DD Ganguly is the CEO of DimDim, a company which offers free online meeting platforms. He began his career as an entrepreneur by starting Advanced Internet Management, which was bought out by CA. He then served as the VP of Product Development at CA until founding DimDim. He studied computer science at IIT, Kharagpur and earned his master’s from Syracuse.
SM: DD, let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where do you come from?
DD: I grew up in Jamshedpur, a small town in Bihar, India. The one thing that amazed me growing up was that Bihar had, by far, the minimum per capita income in the entire country. There was rampant corruption. It was very rich in mineral wealth. In that state, Jamshedpur had the second-highest per capita income in the country.
SM: Because of steel?
DD: Yes, because of Tata steel and other companies in the Tata Group. What was very clear to me growing up was, apart from the normal Bengali mentality that business was bad, was that people thought unless you are unethical you cannot make money in business. The problem that I saw was that here was a person who was perfectly ethical, who had done great things not only for the business he was creating but also as a social impact. Unlike most of the Bengalis I knew, I was deeply influenced by the social impact of business. If I had grown up in Kolkata I am sure my thinking in regards to business would be much different. It would not have been pro business.
SM: What you are talking about is an interesting phenomenon as an ethnographic study. Being a Bengali entrepreneur myself, I know this is a rare species. Somehow there is a mental model among us that business is bad. What you are saying is that being in Jamshedpur and not Kolkata helped you avoid developing that mental block. What was your family like? What views did they support?
DD: Thoughts about going into business were not prevalent in my family, but they were not against it either. At the time I was very young, and they must have thought I was just a little boy chattering and I would eventually grow up and do the sensible thing. When I was six or seven I remember asking my father a question. My father’s reply was “men can do what men have done”. That has stayed with my all these years. I really did believe that if human beings have started businesses, there was no reason I could not go out and start a business and succeed.
I went to college and studied computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology. I came to the US to do my master’s at Syracuse where I was a fellow. I studied more piano there than I did computer science. I did get a few papers published, but clearly spent more time studying piano. I then went to Boston where I worked for a Bengali entrepreneur. He ran a networking consulting company. I worked with him for four to five years, and he helped me start my first business. He helped me not only in the form of angel financing but also in the form of providing emotional support. I remember the first company we started was called Advanced Internet Management. It was the same founding team as DimDim. The second day he came in and told me that he did not fund the company because he thought it would be successful, he funded it because he liked me and wanted to help me out.
He was not trying to put me down or anything, he was just trying to keep me from stressing out. He also told me I would face three problems. First, l would not be able to build the product I am trying to build. If by some stroke of luck I was able to do that, I would not be able to get the first customer. If by some even stranger stroke of luck some idiot buys my product, I would not be able to ramp the business. In very simple terms he was talking about technology risk, go-to-market risk, and scaling the business risk. His help was tremendous in getting AIM started.