Someone asked me earlier about Kosmix in one of the discussions on this blog, and I had said that I hadn’t looked at the company yet. Well, now I have, and I am happy to bring you a conversation with Venky Harinarayan on the genesis and direction of vertical search startup, Kosmix.
SM: Please describe your personal background.
VH: My journey starts in Bombay where I was born and then spent most of my childhood and youth in Madras. I was born into a family of doctors and businesspeople. One of my grandfathers was a medic in World War II during which he was captured by the Japanese and escaped after spending two weeks in the jungles of Burma. My other grandfather was the managing director of Automobile Products of India, a leading auto manufacturer in the country.
My father was an entrepreneur which is no trivial task in India. Unlike the United States, entrepreneurs in India at the time had to put up all of the money for their company with no outside financing at all. Also, government regulations and bureaucracy made running an enterprise very tough. My mother was the central point of our lives and a very strong influence on me and my sister. As a trivial aside, she was a childhood playmate of Salman Rushdie, and is relieved she was not mentioned in “Midnight’s Children.”
My family valued education the most. Then, it was the Indian national past-time of cricket. I captained my high school cricket team and played tennis in college. The rigorous education system of India combined with sports taught me a phenomenal amount about individuals. As Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” My sister ended up in medicine and I in business so you can say we both took from either sides of our family.
I attended IIT Madras and then moved to the United States in 1988 where I did my master’s degree in computer science at UCLA and then received a doctoral degree from Stanford University in computer science as well. I was fortunate to have advisors that were doing pioneering work in the Internet field — Len Kleinrock at UCLA and Jeffrey Ullman at Stanford University.
At Stanford, I met my co-founder in Junglee, Cambrian Ventures and Kosmix, Anand Rajaraman. We started Junglee in 1996 with two of our IIT colleagues and then sold it to Amazon in 1998. After staying at Amazon in Seattle until 2000, Anand and I decided to head back to the Bay Area and start a venture firm. Cambrian Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm and we have invested in companies including Efficient Frontier, Transformic (acquired by Google), Kaltix (acquired by Google), Mobissimo, Aster Data, Yousendit.com, TheFind, and Neoteris (acquired by Juniper Networks).
In 2004, Anand and I decided to found Kosmix, a company that is leading the way in creating home pages for any topic on the Web using the intelligence of the Web to create sophisticated algorithms.
Along the way to Kosmix, I co-authored a research paper that won the ACM Sigmod Best Paper Award 1996 as well as the “Test of Time” award from ACM Sigmod in 2006. I also hold several patents and am co-inventor of Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk.
(to be continued)