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Bootstrapping to Exit: Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Neal Taparia (Part 3)

Posted on Wednesday, Apr 22nd 2020

Sramana Mitra: A couple of metrics before we go on to the post-Lehman story. What kind of revenues were you making in college? What kind of revenues were you making from the company while you were working at Lehman?

Neal Taparia: In college, we were probably making around $30,000 a year. It was nothing crazy. By the time we were at Lehman, the growth continued. We were lucky to see strong organic growth with the site even though we weren’t focused on it full-time at that point.

While I was at Lehman, it was probably making between $100,000 and $200,000 in revenue which was enough for me to look at the business and jump in full-time. 

Sramana Mitra: What was the business model that was monetizing at that level?

Neal Taparia: We had a subscription model as well as some of the institutional schools that were paying for it. In my spare time, I was answering customer support tickets. Between Excel modeling and being a PowerPoint monkey, I was also a customer support agent for all our customers.

A year into Lehman, we hired our first full-time employee. This was prior to me making the jump into running the business full-time. We hired someone to help us figure out an ad model because we had so many people coming to the site that we knew we can monetize with ads.

Our friend convinced us that it was a worthwhile opportunity. At that point, we had a multi-faceted business model. It was institutional revenue, subscription revenue, and ad revenue. 

Sramana Mitra: What happens after you leave Lehman?

Neal Taparia: I ended up leaving Lehman Brothers and timed it with my business partner who had a consulting job. My business partner is the same friend who I started the business with in high school.

We had some revenue but most of that was used to pay our early employees. We couldn’t pay ourselves too much. It was something like $20,000 each. In New York City, it doesn’t get you very far. It just barely covers your rent. I was living off of Subway sandwiches, which in retrospect was pretty disgusting.

We were doing everything we could to get by. We were working from home. We couldn’t afford office space back then. I had a cousin who was an entrepreneur as well. He had started a business called Tasty Bite, which is the largest packaged Indian food company. He allowed me to consult for him in my spare time. I got a lot of Tasty Bite food out of it which kept me sustained at that time.

Slowly but surely, we started to make more money. In about a year and half of working on it full-time, we were able to afford a very small office space. It was a 300 square foot shared office space. As we focused on the business, we were able to grow year after year. This was without taking outside investment.

If you fast forward to 2016, the company was reaching over 30 million students. We were doing about $20 million in revenue and we had over 60 employees in our New York City office as well as an office in Berlin. In those eight years, it was a grind. Slowly and steadily, we’re able to march towards creating a real business.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Bootstrapping to Exit: Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Neal Taparia
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