We’re big believers in Bootstrapping Using Services, as you know. Here’s the story of CEO James Kane who scaled RWS 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
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
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.