The InfoUSA founders sold their information service business and reconvened to build InfoFree, a next generation Data-as-a-Service business. The company is funded with $15 million of funding from the co-founders, especially Vin Gupta, founder of InfoUSA, and is in the $5M+ revenue range and is now looking to scale to the next level.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where were born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Rakesh Gupta: I was born in India in the Himalayan foothills and did my schooling in New Delhi, which is becoming a tech town now in India. Then I studied engineering at IIT, Kolkata. Then I came to the US in 1986 to do my Master’s in Computer Science and Operations Research. That launched me into the corporate world.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you do your graduate studies in the US?
Rakesh Gupta: At North Carolina State in Raleigh. Then I started working for American Airlines and did a lot of consulting work on their behalf for non-airline businesses like railroads, TV stations, and hotels. I also taught them overbooking. I’ve been in the corporate world working for very large companies as well as startups. That’s my brief journey that brought me into Omaha, Nebraska with the latest venture.
Sramana Mitra: When you started, you were working in the corporate world. Is that how you got exposed to all this railway management?
Rakesh Gupta: American Airlines had a consulting division back then called American Airlines Decision Technology. Believe it or not, airlines are on the cutting edge of pricing and capacity planning. One of the biggest ideas that they’ve come up with in those days was maximizing the capacity of the plane by overbooking it because a lot of people cancel just before the departure. After the departure, the seat goes empty.
It’s a perishable commodity and they were trying to maximize revenue on that. They came up with the whole forecasting and pricing of different seats at different levels to maximize revenue. What the consulting division did was to apply those ideas to non-airline businesses like hotels, railroads, and even TV broadcasting.
Sramana Mitra: How long did this last? What year are we talking now?
Rakesh Gupta: This happened in 1988 to 1991 time frame. Then, I was hired by Union Pacific Railroad. That was my first journey to Omaha, Nebraska. We applied a lot of those principles to the railroad industry. After that, I left to try and chase dot-com deals in the early 90s.
It took me to a publishing company called Reed Elsevier and we ended up in the travel industry trying to do corporate bookings on the Internet. Orbitz and Travelocity are commonplace now but in those days, it was a novel idea. We were trying to create a whole reservation system for corporate booking and that took me to Silicon Valley for a number of years. I ran a company there called Travel Net back in 1996 to 1999.
Sramana Mitra: Did you found that company?
Rakesh Gupta: I was not the founder. We ended up buying that company but I began as that COO of the company after we bought it. We grew that company through 1999 and it eventually became Reed Travel Group. It became the new way of doing travel reservations.