Ramu Yalamanchi runs hi5, one of the leading social networking companies in the world. The company is recognized as one of the fastest growing social networking companies. Here I discuss the strategy behind hi5 with Ramu and gain some of his insights for the future.
SM: Ramu, let’s start by discussing where you come from and some of your history.
RY: I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago. My dad has been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. He is an in industrial engineer by training, and he probably worked until the time I was ten. He was always dabbling in different types of businesses. He used to have an auto shop before moving on to a printing business. Today he is more involved with real estate. He is where I got a lot of early inspiration from. One of the biggest things I learned from him was persistence. No matter how many businesses you start, it just takes one successful business to make up for all of the different tries.
Growing up, I remember Friday nights in particular. My dad would always come home with a story. He would talk about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and all these guys starting their companies. Even today when there is something in the business I need advice on, he is one of the first people I call.
I went to school at the University of Illinois. When I went to college I studied computer science for my undergrad. I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur, but I chose computer science because I realized from my dad that what industry you are in makes a big difference. I think Warren Buffet says this, too. If you are mediocre in finance you will do much better than if you are mediocre in the printing business. I studied computer science and graduated in 1996. Mosaic was developed at the University of Illinois in 1994. My last year of college I joined a group of guys and we started a company doing auctions for online advertising.
SM: Where they friends you grew up with in Chicago?
SH: Two of them are from Chicago and the other was from Missouri. It ended up being an interesting group. Two of them started PayPal and the other had a company purchased by Microsoft. Everyone has gone on to start interesting companies. That company in itself was not a huge success but we all learned a ton. After that I wanted to come here and learn all the things I did not know. I decided to get jobs that would help me fill the gaps. The first company I worked at was called ClickOver. I did sales and business development for a couple of years. It was a very interesting experience. They sold to CMGi in the summer of 1998. I then joined eGroups that summer. That is where I learned product management, which I felt was crucial to learning how to start my own company.