Shaul Kuper is the chief executive officer of Destiny Solutions, a company that provides software solutions for higher education management on a cloud-based SaaS. He holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Toronto. In this interview he gives us a detailed overview of the origins of Destiny and of the education space, in which he specialized at the very early stages of the company.
Sramana Mitra: Shaul, let’s introduce you to our audience. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
Shaul Kuper: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I had a fairly normal childhood: I grew up, I went to school and went to university. I was promised the dream of “make sure you learn math, science, and French, and you will be able to do anything you want in the future.”
SM: Did you stay in Canada?
SK: Yes, I stayed in Toronto. I haven’t moved far from where I grew up. My office is fairly close as well.
SM: And you went to university in Toronto as well?
SK: Yes. I went to the University of Toronto. I finished school in 1988. I did an undergraduate degree in molecular biology and genetics. I hadn’t specialized in anything previously. I was just taking sciences until I got called into the dean´s office and was told I had to specialize to move forward. So I looked around the room and saw a book on genetics. Then I asked: “Do you have a course on genetics?” The response was, “Yes, we just started the course this year, and we have one seat left.” So, I took the course. During that time I worked at SickKids [The Hospital for Sick Children] in Toronto to discover the cystic fibrosis gene.
SM: What kind of work did you do after you got out of school?
SK: When I graduated from school, I never clearly pushed the doors open at the university. The final exam I had was written in the hockey arena together with 3,000 other people writing other exams. I never pushed the doors open, asking, “What am I going to do now?” Biology and genetics weren’t really my calling. My brother worked in a company that did insurance replacements. He asked me if I wanted to come work for him for two weeks and help him clear his desk and do some filing for him. I left years later.
When I started working there, there was a XT computer sitting in the corner. I then figured out how that worked, what it did and how it automated his business and helped him grow his business. In late 1994 I went to a COMDEX show. It was really impressive. I saw the first version of Mozilla and the web. Then I took a few weeks off and learned how to program HTML and quit my job. I went home and told my wife. We had two kids at the time. I quit my job and started a new company called Destiny Web Designs. She had one question: “What is web design?” At the time there were maybe 200 to 300 websites. It was simple at the time. My goal at the time was to become a preeminent company for websites. That is where I got the start.
SM: How did it go when you started Destiny Web Designs in the mid-1990s?
SK: It was difficult. No one knew what a website was. It was way ahead of the curve. I had an instinct that this was where the future was going. I remember my father telling me that I was crazy. It was hard at the time to explain to someone what it was. I had to pick up a huge tower computer and a huge monitor, put it in the car and take it to someone’s office to set it up, because I couldn’t afford a laptop at the time – they were just too expensive. When I got there they were hooked up to the Internet – there was no wireless – so I had to have everything hardwired to show them what it was.
In the early days there was no demand, so we had to create demand. We did that by just coming out of the jewelry industry for insurance replacement, we created something called the Insurance Adjuster Resource Center, where I would call up detectives and say, “I understand you do work in the following cities for insurance companies.” Then they would say: “Yes. Would you like to do a free placement in the IARC?” I would say, “Great. What do I need to do?” So they would ask, “It is free. You just need a website. What is your website address?” So I would say, “What is a website? Where do I get one of those?” And they would say, “Well, we can build one for you.” The first one we paid the company to build it for them, and by the second one we were breaking even by charging nothing. On the third one we were charging $50 or $100. By the end of the first year we were building $100,000 websites. It grew exponentially.