While Sanjay’s early tech needs often gobbled up his large investments, “A lot of companies are able to start now without having to raise much money or any money at all.” Folks can now get in without huge initial investments, relying on quick, cheap, and global solutions like the cloud.
Being a tech-minded entrepreneur hasn’t always been champagne and gala events. Holding patents means that Sanjay has had to sit through “excruciating” sessions in order to explain the nitty-gritty of his products, but doing so “builds a moat to protect the company.” He doesn’t go for the NDA mindset—Sanjay figures that, with seven billion people on the planet, someone else probably has the same idea as him, somewhere—and he says that talking about his ideas is one way of finding out who else is solving that problem, or even why the problem can’t be solved in the first place.
He extends that philosophy to the way he approaches all his projects. “You’ve gotta become an extrovert when you’re an entrepreneur, at least in terms of business.” He credits his relationships with strengthening his business: from loyal connections to getting the support staff on board, and from funding events, to board service, relationships are where “good things happen” as an entrepreneur. Where are your best connections?
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