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Bootstrapping Using Services: James Kane, CEO of RWS (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Nov 28th 2016

We’re big believers in Bootstrapping Using Services, as you know. Here’s yet another story of an entrepreneur who has scaled to over $10 million in revenue using the method.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

James Kane: I grew up in a very small town in far northern New York. It’s a college town of about 2,000 people. My father was a university professor. He taught Mechanical Engineering at Clarkson University.

Sramana Mitra: What did you do for college or university?

James Kane: I left high school early at the age of 16 to attend university. I studied Math and Computer Science at Clarkson University. I ended up leaving Clarkson when I was 19 which is when business had picked up to the point where it had exceeded what I had expected to make working as a programmer.

Sramana Mitra: You started doing jobs while you were still in your undergraduate program. You were making so much money that you decided you wanted to quit.

James Kane: That is essentially the case. I had applied to several top tier universities. I had been accepted into Carnegie Mellon and Cornell. I wanted to study there, but our family didn’t have the money for me to go do that. I could attend Clarkson for free. The original plan was to go to school at Clarkson for free and start doing some side work to earn enough money to transition to a more prestigious school. The plan ended up being invalidated at the point where the amount of money I was making through working exceeded the amount of money that I can reasonably expect to make with a degree at a more prestigious school.

Sramana Mitra: What year does this bring us up to?

James Kane: Roughly 1998 in the beginning of the dot com boom. I finished around 2011.

Sramana Mitra: What happens next?

James Kane: The initial business that we had ended up failing.

Sramana Mitra: What was the business idea?

James Kane: During school, we built a computer algebra system called Calculus Machina for John Wiley & Sons. The purpose of that was to be able to build a computer system that could solve calculus problems in a way that students could reference to see step-by-step solutions. All throughout college, I was working on that software. It was ultimately released but was largely unsuccessful. Right around that 2011 timeframe, the relationship with John Wiley & Sons came to an end.

Sramana Mitra: What was your next move?

James Kane: I didn’t have a particularly good next move. I went and learned how to fly airplanes and I worked, for a couple of years, as a pilot.

Sramana Mitra: Why?

James Kane: There was no good reason. I was quite young at that time. I always liked learning new things and it was very different from what I had been doing before, so I threw myself into it. I really enjoyed it.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Bootstrapping Using Services: James Kane, CEO of RWS
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