There is, of course, a myth that you cannot build a large company by bootstrapping. What a total pot of crap! Meet Atul Jain, and get your premises checked and readjusted.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your story. Where were you born, raised, and educated? Tell us a bit of the backstory of your current entrepreneurial story.
Atul Jain: I was born in Kanpur, India. I was born in a lower-middle class family. My father was an engineer in PWD. I am the youngest of three children. The eldest is my sister Manu Jain and I have an elder brother Naveen Jain. At the age of eleven, I received a merit scholarship from the Government of India to study in a residential school. After I finished high school in 1976, I studied at the Indian Statistical Institute and graduated with a Bachelors and Masters in Statistics. My goal and dream all along was to be a Professor, so I came to the US to do a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. I did my research in probability theory in the field called Brownian motion. I completed my Ph.D. and got caught up in a game of cards called bridge. Five years later, I realized that my life was going nowhere and my career was going nowhere.
I decided to get a job. I went to the Silicon Valley and got a job with a company called Teknekron Corporation, the parent company of TIBCO. I started there and eventually ended up in the portion of the business that is known today as TIBCO. At that time, it was known as Teknekron Software Systems. Vivek Ranadive was the lead entrepreneur of that company. He had convinced me to move from Teknekron Corporation to Teknekron Software Systems. I then moved to Palo Alto. At that time, it had less than 20 employees and I was one of them. I started with them in late 1988 and left the company in early 1995 to start TEOCO. I was with the company when it was a tiny little company serving just the financial sector.
Sramana Mitra: When you started TEOCO in 1995, what was the premise? What did you see and what did you want to do with this company?
Atul Jain: I just wanted to prove to the world that you don’t have to be mean to succeed in business. Most companies were built on the premise that we have to worry about clients first and then at times, we worry about employees. I wanted to reverse the model. I created a business model based on the concept of alignment with employees, client, and community. At that time, I used to say that if we take care of our employees, they will take care of our clients, and that will take care of the business. I wanted to focus on creating joy and a certain degree of alignment. I wanted to invert the pyramid. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know what industry. I just wanted to build a business on a set of values and principles.
Sramana Mitra: How did that evolve? How did you get yourself going?
Atul Jain: When I started the company, I was based in Northern Virginia. I had come here for a project for TIBCO with a company called Mobil Corporation. Then I sold them a project on behalf of my previous company and I was working on that project for two and a half years. Then I decided to leave and find a client.
Almost always the first person that gives you your first break is somebody who knows you. My first break came from Mobil Corporation. They gave me an opportunity to serve them, because I knew some of the people there and had a good amount of expertise. Initially, I was just doing some consulting work for them. I understood that I wanted to build a business with some intellectual property but I had no capital. I started with $2,000, and that’s all the money I ever put into the business.
Sramana Mitra: You got a service contract with Mobil Corporation?
Atul Jain: They bought my consulting services, yes.