Sramana Mitra: I did a startup in AI 20 years ago. That was not when AI was really happening.
Mack Sundaram: There you go. It was incredible to get that opportunity. It was a great experience for me.
Sramana Mitra: You left the company, though?
Mack Sundaram: We sold the system to the Department of Defense. I went on to do my own startup using my own money. I went on to another startup, which failed miserably because I didn’t get certain things right. That was a very hard lesson to learn. As a graduate student and immigrant, I wasn’t doing well financially.
Whatever I had, I ended up blowing all of that. I was too young to know better. I did realize that I could go back to things that could help me stabilize. I had educational background and experience that I could put to good use. I found a regular corporate job at Eli Lily. I started working there in their marketing department.
That was the precursor to the mobile era as well. It was 1990 to 2000. Nobody was even using mobile. There was the iPAQ. I started helping and building technology around that. On the side, I always had this real thirst and longing for doing something on my own. I kept experimenting with a lot of things. I didn’t get a chance to do any startup for almost 10 years.
It was close to 2008 till I found the time and energy to go back and start working on a startup on the side. By that time, I was married. I had to do it on the side. It was the only possible option for me. I wanted to do it. VCs used to tell me, “You’ve got to be 100% dedicated to this.”
Sramana Mitra: I don’t agree with that, by the way. I’m fine with people starting things on the side, getting validation, and getting to some degree of comfort that this is going to work. Bootstrapping with a paycheck is something that we fully support in our program.
Mack Sundaram: I appreciate what you said. It’s difficult to know whether your idea would work. You don’t want to drop everything and just jump into it. Of course, they expect you to be passionate about it. I know there is a downside of doing two things. However, there’s also this learning aspect that you talked about.
First, you got to learn about yourself while doing a startup. Start up from the idea, take it to market, and generate revenue, I appreciate that because of how much I learned about myself. It’s pretty incredible. Even if you do it on the side, you can learn all of those things.
Sramana Mitra: You’re better off doing that learning on the side rather than going in full blast and unprepared.