SM: On a personal level, how has dyslexia impacted your growth and success?
JR: When we got our first patent at Sugar my name was typed wrong. It was Johri. I was a bit upset about that, although they corrected it. Then I thought about it longer. If you look at it, the ri looks like an n when they are all lowercase letters. How ironic life is. Mother Nature has a sense of humor.
In a nutshell, the disadvantage of dyslexia is that I play ping-pong left-handed and tennis right-handed. I write left-handed, but I do everything else right-handed. I am mathematical but I also like to write. I am not good at either one, but I am very good at doing both at the same time. I would say it helped me get a broader view. You do not get overly focused in one particular area; it helps me look at both right and left at the same time. I get a good feel for perception and people.
SM: What did it hinder you from doing well when you were growing up?
JR: It is not a good feeling when your parents work their asses off so you can go to any school you want to and you can’t get into any, especially when your brothers and sisters can.
SM: Was that because you could not work within the structure?
JR: No, I literally could not read. I could not really learn to read and write until I had a PC. What I realized was that once I got over an insecurity and inferiority complex, there were some strengths to be had. Before I thought, why was I doing so poorly on my SAT and GMAT? I was studying just as hard, and I felt just as smart, but I just was not getting the same results. Now I enjoy the strengths.
It helps with marketing and truly understanding. The vision with Sugar, for example, is a case where I looked at the web for three months and sensed it. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of people have came to me and said, “I was going to do the exact same thing!”
Perhaps something like dyslexia forces you to take the less traveled path. Bill Gates does not have a college degree that I am aware of. Steve Jobs does not have a college degree that I am aware of. If you look at the most successful titans, they tend to come from non-traditional roots where they are challenge in one way or another, and sometimes forced to find an ulterior way to get to accomplish their goal. They are forced to find a different way to get there, and it usually ends up being an innovative way and a different way.
I think standardized tests are good, but you can really miss out on a lot of smart people by relying only on smart tests. I am grateful to have been born in the United States because if I had not been I don’t know that I would have had the opportunity. I think net/net it probably made me more perceptive in a different way, and that is potentially the basis for something new. Sugar was an experiment.
SM: All path-breaking startups are experiments.
JR: Five years ago we were wondering if anybody would like the software, if they would download it and if they would buy it. Then we wondered if we could get VC money, and the questions kept coming. The answers were always yes. It has been exciting. I am surprised how international the company has been, and how quickly it has become that way. You don’t need an army of field sales people. People will download it and internationalize it for you. I like the fact that what we are doing is building great human interaction software.
What is unique about our business model is that it is all about the software, it does benefit the end user, and it is different from the traditional way the game is being played. I am not saying others are playing wrong, just that times are changing. I feel strong and excited about the future. I like the pull and energy of people making their own decisions. We are at the beginning of a new era.
SM: You very well may be. This has been great. Thanks!