Sramana: Can you look back and talk about the process of determining what you were going to do as an entrepreneur?
Ash Ashutosh: Somewhere along the way, as I was leaving college, I had an entrepreneurial streak there. I was trying to build a business in India right out of engineering school which was practically impossible in the late 80’s.
My first job was in Huntsville, Alabama. There was really no entrepreneurship there. I went there because I was doing my PhD and someone found me while I was there and told me that my research is the type of thing they were trying to build systems around. The first three years that I worked there I went to work at 8AM and went to sleep at 3AM. I loved what I did and I did not care where I lived. That is why the most difficult thing I faced was getting bored at work.
Sramana: How did you decide what to do entrepreneurially?
Ash Ashutosh: I really did not know. I only knew that I wanted to do something meaningful. When we left we were very careful of not coming up with anything before we left because of the NCR and Wichita environment. There were a lot of concerns around intellectual property.
We started out doing consulting work, which is old fashioned entrepreneurship. For almost three months we worked out of my basement and we used our consulting funds to pay for the business. Then one of my colleagues came up with a requirement to build a new chip in the storage industry and none of the big guys wanted to build it. He asked us if we wanted to build it and we said yes.
What I did not realize at the time was that this was a storage chip for which HP was the sole provider. They were selling their chip for 1,500 dollars and we did it for 15 dollars. It completely changed the economics for that technology. We quickly grew to 14 people and moved to Colorado Springs. It was hard to find people in Wichita.
Sramana: HP had an operation in Colorado Springs, were you after the engineers there?
Ash Ashutosh: My co-founders were based in Colorado Springs and we knew we had to hire there. Sun had an office there and Compaq had an office there. Denver was not too far away. There was enough of a talent pool to tap into it.
We were naive. We were selling to pretty much every company in the storage business and had just shy of 30 people. Somebody showed up on a motorbike in a leather jacket. He introduced himself as a venture capitalist and offered to give us money. I had never heard of a venture capitalist before. Coming from an Indian background I was asking what he wanted for collateral. the concept of equity was so alien. Ironically I became a venture capitalist 9 years later. That company was acquired later on.