Mack Sundaram: Exactly. There’s always that human psychology element that tells you, “Maybe you’re not ready. Maybe you should wait another year.” That was one side of the brain holding me back. At the same time, since I’d already tasted being in a startup situation a decade before that, the lure of that novelty was too much. I had to do it. As I was working in a corporate job, I had to do this on the side.
I did two or three more startups. They were fairly good. They were in education. Think about it as social networking for education. Right around that time, Facebook was becoming very famous. But then, we were using social networking to learn more effectively. Children can learn using social situations as opposed to pedagogic situations. That was the idea. Kids learn better from each other because it just matters more to them. There needs to be some instruction, but there’s all this experiential learning coming in. It was way ahead of its time.
It was very difficult to break into the market, because people didn’t even appreciate what we were doing. I don’t know. Perhaps the education industry in the states is not really that advanced. People have huge resistance to change. They’re expecting everything to be free. They don’t want to pay for anything even if there’s value. It’s very bad.
Sramana Mitra: Royal pain in the ass.
Mack Sundaram: Indeed. You just can’t hand out everything for free. It’s not about making money. It’s about having to generate revenues. That was a challenge. We became moderately successful. We did end up selling licensing software to a few school districts. I applied that to non-profits. I wanted to make it socially meaningful.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you can pursue money. That’s not a bad thing but you can also do social entrepreneurship. I was trying to idealistically follow that angle. That did not go well at all. Non-profits’ focus is solely on fundraising and nothing else. The work that they do is all operational. There was nothing you, as an entrepreneur, can do to help them. That’s where my technology was – to help them do their operational work more efficiently.
We were talking to a non-profit who was helping to reduce bullying in schools. It’s a very noble idea. They were very successful at it. Our idea was to help them do that better using a social angle. It’s almost like a support group. They would understand better. They were doing that manually. That was all fine for them, but the only thing they care about is, “Does it help me raise money?” They just keep saying that.
I had learned so much about myself that it was easy for me to do 18-hour days. It’s not about lack of sleep. It’s just an efficient use and compartmentalization of time. That’s all. You know this very well. You’ve talked to so many people. In Silicon Valley, you’re always connected somewhere. Even when on vacation, you’re responding to emails. It’s very easy to have a continuous work day which spans an entire year. I could just manage my time more efficiently.
I was actually doing really well at work. They even sponsored my MBA while I was pursuing this. I could do a couple of things together and not feel that it was taking away from the truth or the honesty of it. I ended up collecting four Master’s while doing all of this. I just felt too idle and had to do something. All of these were achieved only through paying for it through work. When people do work to pay for school, why can’t we also say okay for two things. That was the whole experience when going through these startups.