We’re big fans of bootstrapping to exit case studies. This is a wonderful one.
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?
Neal Taparia: I was born in the suburbs of Chicago. My parents were immigrants from India. I’m first-generation in the United States. I did my undergraduate education in Chicago. After that, I settled down in New York where I’ve been ever since.
Sramana Mitra: What led you to the entrepreneurial journey story?
Neal Taparia: My entrepreneurial roots took place in Chicago in my high school junior year. This was 2000. In fact, it was the early days of the internet. I would go online through America Online and talk to my friends that way. It was a totally different type of internet.
I was lucky that my high school offered this course on introduction to computer science. My dad nudged me to take the class because he saw me tinkering around. It was a pretty eye-opening class for me because I learned how to build basic websites and some basic programming.
Later that year, I was in English class. When you write a paper, you’re required to cite and reference all that information. I don’t know if you remember doing that back in the day, but it has all these tedious rules that you have to follow.
Having learned about computer science and a good friend of mine who’s also good with computers, we realized there was a much better way to go about these bibliographies and reference management.
Over the course of two months, we ended up putting together a product called EasyBib where you can enter in a website or a book. We were able to build crawlers and algorithms where we would extrapolate information, structure it together, and quickly create your citation.
We dramatically changed the process of citing information. It made it a lot easier and shorter. It turned out to be very popular. That was the launch point of my entrepreneurial career. It started when I was 16 years old.
From that point onward, we incorporated a company called Imagine Easy Solutions. Given that early success, we thought that we can build imaginative and easy-to-use solutions in education.
Sramana Mitra: What year was this?
Neal Taparia: This was 2001 when we first started the site. That was my junior year in high school. We ended up building that business. Later on, we started working on it full time after college and after a year or two of working in the corporate world.
Sramana Mitra: You kept this going as a side thing during your high school, college, and a couple of years of working at a corporate job.
Neal Taparia: That’s correct. In high school, we did everything we could to promote the site. Back then, it meant putting flyers all around my high school. I would even flyer the bathrooms of my high school because I didn’t know any better. My logic was people would read flyers in the bathroom. Lo and behold, people did.
We started getting users. As a high school student, I emailed the Chicago Tribune saying, “We’re students helping students.” Within a few days, we got a callback from a reporter. They came to my house and took pictures of me and my buddy. They displayed EasyBib on the frontpage. It was surreal.