Raghu Raghavan is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of Act-On Software, which provides a cloud-based integrated marketing platform. Prior he was the co-founder and CTO of Responsys, Inc., a market leader in on-demand email and life cycle marketing solutions for high-end retailers. Raghu holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Minnesota and a B.Tech. in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay.
Sramana: Raghu, let’s start off by talking about your personal story. Where do you come from?
Raghu Raghavan: I am from India and am a graduate of IIT Bombay. I thought I would go into academia, so I got a PhD in computer science from the University of Minnesota. I studied the complexity of routing problems. It was highly theoretical and did not apply to real life. I happened to select a routing problem that I showed to was NP-complete, but that I realized that it was really a ‘who cares?’ type of problem.
I wanted to build something that really worked. I was all set to accept an academic job, but there was a small part of me that was curious about the rest of the world. I instead decided to accept a job working on mainframes from UNIVAC, which ultimately became Unisys because they were building and addressing real problems in the CAD space. In my first year there we took algorithms that were in production and spent a lot of time adjusting algorithms.
In the early 1980s the CAD industry was starting on the West Coast. Mentor Graphics invited me out for an interview, and although I was doing well where I was, I was living in Minnesota and it was cold. I decided to go check them out and found a company that had 20 employees, no revenue, and they were working out of a small retail storefront. The day I went was a Saturday and everybody was working. They had a computer sitting there at an empty desk, and I was talking to a guy when suddenly a chainsaw appeared through the wall.
The company was expanding and taking over the space next door and they were making a doorway. The chainsaw was coming right at the computer workstation, which was a $100,000 workstation. We were banging on the wall to get them to stop. It was a lot of excitement and I was impressed because it was so different than my usual job. I spent the entire day with the founding team. They offered me a gigantic pay cut to go work there, so of course I thought, why would I not do this? After all, I was young and single and could never do it again. I joined them to build their IC layout group from the ground up. What a great ride that was. When I joined the company had 20 employees, by the time I showed up a few weeks later we had 39 employees. It was one of the most creative places I have ever worked. Fast forward a decade and they are doing $500 million in revenue, and it was a great IPO success story.